Have you heard the story of Jesus’ birth? Do you have a nativity scene set up somewhere in your living room as part of you Christmas decorations? Do you remember the part about the star?
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, Land of Judah,
are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
for our of you shall come forth a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.’ After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
– Matt 2.1-10
The gospels Matthew and Luke give detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus. Luke teaches us that shepherds came and saw Jesus the night of His birth, and Matthew teaches us about the wise men coming in from the East. The book of Matthew was written for a Jewish audience. He deals with prophecies, with the Law and with Jesus as the Messiah, but he very intentionally teaches that Jesus came to be the savior of the world, and he therefore begins his story with Jesus being worshiped by non-Jewish men of wealth who were led to Him by a star and ends the story with the Great Commission.
There is much glory in the coming of the magi. It is a fulfillment of prophecy:
“Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.”
– Is 60.3
And their gifts spoke to His identity and purpose as Messiah on the Earth. Gold was a costly gift befitting a king, frankincense was an incense symbolizing His deity, and myrrh was an embalming oil used in burial which foreshadowed His death. The wise men were wise enough to know that the King of the Jews whom they sought was also the Messiah. Notice that they asked Herod where the “King of the Jews” had been born, and after having a conversation with them Herod called for the priests and scribes and asked where the Messiah was to be born.
But nestled in this glorious story is that pesky detail of the star. Much has been said about the star. The magi have been called astrologers because they saw and followed it. Books have been written about the nature of the star. Ideas have been formed and many have been distracted by this relatively insignificant detail. We are told that a star appeared and the wise men followed it. Based on the time of the appearance of the star, Herod had every child under the age of two years murdered, so it is possible that they saw and followed the star for up to two years. The star apparently led them to Jerusalem, or they understood its appearance to signify the coming of the Messiah, and it reappeared to direct them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and they rejoiced at its appearing.
Bethlehem is five miles from Jerusalem. They had been instructed by the priests to go there, and then the star reappeared. How can this be? How can a star in outer space direct someone five miles? And “stand over the place where the child was”?
While is it an extremely interesting facet to the story, it is secondary – a peripheral point. Yes, it led the wise men to Jesus. Yes, it designated the guidelines Herod used to murder the children which fulfilled prophecy and typologies with Moses. But the glory and importance of the Christmas story is God taking on the form of a human being and entering into history as our savior.
It is very easy to get caught up in secondary issues. You have probably met those people in your church who are continually digging into and distracted by those peripheral and unimportant matters: was it really an apple that Eve ate? How did God get the manna and quail to the Israelites? If the sun stopped in the sky, does that mean the world stopped rotating? If so, how did everyone not fly off the face of the Earth because of the lack of gravity? How big of a wind would be required to part the Red Sea? Did Jesus really go preach to spirits in Hell? Christmas and Easter are pagan holidays that Christians just added our meaning to…
Instead of focusing on Jesus, being broken over sin, clinging to Him for salvation and meditating on the glory of God, we can find ourselves wasting energy fighting over if it is evil to set up a Christmas tree or have an Easter egg hunt. But Jesus came with a purpose: To seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19.10). He came to rescue us from our sin, to give us the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and enables them to live godly lives, dying to sin. To show us the way to eternity with Him.
As we continue through this advent season for the next week, do take the time to reflect on the beautiful details of the story of Christ’s birth which Scripture offers us. Think about the star, and the sovereign God who caught the attention of wealthy scholars who would travel for up to two years to see the child. Reflect on the fact that He is in control of everything, including the universe outside of the World, and utilizes supernatural occurrences to bring about His plan. But when you enter into Bible study, when you teach your children the story, when you go to church and when you consider the faith, intentionally focus your heart and mind on those things that make an eternal impact. Keep the secondary issues secondary, and glorify Jesus. Look beyond the star, and see to what it is pointing.