Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Iraq and Iran were in the news 2010 years ago although under a different name. Nations of the west feared their armies and their ancient weapons of mass destruction. Then called Persia, the great empire of the east competed with the Roman Empire of the west. If the two empires clashed it could mean the loss of tens of thousands of lives, millions sold into slavery and the entire world turned upside down.
Well . . . it all depended on the stars, they said.
It was a time in history when almost everyone looked to the stars to determine their destiny. So much of life seemed uncertain. Earthquakes. Diseases. Politics. A high percentage of the population was slaves. People tried to figure out what was the cause behind the turmoil of their lives and the course of history. The stars seemed so predictable and so powerful. They concluded that the stars above controlled all of life down below on earth.. If you were born under Libra, Sagittarius or Capricorn your whole life was determined and there was nothing you could do to change it. The events of every day were controlled more by the horoscope than by the gods. Human initiative meant very little because the world was ruled by fate.
Astrology was a cruel master. The stars determined if your were born a slave/free or a man/woman - - - and every case your life was indescribably hard. The stars decided who you would marry, if you had children, what your profession was and when you would die. You were powerless and hopeless to escape what was determined in the heavens.
Because astrology was so important there were men who specialized in studying the stars. In Persia they were a noble class who had descended from the Medes and were called "Magi" or "Wise Men." They advised emperors and chose their successors. They read the stars to decide economic and political policy. Anyone who could afford their services came to find out if they should launch a business, take a journey, sell a farm or enter a marriage.
The Magi kept detailed records of the movement of the stars. They were keen and sophisticated observers. They were professionals. While it is true that their name, Magi, later became associated with "magic" and deception, in the first century they were revered, respected, rich and powerful.
We are tempted to think of the Magi as ancient and ignorant. But, when it comes to the stars it is amazing how ignorant we still are today. We really don’t even know how many stars there are in the universe. Estimates start around 3 thousand million billion (3 followed by 16 zeroes) but NASA alleges there are zillions of uncountable stars.
The way modern astronomers estimate the number of stars is by counting those they can see and assuming there are the same number in all the space they cannot see.
Our own Milky Way galaxy has more stars than McDonalds has sold hamburgers. Actually, a lot more with 200 billion stars and only a few billion hamburgers.
The size of the universe is more than breathtaking. It is millions and millions of light years in size. A light year is the distance light travels in 365 days, which is about 6 trillion miles.
The universe is huge beyond our comprehension. It goes on forever. Our world is so small that it is statistically insignificant in size.
On the eastern edge of the predictable canopy of stars - - the Magi saw a new light. It was unprecedented in their years of combined experience. It was unrecorded in the journals passed down from previous generations. To them every star meant something and this star seemed to mean everything.
The new star meant hope. It wasn’t part of the Zodiac. It didn’t fit into the horoscopes. Maybe there was a future beyond fate. Maybe everything was not as determined and dismal as they had always thought.
Then the star moved. It seemed to beckon them. Slowly across the sky, rotating from east to west. Calling them. Pulling them. They had to follow it even though they had no idea where it might lead them.
Astronomers ever since have been trying to figure out what they saw. Could it have been Haley’s Comet? It was seen in the Middle East in 11 B. C. but that was too long before. Perhaps the brilliant conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 7 BC. Or, there were some other unusual stars bright between 5 BC and 2 BC. Or, could it have been something unprecedented and unsucceeded? Something supernatural. Something one of a kind.
Whatever it was . . . it not only caught the Magi’s eye but drew their hearts to follow.
Like modern times, it was a dangerous journey for powerful leaders from Persia to travel to Israel. The distance was great and travel was slow. In all probability they came by caravan, food; servants; tents; slaves; soldiers. They were prepared for everything from bandits to Roman soldiers. It was a journey that probably took many months not knowing exactly where they were going or what they would find. They were seekers, hoping for hope.
When they arrived in Israel they were easy to spot. Immediately they gained an audience with King Herod the Great. He had ruled under Roman authority since 47 BC. He was powerful, political and suspicious. When he found out that these Magi were looking for a newly born king, Herod smelled danger. A new king threatened his authority and a small army from Persia could be scouts for a larger attack. Herod found the Old Testament prophecy about the birth of the Messiah and directed them to Bethlehem but planned to follow-up with an assassination team to kill this royal baby before he grew up to cause a coup.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel."
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
The Magi finally came to the place where the star directed them. They had followed it across empires and it led them to Jesus.
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
Following the star sent by God can mean leaving home, going far, and changing everything. For some it is too risky. We would rather stay where we are and stuck with what we do. For some, it is the adventure and best hope of a lifetime.
Following God’s star doesn’t always lead to Bethlehem but it always leads to Jesus. And, the star isn’t always a bright light in the sky. God sends different stars into different lives. Your star may be a friend or a book or a dream or vision or sometimes even a tragedy in life. God uses whatever it takes to point the way to hope, to show the way to Jesus.
When the Magi came to Bethlehem and found Jesus they must have been dazzled. Not because he was in a palace or surrounded by an army. To the contrary, Jesus was born to humble poverty. He was just a baby. But those Magi were wise enough to recognize God when they found him. Their first impulse was to worship him.
Worship is far more than bending a knee or bowing a head. It is surrendering the heart. True worship is total submission. These smart, powerful, rich Magi worshiped Jesus because they saw in Him the presence of God. Jesus was no ordinary baby. He was God in human form, the Messiah, and the Savior of humankind.
Like the Magi, you come to the Christmas Story with a seeking heart. You are ready for a change. You’re looking for hope. In your journey you have now come to see Jesus. You may be surprised by what you see. He doesn’t look rich or strong or great. But you see him as the Savior he came to be. He was born to die on the cross for each of our sins and to offer each of us forgiveness, a fresh start and eternal life.
Imagine yourself coming now to Jesus this Christmas. You’ve found him and now you must decide what to say and do. Worship him---surrender your heart. Make Jesus the king of your life. Give him whatever you count valuable and important.
Let’s follow the star of Christmas the rest of your life.
Dear Lord we thank You this Christmas day for all that You have done for us. We pray that from this day forward we would follow the star and give You our all. In Jesus’ name, Amen.