Star of Wonder

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Star of Wonder - The Real Christmas Story

 Mt 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'"
 7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also." 9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 I was looking through the Concordance for the Ambassador Hymnal and found 16 hymns for Christmas and Epiphany with the word star or stars in them. If we look through the entire Hymnal we will find a total of 52 Hymns with references to star or stars.

Now either it’s an extremely easy word to rhyme, (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) or stars are an important part of what we Christians sing about . They certainly are an important part of the Christmas story especially as they relate to the wise men. Tonight, I want to spend a little time looking at the account of Christmas found  in the Book of Matthew.   

My prayer is that you will come away with a deeper sense of awe and child-like wonderment of this mighty God we serve, and that this will be the Christmas that you will lay it all down and come to worship the Christ child as your Lord and Savior as the wise men did some 2000 years ago.

This account in Matthew is another one of those stories of Christmas that we have glamorized, and never really sat down and analyzed.... and considered the actual facts. Let’s turn to Matthew 2:1 and begin:

“Now after Jesus was born,” ... important word, because it signifies that the wise men were not alongside the shepherds on the night Jesus was fact, a considerable amount of time has passed since the birth of the Babe.  How do we know this?

The references to child in the 1st chapter of Matthew refer in the Greek, to an infant, whereas all the references in the 2nd chapter refer to a toddler. So Jesus had aged a little by the time the wise men found Him.

Now don’t go throwing your wise men from your nativity set into the garbage, because as you shall see, they are more a part of the December 25th Christmas celebration than the shepherds are.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King”....Herod the King. Now we have a secular historic figure placed in the account, that helps us to hang a date on this part of the Christmas story.

Herod is a key figure in the dating process of this marvelous event. Being a powerful earthly king, Roman historians have passed much information along to us concerning his life and his reign.

Matthew continues: “Behold,  wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” ...note the word behold here, whenever you see it in Scripture, Stop. God wants you to take in the scene.  Behold it. Examine what is taking place.

God is telling us here that this is a significant event. “Behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.”  2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."  “When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

Troubled? Yup! He was taking these guys seriously. Why?

In order to understand that we need to find out who these Magi were. Magi were court astrologers, and they were held in high esteem as they gave advice, made forecasts, and predictions for their royal patrons based on their study of the stars, about which they were quite knowledgeable.

They often wandered from kingdom to kingdom, and it was not unusual for them to cover great distances in order to attend the birth or crowning of a king, paying their respects and bringing gifts.

It is not surprising, therefore that Matthew would mention them as a validation of Jesus’ Kingship, or that Herod would regard their arrival as a serious matter. The wise men wouldn’t be in his castle if there was not a rival in town.

Christians today have lumped astrology with sin, and we really need to be careful about that. It’s true that many have taken the study of the stars and turned it into witchcraft with horoscopes, and ear -tickling personal prophecies, and God calls all that stuff sin.

But in the Creation account found in Genesis, we read that stars would be good things, “for signs and would mark religious festivals, days, and years.”  (Gen. 1:14)

Their original intent was for good and one could make a very good case for the plan of salvation illustrated in the signs of the Zodiac...but that’s another sermon in itself. The point is, astrology (the study of the stars) in itself is not evil.
The wise men knew that stars mattered to God, they were familiar with the ancient books including ...the Holy Bible. They knew the prophecy from Num. 24:17 -

“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab and destroy all the sons of tumult.”

Moab was a nation that was hostile to Israel and it was often used in Scripture to represent the devil. This prophecy has it’s root in Genesis when God told the devil that the seed of the woman would one day crush the serpents head.  

So battering the brow of Moab is the equivalent of “bruising the devil’s head!”as we read in Genesis. These astrologers knew this great event prophesied in the Scriptures  was about to happen as they observed the appearance of the conjunction of two stars,  and that’s why they headed for Judea, looking for the King of the Jews.

They told Herod, “For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

This astronomical event, (the spotting of conjunction of two stars that appeared when Christ was born) may not have been obvious to all. It certainly was missed by Herod There is no reference here to the brightness of the star, if it were extremely bright Herod and others would have seen it, his palace  was only 5 miles away from Bethlehem!

This was an insignificant event to laymen, but it was monumental to these astrologers who knew their stuff! Who knew their prophecies! This star of Bethlehem,  went largely unnoticed by all except for  a few experts such as the Magi.

Men who knew stars mattered to God and were placed for signs, and they were determined to check out this event,  because they knew the star signified the birth of the King of Righteousness, the One who would be born to forever defeat the serpent, the devil.  

 Let’s try to put a date on all this. One of the neat things about stars is they follow a set pattern. It’s not difficult in this age of computers, to look back at any day in history and paint a picture of what the stars in the sky looked like on any given day.

Craig Chester, President of the Monterey Institute for research in Astronomy published a paper several years ago entitled The Star of Bethlehem which gives us his picture of what was happening in the skies at the time of Christ’s birth, and I’d like to pass along some of his thoughts and observations.

He has fixed the birth of Jesus as sometime late in summer or early fall. The first big clue is that this is the time of the year when shepherds are out in the fields watching their flocks. They just don’t do that in December, there are other clues as well and we’ll get to them later.

What about fixing a date for the arrival of the wise men? Will the stars give us clues? Oh yes they do, especially when you realize that the stars mentioned in Matthew 2 are really two separate sightings. Two separate events.

First the Magi saw the birth star rising in the East. (V2)  They recognized that star as the one spoken of in Numbers and they knew that the King of Righteousness had been born. They knew the King of Righteousness was a Jew and so they knew they had to go to Jerusalem to try and find Him.

We don’t know when they left, but we do know when they arrived. There is no indication that the star was involved in any way with their journey as some sort of beacon to follow. If they were following a star all along, they wouldn’t have needed to stop in Jerusalem and ask for further directions.

Chester, says, there were two sightings and we read of the second sighting AFTER the wise men left Herod in v9.

Now let’s talk a little bit about Herod here. Herod likely died in the spring of 1 B.C. You may ask, How is it possible that he died one year “Before Christ?” The answer is somebody goofed in establishing the calendar we use today. The calendar is probably about 3 years off.

If Herod died in the spring of 1B.C. We can start talking about the years 2 and 3 B.C. in the actual Christmas story. It’s interesting to note that the year 2B.C. marked the 25th Anniversary of Caesar Augustus’s rule, and the 750th anniversary of the founding of Rome.

Huge celebrations were planned. To honor their emperor, the people were to rise as one and name Augustus, “Father of the Country.. Getting the people to do such a thing would take some organization, and so an enrollment or census was ordered. Where have I heard that before?

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” (Luke 2:1)

“So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city” That meant that Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem....sometime before the big celebration of 2B.C.......likely 3 B.C.  God knew all this stuff from the foundation of the world! Is God’s Day Planner awesome or what?

But that’s nothing, look at the astronomical stuff that was going on at this time!
Chester says that on September 11, 3 B.C, Jupiter (which was known in Hebrew as Sedeq, or righteousness) came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo. Leo was the constellation of kings, and it was associated with the Lion of Judah.

The planet of righteousness approached the royal star in the royal constellation representing Israel. Righteousness comes to Israel! The wise men saw this conjunction and hopped on their camels and headed to Judea to worship and bring gifts to the King of Righteousness!

According to Chester, Jesus was likely born then on September 11th of 3 B.C.  It was this conjunction of the stars that triggered the wise men’s trip to Jerusalem. They knew a Scepter, a ruler had been born that night somewhere in Israel! And so they headed off to Jerusalem.

No star to guide them, they stopped at Jerusalem hoping to get a little more information about where this King was born. Then, after leaving Herod in Jerusalem they spotted another unusual phenomenon concerning the planet Jupiter that greatly pleased them, we read about it in Mt 2:9,10:

“When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”

Why did they rejoice? Because the star was doing something unusual again.  

The phrase “stood over”  or stopped was an astrology term used for what is now called a planet’s stationary point. A planet normally moves eastward through the stars from night to night and month to month, but regularly exhibits a “retrograde loop”

At some point it reaches the end of the loop and appears to stop before heading back.  As it approaches the opposite point in the sky from the sun, it appears to slow, come to a full stop, and move backward (westward) through the sky for some weeks. Again, it slows, stops, and resumes its eastward course.

It seems plausible then that the Magi were overjoyed at again seeing before them, as they traveled,  southward, the star, Jupiter, which at it’s stationary point appeared to be standing still over a little town called Bethlehem.

Guess what? According to Chester, we do know for certain that Jupiter performed a retrograde loop in 2B.C. and that it was stationary....are you ready for this? On December 25th, during Hanukkah, the season for giving presents.

Is that awesome or what! I told you the wisemen would be more fitting for your Christmas creche than the shepherds!

How can you not fall on your knees and worship such a God. A God who on the 4th day of creation set the stars in the sky and foreordained that Jupiter and Regulus would come into conjunction on Sept. 11th, 3 B.C. and that Jupiter would perform a retrograde loop on Dec. 25th of  2B.C. Just in time to receive the wise men and their presents?

A God who arranged a census for the sole purpose of getting Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in order to bring His Son Jesus Christ into the world at the proper time and place.  The Christ child, likely born on September 11th of 3 B.C. and visited as a toddler by the wise men on December 25th of 2 B.C.

You probably all received at least one Christmas card with the words, “Wise Men still seek Him.” How true. The One who created the stars and set them in motion on the 4th day of creation, knew the exact moment of Jupiter’s conjunction with Regulus.
He knew then that it would be Rome’s 750th birthday, and Augustus’s 25th year of rule. He knew a virgin named Mary would be pregnant with a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, and He knew they had to be in Bethlehem for the birth of His Son. SO He got them there.

He knows it all. He is in charge. He got you here tonight to hear this message. Why would you  want to live apart from Him? Why would anyone refuse bow their knee and worship Him, Why would any one refuse to listen to Him and His Word.

The only thing that keeps us apart from this holy magnificent God is our sin. Sin separates us from Him, yet on September 11th in the year 3B.C.  His Son was born into this world, and they called His name Jesus because He will save the people from their sins. He will make it possible for you and I to have restored fellowship with the Creator of the Universe...Almighty God.

Consider what you have heard tonight and know that this King of Righteousness born in Bethlehem lived a sinless life on this earth and then 33 years later on a hill outside Jerusalem willingly allowed Himself to be nailed to a tree so the price of your sins could be paid.

And the God who faithfully set those stars in motion, faithfully promises all who receive His Son Jesus the gift of eternal life. Surrender tonight to the King of Righteousness. Believe God and His Word and yield your life to the King of kings and the Lord of Lords.

God, who knew the birthday of Rome, knows your birthday too. It is His desire to be connected with you, and He promises to connect with all, who like the wise men, fall down and worship His Son. Kneel down and adore Him tonight. Ask Jesus into your heart.