Following Yonder Star

“We three kings of Orient are…” Or were they? Now I hate to be a Grinch, but like a lot of our traditions, this song mixes fact with fiction. For a start, the three “kings” weren’t kings. And really, we don’t even know if there were three of them! At the same time, we can count on newspapers running the standard holiday story about some astronomer who’s identified the so-called “Star of Bethlehem” as a comet, supernova, alignment of the planets, or whatever fanciful theory is popular this year. But none of these natural explanations fits the Bible’s description of what really happened. Let’s see if we can sort some of this out. For background information, I recommend that you read the second chapter of Matthew.

The men who came to visit the young Jesus were Magi. Some Bibles simply call them “wise men.” The Magi came from a powerful empire to the east known as Parthia. They played a big role in choosing the kings who ruled their land, and they had a lot to do with the religious life of their people.

This is not the first time we come across the Magi in Scripture. Back in the Old Testament we find that they were lead by man called Rab-Mag (Jeremiah 39:3,13). The prophet Daniel was at one time head of the Magi (see Daniel 4:9 and 5:11). [Many Bible versions use the word “magician,” but this is misleading. These weren’t people who made a living doing card tricks or pulling rabbits out of a hat!]

Around the time of Jesus’ birth, God sent the Magi a sign in the form of a star. We call this the Star of Bethlehem, but the Bible calls it “his star,” that is, the Star of Jesus (Matthew 2:2).

The men journeyed to the city of Jerusalem where they met up with King Herod. The Magi asked Herod a very bold question: “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” What a slap in Herod’s face! They just asked the king of the Jews about the birth of the King of the Jews!

Next, the Magi followed the Star of Jesus to Bethlehem. This could not have been something natural like a comet, an alignment of planets, or a supernova. Notice that the star appears first in the east, but after the Magi get to Jerusalem in the west, the star pops up again, moves south, and stands over Bethlehem. This does not fit anything natural. It must have been a miracle, that is, a special sign from God.

So why did God lead these Parthian men to Jesus? What does the birth of Jesus have to do with people who are not even Jews? There are at least two answers. First, by involving the powerful Magi, God showed everyone that the appearance of His Son in the world was a momentous occasion. Herod might be an earthly king of the Jews, but Jesus was greater. And second, it showed that Jesus came for the whole world, and not for Jews alone.

When the Magi saw the young Jesus, they worshiped Him. They presented Him with gifts fit for a king. Perhaps people got the idea of three “wise men” because three gifts are mentioned, but we do not know how many Magi there were. Also, paintings and illustrations often show them visiting a newborn baby, but Jesus could have been as much as two years old. This is why Herod wanted to kill all the children up to the age of two who lived in and around Bethlehem.

Yes, our traditional holidays remind us of important events in history, but everything we know about the birth of our Lord Jesus should not come from popular songs and stories. We should go back to the Bible to see what really happened.

© 2001 – 2010, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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