The true story of Christmas celebrates the birth of the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. When we read this Christmas story, we often gleam over the special events of His birth by simply accepting them as miracles from God. However, there is much more to this story in its fulfillment of prophecy and its message to the world.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. Matthew 2:1-2 (KJV)
These two verses provide intriguing information regarding the events that occurred when Jesus was born. First, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem; second, these wise men saw His star; third, the wise men came to worship Him.
Most scholars agree that these wise men were Magi from Persia in the east. More interesting is who these Magi were and what they practiced. They were followers of Zoroaster, rooted in the Chaldean teachings, and were wise in the skill of astrology, being able to read predictions from the stars. The Chaldeans are referenced many times throughout the Old Testament for their false teachings and practices. It was the very land of the Chaldeans, from which the LORD separated Abraham to follow Him!
I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it. Genesis 15:7 (NIV)
There is no question that the people and cultures of antiquity studied and worshipped the stars: the signs of the Zodiac permeated ancient cultures all over the world. The Maya were obsessed with time and were most accurate in their measurements using the stars as their guide. There are numerous megalithic structures on the earth today in perfect alignment with the celestial bodies, which testify to the fascination the ancients had in gaining wisdom from the stars.
The holy scriptures are clear that we are not to worship celestial bodies, nor use them to predict the future.
And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. Deuteronomy 4:19 (NIV)
Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. Jeremiah 10:2 (KJV)
The bible does not say that all astrological predictions are incorrect necessarily, but that we must not follow these teachings. Astrology, horoscopes, fortune-telling, they are deceptive even if they are able to predict. We should not be ignorant of those who dabble in these practices and we must be assured that the LORD’s ways supersede any stellar arrangements and only He can confound the wise.
All the counsel you have received has only worn you out! Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you… Each of them goes on in his error; there is not one that can save you. Isaiah 47: 13,15 (NIV)
No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. Daniel 2:27-28 (NIV)
The Savior’s Star
The Gospel according to Matthew provides a clear description that a new star appeared at the time of Jesus Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Why Christ was born at this exact moment in time and this exact place in the world is a topic to be explored later.
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared… 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. Matthew 2:7, 9 (NIV)
We do not have scientific records available from the time of Christ’s birth to corroborate what this star was and when it appeared. However, there are other historical documents that provide further description, such as the Epistle of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians in 69 A.D. St. Ignatius lived very close to the time of Christ’s birth and very likely worked under John the Apostle. In St. Ignatius’ epistle, he states:
How then was our Saviour manifested to the world? A star shone in heaven beyond all the other stars, and its light was inexpressible, and its novelty struck terror into men’s minds. All the rest of the stars, together with the sun and moon, were the chorus to this star; but that sent out its light exceedingly above them all. And men began to be troubled to think whence this new star came so unlike to all the others. Epistle of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:11-12
This historic record may be a description of a supernova that exploded when Christ was born into this world. Supernovae are brightest in the first few weeks after their explosion and diminish in brightness over months, sometimes years. It is reasonable to theorize that a supernova appeared at Christ’s birth, dwarfed the light from all other stars and planets for a limited period of time, and yet was visible long enough for the wise men to find Him in Bethlehem.
Another curious observation is that this star went ahead of the wise men and stopped over the place where Jesus was. On the surface, this seems to describe a floating bright light in the lower atmosphere that the wise men followed. However, given their wisdom with the stars, the interpretation could be comparable to a navigational tool they used based on the alignment of this star with the constellations to determine the exact location where Jesus was living.
A similar tool is used by Benjamin, son of Jacob, to find his brother Joseph, son of Jacob, in the Book of Jasher.
And he ordered them to bring before him his map of the stars, whereby Joseph knew all the times, and Joseph said unto Benjamin, I have heard that the Hebrews are acquainted with all wisdom, dost thou know anything of this? And Benjamin said, Thy servant is knowing also in all the wisdom which my father taught me, and Joseph said unto Benjamin, Look now at this instrument and understand where thy brother Joseph is in Egypt, who you said went down to Egypt. And Benjamin beheld that instrument with the map of the stars of heaven, and he was wise and looked therein to know where his brother was, and Benjamin divided the whole land of Egypt into four divisions, and he found that he who was sitting upon the throne before him was his brother Joseph, and Benjamin wondered greatly, and when Joseph saw that his brother Benjamin was so much astonished, he said unto Benjamin, What hast thou seen, and why art thou astonished? And Benjamin said unto Joseph, I can see by this that Joseph my brother sitteth here with me upon the throne, and Joseph said unto him, I am Joseph thy brother, reveal not this thing unto thy brethren. The Book of Jasher 53:18-21
Although the Book of Jasher is not part of the biblical canon, it is referred to within the biblical canon in Joshua 10:13 and II Samuel 1:18, so its validity should not be casually or entirely dismissed. The key to remember here is that the wisdom spoken of by Joseph is that taught by Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, who was called out from the Chaldeans by the LORD. Any true wisdom that exists in God’s creative works of the cosmos was passed down to Abraham; whereas the “wisdom” of the Chaldeans and other pagan practices thereafter were corruptions of the original knowledge.
Nevertheless, the holy scriptures provide all that we need to know to follow the LORD. If the wisdom of the stars was necessary for our relationship with Him, He would have ensured this knowledge was included in the scriptures that have been passed down through time. Since this wisdom has been lost with the patriarchs, any attempt we make to seek it out will only lead to distraction and deception. Therefore, we must follow His command and not be dismayed at the signs of heaven.
To Him that by wisdom made the heavens. Psalm 136:5 (NIV)
Scientifically, we know that the earth and our solar system are not the physical center of the universe. How amazing, then, is it that the earth is the spiritual center of the universe, where there may be hidden truths in the stars that can only be seen from the earth’s vantage point and only be revealed by God? This is a question to ask our Creator when we meet Him. Until then, we must follow His Word and refrain from distractions and deceptions that have corrupted His perfect work.
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Psalm 19:1 (AKJV)
We do not know the exact tools and methods the Magi used to study the stars and predict the times, but we do know they were watching and waiting for a sign. Once a bright star appeared in a particular constellation in the sky, it marked the arrival of a savior, who would provide the only way to eternal salvation for the world, and so they journeyed to Jerusalem to worship Him. Even in a pagan culture so far removed from the LORD’s ways, He was able to deliver a message to reach those in a foreign land!
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:20-21 (NIV)
We should not be so naïve or arrogant to dismiss the awesome works of our Creator that far surpass anything that could ever be documented in any ancient record. The bible contains everything we need to obey His commands and be united with Him. To deny that there may be other wonders in creation that He has not yet (and may never) reveal to us is to limit God to a box that we can only define with our finite minds. We should fearfully revere Him and all His handiwork. As we read the Christmas story this year, consider the star that appeared to mark the Savior’s birth as a reminder of the awesome creation of Almighty God and that the purpose of His creation is for us to worship Him and for Him to redeem humanity.
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (NIV)