The Star and the Magi

The Star, The Magi, and The King (Micah 5:2-5 and Matthew 2:9-11)


Let us begin our discussion of Christmas with an apology or defense. There are two popular objections against the celebration of Christ’s birth I would like to briefly address. After which, I will positively lay down what we are celebrating every Christmas.

As for the objections, the first comes from popular sub-Christian culture and the second from our reformed circle.

First, some say December 25 is a pagan holiday and Christians have no reason to celebrate it. Well, it is a myth. Historically, we know Christians did not celebrate Christmas because of the Roman festival of Saturnalia. December 25 came from the Christian liturgical calendar. It is a yearly commemoration of Christ’s incarnation and birth. It was derived in relation to the historical date of Christ’s death, March 25. Since the fourth century, early Christians recognize this date also as the day when Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. And since a full pregnancy is 9 months, the birth of Christ lands on December 25. So Christmas had a historical Christian roots. It is was never pagan.

Second, all these sounds Roman Catholic. As reformed Christians, we believe in the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) and properly worship only during the Lord’s Day. There is only one holy day for us that is Sunday, our Lord’s Day.  I heartily agree. Christmas, together with other yearly liturgical events like Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, Epiphany, are not explicitly commanded by Scripture so celebrating them cannot bind any Christian conscience. This principle cures us of all excesses we find in the secular commercialization of this holiday as well as the extravagant attention most churches put during this season. But the abuse of something shouldn’t be allowed to destroy its proper use (abusus non tolit usus) so in our classis we consider these liturgical events as not holy but helpful. We encourage its proper use in order to help Christians celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

What is Christmas?

In Scripture, Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s incarnation and birth. The second person of the Trinity, the God-man who is eternal and infinite added to himself what is temporal and finite. He was incarnated; He became man equipped with both body and soul. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the womb of a virgin, his mother Mary. The season comes with the opportunity for us to preach and teach about this great and wonderful event. In doing so, we often we look at it from two historical narrative sources in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. 

So for tonight, we will be hearing an event from Matthew 2:1-12. This event is commonly called as Epiphany which means “to reveal or manifest”. It happened after the Advent where Jesus is supernaturally revealed here not only as the King of the Jews but the Lord of the world, including us Gentiles. I organized them from into three headings: (1) The Guiding Star of Bethlehem; (2) The Gentile Magi Witnesses; (3) The Worship of the Child-King.

Before we begin, let us pray.

The Guiding Star of Bethlehem

What is the Star of Bethlehem and what is its significance?

The star is a celestial object which appeared twice in our narrative and appears to be moving a from direction to another. According to the account from Matthew chapter 2, First, it rose from the east in reference to Jerusalem. This gives us a clue to the possible identity of the Magi which we will hear later on our second heading. Suffice for now to comment how the star helped them identify the birth of the king of the Jews. Second, it helped the Magi on their journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. From verses 9-10, the star appears again for the second time and brought them to where Jesus lives.

The celestial object seems to occur as a natural phenomenon. There were theories about it having a supernatural origin but the fact that Magi, as ancient astronomers, took notice of its existence means it is an observable phenomenon. They may attach some superstitious beliefs surrounding its appearance but again, we know it was brought by providence.

Modern Christian scholars identifies the star not a fixed object like a sun but speculates it may have been a comet. The object appears to behave like a comet, appearing and re-appearing, and finally moving to specific direction. I find this explanation valid but again, these are theories and perhaps for prudence’s sake, we can settle with simply accepting it as an natural phenomenon with a supernatural significance.

In Scripture, the appearance of the star had a prophecy in parallel in Numbers 24. In context, Balak commissions Balaam, who in some sense a Magi of his day, to pronounce curses towards Israel but instead he speaks of blessings and prophecy. Scripture records it to say: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth (verse 17).” So we can say while a natural phenomenon led the Magi to Jesus, primarily it was the special revelation from Scripture carries more authoritative weight. Similarly, Matthew himself quoted from Micah 5 to ascertain the location of Jesus’ house.

Where does this leave us? The star simply shows us the power of God’s providence. The child who was born was not only a ruler of Israel but the King and Creator of the world! Yes, special revelation provided a sufficient basis for knowing his birth place but exceedingly, God demonstrated his creative power in full display to show the grace of his glory. God has come in the flesh to save us sinners!

The Gentile Magi Witnesses

Who are the Magi and why did Matthew include them in his first Christmas narrative account?

The Magi are scholars or learned men of ancient times. They study astronomy with a mix astrology. While there are superstitious in some of their practices, they can be considered as scientists of their day. These Magi who visit Jerusalem may have come from Babylon. After their king conquered Jerusalem in six hundred BC, some royal men from Israel joined the king’s courts as Magi. Included in these men was the prophet Daniel which could explain how these Magi from 6 to 4 BC knew about Hebrew Scriptures and the prophecy of the birth of this Jewish King. 

The importance of the Magi in our narrative does not lie in the fact they were “wise men”. The It is not found in the fact they knew about the star and the prophecy behind it. No, it was more than that. They were important in the narrative because of the fact that they are not Jews but Gentiles. Yes, these people are outside the commonwealth of the promises of God; they are not God’s people and yet they were the first to acknowledge the supernatural and divine origin of their Messiah-King.

This event speaks volume against the absence of joy, jubilee, and glorying from the people in Israel when their Messiah-King was born. Aside from the lowly shepherds and angels during Jesus’ birth in a manger, only these Gentile Magi witness the coming of the Lord King, not only for Israel but for the entire world. The Child-King who is the ruler of the world was sought by those he was born to save. And with his birth, all of God’s people including us Gentiles rejoice at his coming.

In this sense, Christmas is a season for us to commemorate God’s extravagant love to the world. When the Son was given in his first coming, we all witnessed the grace and glory he brings to us sinners. None of us deserve his coming; All of us sinners failed to keep all of his commandments and yet by God’s incarnating work, he is now forever with us, Emmanuel, God in our midst. The rejoicing comes with gratitude because of redemption was given to us undeserving sinners. We were made free because the child who was born and shared our humanity also died to save us from our sins.

The Worship of the Child-King

Why was it important for the Magi to witness the coming the Child-King and what are the meaning of these gifts they bring?

Worship. Epiphany is the liturgical event that marks the end of Advent. Our Scripture topic about the Star and the Magi falls under this event. Epiphany means to make manifest. It is the manifestation of the Christ to the Gentiles. And what does this fundamentally reveals? That the Messiah is our God and King. He rules the world and even incarnated as a child then during the Magi visit, Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation. And as our Creator, he demands our worship as creatures created in his image. 

Now, the act of worship by the Magi come with gifts and these gifts foreshadows the ministry and work of our incarnate God-child. Contrary to popular understanding, Magi is a plural term and does not necessary mean they were three wise men. The number three comes with the number of gifts which are gold, frankincence, and myrrh (verse 11). Gold represents the kingly office of Christ while the frankincense used in temples points to Christ’s priestly office. 

But myrrh as a preserving agent used in embalming represents death. It points to the sacrifice Christ performs in his death at the cross for us sinners, Jews and Gentiles. The birth of Christ, his first advent speaks as an epihany of his impending death. The Savior was born to die and worship of God comes with Christ as our sacrifice. We worship him because God accomplished our redemption by the death of God’s Son.


So we rejoice in our worship of God. Every Lord’s Day we come to God’s presence assured of his pardon know Christ himself now intercedes for us. Let us commemorate the Christmas season with joy and anticipation knowing his coming was for us and that he came to die for us sinners. So rejoice and be glad Christian for your Savior has come!

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