© Gregory L. Jackson, 1999
A Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304
#7 THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM
The story of the wise men is read on the Day of Epiphany, January 6th, so some people will think this lesson is out of order. But we also want the children to realize that when Jesus was born, all of Creation participated in many different ways. In addition, there has been a war against Christianity by science. In the name of science many details of the Bible have been disputed. When those details are proven true later, the old charges are forgotten and new ones invented. So this particular miracle is import in an age of technology.
1. The youngest children should realize that God brought the wise men to Jesus through a miraculous event, the Star of Bethlehem.
2. Grade school children should understand the scope of history, through God’s eyes.
3. Confirmation age students should think about issues concerning the Christian faith and science.
Matthew 2:1 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, 2 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.
King Herod the Great was a violent ruler who had three of his sons and one of his wives executed. More importantly, he was a sign of the coming Messiah. Herod was the first non-Jewish king.
Genesis 49:10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. [This means that the Messiah, Shiloh, will come when a non-Jewish ruler is put on the throne.]
Herod doubtless knew another king, a greater king, was coming. The wise men also knew the Savior was coming. We do not know exactly where they were from, except that they were from the East. Contrary to our prejudice, the early civilizations were quite advanced in many areas, especially in observing the stars. The Great Pyramid in Egypt shows a mastery of technology and math, still standing after 4500 or more years. The Sphynx is just as old, perhaps older.
We are quite primitive in comparison. Few people today can find the brightest planets (Venus, Jupiter, Mars) or name a few constellations. Desert dwellers get a spectacular display almost every night, especially when city lights are few. In ancient cultures, the stars were the only road maps and calendars.
The wise men were astronomers who observed the stars and could predict events in the sky. The exact identity of the Star of Bethlehem is not known. The Chinese recorded a “guest-star” in the sky, a new event, but this might have been a comet or a conjunction of two or more planets.
A comet is pulled toward the sun and returns over a long period of time. Comets can be quite beautiful in the night sky. Hale-Bopp had a showy split tail a few years ago. The comet Hale Bopp was impossible to ignore. Something new in the sky can frighten people.
A conjunction takes place when planets move into the same place in the sky, increasing the light coming from them. Jupiter is the king star, so a conjunction involving Jupiter would make ancient astronomers think a king was going to be involved. In the 1970s, Jupiter and Mars rose in the sky together for a period of time, one very bright, one lighter but reddish. Later, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Saturn, and Mercury were in the same general area of the sky, something that can happen only once in 900 years. Some noticed it; others ignored it. If two bright planets are very close in the sky, they are extremely bright.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, 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 demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
King Herod did not enjoy hearing that the Star of Bethlehem led these astronomers to his land. The entire city was also upset. They probably thought of a political revolution. Herod thought he could be killed or humiliated the rest of his life. Conquering kings liked to use former kings as footrests.
Herod gathered his own advisors, and they supported what he feared. They quoted the Scriptures to show where the Messiah would be born – in Bethlehem.
Micah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
The star was also predicted in the Old Testament:
Numbers 24:17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
King Herod wanted to use the wise men to find the Messiah. They wanted to worship Him. Herod wanted to kill Him. Herod could not tell them the truth and get their cooperation, so he lied. He claimed hewanted them to find the Messiah so he could worship Him! We can see that Jesus was already a source of comfort for some, like the wise men, and a source of fear for others, like King Herod.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw 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 exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
The star led the wise men to Jesus and His family. They believed in Him as their Savior and were happy to see Him. They worshiped Him and gave Him gifts. The three gifts suggest three wise men, but we are told the exact number or the names of the men. The Word of God concentrates on Christ rather than every single historical detail.
The three gifts say more about Jesus than about the wise men. No ordinary baby gets such gifts. The gold was given to Jesus because He is the king, in fact, the king of kings. Frankincense was burned on altars in the worship of God. Myrrh was used in the preparation of a body for burial. The gifts portray Jesus as King, God, and appointed to die for the sins of the world.
Jesus’ life was threatened many times, beginning with the desire of King Herod to find Him and kill Him. His time had not yet come, so the wise men were warned to avoid King Herod and return to their land.
Some discussion topics are:
1. Why did the birth of Jesus scare King Herod and fill the wise men with joy? (Answer: King Herod was guilty of many terrible crimes, and felt guilty, but his solution was not to seek forgiveness but to get rid of the new king. The wise men believed in Jesus even before they saw Him. They were also sinners, like all of us, but they looked for the comfort of forgiveness.)
2. Does the new evidence about the Star of Bethlehem prove that the Bible is correct? (Answer: we do not go to the science of today to confirm that the Bible is true. We trust in God’s Word. It is ironic that people once made fun of any type of Star of Bethlehem, calling it a “myth” or “fable.” However, the way in which it led the wise men was a miracle and beyond rational explanation.)
3. Why don’t we know more about the wise men? (Answer: if we knew the names of the wise men and their exact origin, we would want to know even more. Who were their fathers? Where were they educated? The Bible would be bigger than a set of encyclopedias and we would want to know even more.)
a. Get a new issue of Astronomy magazine and look for some of the major events in the sky. January and March of 1999 both feature a blue moon, a second full moon within the same month.
b. Ask someone with a telescope or binoculars to show the children some objects in the sky.
c. Ask the class to track some events in the sky in the next few weeks. Some easy constellations to find are Orion the Hunter and the Big Dipper. The pointer stars always point to the North Star. Can they find this?