That Crazy Star of Bethlehem

Behold, the star that they had seen when it rose
went before them until it came to rest
over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9)

The star moved. Really?

This is already the second time in this short section that Matthew’s making sure he has our attention. “Behold” is his effort to make sure we’re tracking with him.

First it was verse 1: “Behold, magi from the east came to Jerusalem . . . .” We’re supposed to be surprised that pagan astrologers came to see baby Jesus. (For more on the magi, see “We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t”)

But Matthew would have us be just as shocked with verse 9: “Behold, the star . . . came to rest over the place where the child was.” Behold, the star moved — and pointed them to the particular place where Jesus was! Pay attention, take notice; this is no typical star.

Exploiting Their Sin

This is astounding — that God is welcoming the magi, and not on the provision that they first abandon their life of astrology and magic. No, he comes to them where they are, in their sin. He goes as far as to exploit the very channel of their deepest idolatry to draw them to Jesus.

Not only is God drawing these sinners to Jesus, but he’s using their wickedness to do it! He captures their stargazing attention with a supernatural “star” and leads them not only to Israel, but to the little town of Bethlehem, and then to the place where they might see and worship his Son.

Science to the Rescue — Not Quite

In the last few hundred years, far too many have speculated that maybe this “star” was a comet or a supernova or some kind of planetary conjunction. I doubt the effort to explain this in scientific terms is worth giving much time to.

“Behold,” Matthew says, “this star moves!” And Matthew is no nitwit. He knows that stars don’t typically lead people to such specific locations. There’s nothing like this anywhere in the Old Testament.

This is plainly a supernatural occurrence that God is using, specially tailored to draw the magi astrologers — a “star” the likes of which we have not seen, have no experience of, and have no capacity to describe in scientific terms.

God Stooping So Far

So God comes to these stargazers where they are — in their sin, as their attention is focused on the stars for guidance (rather than the Scriptures) — and woos them to his Son.

The magi are messy. This crazy star is confounding. It’s messy that the magi are pagan astrologers, such blatant sinners, and it’s messy that God is stooping so far, exploiting their sinful practices as it were, to bring them to Jesus.

But maybe it shouldn’t surprise us too much. This is, after all, about the greatest divine stooping in all of history, when God himself, in the person of his Son, stooped a humanly incalculable distance by not grasping his divine prerogative, but becoming fully human, humbling himself to take our flesh and blood, our finite mind and feeble affections, and take our humanity all the way to death, even death on a cross, for us.

May God be pleased to keep drawing magi like us to such a shockingly self-giving Incarnate God.

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David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.