The three wise men’s pilgrimage to visit Jesus is a well-loved part of the Christmas story. Sparkly stars sit atop countless trees and radio stations play songs such as We Three Kings—which yours truly and my two siblings used to perform in full ancient king regalia every year for friends and family at Christmas. Three children/three kings was just too perfect a setup for my mom to pass up.
The story is beautiful and such a part of holiday culture that we may miss what a true marvel the Star of Bethlehem was. In fact, it was nothing short of a miracle. Let’s reread the passage of Matthew that sets up this brilliant story.
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief of priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ‘ Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’ When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” —Matthew 2:1-9
How incredible, a star in the heavens led three magi from their own land to search out the birth of the prophesied coming King. But what was the star, how did it come about?
Scientists have done their best to piece together the puzzle of the Star of Bethlehem. We don’t know for certain, but three main explanations stand out.
- A COMET? Some think the star was actually a comet. Throughout history, comets have been connected with important historical events, including the birth of kings.
- PLANETS CONVERGING? It could have been a gathering of planets converging at just the right time.
- A SUPERNOVA? Others say it could have been a supernova or exploding star that burst across the night sky.
Whatever the Star of Bethlehem truly was it conveyed a lot of information to the three magi who observed it. They had such knowledge and understanding of the cosmos that they were able to detect the star and follow it with pin-point accuracy.
According to Professor Rick Larson, the star had many distinct characteristics that made it apparent to the magi that it was a sign of the Jewish messiah.
- First, the star signified birth; it also signified kingship.
- The star was connected with the Jewish nation.
- It rose in the East and appeared at a precise time and endured.
- It was unbeknownst to Herod.
- And finally, it was ahead of the Magi as they went south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and stopped directly over the city of Bethlehem.
Wow, all of this is a convergence of epic proportions. Such a miracle could only be divinely set in motion.
Regardless of how you look at it, the story of the three wise men following the heavens to find Jesus is a miracle. Yes, they used the wisdom and science of their day to follow the signs, but it was God who set everything in the heavens into motion and it was through His incredible plans that such a miraculous event occurred. One that we still marvel at today.