Advent: Day 8 – Bethlehem’s Supernatural Star

Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.

Matthew 2:2

Over and over, the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?

It does not say that it led them or went before them on the way to Jerusalem. It says only that they saw a star in the east (Matthew 2:2) and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as Matthew 2:9 says it did? And how did a star “rest over the place where the child was”?

The answer is: we do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied—not to become fixated—on theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.

I risk a generalization to warn you: people who are exercised and preoccupied with such things, as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood, are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal.

You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel: the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return, and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with some new article or book that they’re all excited about, dealing with something marginal. There is little rejoicing over the great, central realities.

But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.

There is only one person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars: God himself.

So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global—probably even universal—influence and power to get it done.

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get an insignificant virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get a little handful of foreigners to Bethlehem so that they can worship the Son.

This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations—all the nations (Matthew 24:14)—worship his Son.

This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work and in your classroom and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “The Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell.

But what is not different is the purpose and power of God in the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.

Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent by Desiring God Foundation

Advent: Day 7 – Messiah for the Magi

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”

Matthew 2:1–2

Unlike Luke, Matthew does not tell us about the shepherds coming to visit Jesus in the stable. His focus is immediately on foreigners—Gentiles, non-Jews—coming from the east to worship Jesus.

So Matthew portrays Jesus at the beginning and ending of his Gospel as a universal Messiah for all the nations, not just for Jews.

Here the first worshipers are court magicians, or astrologers, or wise men not from Israel but from the east—perhaps from Babylon. They were Gentiles. Unclean, according to the Old Testament ceremonial laws.

And at the end of Matthew, the last words of Jesus are, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18–19).

This not only opened the door for us Gentiles to rejoice in the Messiah; it added proof that he was the Messiah because one of the repeated prophecies was that the nations and kings would, in fact, come to him as the ruler of the world. For example, Isaiah 60:3:

Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.

So Matthew adds proof to the messiahship of Jesus and shows that he is Messiah—a king, and promise fulfiller—for all the nations, not just Israel.

Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent by Desiring God Foundation

Advent: Day 6 – Peace to Those with Whom God Is Pleased

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:12–14

Peace for whom? There is a somber note sounded in the angels’ praise. Peace among those on whom his favor rests. Peace among those with whom he is pleased. But without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). So Christmas does not bring peace to all.

“This is the judgment,” Jesus said, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Or as the aged Simeon said when he saw the child Jesus, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed . . . so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34–35). Oh, how many there are who look out on a bleak and chilly Christmas Day and see no more than that—a sign to be opposed.

“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11–12). It was only to his disciples that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

The people who enjoy the peace of God that surpasses all understanding are those who in everything by prayer and supplication let their requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6–7).

The key that unlocks the treasure chest of God’s peace is faith in the promises of God. So Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). And when we do trust the promises of God and have joy and peace and love, then God is glorified. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! Everyone—from every people, tongue, tribe, and nation—who would believe.

Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent by Desiring God Foundation

Advent: Day 5 – No Detour from Calvary

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
 Luke 2:6–7

You would think that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn.

Yes, he could have. He absolutely could have! And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called ten thousand angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do.

God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

God rules all things—even hotel capacities and available Airbnbs—for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.

And we must not forget that Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross” (Luke 9:23).

We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

To the one who calls out enthusiastically, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:57–58).

Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.

Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent by Desiring God Foundation

Advent: Day 4 – For God’s Little People

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 
Luke 2:1–5

Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5:2 shows)? And are you amazed that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living not in Bethlehem but in Nazareth, and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two unheard-of, insignificant, little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town? A decree for the entire world in order to move two people seventy miles!

Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of eight billion people, where all the news is about big political and economic and social movements and outstanding people with global significance and lots of power and prestige? If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake, but for the sake of God’s little people—the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to fulfill his word and bless his children.

Do not think that because you experience adversity in your little world of experience, the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity or our fame but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; / he turns it wherever he will.” And he is always turning it for his saving and sanctifying and eternal purposes among his people.

He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors and chiefs of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ—and then enter his eternal glory.

Good News of Great Joy: 25 Devotional Readings for Advent by Desiring God Foundation