Dec 26 2021 Is there Astrology in the Gospel?
26th December 2021
Grace Summit December 26 2021
Heavenly Father, thank You that we have gathered together over these weeks to celebrate Advent – Your coming. Thank You that You became human to take away our sins. Thank You, Lord, for Your love for us and the joy we can experience in You. Speak to each of us, even though we are not gathered together. Encourage us, as the New Year approaches, that we might live in unity.
Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem 2 saying, "Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him.
This morning, we will look at our final Advent question – it comes from the Wise Men - "Where is the one who is born king of the Jews?” – this is the Question of the Seeker. And what we see in all of these Advent stories is that God is always the initiator of faith – and He is that with the wise men. There faith is initiated when God places a star in front of the wise men.
The Bible Project – if you go to their ‘about us’ page - https://bibleproject.com/about/, they have these sentences explaining what they are doing and who they are:
From page one to the final word, we believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus. This diverse collection of ancient books overflows with wisdom for our modern world. As we let the biblical story speak for itself, we believe the message of Jesus will transform individuals and entire communities.
Just as the Bible points to Jesus – The heavens declare His glory – and God is using the heavens to point the wise men to Jesus.
We need to learn – without being rude or weird – how to help people understand how everything points to Jesus. We have to be careful with this, as we show how the Bible points to Jesus. There are many folks who have done this well. Rob Bell, a number of years ago, put together a creative video called “Everything is Spiritual” – where he shows how things in Scripture are pointing to Jesus. Tim Keller does this really well, in a different way – in numerous videos – the prodigal God – one on the gospel and life – where he shows how this can be done. And the Bible Project people, Tim Mackie and Jonathan Collins have done this in an excellent way.
The timetable for the Magi – sometimes in our manger scenes, we have the wise men there at the birth, but that would not have happened. This took place 1-2 years later.
There are two themes in Matthew’s gospel that we looked at in the story of Joseph – and those themes are illustrated in the story of the Magi. First, Matthew’s gospel is an apologetic for Jewish Christians. It is a defense that provides evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. He does that through the story of the Magi. Also, the second theme – Jesus is the Messiah of the Gentiles and not just of the Jews.
The Gospel writers use a unique strategy that was not used anywhere else in ancient texts. They use unlikely and unconventional people and stories to defend the reliability of what they are writing.
Here is what I mean by that – the story of the resurrection – the first witnesses are women. There is a group of women who meet the resurrected Jesus – and He says – go and tell the disciples. So women are the first evangelists. In their time, a woman’s testimony was considered unreliable and not permitted in a court of law.
The only reason Matthew would tell it this way is because it is true! The Magi is similar – they were members of the priestly caste of Eastern astrologers from Persia – they practiced magic and divination – which was strictly forbidden in Israel. They were also the enemies of Daniel – and they conspired to have him put to death.
Jewish people would have understood this – so he would not have used this to prove Jesus was the Messiah unless it was true! You cannot make up these kind of stories! These Magi – who are the first worshipers of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel were at one time the enemy of Israel.
This story also reveals an important aspect of God’s nature – the condescending nature of God – meeting people where they are! He comes down to our level and speaks to us in our language, according to our understnaidng and perspective, for the purpose of revealing Himself through our own language and understanding! So in this story, God uses a star – the language of astrologers – to reach astrologers. In the near East, Stars were believed to reveal the birth of a new king. Legend has it that a new constellation of stars arose when Alexander the Great was born. Whether that is true or not – God entered into that world, and He used their thinking to bring them and point them to Himself. A modern-day example of this – C. S. Lewis – an atheist that God brought to Himself – and one of the main ways he used was Lewis’ love of Norse Mythology. God took these stories and this hunger – to point him to the true story of Jesus and His death and resurrection.
From the beginning – the true story has been replaced by false stories – but within those false stories are echoes of the truth – and God takes those false stories to lead people to the true story of Jesus Christ. He comes down to our level and points us to Jesus through the stories we tell ourselves today.
Matthew 2:4 4 After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he (Herod) asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem of Judea," they said, "for it is written this way by the prophet: 6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
Wise men are placed in contrast to the king of Israel (Herod) appointed by the Romans – not a true king – in contrast to the Bible scholars – but Herod had been known to kill any rivals…
7 Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and look carefully for the child. When you find him, inform me so that I can go and worship him as well."
The wise men are true worshipers; Herod is a false worshiper.
Matthew shows Gentiles at times as being the true worshipers and people of faith – and in contrast, at times showing the religious leaders as being false worshipers.
Matthew 2:9 9 After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star they shouted joyfully. 11 As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
This is no longer an astronomical event – the star STOPS and HOVERS over the house! These men have studied the stars their whole lives – and this event would fulfill their life ambition – it was a dream come true. This creates tremendous joy in them – for us, it would be like the Browns winning the Super Bowl. They were seeking one thing – an understanding of stars and kings – and found something much greater.
This is true of my dad – when I became a Christian in college – when I had put my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior – to an outsider, it might have looked like a hippie-style Christian commune. For someone like my dad and mom – it looked weird and probably dangerous. So my dad committed himself to figuring out how to get me out of this – and he started reading the Bible to show me where I was wrong. God took that to lead him to Jesus!
The gifts they are giving – Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh – are gifts of great value that would be given to a king.
Matthew 2: 12 After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country.
Dreams play a significant role in Matthew’s story – first to Joseph, then to the Wise Men – and again:
13 After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him."
Here we have Joseph, again, another dream, and silent obedience – as we see throughout this story.
Matthew 2: 14 Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt.
This trip would have been very costly – Joseph and Mary were poor. It doesn’t say this anywhere in the Bible – but these three gifts would have covered the expense of the trip to Egypt…
15 He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: "I called my Son out of Egypt."
This is a design pattern in the Scriptures – the Exodus comes up over and over again. Matthew is showing that Jesus is the new and ultimate Moses, and this is the new and ultimate exodus. And as Israel was called the children of God – and in Jesus, we have the true and perfect son of God.
To close - I looked up one of my favorite scholars – to see if he had anything written on the Magi – and he does – N.T. Wright – and it ties in with the everything points to Jesus – and how this story points to the climax of Matthew’s gospel – in five ways – Matthew 27 – so here, in the Magi story – they are searching for a king, and find it – and at the end, we see Pilate asking – are you the King of the Jews? Are you the king?
Jesus responds – my kingdom is not of this world.
Jesus stands face to face with a representative of Caesar, the ‘king of the Empire’
The next thing we see – Pilate is warned in a dream – a dream of his wife – she comes to him and says to have nothing to do with this man. The dreams of Joseph, the Magi, and Pilate’s wife are connected.
The soldiers who mocked Jesus and beat him and hung him on a cross – are the second people in the gospel to call Jesus the King of the Jews.
And just like the wise men – Jesus is given gifts – one, appropriate of a king – a CROWN – excep a crown of thorns – appropriate for the savior – the Lamb of God.
Finally – at Jesus’ birth, it was a bright star that led the wise men to his home. When Jesus died – the sky grew dark, and the sun was blackened. Then on Easter Sunday – it goes from darkness to this great light – the light of Christ coming out of the tomb, saving all who come to faith in Him.
Lord, I pray, on this Sunday morning – the day after Christmas, that Your light would shine on us -a nd that we would be witnesses and bearers of that light. May we not cover that light with other things. May we not distort the message of the death and resurrection of Christ with anything else. May this pure message shine forth from our lives and be spoken from our mouths.