Thoughts on the Christmas Star

I always find the events surrounding the most important birth in the world fascinating.  And it seems as if each Advent season, something new captures my attention.  Just what was the deal with the star the wise men saw that drew them to Jerusalem to speak with king Herod?  I certainly don’t offer anything conclusive, I’m no astronomer, nor do I have some secret knowledge that scholars through the centuries have lacked, but some textual observations to bring perhaps a bit more clarity …

1- Matthew is the only Gospel writer that records the piece of the story including the wise men from the east and the star (Matthew 2:1-12).  Remember Matthew was written for a Jewish audience, an audience well acquainted with the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures.  It appears the idea of the star being connected to the Star Prophecy of Numbers 24:17 may have been in Matthew’s mind and a detail he felt important to his audience.  This Star Prophecy came to represent the coming of a great deliverer for the nation of Israel.  The “War Scroll” found at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) as well as its role in the Jewish holdout at Masada give ample historical evidence that the Jewish people zealously held to the star prophecy and the “star that would come out of Jacob”.  Of course they understood it to be a King, and in the Christmas story it represents the symbol of a King or the announcement of a King.  So I believe we could conclude that it was an important part of the story for the Jewish readers in proving that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah – Star.

2- Wise men in the east (astronomers) knew what to look for, they were studying the heavens.  Hmm … Lots of celestial occurrences have been identified to try and attach a reasonable explanation to the physical event of the Christmas star.  And in each case the timing, location in the sky, or plausibility seems rather forced, or at best a guess.  Here’s what we do know, these non-Jews were directed by some occurrence in the heavens to pack up and head a great distance to Jerusalem.  They recognized something unique was happening, but not everyone could observe it.  Contrary to popular Christmas pictures there was most likely not a huge star with its tail pointing like an arrow down to the Bethlehem location.  It took a trained eye and mind to observe this celestial anomaly, one that even Herod’s wise men had no knowledge of.  If everyone could have seen this like a neon sign in the sky, would not there have been huge crowds lined up to see what the strobe light was advertising?  At least a few months had passed since the birth of Jesus and it still appeared to be relatively unknown to many (2:3-4), but not to the wise men.

3-  When the wise men got to Jerusalem, had their visit with Herod, and were sent off to Bethlehem, the text says the star “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was”.  Even if Matthew doesn’t have the proper astronomical vocabulary to scientifically describe what is happening, it still seems quite clear that something unique (dare I say supernatural) is going on.  But again, only to the trained eye, otherwise why wouldn’t Herod’s soldiers just have followed the star also and killed baby Jesus?  So, God directs these wise men to the new King and they worship with great joy.  Angels announced the birth to shepherds, and the heavens announced the birth to the wise men, it’s not like this was a normal natural birth in the first place.  So, I’d propose this is one of those events in Scripture where science and faith appear together – wise trained scientists who exercised faith and embraced the supernatural.

4- What to make of all of this?  I offer two conclusions.  First, this was yet another picture of the divine invading the human.  God entered the realm of man.  Heaven came down to earth.  The supernatural broke through the natural.  And God included the wise men of the east to validate this occurrence.  Second, this event marked to the Jewish readers that the “Star Prophecy” was not just for the nation of Israel, but for the world.  Worshippers come from outside of Israel to bring gifts to this unique King, and the heavens declare that this king is for the whole world, announced in the heavens not only to Jewish shepherds but for all peoples.  A divine announcement that a Savior has come to redeem mankind from every tribe and tongue!

So friends, let’s be people of great joy, like the wise men.  Let’s fix our minds on the God who created the universe and can use every part of it to declare His glory.  Let’s be people who care about the nations, all of them, and capture God’s heart for the world at Christmas time.  A Savior indeed has come who alone takes away the sin of the world.  Rejoice with exceedingly great joy (2:10)!

Looking to the Star,

Pastor Mark

The Church Was Built For Diversity

John Calvin brings a great word commenting on Romans 12:4-6 and the members of the body of Christ, not as a nice “aren’t we different”, but a necessary – “God designed the Church that way”!  Read slowly and carefully …

“Paul speaks now not simply of cherishing among ourselves brotherly love, but he commends humility, which is the best moderator of our whole life.  Everyone desires to have so much himself, so as not to need any help from others; but the bond of mutual communication is this; that no one has sufficient for himself, but is constrained to borrow from others.  I admit then that the society of the godly cannot exist except when each one is content with his own measure, and imparts to others the gifts that he has received, and allows himself by turns to be assisted by the gifts of others. But Paul especially intended to beat down the pride that he knew to be innate in men, and that no one might be dissatisfied that all things have not been bestowed on him, he reminds us that according to the wise counsel of God everyone has his own portion given to him.  For it is necessary to the common benefit of the body that no one should be furnished with the fullness of gifts, lest he should heedlessly despise his brethren. Here then we have the main design that the apostle had in view: that all things do not meet in all, but that the gifts of God are so distributed that each has a limited portion, and that each ought to be so attentive in imparting his own gifts to the edification of the church, that no one, by leaving his own function, may trespass on that of another.  By this most beautiful order and, as it were, symmetry, is the safety of the church indeed preserved.”

Seems Calvin believed and longed for a Safe Church too.  This is a beautiful thing indeed, and one we ought strive toward and pray down the Spirit on until that Day when the Church is forever perfected!

In Need of You,

Pastor Mark

Safe Church

I’ve been thinking much about the Church these days and read an appropriate quote this morning …

You were cleansed by the same blood, regenerated by the same Spirit. You are a citizen of the same city, a slave of the same master, a reader of the same Scriptures, a worshipper of the same God. The same presence dwells silently in you as in them. Therefore you are committed to them and they to you. They are your brothers, sisters, your fathers, mothers and children. Whether you like or dislike them, you belong to them. You have responsibilities toward them that must be discharged in love. As long as you live on this earth, you are in their debt. Whether they have done much or little for you, Christ has done all. He demands that your indebtedness to Him to be transferred to your new family. – John White

An interesting thought this author brings up.  We don’t live trying to pay a debt back to God for the work of Jesus because we can’t, and that turns grace into a sales contract.  We live joyfully in the Gospel hungering for more and more grace.  But here, this author transfers that sense of “debt” to our responsibility to our new family, the Church.  We express love, grace, patience, mercy, compassion, hope, etc to our spiritual siblings as an act of love and worship to God.  In other words, if we love God and are grateful for the cross, we will love and honor  each other regardless of if we agree with each other on everything or not.  That, my friends, builds a “Safe Church.”

Now Safe Church doesn’t mean comfortable, lazy, feel-good church … it means an active, prayerful, evangelistic, missional church.  Why? Because when the family provides safety, love and honor, the kids can go out and “play” in the work of the ministry with courage and confidence, knowing God … and their brothers and sisters have their back.

Do you have each others back?  Or are you sticking sharp objects in each others back when they aren’t around? I pray for a Safe Church as a Christian because I need brothers and sisters to uphold me and care for my soul.  I pray for a Safe Church as a pastor because I need God’s people to trust Him enough that they will trust their hearts and lives to the elders not based merely on agreement over decisions or direction, but based on Gospel acceptance of God’s plan for His Church.  I find it interesting that most pastors who leave the ministry do so because of attacks from within not from outside the church.  They get hit by “friendly fire” that isn’t so friendly.  Tell me you’ve got my back … I’m watching and praying for yours!  God grow your Church, and keep us from getting in the way.

Working for your Safety & Courage,

Pastor Mark

How to Pray for Me

This seems like a funny post, I’m not fond of drawing attention to myself, but I get this question often from you all, and I certainly need and love being prayed for, so please hear my heart here as simply a shepherd who needs The Shepherd …

1- First and foremost, that my heart always pumps wildly with delight for the Gospel.  That I treasure nothing more than my Savior.  That I love God with passion, focus, and pleasure.  I am first and foremost a worshipper of God, not a pastor or preacher.

2- Pray for humility.  I am a proud man, I am a selfish man, I am always in need of the breaking work of the Holy Spirit to walk in simplicity, prayer, and faith.  I want to bless and serve people, and without humility I will use and manipulate others … pray that stays far from me.

3- Pray that I disciple and lead my family with grace and truth.  I genuinely believe the admonitions of Paul to those in eldership, if I can’t lead my own family well, then I have no business leading His family.  Pray for the hearts of my children to always be soft to the things of God and to not be jaded or hardened by dad’s “job”.  Pray my heart is always sensitive and in sync to the heart of Michelle.

4- Pray that I serve, preach, counsel, disciple, and lead with an eye to please God alone.  It really is a funny thing how any sermon elicits opposite responses: too heady – too light, too much Bible – not enough, too long – too short, too theological – too much application.  If I live to please people, I will go insane.  Pray I live to the glory of God alone, and then have a patient sensitivity to those God has blessed me with caring for.

5- Pray that I always seek the face of God for the vision and mission of the Church.  Pray that I never grow complacent in the task of making ready the Bride, and pushing the Gospel into the dark places in our world.  Pray I ever stoke the fire of faith as hot as possible in your life and the lives of all I get a chance to interact with.

I covet your prayers for me, my family, and the mission of the Church!

Thanks for serving me,

Pastor Mark