Follow That Star
December 23, 2001
Driving with his uncle Tim one evening before Christmas, my six-year-old grandson Raymond noticed Venus brightly shining in the southern sky. Tim asked if it might be the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. "Maybe," Raymond answered, "but we don't have to go and search for Jesus. They found him already!"
-- Levi Dueck, Morris, Manitoba. Christian Reader, "Kids of the Kingdom."
Who is your favorite star? What star do you follow?
Many look to astrology for their hopes, dreams, and answers to those dreams.
But that is false worship. The Bible condemns such things.
Dt. 17:2 If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the LORD gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God in violation of his covenant,
3 and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky,
4 and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel,
5 take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death.
Others look to the rich and the famous, the stars of Hollywood, as those they follow and would like to become.
But we are reminded of their true nature every time we go to the grocery store checkout.
The tabloids make it their business to expose their moral failures of fornication, divorce, adultery, homosexuality, sexual diseases, and drug use.
It makes big news and sells magazines because we somehow continue to be shocked at the failures of those we follow in our culture.
Even some of our popular religious leaders have fallen victim to their stardom.
Indeed, even a few evangelical pastors of well known churches have failed to be the shepherds that their sheep had hoped –even in this past year in Chicago.
Perhaps the politics of government is your chosen means of hope?
We can't say that most of our political leaders have fared any better.
We can probably all list the names of those whose character qualities have sorely disappointed us these last few years – those who have placed selfishness above service.
Even since the dawn of the human race and its fall from grace, mankind has looked for someone to follow in his search to escape the darkness.
Man was in dire need of a star to follow, a champion to save him.
He had lost his light and hoped that someone would come to take his hand in pity of his plight.
This has been a difficult proposition because none could ever be found who were truly worthy.
Each one who rose to the top of the heap still came from the ooze at the bottom and they were still colored by its scent of sin.
The hope of a new birth was dashed quickly even in the first generation with Cain's murderous madness against his brother, Abel.
But with the birth of Seth, at least then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.
There was a glimmer of hope in God's prophetic words in Genesis 3 that the Seed of the woman would someday crush the serpent's head.
But the journey would be long. By the time the light would become strong enough to entice the attention of men, many would succumb to the serpent's slither.
The Bible reads like a storybook account of this journey. The line was drawn out in eternity past but traced by the generations of man at the last.
And so the line begins with Adam's dot and stretches out until it hits the spot of God's choosing.
You can read all about it in the generational summaries at the beginning of Matthew and Luke as they trace the divine hand that courses to Christ.
In case you never noticed, the genealogical record recorded by Matthew differs from that recorded by Luke from the time of David on to the birth of Jesus.
This is because Jesus is legally descended from King David as an heir to the throne of Israel through his "legal" father, Joseph, as Matthew records, even though Joseph wasn't his real father because of the virgin birth.
But he is also actually descended from King David as a blood relative through his mother, Mary, as Luke records for us.
Jesus is wholly and fully King as both God and man.
Little wonder that his birth was heralded by angels, and the heavens, and the wise and humble men of earth.
The whole Bible is the account of his coming, and of his coming reappearance, and of the weight of his cross upon the head of the snake that could not bear the burden of his superiority.
Finally the light of the generations of man was bright enough to see clearly for those who wanted to see what heaven revealed through the grace of God.
Man had used the stars for years to navigate the earth, but they were distant and constantly changed with the seasons.
Indeed, many men had come in similar fashion who were distant from God in their seasons of changeableness.
The birth of Enoch showed considerable promise because he "walked with God," but God took him for himself in sovereign service.
The line continues from his son, Methuselah, who lived 969 years, and finally to Noah in whom God found favor and through whom the Seed was saved during the Flood.
Noah too "walked with God" and was comparatively righteous and blameless among the people of his time, but ultimately revealed his own sin nature in his reenactment of Eden's transgression.
But Noah's son, Shem, continues the line and we see the beginning of the Semite clans and the dawn of the Hebrews with the birth of Eber in the third generation from him.
The line courses its way past the division of Babel's fallen tower to Abram whom God called from Ur of the Chaldeans in the tenth generation from the Flood.
And it is from Abram that the faint outline of a star begins to flicker in the darkness of the generations.
God spoke to Abram and gave him a promise.
Genesis 15:5 He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars— if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
You see, the promise was not just for One Star but ultimately for the many that would come through the One as they followed his light.
And we see the meaning of their stardom in the victory God would give over the darkness.
Since God was making them a people for himself, their enemies would be his enemies, and his enemies would be their enemies.
A victory over the darkness was in the making.
Genesis 22:17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,
And lest we think of this victory only for the Hebrews, we find that their light shall become the light for all nations.
Genesis 26:4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,
The starlight was still distant, but at least it was now visible.
Only the hand of God could have traced the Seed from the dot of Adam to the bosom of Abraham and beyond.
It is a long line in the time bound sense of man, but timeless in the eternal mind of God.
For God, the eternal is immediate, but for man the immediate just might be eternal, for the line is traced upon the souls of those who believe him as Abram did.
And in the speck of dust that our life is, we only go around once.
The Bible teaches us most of what we know about God and our need of him.
We continue the line through the patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, to the twelve tribes of Israel.
What stands out among them all and even those that follow is that this is all by grace, for the Bible reveals the shortcomings of them all in temporary failures of faith.
We see Abram and Sarai's sin in taking the promised birth of a son into their own hands by using Sarai's Egyptian maid Hagar as a surrogate childbearer.
The cause of the world's present trouble began right there with the birth of Ishmael who became the father of the Arabs and ultimately the Islamic religion.
But in the end the patriarchs trusted God because God gave them faith to do so, and they embraced what he revealed to them, and the line of the Seed continued.
The next place we see the starlight is in the dream God gave to Joseph, the eleventh of Jacob's twelve sons.
This dream affirms the brightness to come through the twelve tribes of Israel, since they are all called stars.
God's promise to Abram was beginning to glow.
Genesis 37:9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. "Listen," he said, "I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."
Moses pleads God's own promise back to him in God's anger at the sin of the Israelites when they prostrated themselves to the golden calf idol they made while Moses was on the mountain while God was giving the Ten Commandments.
Moses valued the light of the Star to come through the seed of the nation and interceded to keep it shining, even if it was presently dim.
Exodus 32:13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’"
And God keeps his promise. When the Moabites and the Midianites conspired with the pagan diviner, Balaam, to curse the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land, he could only bless them.
And God speaks through him about the one Star to come who would lead in victory over the enemies of God and his people.
The light of the Star was beginning to become less distant and beginning to burn brighter.
This Star would be the One sent as the standard for the rest, a true Star to follow.
Numbers 24:17 "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.
And indeed, as Moses speaks to the Israelites as they are about to enter the Promised Land, he reaffirms their calling as those who follow the light.
Deuteronomy 1:10 The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as many as the stars in the sky.
Deuteronomy 10:22 Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
They have not only become as numerous as stars, but they are likened as unto the stars.
But still, the presence of sin must be taken into account.
Even Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land because of his disobedience.
The One they must ultimately follow, although closer, is still distant.
The perfect leader is yet to come, if they would obey even him.
Deuteronomy 28:62 You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the LORD your God.
Even King David, famous as the "one after God's own heart," through whom the line continued and the Star of David, the Christ, would come, was unworthy to take the place at the head of God's people because of sin.
Near the end of his life he wanted to take a census of the people, but God was displeased with it because it was in opposition to the promise that the people would be as numerous as the stars.
In other words, David had a lapse of faith. He didn't need to know how many men he had. All he had to do was believe God that they would be many.
As a leader, he too, was ultimately unworthy. One brighter than he was yet to come.
1 Chronicles 27:23 David did not take the number of the men twenty years old or less, because the LORD had promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars in the sky.
1 Chronicles 27:24 Joab son of Zeruiah began to count the men but did not finish. Wrath came on Israel on account of this numbering, and the number was not entered in the book of the annals of King David.
Even after the return from Babylonian exile we see an affirmation of the promise in the prayer of the Levites for the renewal of the people.
Nehemiah 9:23 You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess.
This is consistent with God's reaffirmation of the promise even before he took them into exile because of their disobedience.
God is faithful even when we are not. His purpose will stand even if he has to raise up another generation to accomplish it.
Jeremiah 33:22 I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’"
Another prophet, Daniel, focuses closer in to present times to reveal the connection between the promise and those who keep it in faith.
The righteous will not only be as numerous as stars but they will be like them.
Because they have followed the light they will themselves be light.
The One who possesses the light has been ever before them.
They have followed him in what they knew about him.
They saw his light from afar and desired him, the Christ.
Daniel 12:2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
Daniel 12:3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
And finally, the Christ child arrives.
The long awaited Star has come to earth.
His light has shone and leads men from the ends of the earth to worship him.
God has come down to man. He has sent the perfect champion to lead us out of the darkness of our sin.
Matthew 2:2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
This was a real event in time and space, and at just the right time, the time of God's own choosing.
Matthew 2:7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.
Can anyone deny that Christ is the light of the universe?
Even he himself said that he was the light of the world.
He is indeed the long awaited Star, the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent's head and lead many to victory, as many as the stars of the sky.
Matthew 2:9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
The joy of the promise fulfilled has come.
Matthew 2:10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Our joy is in his righteousness that has become ours through faith.
His light shines through us with radiant brilliance.
Philippians 2:15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe
The promise has come full circle. Through Abram, called by God and given faith that his descendants would become like the stars of the sky, we have become his descendants by that same faith even though we too were as good as dead.
The grace of God has been revealed to man in Christ, the fulfillment of the promise.
Hebrews 11:12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
When Christ, the Morning Star rises in our hearts, we too shine like the star that he is to bring light to conquer darkness.
2 Peter 1:19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
Those who disbelieve him and reject him have sealed their fate as the black holes of the universe from which no light can escape.
Jude 1:13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
But all believers become collectively the church, the bride of Christ, for whom he has assigned his holy angels in all his brilliance to give us protection and power from his right hand.
Like golden lampstands, we are his precious light in the world. We speak his truth, the truth that Christ is the Star to follow. He is the head of his church.
Revelation 1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
Revelation 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
And God has not forgotten unbelieving Israel who will yet believe because God is faithful to his promise.
Like Joseph's dream, they are spoken of as stars.
Revelation 12:1 A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
Here, later in ch. 12, the stars refer to the fallen angels who were cast out of heaven with Satan.
(The Bible says that we are like stars, the angels are like stars, and that we shall be like angels.)
But here Satan opposes believing Israel to destroy the fulfillment of God's promise to her.
But notice later in the chapter (12:5) that Christ has won the victory over Satan and presently rules from heaven on behalf of God's children.
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our god, and the authority of his Christ --- for he has cast down Satan." (12:10)
Christ is the Star to follow because he has the ultimate victory and the only righteousness.
Indeed, righteousness is his victory – his brightness.
Revelation 12:4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.
(Look at the rest of chapter 12 too.)
And in case anyone could be left with any shred of a doubt, at the end of Revelation, the end of the Bible, he affirms his true identity.
He is the child of the promise, the bright Morning Star.
Revelation 22:16 "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."
The question remains whether we will follow him.
He is the only Star we can navigate by – that is trustworthy upon which we can set our course.
He is the only Star that will lead us home to a right relationship with God.
Indeed, he is God in the flesh. He is the Star of Christmas.
He is the Star that wise men seek, for by it they will obtain eternal life.
Here is a Star you can follow with confidence.
He is the Star of heaven and not a star of the world.
He is the only Star who can never fade nor fall, in whom we place our faith as the Savior of us all.
As the apostle, Paul, wrote to his young disciple, Timothy, in 1Tim. 4:9-10, "This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe."
That living God is the child of Christmas, the Morning Star of our salvation, Jesus Christ the Lord.
And it is only those who have especially believed in him that will realize their hope of eternal life in him.
Although he is available to all, he is not believed by all.
Perhaps you are one of those who will have their wish fulfilled this Christmas night: "Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight; wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight."
If your wish is to know God, you will find him in Christ alone.
Come to his manger and worship the mighty power of God for your eternal salvation.
What a paradox that a babe in a manger should be called mighty! Yet even as a baby, Jesus Christ revealed power. His birth affected the heavens as that star appeared. The star affected the Magi, and they left their homes and made that long journey to Jerusalem. Their announcement shook King Herod and his court. Jesus' birth brought angels from heaven and simple shepherds from their flocks on the hillside. Midnight became midday as the glory of the Lord appeared to men.
-- Warren W. Wiersbe in His Name is Wonderful. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 18.
The simple shepherds heard the voice of an angel and found their Lamb; the wise men saw the light of a star and found their Wisdom.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979)
Who were the Wise Men in the long ago?
Not Herod, fearful lest he lose his throne;
Not Pharisees, too proud to claim their own;
Not priests and scribes whose province was to know;
Not money changers running too and fro;
But three who traveled, weary and alone,
With dauntless faith, because before them shone
The star that led them to a manger low.
Who are the Wise Men now, when all is told?
Not men of science; not the great and strong;
Not those who wear a kingly diadem;
Not those whose eager hands pile high the gold;
But those amid the tumult and the throng
Who follow still the star of Bethlehem.
--James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 487.
Scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center report that one of the largest stars in our galaxy is about to self-destruct. Eta Carinae, which has a mass 100 times greater than that of our sun, is giving signs that its life is about over. Researchers say that it could become a supernova -- a blazing, exploding star -- within the next 10,000 years. What was especially interesting about the Science 82 report was the statement that since light from the star could take 9,000 years to reach the earth, the actual explosion could have already taken place.
This striking fact reminds me of the nature of biblical prophecy. For example, the predictions found in Revelation 8 are often written in the past tense. This is done because even though the prophet is writing of a future event, he has already "seen" it. Also, in the mind of God it's as if the events have already happened. (Rev. 8:10)
Much about Christmas remains veiled and puzzling. It harbors a mystery of faith and has a rather checkered history.
For more than 300 years after Jesus' time, Christians celebrated his resurrection but not his birth. The later Christmas festival was even banned in 17th century England and in early America.
The observance first begin in fourth-century Rome, timed to coincide with a midwinter pagan festival honoring the imperial army's sun god, Mithra. The December date was taken over to celebrate Jesus' birthday.
But on what day he was born is unknown. Even the precise year is uncertain. However, it was not in the year 1 A.D., as the calendar's Anno Domini (Year of the Lord) suggests.
Its dating system derived from an error about the year of Christ's birth by a sixth-century monk in Rome, Dionysius Exigus, in working out the starting point of the Christian era.
Scholars since have calculated that Jesus' birth came in about 6 or 7 B.C., meaning paradoxically "Before Christ". The revised time was determined partly by the fact that Herod the Great ruled Judea when Jesus was born and history records that Herod died in 4 B.C.
In what month the birth occurred, or on what day, has been a matter of speculation for centuries. Possible dates include: January 6, February 2, March 25, April 19, May 20, October 4, November 17.
A British physicist and astronomer, David Hughes, has calculated that the date was September 17, 7 B.C., based on various scientific evidence, including that of a conjunction of two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, in the constellation Pisces on that date.
He concludes in a book that this extraordinary celestial display was the "star" seen by the distant wise men.
The 17th century German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, similarly had calculated a three-planet conjunction, including Venus as well as Jupiter and Saturn, in the same constellation in 7 B.C.
In any case, a variety of months and days have been used over the centuries in different parts of the world to celebrate the occasion. Some Eastern Orthodox churches still do it on January 6.
Christmas was banned in 17th century England when Oliver Cromwell and his puritan followers gained temporary rule, forbidding what was called the "heathen celebration of Christmas."
The holiday similarly was banned in colonial New England. Christmas wasn't made a legal holiday in Massachusetts until 1856.
For all of the clouded chronology and legal background of Christmas, however, the biggest mystery is in its message -- that God has entered the human race in love for it, on with it, and one of it.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth," the Bible says.
That is the mystifying core of Christmas, an awesome concept that has challenged hearts and minds since. It holds that Jesus was truly human, sharing the nature of all people, yet also truly God. "Emmanuel -- God with us," Scripture says. "The light of the world."
It is always unpleasant when reading an interesting article in a magazine to find yourself pulled up short with the ominous words, "To be continued." Yet they are words of good cheer if applied to other matters. What a comfort to remember that the Lord's mercy and lovingkindness is to be continued! Much as we have experienced in the long years of our pilgrimage, we have by no means outlived eternal love. Providential goodness is an endless chain, a stream which follows the pilgrim, a wheel perpetually revolving, a star forever shining and leading us to the place where he is who was once a babe in Bethlehem. All the volumes which record the doings of divine grace are but part of a series to be continued.
-- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)