November 30, 2009

The Star of Jacob - Nov 29, 2009

Grace and Advent peace be multiplied unto you in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Our brief text this evening is a prophesy from the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 24, verse 17, as follows:

"I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17 NKJV).

This is the Word of God.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Name which is above every Name, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

Stars are interesting. None more so than the star that powers our solar system, the sun. Did you know that about half of Americans aren't aware that the sun is a star? Did you know that the temperature of the sun is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but that a lightning bolt is three times hotter than that? Did you know that the next nearest star to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is about 25 trillion miles away? To put it in perspective, if our sun were the size of the dot over the letter "i", then the closest star would be another, similarly-sized dot ten miles away!

Ever since God created them, people have looked up at the stars and been fascinated. And for good reason. Like so much of God's creation, the stars are beautiful. And their orderliness and predictability reinforce our faith that God truly is in control, not just of my life, but in control of the whole universe. God truly has a plan for the universe, and a plan for your life, as well. And from eternity, the biggest part of that plan was to provide you with a Savior from sin. Maybe that's the reason that the Bible, in the Book of Numbers, speaks of Jesus as a Star. This Advent, we're looking into some of the beautiful names that the ancient prophets used of the coming Savior. Our season theme is, "The Name Which is Above Every Name," and today we consider a very special name:

I. A Star to guide you.
II. A Star to govern you.
III. A Star to save you.

Some years ago we had a midweek Lenten series with the unusual theme, "Sermons Preached by Jesus' Enemies." It focused on texts where people who were enemies of Christ said things about Him that were profoundly true. Like the time that the High Priest Caiaphas said, It is expedient that one Man should die for the people." Or when Pilate's wife said, Have thou nothing to do with that just man." Well, today's text is similar. In it, one of the bitterest enemies of God's people - in fact a man who was hired to curse God's people - instead involuntarily pronounced a wonderful blessing upon them. He promised them a Savior!

The man's name was Balaam, the son of Beor. He was a Gentile seer, or prophet. It all happened when Israel had just about come to the end of their Forty Years' wandering in the wilderness. The events of our text take place shortly before the death of Moses and the crossing of the Jordan. Israel was encamped in the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River. Israel had recently conquered two kings east of the Jordan: Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. King Balak of the Moabites was next in line, and he was understandably nervous. So he sent for Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam didn't want to do it, but King Balak insisted. A funny thing happened, though, when Balaam tried to curse Israel - out of his mouth came blessing instead. For of course, God was in control, as always. To the king’s horror, he heard Balaam prophesy victory for Israel and defeat for her enemies (including Moab). It was an important prophesy, and heralded Israel’s successful conquest of the promised land. But then, abruptly, in the middle of this short-term prophesy about Israel, God allowed Balaam to look out far into the future, to view the advent of the most important Person in the history of the world. Balaam said, "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel."

I see Him, but not now. Balaam uttered this prophesy around 1400 B.C. Can you imagine that? Fourteen hundred years before the star appeared over Bethlehem, this heathen prophet saw the Savior. But the vision was dim. I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. Much time would pass before the advent of the Star of Jacob. But already at this ancient date, in fact from the beginning of time, God had set the planets and stars in motion. Everything in the universe was ordered with but one object in mind: the coming of the promised Savior. Then, when everything was just right, when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. -- Gal 4:4-5.

A Star shall come out of Jacob. Why is the coming Christ called the "Star of Jacob"? Well, Jesus was a descended from Jacob, or Israel, of course. But why a star? Why did God use that specific term? Think for a moment about what stars do. One of the most important things they do is guide people. Since ancient times, mariners have navigated according to the stars, using the stars to guide them unerringly to distant destinations. The Star of Jacob is a Star to guide you.

You think astrology is big today? You should have seen the ancient near east! Many ancient cultures bowed down and worshiped the stars as idols, so much so that Isaiah mocks them in chapter 47 when he says, You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, And the monthly prognosticators Stand up and save you From what shall come upon you Israel was specifically forbidden to rely upon the stars to guide them. With this one exception - God promised, through Balaam, to send the Star of Jacob. This Star they were to pay attention to. They were watch carefully for the coming of this Star, for this Star would guide them.

And for centuries, wise men watched and waited for the advent of the Star. The Star that would guide them and save them. By the time 1400 years had passed, they were still waiting. Many false messiahs arose, the most famous of whom was Simon bar Kochba, which means "Son of the Star" These people all knew that ancient prophesy of Balaam - it was common knowledge. They were all looking for the Star. Do you remember what happened after the birth of Christ, when the three wise men showed up in Jerusalem? They said "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." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. -- Mt 2:2-3. The whole country was stirred up, and no wonder! Because they all knew Balaam's prophesy about the Star. And they knew it meant the coming of the Messiah. 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. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. -- Mt 2:9-10.

What about you? Are you guided by the Star of Jacob? Does it make you rejoice with exceedingly great joy? Which seems more real to you, Jesus Christ or the stars you see when you look up into the night sky? In fact, they're both equally real. But even Christians often act as if that weren't true. A couple of weeks ago I heard a fellow named Aaron McDowell giving a presentation and he said something interesting. He said that a lot of people - even Christians - act as if religion was a different kind of truth than science. Like it belongs in a different category, the category of feelings and opinions. They say things like, "Oh, you have your religious beliefs and they're valid for you, but I have different beliefs and they're equally valid. Maybe we're both right!" Have you noticed that no one ever says that about physics or geometry or math? ("Oh you have your math, it's true for you, but my math is different!") The Bible says Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever! Jesus is our pole star.. He guides us; He's the criterion by which we judge everything else in our lives. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me." It's time we Christians started being guided by the Star of Jacob. It's time we realized that the Word of our Savior is more profoundly true than the Law of gravity, or two plus two equals four. Speaking of the Bible Peter says, we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. -- 2 Pet 1:19. Heed the Star of Jacob! It is a Star to guide you.

Secondly, the Star of Jacob is a Star to govern you. The text says, A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel. The word "scepter" is interesting. It also means "staff" or "rod." You remember the 23rd Psalm? "Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me"? Same word. When it is used of a king, it means the mighty scepter that the king holds in his hand, and it's significant in two ways.

Of course, it's a symbol of authority. The possessor of the scepter has the right and authority to govern. And of no one was this more true than the coming Christ. In Genesis 49, the dying Jacob referred to the coming Christ as Shiloh, "the One who brings peace," when he prophesied: The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. -- Gen 49:10. When Jesus arrived that prophesy was fulfilled. Jesus said, All authority has been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. -- Mt 28:18.

But the scepter was also symbolic of something else - of the power to crush and defeat the enemies of the king. That's why the word scepter is related to the words "smite" and "smite." Psalm 2 says of the enemies of the Lord, You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery." -- Psa 2:9 NIV. Do you think of your Lord Jesus this way? You should! For he is your King, and one duty of a king is to fight for his people and defeat the enemies of His people. All the difficulties you encounter in life, every hostile force that is arrayed against you, must contend not just with you, but with you and your King: the Star of Jacob, the Scepter of Israel! Think about that. That balances the fight out a little bit, doesn't it? In fact it makes you indestructible. If God be for us, Paul asks, who can be against us? The Star of Jacob is governing us!

Which brings us to the final point. The Star of Jacob is a Star to save you. I read an exciting story about a man who was hunting elk in a wilderness area and got lost. He was miles from anywhere. He had a compass, but it had been broken in a fall. He knew the rudiments of navigation, but the problem was that the weather was overcast, so he couldn't see the sun or the stars. After several days he was out of food and nearly at the point of exhaustion, when finally, one evening, the cloud cover lifted and there before him was the bright North Star. He knew immediately what it meant: he was saved. For to the north lay the road he needed to reach. This man was literally saved by a star.

In a very real sense, you've been saved by a star, too! By the Star of Jacob. That Star that was predicted untold centuries ago, that star that shone over the fields of Bethlehem, the Star of Jacob, has guided you too to the cradle of your Savior. You were baptized into His name. You heard His good news, the news that, though you are a sinner, yet through faith in Christ your sins are forgiven. You saw the promise of the Messiah fulfilled when Jesus suffered and died on the cross outside Jerusalem. By doing so He atoned once and for all for the sins of the whole world, as John reminds us in comforting terms, If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. - 1 Joh 2 :1-2.

Are there sins on your conscience? Misdeeds you've committed that return to trouble your mind and disturb your thoughts? Banish those thoughts! For you have a Savior. Let every twinkling star in the sky remind you that your Star of Jacob has come. He has come to save you. He has come with His atoning sacrifice to cover all your sins and to deliver you, holy and righteous, to the very gates of eternal paradise! Because of Christ, you too can confidently say with the Apostle Paul, The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom." -- 2 Tim 4:18.

Again this Christmas season we will see that old saying - a slogan we've heard so often that by now that it has become rather trite and cliché: Wise men still seek Him. But like a lot of clichés, it nevertheless conceals a profound truth. Jesus is the Star of Jacob. He is the Star that guides us, the Star that governs us, and the Star that saves us. And it's true: wise men still seek Him. May God grant to each of us the wisdom to seek him, to trust in Him, and to worship Him all our lives long.


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