A STAR DARES TO SHINE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-25-88 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are a now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Star Dares to Shine. In the second chapter of the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew, the story of our Lord’s birth begins like this:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came magi—Parsi priests—from the East to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him. We have seen His star, and have come to worship Him.
Many years ago, I also followed the star to Jerusalem. The plane landed at Lydda Airport, and I was taken to the city of Jerusalem in the nighttime, and spent that first night in St. Andrew’s hospice. When I awakened the next morning, I looked out the window toward the Holy City. At that time it was in the hands of the Arabs. When I looked out the window, immediately before me was the Bethlehem road. It was cut off by coils and bales of barbed wire. It was in no man’s land. There were signs, “Beware of mines.” And all through the night I had heard the cracking of rifles. And that confrontation was continuing throughout the day and the days. And as I looked on the debris and the ruins of war—this was just a little while after 1948—I thought in my heart, “How does a star dare to shine upon a scene like this?” the ruin and the debris and the waste of war on every side.
Then my heart went back to the first Christmas day and the story of that star shining in the sky above the manger of our Savior [Matthew 2:9-11]. And as I looked and read, I was astonished at the effrontery of the shining of that light from heaven in defiance of the situation. The providence:
It came to pass, so Luke tells the story, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled. And this census was made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. Then went up Joseph and Mary, great with child, to Bethlehem, to be enrolled according to the decree of Caesar Augustus.
Well who is he? Caesar Augustus was the first Roman Fuhrer, the first world dictator. He was a part of a triumvirate, and he liquidated the other two, Antony and Lepidus. Then he assassinated three hundred senators and three thousand knights. He confiscated the property of citizens in order to bribe and build up his army. He was a ruler of absolute power and despotism. He destroyed the Roman republic and built Caesarism for then and for the centuries that followed after. He assumed the epithet “Augustus” in order to exalt his name and power among the people. That is Caesar Augustus.
Then I read in the days of Herod the king. Who was he? The bloodiest tyrannical monarch who ever lived! The reason Josephus, the historian who recounts in detail the reign of Herod, the reason Josephus omits this story of the slaughter of the babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16], the slaying of those babes in Bethlehem, was a peccadillo in the reign of Herod. He was an Idumean who assumed the Jewish religion for political reasons. He killed most of his own family. His long reign was bathed in blood. Caesar Augustus said, “It would be far better to be a huos in the household of Herod than a huios.” The Greek word for “pig” is huos. The Greek word for “son” is huios. Even Caesar, bloody Caesar, said you were better off being a pig, a hog in the household of Herod than a son.
Then it says here that he gathered the chief priests [Matthew 2:4]. Who were they? At that time the priesthood was sold to the highest bidder. Murder and intrigue and simony characterized the holy priesthood. Had you visited the sacred temple and walked through its precincts, it would look like a merchandising mart, look like stockyard. That’s the way the priests enriched themselves: you had to buy your sacrifice from them. It was a matter of money, of simony, of exchange, of merchandise. It was a charade of religion; empty ritualism that God soon after this day destroyed forever.
What a day and what a time and what an era on which the star of Christmas did shine! [Matthew 2:2, 9-11]. Not in keeping with the time, but in spite of it. Caesarism was triumphant. Bloody Herod stood above the manger of Bethlehem. Religion was empty and ritualistic. In the empire, three out of every five of the people were slaves, chattel property. There was the exposure of children. If you had a child born and didn’t want the child, you exposed it; that is, you put it some place where the dogs would eat it or the animals would devour it, or worse still someone of a hard heart would take the child, break it up, break its bones and its limbs and then rear it to be set on the side of a street, there to ask alms. Unthinkable to us! There was not in all the world a hospital. There was not in all the world an orphan’s home. There was not in all the world a school for medicine. The whole world was plunged in darkness. And yet, above that world a Christmas star did shine. The powers of darkness were riding hard, but above it God put His star in the sky [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11].
Those stars, they play a remarkable place in this revelation of God, His stars. Abraham one time said to the Lord, “Lord, what of the promise? I am nearing a hundred years old, and my wife Sarah is nearing ninety years old, and we have no son, no heir. Yet You say that out of our loins shall he come; the seed to bless the whole world. Lord, where and how?” [Genesis 15:1-3]. And God took Abraham out from under the stars and said to His patriarch, “Look up toward the heavens and count them, if you are able to number the infinitude of God’s handiwork.” And the Lord said to Abraham, “So shall thy seed be, he that is born out of thy loins” [Genesis 15:4-5]. Those stars were no longer stars: they were promises! They were the emblems of God’s faithfulness, the stars in the sky. That is this: the stars that shine above us are emblems and tokens of the promises of God in His faithfulness to His people. They are His pledge of love and remembrance.
True to His word, true to His promises, keeping the faith, there is the star of faith; God’s star of faith. One of the most remarkable things in this world in time and history is the faithfulness of God to His word through the thousands and the thousands of years. May I read from the Word?
- “When the fullness of the time was come,” Paul writes in Galatians 4:4, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, to redeem us from the curse of the law” [Galatians 4:4-5].
- Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between thee, the serpent, and the woman, between thy seed and her Seed; you shall bruise His heel, but He shall crush thy head”; thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago.
- Genesis 12: “The Lord said unto Abraham, I will make of thee a great nation, and in thee and thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:2-3].
- Galatians 3:16: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ.”
- Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.”
- Numbers 24:17: “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of His hand.”
- Second Samuel 7:12, to King David: “I will set up thy seed after thee, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.”
- Micah 5:2: “Thou Bethlehem, little among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who will be Ruler of My people.”
- Matthew 1:20-23: the virgin gives birth to a child, and calls His name Immanuel.
Through the thousands of years, God keeps His word.
When you send me a Christmas card, I read it. And some of your Christmas cards have in them the most beautiful poems in the language. Here’s one:
A tiny Babe of Bethlehem is God’s covenant with earth.
To every lonely, weary heart, He promises new birth:
That each dark night will end in dawn;
That hope will banish fears,
Making a bridge of broken dreams, a rainbow of our tears.
Each year has its winter, and every year has its rain;
But the day is soon and coming,
When Christ Immanuel is with us again.
One of you wrote that. The star of faith: God keeps His promise with His people.
Thousands and thousands of years that Child had been promised; and the Lord was faithful [Matthew 1:20-21], and He is coming again [Acts 1:10-11].
Those stars: a star of hope, God’s star of hope. If you’ll come with me anytime, there’s not anything in this earth more beautiful to me or encouraging than to see one of our little churches; we’ve got twenty-nine of them. A little church, sometimes a little white crackerbox of a church, in the middle of a slum: hope, God’s star shining. Like one of God’s creation, a lily blooming in the middle of a swamp, in all Solomonic glory: a chapel, a church in a slum.
I suppose there is no place in this earth where the name of the Lord is so frequently seen as in a cemetery. Walk through the city of the dead and see there the hope engraved in those marble tombstones, the name of the Lord; or in the thunder of battle in the scenes of death, the chaplain standing looking up toward heaven. And our own revelation of the course of the history of this world; all of us face the judgment of death, and ultimately, according to the Apocalypse, ending in a vast conflagration called Armageddon [Revelation 16:16; 19:17-21]. And in one of your Christmas cards:
I wasn’t there when angels sang of peace, good will on earth;
I didn’t kneel beside the manger at the Savior’s birth;
I wasn’t there to walk with Him the paths of Galilee;
I didn’t see Him raise the dead or walk upon the sea;
I wasn’t in the happy throng for His triumphant ride;
I wasn’t standing at the cross when He was crucified;
I wasn’t at the empty tomb to hear the angel say, Fear not;
Nor was I on the mount to see Christ go away.
But when the rapturous moment comes to meet Him in the air,
When God’s clouds roll back and He returns in glory, I’ll be there!
I’ll be there to meet Him and to welcome Him from the sky—God’s star of hope.
God’s star of love: when God looked down on this needy world, how did He answer our cry? Did He do it with a vast army? Did He do it with an arsenal of weaponry? Did He do it with invincible government? Did He do it with advancement in technology? How did God answer the need of our human hearts?
Down a road is a donkey. And by the side of the donkey is a peasant carpenter; and riding on the beast of burden is a virgin maiden, heavy with child. And there is a stable, and a manger, and a tiny Baby [Luke 2:4-7]: God’s answer to the heart cry of the world; God’s star of love.
Your Christmas card:
How should a king come?
Even a child knows the answer, of course:
In a coach of gold with a pure white horse,
In the beautiful city, in the prime of the day,
And the trumpet should cry, and the crowds make way,
And the flags fly high in the morning sun,
And the people all cheer for the sovereign one
And everyone knows that’s the way it’s done.
That’s the way that a king should come.
How should a king come?
Even a commoner understands,
He should come for his treasures, and his houses, and his lands;
He should dine upon summer strawberries and milk,
And sleep upon bedclothes of satin and silk;
And high on a hill his castle should glow
With the lights of the city like jewels below.
And everyone knows that’s the way it’s done.
That’s the way that a king should come.
How should a king come?
On a star filled night into Bethlehem
Rode a weary woman and a worried man.
And the only sound in the cobblestone street
Was the shuffle and the ring of their donkey’s feet.
And a King lay hid in a virgin’s womb,
And there were no crowds to see Him come.
At last, in a barn, in a manger of hay,
He came—and God incarnate lay.
Earth was silent, so heaven rang;
Men were dumb, so the angels sang,
“Peace on earth, good will to men;
Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
That’s how the King came.
Dear God in heaven! the star of love shining above that manger
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
[“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Philips Brooks]
God’s star of faith and of hope and of love. What a marvelous message! And what a glorious gospel! And how beautiful to bow in His presence and to love our Lord Jesus!
And that’s our prayer and invitation to your heart this Christmas morning. A family you coming into the church, a one somebody you giving his heart and life to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], a couple you dedicating your home to our blessed Savior, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Make the decision now. And God make this Christmas day the sweetest remembrance of your whole house and home. Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.