A STAR DARES TO SHINE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-25-88 10:50 a.m.
The standing up in that chorus, it is a wonderful remembrance. Back yonder in the 1700s when this was written, the king of England was like God Almighty: they believed in the divine appointment of their royalty. And everything was in deference to the king. So when Handel presented this glorious chorus—it was not the end of it in the Messiah the way he wrote it, it was right in the middle of it—when Handel presented it, why, of course, the people were to pay deference to the king. He was not to stand, he was not to be any otherwise than they bow down and worship him. But when Handel led that chorus, the Messiah, the “Hallelujah Chorus,” the king stood up. It wasn’t planned, wasn’t in the program, just his heart was so moved that the king stood up. And from that day till this, whenever they sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” all the people stand up. It is just a wonderful thing. It glorifies the Lord.
I have heard it, of course, ever since I was a boy; and I have always wondered if ever, ever in those four last “hallelujahs,” does anybody ever come in after the fourth one and sing a hallelujah beside? I’ve never heard them. Every time they sing those glorious four hallelujahs, they always pause, and then close it with that last phrase of paean. Oh! It is wonderful to love the Lord. It is great to bow in His presence. And we are going to speak of the triumphant faith in Jesus this morning.
Once again, we welcome the throngs of you on radio and on cable television who are 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. We begin with a background text in the second chapter of the Book of Matthew, as you read a moment ago. The magi translated here “wise men,” they were Parsi priests. They came from the far East, hundreds of hundreds of miles across a desert. And when they arrived in Jerusalem, where they thought, of course, the King would be born, they say, “Where is He, the new born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him” [Matthew 2:1-2]; His star, God’s star.
In keeping with that same kind of a call, I followed the star to Jerusalem, years and years ago. Following the star of history, following the star of fulfilled prophecy, and following the star of my own personal worship, I came to the Holy City. The plane landed in Lydda, down in the Valley of Sharon. And I arrived in Jerusalem in the middle of the night, when it was dark; was placed in St. Andrew’s hospice for the evening. And when I awakened in the morning, I looked out the window of St. Andrew’s hospice, and there before me was the walled city of Jerusalem, in the hands of the Arabs. And immediately before me was the road to Bethlehem. It was broken; barbed wire, rolls of wire were strewn all up and down the highway. Between me and the city was no man’s land; and there were signs everywhere, “Beware of the mines.” And the debris and the destruction and the rubble of war were from one side to the other. Could a star dare to shine on a scene like that?
So in mind and heart we go back to that day when the Christmas star shined over Jerusalem [Matthew 2:1-2], and then just four miles away over Bethlehem [Matthew 2:9-11]. How could the star of God shine over a scene like that on Christmas day, nineteen hundred and eighty-eight years ago? It says here in Holy Scripture, “It came to pass in those days, 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.)” [Luke 2:1-2]. Who is this Caesar Augustus? He was the world’s first unchallenged Führer; he was the world’s first absolute dictator. He held the entire civilized world in the palm of his omnipotent hands; nobody like him.
He began in a triumvirate, and he immediately liquidated the other two, Antony and Lepidus. He assassinated three hundred senators and three thousand knights. He forever destroyed the Roman republic. He confiscated the lands of the people and used the money to build and to bribe his army. He chose as his epithet Augustus, “the Incomparable.” In those days, the decree from Caesar Augustus.
I read in Holy Scripture, “Now in the days of Herod the king” [Matthew 2:1]. Who was he? The bloodiest monarch who ever lived; he killed practically all of his family, all of them. He slaughtered the citizens of Judea by the uncounted thousands. He was an Idumean who embraced the Jewish faith for political reasons. The reason that Josephus, who minutely describes his life, omits this story of the slaughter of the babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16] is simply because it was a peccadillo in the life and rulership of this bloody tyrant. Even Caesar Augustus said, “It would be 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. And even bloody Augustus Caesar was overwhelmed by the murders of this tyrant in Judah. “Better to be a pig than a son in his household.” He slew practically all of his children.
Then it says, “The chief priests, when he had gathered the chief priests…” [Matthew 2:4] Well, who were they? The chief priests, they bought their office; it was sold to the highest bidder, and the whole priesthood was characterized by murder and by treachery, by hypocrisy and simony. I suppose Judaism never sank in its history to a lower level, than in that day when the star shined over Jerusalem [Matthew 2:1-2]. Religion was a charade; it was hypocrisy. Had you gone to the temple area in that day, you would have thought it was a merchandising mart or a stockyard. You couldn’t bring your own sacrifice; you had to buy it there. And the priests saw to it, the whole system of priesthood saw to it that you paid a dear price; and they received the money. It was such an offense to God that in a few years after this the temple was forever destroyed.
What a day for a star to shine! Caesarism is triumphant; Herod, bloody Herod lifts a sword over the children of Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16]; and religion is an offense and a charade. Not only that, but had you met five people in the Roman Empire in those days, three of them were slaves, chattel property. Three out of five people who lived in that day were in servitude, bondage; they were slaves. They had a thing in that day of the exposure of children: if you had a child and you didn’t want the child, you exposed the child; you set it out somewhere, anywhere, so the dogs could eat it, or the animals devour it, or worse still an unscrupulous family would take it and break its bones and its limbs and raise it crippled and set it on a street to beg for alms. That’s the day when that star shined [Matthew 2:2, 9-11].
There was not a hospital in the earth, not one. There was not an orphan’s home in the earth, not one. There was not a school for medicine, not one. The whole earth was dark. And it was in that day that the criminal was executed by crucifixion. There has never been devised by man a torture, an execution, as tragic, as hurtful as crucifixion.
When Jesus came to Golgotha
They hanged Him on a tree.
They drove great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns,
Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.
[“When Jesus Came to Golgotha,” G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
And it was over that that the star shined [Matthew 2:2, 9-11]. The powers of darkness were riding hard, and yet God set His star in the sky. Not in keeping with the day, but in spite of it, God’s star of hope and faith and love; God’s gift to the world. Those stars that shine in the sky; one time Abraham, the great patriarch, came before the Lord and said, “Lord, You have promised me a son, a seed; and I am nearing a hundred years old, and my wife Sarah is nearing ninety, and there is no child born” [Genesis 15:1-3]. And God said to the patriarch, “Come out under the sky, and look up, and count the stars.” And the Lord said to Abraham, “So shall thy seed be, as innumerable as the stars of the sky” [Genesis 15:3-5]. The stars were no longer stars: they were God’s promises; they were emblems of God’s faithfulness, God’s love, and this star of Bethlehem brings to us a like remembrance [Matthew 2:2]. And I have chosen three of them: a star of faith, and a star of hope, and a star of love.
God’s faithfulness: true to His word, true to His promise, keeping the faith with His people, that star shines in the heavens. Through these thousands and thousands and thousands of years—we don’t know how many thousands of years—God has kept His word.
- Galatians 4:4, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.”
- Well, why “made of a woman”? In the beginning, we don’t know the thousands of years that separate us from then, Genesis 3:15, God says, “I will put enmity between the serpent’s seed and the woman, the woman, between the seed of the serpent and her Seed; thou shalt bruise His heel, but He shall crush thy head”; a woman’s Seed, God said back there in the beginning.
- Then through the years, Genesis 12:1-2: “The Lord said to Abraham, I will make of thee a great nation; and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:1-3].
- In Galatians 3:16, commenting on it: “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, the Seed of the woman, which is Christ.
- In Genesis 49:10, God says to Jacob, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall all the gathering of the people be.”
- And in Numbers 24:17, God is still faithful to His promise: “There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
- And in 2 Samuel 7:12, God says to King David, “I will set up thy seed after thee, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.”
- And after the passing of years and years and centuries, God says in Micah 5:2, “Thou Bethlehem, though thou be little among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall be Governor of My people, Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from everlasting.”
- And finally, in Matthew 1:20-23: He was born of a woman, just like God said in the beginning, born of a woman, born of a virgin, and called Immanuel, “With us is God”; the faithfulness of God to His Word, the star of faith.
I read the many Christmas cards that you give me, and the poems sometime that you write are just precious. Here is one:
A tiny Babe of Bethlehem in 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, and a rainbow of our tears.
Each year has its winter, and every year has its rain;
But the day is soon in coming,
When Christ Immanuel is with us again.
The star of faith: God keeping His word.
A second star shining over this earth: the star of hope, undying hope; a better day, a better life, a better body, a better home; a star that shines, a star of hope. If you would like to go with me sometime we can visit one of our chapels, one of our missions, sometimes a little white crackerbox of a church house in the midst of a slum. And as I look at it, O God! the hope, the assurance it bears with it, that little church in the midst of a slum. Like a lily growing up in a swamp; Jesus said, “Solomon in all of his glory not arrayed like one of these” [Luke 12:27]; a star of hope.
I suppose there’s not a place in the earth where you’ll see the name of the Lord so many times as you will in a cemetery; carved on those marble stones, the name of the Lord, the star of hope.
In the midst of the thunder of battle, there will be the chaplain in a service for the fallen dead: the star of hope. And the history of this weary world, all of us waiting for our day to die, and the whole complexity of civilization, according to the Apocalypse, going from darkness to darkness, and finally ending in the great conflict of Armageddon [Revelation 16:16; 19:17-21]. And what of us? Facing inevitable death and the whole history of the world facing inevitable disaster, what of us? Your Christmas card and the poem:
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, Praise God! I’ll be there!
What a marvelous assurance! What an undying hope! Whatever the turn of history, or whatever the providence of life that take my soul away, when Jesus comes from heaven on clouds of glory descending in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], praise God! I’ll be there, I’ll be there; the star of hope.
The star of love: in this world stricken with disease and despair and death, and in this world so darkened and in many ways so hopeless, Lord God, what kind of a world we live in! Could you imagine the kind of a soul and a heart that could place a bomb on a plane, and those innocent people be destroyed, twenty-six of them students in the University of Syracuse, and rejoice in it, and boast about it? Oh, the darkness of the despair that grips our souls when we look at this sinful and lost world! And it is everywhere.
What is God’s answer? What was it then and what is it today? Surely God’s answer will be a mighty army! Or it will be an arsenal full of weaponry. Or it will be an invincible government. Or God’s answer will be the advancement in modern technology. What is God’s answer to the crying hurt and need of the world? What is it?
This is it: that star of love. Down the road to Bethlehem is a donkey, a donkey. And by the side of the donkey walks a peasant carpenter. And riding on the animal is a virgin girl, heavy with child [Luke 2:4-7]. And the star shines over a stable, and over a manger, and over a tiny Babe [Matthew 2:2, 9-11]. That is God’s answer to the hurt of the human heart.
Your Christmas card, and the poem:
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 crowds make way,
And the flags wave 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 with 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 that 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 the heaven rang;
Men were dumb, so the angels sang,
“Peace on earth, good will to men;
Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Great God! how You do things and how different You are! Not with vast armies and great armament, but a little Child born in a stable, laid in a manger, the incarnation of the Almighty from heaven [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:11-16].
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]
The star that dares to shine [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11].
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and adore Him, born the King of angels;
O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!
It’s a great day. It’s a great gospel. It’s a great faith. It’s a great hope. It’s a great love.
Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, would God we had words to say it, the depths of our wonder and love for Thee. We, lost, dying, food for the worm, making our home in the grave, who are we, Lord, that in compassionate mercy You would come down in the form of the child, live our life, weep our tears, bear our sorrows, die our death, and then open for us the gates of heaven? O God, how we love Thee, praise Thee, lift up our hearts in adoration and love for Thee! Precious Savior, may we love Thee more every passing day, and serve Thee better with all the strength and love of our lives, in Thy dear name, amen.
In this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church; a couple you to dedicate your home and hearts to the Lord; a one somebody you accepting Jesus this Christmas day as Savior [Romans 10:9-10]; as the Spirit of Christ shall press the appeal, answer with your life. On the first note of the first stanza, come. “Pastor, here I am. God has spoken to me, and here I stand.” A thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing. “This is God’s day for me, and I’m coming.”