“Christmas: Star and Scepter”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

DECEMBER 4, 2018

Title: Christmas: Star and Scepter

 

Text: “There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).

 

Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12; Numbers 24:12-17

 

What blessings did Christ’s coming bring to the world? What blessings does he offer to our hearts now? A point of relevance is found in this story: In 1988, Anissa Ayala was sixteen years old and diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. The doctors said that if she did not receive a bone marrow transplant after chemotherapy and radiation treatment she would die. Neither her parents nor her brother was a match, and they could not find a donor elsewhere. Her parents, both in their forties, conceived another child and hoped that its bone marrow would be compatible with Anissa’s.

To their great delight it was determined that this new baby was a compatible donor, and when Marissa Ayala was fourteen months-old they took some of her marrow and gave it Anissa. Anissa made a full recovery from the Leukemia and both sisters lead healthy lives today. In a very real sense Marissa saved her sister’s life. She says, “Without me being a perfect match for my sister, she would not be here.”

Jesus was born into this world for the express purpose of saving us. He is the one and only Saviour that can save all those who put their trust in Him. Christmas marks the day we celebrate His birth, and without Him we would not have salvation.

The answer from this text is a star and scepter, guidance and security, revelation and sovereignty.  What blessing do we need more today than light amid our darkness and power amid our weakness? What light can compare with the light of Bethlehem’s star, and what power can compare with the power of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?  The message of our text is carried in two figures, the star and the scepter.

The blessings of Christ’s coming is set forth by a star. Considering two distinct Scriptures together, our text (Numbers 2:4:17 and Matthew 2:1-2, you have prophecy and fulfillment, both symbol and fact.  “There shall come a star out of Jacob.” That is prophecy. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men 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” (Matt. 2:1-2).  This is in fulfillment of prophecy. It shows Jesus Christ as the giver of light. Jesus Christ is compared more than once in Scripture to a sun (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78). It is quite easy to see why Jesus is compared to a star. What did that star symbolize?

The first thing that star symbolize is that star was and is a beacon of hope, an announcement of hope’s fulfillment. Jeremiah spoke of “the hope of Israel” (Jeremiah 14:8, 17:13).The hope of Israel was a stock phrase in Jesus’ day used to refer to the coming Messiah.  Paul, imprisoned in Rome, used it in the past tense, “that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20). That star over Bethlehem said, “Look! Hope is fulfilled! The Christ has been born! He is here! See his star!

That star was and is a symbol of revelation and light.  The prophet Isaiah said, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). After the birth of John the Baptist, his father, Zacharias, steeped in the messianic prophecies and led by the Holy Spirit, spoke of the visitation of “the day spring from on high, to give light to them that sit in darkness” (Luke 1:78-79.  In the first verses of his gospel, John says, “In him was life: and the life was the light of men. And the shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” ( John 1:4-5). The tragedy of the darkness that has settled down in our day is that it is so unncessary. The light has come. The light shines.

That star was and is a fixed point by which to steer, a faithful standard to guide us on our way to eternal life. Before instruments, charts, and radar, it was the stars that guided ships into the harbor.  The stars were fixed, stable, unvarying. This is the message of Bethlehem’s star:God is faithful.

That star was and is the only anchor for our faith.  If we are living in a stormy time when darkness often settles upon us, we know that above the darkness that stars of God’s love are shining, holding the world together.  Christmas brings hope, light, guidance, and faith.

The blessing of Christ coming is also set forth by a scepter.

An oriental monarch was always provided with a scepter that he carried as a symbol of his authority.  If, as a king sat upon the throne, one of his subjects came and bowed down before him, the touch of the king’s scepter was a signal to arise.  A scepter in the hand of a king meant authority and rule, majesty and power.

When Jeremiah said, “And a Scepter shall rise out of Israel,” he was saying a king shall come out of Israel.  And so say all prophets. Christmas is “good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10). What are the “good tidings”?

First, they say the king has been born.  When the strange visitors appeared in Jerusalem to ask, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”  Herod was troubled for fear of a possible rival. Being unable to answer, he called together the chief priest and scribes of the people. They cited an ancient prophecy, chapter and verse, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).  Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a small town but it was famous and powerful. The name Bethlehem means “House of bread.” It was in Bethlehem that Jacob buried Rachel (Genesis 48:7). It was in Bethlehem that Ruth had lived when she married Boaz. Bethlehem was the home and the city of David (1 Samuel 16:1), and it was for the water of the well of Bethlehem David longed when he was hunted a fugitive upon the hills(2 Samuels 23:14-14).  The importance of Bethlehem is that being the city of David, it was from the line of David God was to send a great deliverer of his people as we find above in Mic. 5:2. This little city was to be the birthplace of Jesus, and it was so. The king has been born. A scepter has indeed risen out of Israel.

William Barclay explains how the traveller H. V. Morton visited the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.There was a great wall with a door so low, one had to stoop to enter it. Beneath the high altar of the church is a cave.  In the floor in the cave is a star with a Latin inscription:’Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.’

When the Lord of Glory came to this earth, he was born in a cave where animals were sheltered. The cave in the Church of the Nativity may be that same cave, or it may not be. That we may never know for certain.  But there is something beautiful in the symbolism that the church where the cave is has a door so low that all must stoop to enter. It is supremely fitting that people should approach the infant Jesus upon their knees. Indeed a Savior is born.

But again, the news of Christmas is that a government has been established, not will be, but has been.  The first truth of life is this: God rules! His sovereignty remains. All authority, in heaven and on earth has been committed unto the Lord and King who was born that day (Matt. 28:18).  A government has been established. “Of the increase of his government…there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Thank God the rule of this world is in his hands and not in the hands of mere humans.

And last, the news of Christmas is that the consummation of his kingdom is coming.  The king has been born? Yes, long since. His government has been established. All authority and rule is his, even now.  But there are still those who rebel against his rule, and it will not always be so. A time will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is King (Philippians 2:10-11).  That time is coming.

The coming of Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament almost four hundred and fourteen times.  These messianic prophecies came to pass. It tells about the blessings Christ coming brings to the world. The coming of Christ as a blessing to the world is set forth by a star and a scepter.  It signifies hope and light. It signifies guidance and security. It is a blessing of faith. In this dark world of ours, which is fill with sin and hate, who knows what to do? Who knows which way to turn?  It is too much for humans, but not for God. As we prepare for the coming of our Lord, let us know that Jesus Christ is the reason for this season. God bless you.