Preached: December 27, 2009
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which Jesus shines into our hearts is Numbers 24.
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 NIV)
This is the Word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (Isaiah 55:8, 9 NIV). Bible history again and again illustrates how true those words are.
Consider the details of our Savior's birth. Would we have planned it that way? None of us would choose to lay our newborn in a trough where animals had fed. But that was God's way for his Son. And maybe we would have thought, “Yea! Let's send some angels!” But would we have sent them to no-name shepherds, out in the country where no one else could see them? God's way is not our way.
But God's way does not fail. That's something for us to take to heart, especially when we want to cry out, “Why God, why this way? It's too hard for me!” God's ways are far beyond our ways. But his way does not fail. Let's think about that as we ponder the prophecy from Numbers 24. I think you've heard this prophecy many times before. You know how it's fulfilled in Jesus. But as we look at the context, God's way becomes all the more amazing.
This prophecy did not come about in the usual way. It wasn't spoken directly by the Lord, as when he promised the Savior to Adam and Eve or to Abraham. It wasn't spoken by a believing prophet of Israel, such as Isaiah or Micah. It was spoken by someone whom we would call a sorcerer. His name was Balaam son of Beor.
Do you remember how it happened? The Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt about forty years earlier. It was now time to enter the promised land. On the east side of the Jordan they had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan. When the people of Moab saw this, they were terrified. Their king, Balak son of Zippor, took action.
If the Amorites couldn't stand against Israel, he figured he couldn't either. So he tried another tactic. He sent an envoy to Balaam son of Beor in Pethor. He wanted to hire Balaam to curse Israel. If they were cursed, then perhaps he could better them in battle.
That night the Lord told Balaam not to go. So he sends King Balak's envoy away the next day. But Balak was persistent. He sent more princes who were more distinguished and promised Balaam even greater rewards. That night the Lord allowed him to go, if and only if he did what they Lord told him.
When Balaam set out, he apparently had decided in his heart not to do what the Lord would tell him. For you see the angel of the Lord stood in his way and would have killed him, except Balaam's donkey saw the angel and went off the path around him.
Since Balaam couldn't see the angel, he became anger with his donkey. Finally the third time, when there was no room for the donkey to go around, it just sat down and Balaam beat it. Then the donkey spoke “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” (Numbers 22:29 NIV). And the Lord opened Balaam's eyes to see the angel, and he agreed to speak only what the Lord told him.
Now King Balak readied seven altars with sacrifices as preparation for Balaam to curse Israel. But instead of a curse Balaam spoke a blessing, since those were the words the Lord had given him. King Balak had Balaam try again at another place. Again he blessed Israel. They try a third time. Instead of resorting to sorcery as he had on other occasions, Balaam continued to bless Israel as the Lord had told him. By now King Balak was furious, but before he left, Balaam spoke some more words of blessing and prophecy, including our text.
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 NIV).
People have looked to the stars for hope throughout the ages. Ancient astrologers tried to predict the future from the stars. People still consult horoscopes based on the stars. Modern science looks to the stars to find new planets, new hope when the earth is used up. Then we have the celebrities, movie stars and sports stars. People look to them for hope and inspiration. But how often they disappoint! All those different kinds of stars are false hopes
But these words, spoken from such an unlikely source, these words spoken almost three and half millenniums ago, these words do not disappoint. For God's ways, no matter how far beyond our understanding -- God's ways do not fail. That Star did come at the right time and was laid in a manger.
But how many years had passed! For God's ways work out according to his schedule of grace, not our schedule of instant gratification. “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near” (Numbers 24:17 NIV). It was almost fifteen hundred years after these words were spoken before that Star came. But he did come. The Lord keeps his word.
And that brings you hope, dear friend, hope that does not disappoint, hope that does not prove false. For the Lord keeps his word.
How dark the night can be! But even the darkest, cloudiest, moonless night doesn't compare to the darkness we were born into. The darkness of sin. The shroud of death. And since everyone is born into this darkness, our natural self thinks that it's normal. But God did not make us to be creatures of the dark; rather, he wants us to be his children of light.
Yet our inherited nature flees from the true light. We don't want our dark deeds exposed. We don't want the dingy nooks and crannies of our heart laid bare, our secret sins, our evil desires, our self-imagined goodness. We cling to artificial lights that make us feel good about our own efforts and run from the true light. But darkness and self-imagined light end in death and hell. No hope. No joy. Only the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Only the unceasing burning.
But look! A Star has risen! This Star shines into our darkness with the true light. We, too, would have fled from it, loving the darkness, for that is our inborn nature. But this Star worked a marvelous change in you and me. He worked a new birth in us, a rebirth. We, who had been born children of darkness, we were reborn, “born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God” (John 1:13 NIV).
So this Star brings you and me hope. He has shattered the darkness of sin by brining the light of forgiveness. He who is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” (Nicene Creed), the only-begotten of the Father -- he came into our dark world. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4, 5 NIV-footnote).
That was God's way to save you and me, namely, to send his Son into our darkness, so that he toke our guilt on himself and died in our place as the sacrifice for our sin, and so ransomed us with his blood. How far above our ways! God's way does not fail. Through the ordinary water connected with God's word in Baptism the Star shown into your heart. Through the lowly words of Scripture that Star continues to enlighten your mind. And through the ordinary bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, that Star brings you his body to eat and his blood to drink for your forgiveness. How far God's ways are above our ways! His way does not fail.
So also, as you go through the storms of life, when the waves of this world toss you around like a sailor lost at sea and the winds twist you in every direction, do not despair. Do not give up hope. Look to the one, true Star, Jesus Christ. For just as after a storm, seeing the stars brought hope to sea-sick sailors, so also Jesus brings us hope as he leads us into the heavenly harbor. He will not fail you as you follow him. Don't strike off in your own direction. Then you will shipwreck your faith on the rocks. Rather follow the Star. Follow Jesus. His way does not fail.
Yes, dear Christian, walk in hope through this dark world. For God's ways do not fail, even though we often cannot make sense of them. God's ways will not fail, for that Star who shines into our darkness to save us, is the Scepter. He is the King who has redeemed you to be his own dear people. He is your King for he ransomed you with his blood. He carries the scepter, for he has conquered sin, Satan, and death for you, rising from the grave in victory and glory. He carries the scepter, for he is the almighty God. He reigns over all at the Father's right hand.
Think of it. When a foreign King and a pagan sorcerer plotted to undermine God's plan for his people, the Lord used a dumb donkey to set things right. God's way does not fail. He sees to it that it comes out right. He even used that pagan sorcerer to speak a wonderful promise of the Savior, a promise that stirs hope in our hearts still today. So whatever you face, dear friend, look to the Star in the manger, see his scepter, and follow him in hope. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.