A Star Is Born
The businessman stood alone, looking out onto an empty baseball field. His son had been the star of a game played on that field only a few hours earlier. Yet the businessman, the child’s father, had missed it. And now the field, the bleachers, and the day were as empty as the life of Peter Banning. Peter Banning—just your average entrepreneurial rising star, a man so caught up in the rush of making the deal that he had forgotten what it meant to make a family. This was all the more remarkable considering Peter Banning’s past. Peter Banning was Peter Pan grown up.
A few scenes later in the movie, Hook, Peter, who was vacationing with his family in England, received a business call from the U.S. on his cell phone. The kids climbed all over him wanting to play, but Peter needed to close the deal. So he exploded.
“Get these kids outta here! Can’t you see I’m trying to make the deal of my life?”
His patient wife had just about reached her limit. She ushered the kids out of the room, then came up behind Peter and whispered in his ear. “You’re missing it, Peter. You’re missing it.”
Peter Banning was a “rising star,” but he was missing it. He was finding out what too many of us know from painful experience: the brighter you burn, the faster you burn out.
Peter could represent any number of us who, if only we would read our Bibles, would discover that God didn’t make the stars to shine on themselves. He made the stars to give light on the earth as the Book of Genesis tells us, and to mark the days and the seasons. Stars are there to light the way.
One star in particular appeared long ago to herald the birth of a King. Some wise men saw it, recognized it as the fulfillment of a specific prophecy about that King, and took off in search of the new King of the Jews. And they found Him—all because that star ultimately did what a star is supposed to do. It pointed the way.
Sometimes when humans are like stars rising fast, it’s easy to burn brightly but then burn out and lose one’s energy, peace of mind, and family. Yet we find hope in the pages of the Bible, and it’s not some Neverland theology or wishing upon a star. It’s a real-life solution to real-life pain:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2:1–3).
Old Herod reveals something here. He reminds us that some stars shine to bring glory to themselves. By this time he was seventy, and he had survived ten wives, reigned for more than thirty years in Jerusalem, and was still king of the Jews. Herod had held his post by killing anyone whom he perceived to have a premature interest in his throne. He was so paranoid that he ordered the deaths of some of his own sons. Still by Roman standards he was a busy, prosperous, successful politician and businessman, who had built theaters, amphitheaters, and hippodromes. His greatest architectural feat was rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Rabbis of the time said of it, “He who has not seen the temple of Herod has never seen a beautiful building.”
Yet for all his accomplishments Herod was “missing it.” Not only did he miss the star that announced the birth of the Messiah, but once he learned of the Messiah’s birth he didn’t rejoice. He didn’t join the Magi to search out Jesus. Instead he was torn up inside. Herod was so concerned about building his kingdom that he regarded the real King as a threat.
“When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
“‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”’
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him’” (vv. 4–8).
Of course Herod didn’t want to go worship Jesus. He wanted to murder him, and he’d used the Magi to get information. Herod had become so twisted, so self-centered that he was a star about to burn out. If he were an astral phenomenon, he would be called a nova—a star that’s fading to obscurity. The word “nova” oddly enough means “new.” The star has been there for a long time, but it’s just been noticed because it has suddenly brightened, so to speak. It’s easy to spot a nova. It attracts a lot of attention to itself for a short while, but then burns out and fades away. That was Herod the Great—a first-century nova.
When such a “superstar” erupts, we see what’s called a supernova. If the core exceeds two solar masses, you wind up with a black hole. Not only are black holes self-destructive, they pull everything close to them down with them. There are some people like that—those who shine to bring glory to themselves. The Bible tells us why:
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Herod, the king of the Jews, wanted to kill the rightful King; the Magi wanted to worship Him.
“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
“And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route” (Matt. 2:9–12).
Some stars shine to bring glory to themselves, but others shine to point the way. The Magi followed the star that pointed to Jesus. They found Him, worshiped Him, and went back home safely. The star did what a star is supposed to do. It lit the path and provided direction. Now admittedly, this was quite an unusual star. We know that it had appeared to the Magi two years before they showed up in Jerusalem because of what we read in verse 16.
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
We also know that the star had disappeared, at least for a while, until the Magi continued on their trip to Bethlehem. Then it reappeared. These men saw the star rise while they were still in the east. Nothing in the text suggests that they followed the star to Jerusalem. They simply saw it and took it as a sign of the coming King whose birth had been prophesied. If they saw the star at its rising, as the text suggests, then they were looking west when they saw it. When it appeared they told themselves, “This is the sign we’ve been expecting!” and took off for Israel. Where better to find the newborn King of the Jews than in the nation’s capital? On leaving Herod’s palace, the Magi saw the star appear again and lead them to Bethlehem. Notice three anomalies about the way the star led them.
First, we see the purpose of the star. The Magi didn’t need the star to help them find Bethlehem. They’d traveled hundreds of miles with no star to guide them, and then suddenly it appeared for the last five-mile segment to Bethlehem—1/130th of their trip. That would be like driving from Dallas to the outskirts of Denver, then finding a star to guide you into the city. They didn’t need the star to get them to the village; the star was there to guide them to the house where the child lived.
The second thing to notice about this star is its progress. Bethlehem lies south of Jerusalem, but the normal movement of stars is from east to west. Yet this star traveled south, “going on before them” as the text says.
Third, we notice the star’s position. It came and stood over the very house where the child was. Ever try to locate a house under a particular star? It’s impossible. This was no normal star. It was, at the very least, a unique manifestation that God used to point the way to Christ. Some scholars believe it may have been a manifestation of the glory of God, something akin to the pillar of fire that led Israel in the wilderness. All we know for sure is that it shone like a star and that it beckoned them to Jesus. Not for a second did the star proclaim itself; it served only as a herald of the Christ.
We as Christians are designed to do the same as that star. As the apostle Paul reminded us, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5).
The same light that drew those Gentiles to Christ two thousand years ago abides in anyone who believes in Christ. And our job as Christians is the same: to point the way to Jesus.
Almost fifty years ago five missionaries in Ecuador gave their lives in the service of their Savior in what has been called the most influential martyrdom of the twentieth century. Those men who never sought fame achieved international status. You may well have heard of Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, and Nate Saint. But you may not know the name of Nate’s younger sister, Rachel. After her brother and her friends were slaughtered by the Waourani tribe, Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot stayed on and showed them the love of Christ. God protected these brave women and blessed their efforts. Eventually Elisabeth left for the States, but Rachel stayed on, living with the tribe, taking short breaks to fly up to Quito for rest, and then returning to the jungle.
Here was a lady who lived without running water for more than thirty years. One of our seminary students went to Ecuador and hooked up a line for her. She wept when she turned the handle and felt water gushing out for the first time. Here was a lady who lived with failing eyesight, the general discomfort of advancing age, and the cancer that eventually claimed her life.
Outsiders called the tribe people “Aucas.” That means “savages.” They were a vicious people, spearing thousands—anyone they thought might threaten their way of life. The tribe, which had numbered in the thousands, had dwindled to a few hundred by the time Rachel started her work. Yet when the Lord Jesus invaded their lives through the person of Rachel Saint, the killing stopped, and the tribe was saved. Eventually every one of the murderers put his trust in Christ. Later the former killers-turned-pastors walked out into the river where they had killed the five missionaries. There they baptized the slaughtered missionaries’ children, who had returned to Ecuador.
Suffice it to say that the Waorani tribe loves Rachel. They even gave her a special name—Nemo. In Waorani that means “star.” Not too many years ago the tribe saved up a bit of money and gave it to a visiting missionary, asking that he purchase something special as a gift for Rachel. Eventually the missionary returned with the small package and the tribe presented it to Rachel. Inside was a necklace engraved with a broken spear. In the center of the break was a tiny diamond. A star. Rachel, the “star” for the Waorani, did what a star is supposed to do: she pointed the way to the Prince of Peace.
That’s our responsibility. We’re to point people to Jesus Christ. It’s our job, our purpose, and our secret name: Nemo. Be the star that points people to Christ. Let His light shine through in all you do and say, so that people are drawn to Him. Talk about what He has done for you. Encourage others to put their faith in Him. Some stars shine to bring glory to themselves. Others shine to point the way.
Be the star that points people to Jesus Christ. That’s the way to heaven.
Reg Grant (ThM, 1981; ThD, 1988), professor of Pastoral Ministries, directs Dallas Seminary’s media arts in ministry track.