Numbers 24:17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob.”
Balaam son of Beor was not a likely preacher of the Gospel. He was a religious mercenary, a prophet for hire, who would speak a message from any god if people paid him to do so. Balak, king of the Moabites, had hired him to put a curse on Israel as they marched toward the Promised Land. He didn’t want the threat of this new nation in his neighborhood. He was determined to drive them away, so he sought Balaam’s services for some extra insurance before he went to war.
Balaam hoped he could manipulate the Lord into letting him speak the curse and collect the fee. He had no true faith in God. He thought that he might control the Lord for his own selfish purposes. But God turned the tables on him. Balaam ended up being the one under control, serving God’s purposes.
This is how Balaam came to receive a glimpse of our Savior’s glory. What he saw was not the present moment, not even the near future. It was over a thousand years away, in a stable in Bethlehem, on a seashore in Galilee, and on a cross outside Jerusalem.
But did the mercenary prophet really see? When he failed to curse Israel for King Balak, he later devised another plan to make God angry with his nation. He suggested using the women of Moab to tempt them into worship of Baal and sexual immorality. After all God had gone through with Balaam, after all that he had seen, he still couldn’t put his vision of Christ together with faith. He never saw him with his heart.
Isn’t that a common problem as Christmas approaches–people see the newborn Savior with their eyes, but not their hearts? Millions will file past manger scenes in shopping malls. They will drive past them in front of churches or homes. But their reaction will be nothing more than “How cute,” or “How sad,” or “How poor.” A thousand entertainers will sing “Silent Night,” or “Away in a Manger,” but how many will see their Savior from sin hidden beneath the sentimental music?
We need to be reminded, too. The baby in the manger is not a Christmas decoration. He is Christmas itself. Our Savior is now. He is near. In the weeks leading to Christmas, let us see him in our worship, our carols, our entire celebration of his birth.
Let’s see him as the Lord showed him to Balaam, “A star will come out of Jacob.”
The illustration seems almost irreverent when we think about the kind of people who carry the title “star” today. But in many ways, the point of the illustration was not so different when Balaam applied it to Jesus. If you are going to look at a star in the sky, you obviously need to look up. It sticks out because it occupies a place above our heads, where it doesn’t get lost in the crowd. Those we call “stars” today have been put on a pedestal. Right or wrong, they occupy a space where people look up to them. Their heads stick out above the crowd.
In his birth, his life, and his death, Jesus seemed like anything but a star. He wasn’t rich, powerful, or privileged. Crowds of fans didn’t pay millions of dollars to see him. They came to get something, a touch of his grace, relief from some burden. When he appeared before kings and rulers, it was not as an honored guest but a criminal on trial.
Faith sees behind the humble exterior. It sees him shine. His glory is not mere popularity or talent. It is the glory of God himself. It came hidden in human flesh only so that he could live among us. His glory is not a life of ease and prestige. It is the glory of love so uncompromising, so devoted, so profound that it sacrificed everything–respect, life, even paradise–just so that we could be his own and share his glory. The poverty of the stable, the humility of his life, and the shame and agony of the cross shine with the glory of love.
And don’t stars stick out because they are a point of light against a dark background? As human as Jesus looked and acted, he was nothing like the world he came to save. His perfect life stands out against the darkness of human sin. The truth of his teaching is a point of light against the darkness of human rebellion against what is good and right, and ignorance about the way back to God. He lights the way to heaven through our dark world, the way for our return to God.
Jesus is still the true star of Christmas. Don’t just see him. Believe him, and follow where he leads.