Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Following the Star

Roland Clarke

You've probably heard about the wise men who discovered a special star. This star was a sign that a King had been born. You may wonder why the magi decided to take a very long journey to find this special person. There are several clues that are helpful in discovering what motivated them.

The first clue is mentioned in Genesis 1:14-16. God made stars and stars shine light. Not only do they provide geographical direction, they are a beacon of hope, pointing the way out of darkness back home.

Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth... two great lights ... also the stars.”

A second clue is found in Numbers 24:15-17 where a mystic from Moab named Balaam foretold that a king would one day arise in Israel,

This is the message of Balaam son of Beor,
the message of the man whose eyes see clearly,
the message of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who bows down with eyes wide open:
I see him, but not here and now.
I perceive him, but far in the distant future.
A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel.

A third clue is hidden in a prophecy which foretells the birth place of Messiah, a world famous peacemaker and ruler of Israel.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace. (Micah 5:2-5)

The fourth clue involves a special star sighted by eastern astrologers. They believed it indicated that a King was born. How could they possibly have known about Balaam's oracle? Many years earlier a Jewish prophet named Daniel was forcibly exiled to Babylon where he became chief of the wise men under King Nebuchadnezzar. Undoubtedly, he spoke of this oracle which he knew so well, to astrologers and others under his leadership. Balaam's intriguing oracle of a royal star-sign would become much clearer 500 years later when the magi undertook the long journey to Bethlehem as told in Luke 2:1-11;

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

We see a fifth and final clue in 2 Peter 1:19;

You must pay close attention to what they [the prophets] wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.

This clue shows that, like the magi, each of us is on a journey to find Jesus.


Introducing stars as a conversation topic

Here are a few practical suggestions that provide helpful starting points for sharing the Gospel using this topic of stars.

Consider using (or adapting) one of these two questions:

“Have you ever wondered why there are so many star decorations at Christmas time?”

“Have you ever wondered what was so special about the star that inspired the wise men (magi) to set out on a long journey in search of a newborn King?”

There are other questions you could raise (or observations) which are very relevant to Muslims from countries to the east of Israel, such as Jordan, Syria, Iraq or even Iran/Persia. You might try to arouse their curiosity by referring to the phrase, “east of Israel” which appears several times in this article.

1) Balaam was from Moab, east of Israel, which basically corresponds to modern day Jordan.

2) The magi in Matthew 2 came from somewhere east of Israel, probably Iraq/Iran, which was reputed to be a leading centre for the study of astrology. Also note: the phrase “magicians and enchanters” in Daniel 1:20 is translated “diviner-priests and mediums” in the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

3) Daniel was chief of staff in the council of wise men in Babylon, Persia, east of Israel.

4) Daniel (Danyal) is acknowledged by Muslims as a prophet of God. In fact, there is a shrine in Iran which is revered by Muslims as the burial place of Danyal. Of course, Iran is east of Israel.

How Morning Star can open the door to share the Gospel

This thought provoking meditation focuses mainly on Jesus as King, which is certainly relevant to preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. However, the imagery of light in the last clue – dawn and Morning Star – is an excellent way to introduce salvation. There are many verses one could use to explain the Good News using the theme of light. One in particular is Isaiah 49:6. This OT Messianic prophecy summarizes the work God commissioned his Messiah to do, describing it as bringing light and salvation to the world. I encourage you to read two meditations that expand on these themes, entitled, Lighting up the darkness, and Signposts to Paradise. Another helpful article is titled, Practical ideas for shining the light at Christmas.

If you want to share the first half of the article (containing five clues) with an unsaved friend it is available as a one page pdf suitably enhanced with a yellow star in the center.

If you want to discuss these themes please email me here.

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.


Endnote

The Bible emphasizes that Jesus Christ is the Messianic King but do Muslims believe this? Authoritative Islamic Hadith writings speak clearly of Jesus (Isa) as coming in the last days to rule the earth. Although the Qur’an does not explicitly confirm this, it does contain clues which are consistent with the Hadith and even confirms what the prophets said about Messiah being a king. We read in Surah 3:45, “Behold, the angels said: O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from him: his name will be Christ Jesus.” (Yusuf Ali's translation)

Muslims know that Mary’s baby received a name from God himself, as revealed through the angel. Unfortunately the Qur’an does not clarify what the name Messiah means. However, commentator Yusuf Ali acknowledges it means ‘to anoint’. In a footnote to Surah 3:45 he says that it comes from the Old Testament practice of anointing “kings and priests to symbolize consecration to their office.” (bold added for emphasis)

Do Muslims accept Jesus as King of kings? Most emphatically not! I explained this in the final footnote of my article, Converging Destinies: Jerusalem, Peace and the Messiah. It reads: The Bible calls the Messiah ‘King of Kings’ (Revelation 17:14). This is consistent with what the prophets taught about the worldwide rule of Messiah (as well as various sayings from the hadith). However, another tradition in the Ahadith says the opposite, “Allah's Apostle said, 'The most awful name in Allah's sight on the Day of Resurrection, will be (that of) a man calling himself Malik Al-Amlak (the king of kings)'.” (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 8, number 224) This issue of Messiah being King, typifies the contradictions underlying some of the outward similarities shared by Muslims, Jews and Christians. More importantly, it shows a fork presenting two radically different roads which cannot both lead to the truth. This underscores the need for readers to make a choice.