We’ve been going through the Christmas story as the events happened in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. We just discussed Jesus’ extraordinary birth and all that took place in the fullness of time. But what happened right after Jesus was born?
God the Father did some boasting over His Son coming to earth. Angels appeared to shepherds in Luke 2:8-20. They glorified God because of His great plan for the people of earth through Jesus. So let us talk about the angels and shepherds.
Lowest of the Low
Shepherds tended to the flocks of sheep in the fields by night. If they had a large amount of sheep a shepherd had to take care of them 24/7. They took care of every wound, searched for them if if the sheep got lost, or defended them if a wolf, bear, or even a lion attacked them.
But shepherds were on the lowest rung of society. They were not much higher than servants. People consider them to be filthy, smelly people who lived outside. They often had no say in the matters of the day.
They performed a crucial service in Israel. You see, every year many lambs were needed for the Passover sacrifices. Everyone who came to Jerusalem needed a lamb to sacrifice, cook as part of the Seder meal, and put its blood on their door posts. This festival reminded the Israelites that God brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery into His freedom.
No one really thought of that. Anytime a shepherd was around they considered him a common servant. Shepherds didn’t volunteer to be the ones out in the field all the time taking care of sheep. Sheep are ornery. They are hard to control. They are always getting into trouble. Interesting how Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd and us as sheep.
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The Occupation of Leaders
It’s funny how people considered shepherds on the lower rungs of society when they came from a privileged school of leadership. Think of all the great leaders of Israel. Many of them have one thing in common. They were shepherds first.
Moses lived on the backside of the wilderness when God called him to be the first leader of Israel. But he was tending sheep before he saw God burning the bush without consuming it. All the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were shepherds.
David, arguably the greatest king of Israel, was a shepherd not even considered by his father Jesse when Samuel the prophet came looking for the second king of Israel. Only by discernment of what God wanted in the next king did David get called out of the field.
At least one of the prophets was a shepherd before God called to the prophetic office and ministry in Israel. So why does God use shepherding to teach people how to lead Israel? It’s almost like herding cats. If you can shepherd sheep you can lead an obstinate and wayward people.
If I were a shepherd I would bring this point up as often as possible when I was made fun of by everyone around me. Leadership can be a natural ability. But for most it is taught through trial and error, to help people see something greater than themselves.
God uses sheep to teach people how to lead. Though the shepherds were treated as second class citizens, their profession taught many people to become great leaders. And as they made leaders and kings through their profession they would get a special privilege this night.
Imagine if you were a shepherd in the middle of the pitch black night keeping your eyes peeled for thieves and robbers are steal the sheep, or predators who want them. The last thing you expect is a bright light in the sky.
Suddenly a bright light filled the sky and the shepherds were squinting at the angel of the Lord. Angels didn’t appear to just anybody. But they also didn’t appear to nobody’s. It’s not as if the shepherds looked around at each other thinking they were suddenly important.
But this awesome sight of one of God’s messengers appearing to them must mean something incredible has happened somewhere. God’s glory shown all around them in the middle of the night. They reacted as anyone who meets an angel face-to-face should. They were terrified.
Angels are nothing to trifle with. Some of them are God’s warriors and take on demonic forces and principalities. We don’t know exactly what they look like but I would imagine if you ran into one you would be afraid too.
The angel started his speech with, “Fear not.” Right away he put them at ease. But I doubt they got comfortable. The angel continued to tell them about good news that would bring great joy to all the people.
This is why we call Jesus’ coming, teaching, suffering, dying, and resurrection the gospel, which comes from the word for good news. Jesus saves and this is good news for everyone. When the gospel is proclaimed the Holy Spirit works in peoples’ hearts for them to receive the message.
The good news is that the Savior is born this night in the city of David, Bethlehem. It’s a good thing Caesar Augustus sent Mary and Joseph to be registered in Bethlehem so they could be there. All the parts of God’s plan were coming together.
When the angel said, “For unto you is born,” it may remind you of Isaiah’s prophecy, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). Maybe the shepherds would not think of that. But they probably understood some of the other words the angel used to describe Jesus.
They knew what the Savior was. This was a military leader or anyone else who rescued helpless people. We read in Luke’s Gospel the word Christ but the shepherds probably heard the word Messiah. The two are one and the same.
The Old Testament prophets spoke of the Messiah from time to time, the coming Person who would save Israel from all their enemies. Little did they know Jesus saves anyone who comes to Him and receives Him and His work done for them.
When they heard “Christ the Lord” they may have thought of Yahweh. The Lord and Yahweh are used in the Old Testament to describe God. Would they have understood that Christ the Lord is the Divine Savior of the world? Probably not.
Don’t believe the angel? That’s why God sends signs to confirm prophecies and extraordinary things that seem unbelievable. this proclamation came with a sign also. This sign seemed so obvious for the most part.
If a new baby was born just this night of course it would be wrapped in swaddling cloths. That wasn’t the part of the sign that would’ve caught the shepherds’ eyes. But one that was born and laying in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, that couldn’t be too hard to find.
It probably gave the shepherds directions right to Jesus’ stable. Throughout Bethlehem the only place you would find a manger was in a stable. You wouldn’t find too many human babies in a stable. It will not take long for the shepherds to find this baby.
And that’s all a sign does. It means something to the people it’s given to. It confirms a prophecy or a proclamation to them. And so these shepherds understood that seeing a baby in a manger was unusual and knew what to look for.
Glory to God in the Highest
One angel was more than enough to convince the shepherds of the truth of what it said. But then the whole sky was full of angels glorifying God! We are used to hearing the angels sing these praises to God. But Scripture tells us they said their praises.
They spoke of heaven and earth. They glorified God in the highest, in heaven. And they spoke of peace on earth. But this peace is for those with whom God is pleased. Those people experience true peace, not the cessation of hostilities but a true harmony with the Lord.
People who are not pleasing God do not have peace with Him. This is a blessing reserved for those who know Jesus and walk with Him. If you want peace this Christmas you need to know Jesus, for that is why he came to earth, to bring peace between you and God.
The shepherds really had no choice now. With everything that had happened they had to go check out this sign and meet this extraordinary baby. So they searched in Jerusalem until they found Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus.
Sure enough, there was the sign confirmed. A baby lying in a manger. They told Mary and Joseph about all that had happened, the angels and the message they spoke. Mary pondered all these things in her heart. She knew Jesus was special and so did Joseph.
The shepherds with the occupation that created so many of Israel’s greatest leaders got to see the King of the universe. God gave them this privilege even though they were the lowest of the low in society. To God they were king makers.
Spreading the Good News
The shepherds didn’t stop it telling Mary and Joseph what happened to them that night. They went all around Bethlehem sharing the good news of the Messiah coming to Israel. Everyone who heard pondered the message.
I wonder if anyone else went to see baby Jesus. Everyone understood that angels appearing to anyone was an amazing sign from God of supernatural activity. The shepherds spread this good news because it was extraordinary.
They glorified God and praised Him for letting them be part of the greatest thing that ever happened in human history. God let them in on the ground floor of what He was doing among His people and the whole world.
The Meaning of Christmas
Do you think you are unworthy of Jesus? To a point we all are. But God came to shepherds, the lowly, smelly people no one wanted to hang out with. He came to them because He wanted to share this great thing with them.
Jesus came to save you from your sins and make the riches of heaven your inheritance. He made you part of His family. And He likes hanging out with you. Never stop glorifying and praising Him for all He has done for you.
But He is making you worthy of Him. He sees you as His precious creation and one of His friends. Don’t think you are unworthy. If you were, He would pass you by. But He has embraced you as His son and daughter. He wants you to enter His presence.
Jesus has come to save sinners! He was born in the lowly manger and cares about every human being you come across. Like the shepherds, spread the good news of Jesus to everyone you meet. Let the Holy Spirit do His work. Open ears to the good news and let the Spirit open their hearts.
The angels came to tell the shepherds in the fields of Jesus’ extraordinary birth. But the shepherds weren’t the only ones who heard about Jesus’ birth. Two very special people in Israel would meet Jesus at His dedication.