Shepherds Get Word of Some Heavenly News
About the Guest
Why announce the birth of the Savior of the World to shepherds, of all people? "FamilyLife Today" co-host Bob Lepine talks about the Divine Birth Announcement – and gives us something to think about as we consider how we spend this Christmas day.
Why announce the birth of the Savior of the World to shepherds, of all people?
Shepherds Get Word of Some Heavenly News
Bob: Jesus has just been born. God says, "I've got to send a birth announcement, who should I go to? How about those shepherds out on the hillside?" Why? Why not go into the high priest, wake him up, tell him. Why shepherds on the hillside?
Dennis: And welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Wait a sec.
Dennis: Merry Christmas.
Bob: That's Merry Christmas to you, but I'm supposed to start the program.
Dennis: You are, but you're getting the entire broadcast today because we're featuring a message you gave last June when your church decided to celebrate Christmas in the summer.
Bob: Well, we were studying through Luke's Gospel, and when you start in Luke, chapter 1, and you start in June, then you wind up having Christmas in the middle of the summer.
Dennis: So we're bringing the summer to our listeners today, and we just want you to have a great and happy merry Christmas here, and we want you to celebrate our Savior's birth by listening to my friend, Bob Lepine, who gives this message at Redeemer Community Church here in Little Rock, and we just want you to be encouraged by the announcement of the greatest news that has ever been declared. Here is Bob Lepine.
Bob: Merry Christmas.
Bob: [from audiotape.] We are in Luke, chapter 2 tonight, so if you have your Bible, you can turn to Luke, chapter 2, and we're going to talk about the birth announcement when God made the announcement of the birth of Jesus. It got me thinking about sending out birth announcements, and I went online to look at this whole subject of birth announcements to see – you know, today that's the way you do it. You do your birth announcements electronically, and you'd be amazed how many sites there are advertising birth announcements. There are BirthAnnouncements.com, as you would expect; AdorableBirthAnnouncements.com; BabyBirthAnnouncements.com; BirthAnnouncementsGalore.com; LittleAngelAnnouncements.com; StorkAvenue.com; PurpleStork.com; SmallFry.com; MiracleMunchkins.com; of course, there's MarthaStewart.com; InvitationConsultants.com; SassyBabyDesigns.com. I thought, "I don't know that I'd want to send out a Sassy Baby design, and then this was my favorite – LookyMe.com. I thought that was a good one.
Well, we're going to see tonight the birth announcement that God made when Jesus was born – a very unique birth announcement on behalf of Mary and Joseph, and in our study of Luke's Gospel, this is scene 6. We've already seen the first scene, where the angel came to Zachariah; the second scene where the angel came to Mary and announced the birth of both of those babies; and then we shifted to where Mary and Elizabeth got together; and the scene was scene 4 where John the Baptist was born; and in scene 5, Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth down to Bethlehem, and the baby is born. And now we're at scene 6 in Luke, chapter 2, beginning at verse 8 where the angels come and announce to the shepherds the birth of Jesus, and there are four things we're going to see in this passage tonight. We're going to look at the messengers who came, we're going to look at what their message was. We're going to look at the recipients of that message, and we're going to look at how they responded.
So it's the messengers and their message, the recipients and their response. And we're going to start where Luke starts, which is with the recipients. In verse 8 it says, "In the same region, there were shepherds out in their field keeping watch over their flock by night." Now, just stop there – "in the same region" – that means the region around Bethlehem. Bethlehem is about six to 10 miles south of Jerusalem, down in the Southern Kingdom area, and off to the south of Bethlehem there is a hilly region, and the shepherds would take the sheep out into the hilly region, and they would pasture them out there, and so that's where the shepherds were.
And a shepherd, obviously, is somebody who is watching over either sheep or goats, and if it's a small flock, it may be a single shepherd. If it's a large flock, it may be a group of shepherds. Sheep and goats were important animals in the Middle East at this time. They were an important domestic animal in Palestine. They provided wool for clothing, they provided meat and milk and, of course, these were the animals that Jews would bring to offer as a sacrifice to the Lord. So these were an important part of the life of Israel, these sheep.
And a shepherd, if he was a single shepherd working with a small flock, he would get up in the morning, and he would go to the pen, and he would open the pen and let the sheep out into the pasture area where they were going to spend their day getting both grass and getting water to drink, and the shepherd would go out with them, he'd keep an eye on them, he'd want to make sure that none of them got lost or ran away; he'd want to make sure that there were no predators that would come in and invade the flock and prey on the sheep.
So he would stay with the sheep all day, walking around kind of the outside of where the sheep were, getting them back into kind of the general area making sure they don't wander away, and then at night his job was to lead them back to the pen, where he would put them in the pen at night.
Now, if it was a large group of shepherds, if there was a big herd or a big flock, the sheep would be marked so the different owners had their different sheep, but the shepherds would do this together, and they'd go out on a hillside, and they'd have the sheep out covering a hillside, eating and grazing during the day, and what would often happen is they'd eat the hillside up, so they would sleep there that night, and then the shepherds would lead them to another hillside where there is fresh grass, fresh water, and they would just move around throughout the season from one hillside to another, letting the grass grow over here while they grazed over here, and they would take care of that.
And once the sheep were grown, it was the shepherd's job to take them to market either to be shorn or to first be shorn and then to be slaughtered for meet or to be milked or then to be offered as a sacrifice.
Now, you've probably heard a lot of things about shepherds, but in case you haven't, here are just some things you need to know. This was not a profession for which you needed a college degree. Pretty much anybody qualified as a shepherd. It was kind of lower on the societal totem pole. You didn't have to be real smart to be a shepherd, you didn't have to be highly trained to be a shepherd, and you didn't make a whole lot of money as a shepherd – very meager wages. They were among the lowest-paid people in the Middle East, and they lived apart from society. Because of the nature of their job, they spent more time with sheep than with people and especially these ones who were nomadic who were out moving the flocks around. They'd often be gone for weeks or for months at a time, off with the sheep, just moving them around and, really, not in touch with very many people.
Because of the nature of their job – this, by the way, is a seven-day-a-week job, and they were hired to do it seven days a week, which meant that there was one particular day that they were working when everybody else wasn't working and when you weren't supposed to be working.
So what did the Pharisees think about the shepherds, do you think? Well, they were dirty lawbreakers. They didn't keep the Sabbath. I don't know if the Pharisees ever figured out what do we do with the sheep on that day, since you need a shepherd to watch over them, but they would scorn the shepherds for breaking the Sabbath and not being a part of the religious observances of Israel.
The good shepherds were strong, they were alert, they were responsible, they could live out in harsh weather conditions, and they were committed to those sheep. They never lost a sheep. They made sure – if you had a good shepherd, you had somebody who was strong and diligent and cared for the sheep and could endure all kinds of harsh weather conditions.
Of course, in the Old Testament there are many men who God raised up to lead the nation who had started as shepherds. Abel was a shepherd, right? And so was Moses and so was Abraham and so was David. So many of the great leaders of Israel began as shepherds.
Now, you have undoubtedly heard that shepherds were nefarious or men of low repute; that they didn't have good standing in the community. Some of you may have heard that shepherds could not testify in court; that their testimony was considered unreliable. That was not always the case in Israel, but about the time of Jesus and following that, shepherds began to be more and more looked down upon and despised.
John MacArthur says this – he says, "It wasn't long after Jesus came that shepherds began to be seen as unreliable, untrustworthy, unsavory characters who were largely suspected of stealing sheep and doing other kinds of illegal things." He says, "Shepherds were not allowed to testify in court in that society because they couldn't be trusted, and part of the reason they couldn't be trusted is because the Pharisees, the churchgoing group, thought that they were not spiritual enough, and they weren't thought to be intelligent enough to put ideas together. So they were pretty much dismissed, and they were down on the societal totem pole.
I have to stop at just this point, because it occurred to me as I was thinking through shepherds, I was thinking about a famous shepherd in the Old Testament who, one day, got out his pen and his paper, and he wrote this – "The Lord is my shepherd." This is the shepherd, David – "The Lord is my shepherd." I have everything I need. "I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me by the quiet waters, He restores my soul."
David, who had spent every day doing this for the sheep, understood, as he did it day in and day out, that God did the same for him. Now, we hear that "the Lord is my shepherd," and we get this picture in our mind of Jesus with the little lamb over his shoulders that we've all seen before, smiling, carrying that little lamb, and we think that's a beautiful picture, and it is a beautiful picture. But when – in the time of Jesus to say "the Lord is my shepherd," would be like saying, "the Lord is my janitor," "the Lord is my sanitation worker," "my taxi driver." It sounds absurd, it sounds almost blasphemous to say it, doesn't it? But we have to consider, in this culture, to say "the Lord is my shepherd," had just this little ring of – "Are you saying the Lord is disreputable? Not to be trusted?" No.
Jesus Himself would say, "I am" – what? "The good shepherd, and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." It is interesting to me, as we think about this, that the coming of Jesus was in a humble, lowly setting. He's in a manger, and the first announcement of His birth is made to humble, lowly men. And Jesus, who empties Himself in coming to earth says "I am a shepherd." And then in the New Testament we see the leaders of the church saying, "Our responsibility is to be under shepherds." Not even with shepherds, under shepherds.
1 Peter 5 – "that we are to shepherd the leaders of the church" or "to shepherd the flock of God among you." The metaphor of being a shepherd, we typically think of it in terms of the responsibility and care for the sheep, but we don't necessarily capture the humility, the humbleness that comes with even that declaration. And for Jesus to say, "I am a shepherd," is a statement of humility. For God to come to shepherds is a statement of humility.
Why did God send the birth announcements to shepherds? Now, think about this. Jesus has just been born. God says, "I've got to send a birth announcement, who should I go to?" How about those shepherds out on the hillside? Why? Why not go into the high priest, wake him up, tell him? Why not go to Elizabeth and Zachariah and say "Your nephew has been born. The one, you know, John the Baptist." Why shepherds on the hillside?
Well, we don't know. The Bible doesn't tell us, but we do have to wonder if God wasn't trying to reinforce maybe He is our shepherd, and I'm sending the Good Shepherd, and I go to shepherds with the announcement. Or maybe because in Isaiah 61, the very people that Isaiah said the Messiah will come to, "the spirit of the Lord is upon me, the Lord has anointed me to bring the good news to" – who? To the poor? "Sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim to the captives, opening a prison to those who are bound." It's this disenfranchised group that David talked about last week that the Lord is sending the announcement of the good news to.
Maybe, and we have to assume, based on how these men responded to the news – that these were men who were God-fearing men who longed for the consolation of Israel. When they got the news that a Savior had been born, who is Christ the Lord, they didn't go, "Oh, that's nice." There was something in their hearts that struck a resonant chord. These shepherds out on the hillside got the news, and it stirred them.
So these may have not – they may have not been keeping the law of Israel like the Pharisees were calling them to do, but they longed for God to send the Messiah, and so God came to them. Remember, Jesus said, "I didn't come to the well people, I came to those who are sick who know they have a need," and these men said "We have a need for a Messiah."
And then, finally, it's possible that God went to shepherds first because the baby who was born was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. He was not only a good shepherd, but He was the sacrificial lamb. So I'm going to the shepherds, I'm going to the shepherds to tell them, and in telling them, perhaps, to reorient everyone's thinking – to begin the reorientation of thinking about the ministry of the Messiah.
What were the Jews thinking? A conquering military hero would come and lead us out of captivity from the Romans, and we would once again be the nation set up on a hill, and all the other nations would bow to us, and we will have military strength and might, and God says, "I'm sending a sacrificial, suffering servant. I'm going to the shepherds to tell them, because these shepherds, every day, after caring for their sheep week in and week out, take many of them up and offer them for slaughter, for sacrifice." These sheep have become like pets. You've had pets, right? To take your pet and say, "Okay, time to take them to slaughter or for sacrifice. It had to be hard for a shepherd.
God comes to these shepherds and says, "There is a lamb being born."
So what happens next? Those are the people who are receiving the message, and here comes the messenger, verse 9 – "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear." Now, let's just break that down. The angel comes, probably not hovering in the sky. Okay, get that Christmas card picture out of your mind. There is nothing that says an angel is flapping wings in the sky. That's not how angels typically came. Angels walked up. Abraham is in the camp, here comes the angels to greet him; they just walk into the camp. They're angels, that's how they normally came.
So here are the shepherds. It's nighttime, they're out in an open field, the sheep were out here, or they've been penned up for the night, the shepherds are sitting around keeping an eye on the sheep, they've got a campfire going and, all of a sudden, somebody looks up, and they see a guy coming, and they don't know whether this guy coming is a thief or if he is a robber, but as soon as they see him, the glory of the Lord starts to shine around them.
Now, the glory of the Lord – and, by the way, angels didn't show up every day, right? It's been 500 years since there was the last record of an angel showing up, and here in the last nine months, we had an angel come to Zachariah, we had an angel come to Mary, and now we've got an angel coming to the shepherds. The angels were busy at the time of the birth of Jesus, and the glory of the Lord – don't miss this. So often you hear that – "The glory of the Lord shone around them," and we just kind of zip past that.
Well, this is God's majestic presence, His shekinah, coming to earth to announce the birth of Jesus. Shepherds out on a hillside, dark night, the sheep are over here, a guy show up – angel – and as soon as he shows up, the sky lights up as bright as day. The Bible talks about the shekinah of God appearing in the Old Testament. You know the places where it appeared, right? Moses is up on Mount Sinai, he says, "Lord, can I see your glory?" The Lord says, "You'd die. Put your face against the rock, I'll come along your back," and it bleached him out, right?
And then there is the temple, the dedication of the temple, when Moses finishes – actually, the tabernacle – he finishes building the tabernacle, and they're getting ready to dedicate it, and what happens? The cloud comes and settles over it, and it says, "And the glory of the Lord shone." The people – God was showing his pleasure with what the people had done in building this place of worship to Him by coming and bringing His bright presence, His blinding light, as a revelation of His glory.
The same thing happened in 1 Kings, when Solomon's temple was being dedicated. The glory of the Lord shows up. So it's only happened on a few significant special occasions. Here, nobody is asking for it or looking for it, angel shows up, sky lights up, bright as can be, the shepherds – and, no wonder, it says "the shepherds were filled with fear." That happens to you out in the middle of the desert out on the hillside at night, bright as day, blinding light, a guy standing there, you can barely make him out because of the light that's around you. But it's not just the scene that is frightening. These shepherds know what's going on, I think. I think they know this isn't just somebody turned on the light, but they've learned their New Testament – or their Old Testament. They know about the shekinah, and they're going, "This is the shekinah of God. God is here. God's glory is being revealed to us." They were filled with fear. Throughout the Old Testament when God shows up and reveals Himself, people are afraid.
The very first scene, Adam and Eve, after the fall, God shows up in the Garden, "Adam, where are you?" Where was he? Hiding. Why? He was afraid. In Isaiah, when he saw a vision of God, Isaiah, chapter 6, what was his response? He trembled, and he said "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips." In Ezekiel, chapter 1, Ezekiel sees a vision of the glory of God, and what does he do? He falls on his face. In the Mount of Transfiguration, when Peter and James and John go up with Jesus on the Mount and God shows forth His glory there, what do they do? Fall on their faces.
In Revelation, chapter 1, when John, the Apostle, gets this picture of Jesus in His glory, what does he do? Falls down. Fear was a common response to God showing up. Now, what would you do? What would we do if it got real bright in here, all of a sudden? What would you do if God showed up?
We're all familiar with the song, "I Could Only Imagine," and, you know, it is that imagination – when you see Jesus will you dance or will you fall? In that glorified setting, I don't know that I've got an answer for it, but right here I know what I'd do – before glorification I know what I'd do. I wouldn't stand; I'd fall down. We don't hear much today about the idea of fearing the Lord. It's not really talked about a whole lot. We used to refer to devout Christians as "God-fearing people." We'd call them "God-fearing people" but you don't hear that so much anymore.
Do you fear the Lord? Should you fear the Lord? Well, in one sense, the answer to that is no, we don't need to fear. Perfect love does what? Casts out fear. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have no need of fear – "Death where is your sting? O grave, where is the victory?" There is no fear in death, no fear in condemnation. "No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in Him is mine," right?
So, in one sense, no, we don't need to fear the Lord. But in another sense, there ought to be a holy reverence, respect and awe and, I might even say "dread" for God.
Dennis: Well, we've been listening to Bob Lepine.
Bob: You were smiling. That's one of your life messages.
Dennis: Well, it is, and you're right on target, Bob. Because I think there has been a loss of respect and awe of who God is in our culture today, and you see it in all kinds of places – our entertainment, our language, the music that's sung, and, really, our behavior. We are in need of, I think, freshly rediscovering the fear of God and giving Him rightful place in our lives.
Bob: Well, and, hopefully, here on Christmas Day, our listeners have had an appropriate, joyful celebration with family and I hope you have had an opportunity or will have an opportunity to spend some time just enjoying being with one another. But we ought to pull back and remember that this day, while family and friends and presents are a part of it, that's not what the day is all about, is it?
Dennis: It's not. And, in fact, if Jesus had not become flesh and dwelt among us, that verse you were speaking about, having death swallowed up in victory and Christ going to cross and was resurrected after He died on the third day, it's really the message of Christmas. It is the greatest love story ever told – that the Savior came, and He took upon Himself our sins so that we might be forgiven and might have a right relationship with God. And, frankly, that is the good news of Christmas.
Bob: That's right, and we hope you have a merry Christmas today. If you're listening to FamilyLife Today and not a regular listener, maybe the Christmas celebration has given you an opportunity to listen, and you don't normally get a chance to tune in, we want to invite you to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There is more information about our program and about our ministry available on the Web, FamilyLifeToday.com, and we want to invite you back tomorrow when we'll hear part 2 of this message on the divine birth announcement when the angels came and told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem because a baby had been born who is Christ the Lord.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a merry Christmas, and we'll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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