Why Shepherds? Why Now?December 26, 2008
Shepherds—that’s exactly who God told first, as He made His divine birth announcement of the glad tidings of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Find out why, on today's broadcast.
Shepherds—that’s exactly who God told first, as He made His divine birth announcement of the glad tidings of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Find out why, on today's broadcast.
Why Shepherds? Why Now?
Bob: [from audiotape.] All of a sudden, just like that, the angel finishes giving the good news and, all at once, the shepherds find themselves surrounded now by a myriad of angels coming out of the bright light. Do you get the picture here? This is mind-blowing.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 26th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We all know what happened in Luke, chapter 2. Have you stopped to think about why it happened the way it happened? We'll hear about that today. Stay tuned.
Dennis: And welcome to FamilyLife Today, I know some of you regular listeners know that this is – we're kind of breaking protocol for me to introduce the broadcast.
Bob: I'm starting to feel insecure about my job, the way you keep jumping in and taking my …
Dennis: You've trained me. But, actually, that's not really the issue, Bob. The issue is you're giving a message from Luke, chapter 2, that you gave at your church, Redeemer Community, here in Little Rock, and we wanted to feature it here at Christmastime and allow our listeners to be reminded of the greatest news that has ever been declared.
Bob: We spent time looking at Luke, chapter 2, at the angel coming to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, and there's a lot in this passage. It was interesting to stop and pull it apart – just to stop and ask the question, why did God decide to go to shepherds on a hillside to say "The Messiah has been born." Why shepherds? Why – why not go into Jerusalem and go to the palace?
Dennis: Well, it had to be spectacular. Let me read it here – "And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them." Can you imagine what that would have been like? "And they were filled with fear."
Bob: That's what that would have been like. You'd have been filled with fear.
Dennis: I guarantee you, I've never seen an angel. Maybe I've entertained one or two, according to Scripture, but this was a sacred moment that you're speaking about here.
Bob: Mm-hm, and the angel shows up, and the shepherds are afraid, and the angel says what angels always say when they show up, and that's where we're going to pick up the message. This is part 2 of a message from Luke, chapter 2, on the divine birth announcement.
Bob: [from audiotape.] I wonder if angels ever get tired of saying, "Fear not." You know, every time they show up, the first thing they say, "Fear not, fear not," and the angel is bringing good news. This is – the Gospel is about joy. The angel says, "I'm bringing you good news, which is a great joy." And the great joy is not just for the shepherds, he says, it's a great joy for all people.
And then he says, "Here's the joy." Verse 11 – "For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord." That gelyon, it's the evangel, it's the good news, and it's going to result in a great joy for all people.
Now, the juxtaposition is this – don't fear joy. Don't be afraid, I'm bringing you good news that will bring you great joy. It's that juxtaposition, and that's the heart of the good news that's being brought. Fear is going to be gone. Joy is in its place.
We said when we began our study of Luke that joy is one of the themes throughout the Gospel. Luke makes it clear that salvation and joy are connected. Now, is that true for you? Is your salvation linked to joy in your life? Are you a person who is characterized by joy because you've been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, hallelujah! That ought to be great news! That ought to stir you!
If the Gospel doesn't produce great joy in you, one of two things – either you don't know Jesus, or you've forgotten what you ought to remember. You either don't know Jesus, or you've forgotten – think about this – you were once dead in your trespasses and sins, you were in hostile rebellion to the God of the Universe, you wanted nothing to do with Him, you wanted to live life on your own, and you were estranged from Him, deserving, by the way, of His holy wrath.
And God, who is rich in mercy, full of compassion, sent Jesus to a manger in Bethlehem to rescue you, to redeem you, and to reconcile the relationship with you. And you don't have joy? What I just told you, if that doesn't produce joy in you – and you go, "But you don't know my circumstances." You're right, I don't know your circumstances. I don't know what they are, but there's no circumstance that is more depressing than that news is joyful. There is nothing going on in your life that is so bad that that's not good news. I'm not suggesting that, as a Christian, you'll never be down or discouraged, or there will never be those moments. I'm suggesting that when you are down and discouraged, what you do is you remember the Gospel. You go to the manger and to the cross, and you find joy in your salvation. "Why so downcast, O my soul?"
Remember God – that's the antidote for discouragement and depression. This is one of only two places in the New Testament where the title "Savior" is given to Him. Mary has already referred to God as her Savior, so when the angel says, "He is a Savior," there is a deity connection there.
Then, second, Christ means "promised" or "anointed one." You know that. But then about this word, "Lord." The common Greek word for Lord – "Kyrios" can mean Lord in like a feudal situation where you're a landowner, you're a lord. It can mean that, but you need to know that in the Old Testament, Kyrios, in the Greek version of the Old Testament, 6,156 times, "Kyrios" means "God."
So when the angel hears a Savior who is the anointed one, the Lord – the shepherds is not out there sitting thinking, "Oh, does he mean a landowner? Does he mean a nobleman?" No, he goes – "He means God." And, by the way, the light is still shining. The big bright light is still shining, and the angel is still standing there, and he's saying, "Born to you today a Savior who is Christ the Kyrios – God – a deliverer, an anointed one – God. He is all of these things, and it said "He is this for all men," and He is, by the way, the deliverer of all men, the Lord of all men, and you say, now, is he – when you say he is the deliverer of all men – all men are not delivered, but He is the deliverer of all men. He is the only one who can deliver any man. He is the only deliverer, He is the only Savior, and He is the only Lord. He has come.
And then he says, "By the way, I've got a sign for you." He doesn't even say, "You need to go look for Him." But he just says, "I've got a sign for you." I guess he knows they're going to go looking, or he's just heading them off. "I've got a sign for you," this is verse 12, "You'll find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." The angel didn't tell them to go looking for the baby. I guess he assumes they'll go, and the sign confirms Isaiah 7:14, "The Lord Himself will give you a sign," is what Isaiah 7:14 said.
And, just as a sidebar, let me say this – signs and miracles and wonders given in the Bible are given primarily to confirm the Word of the Lord. That's why God gives them – so that those who are hearing know that this is God who is speaking and not something else or someone else.
So today a messenger is not confirmed by a sign as much as he is confirmed by his fidelity to the Word of God. But, in those days, the sign was to confirm the Word. And the sign, by the way, was a striking contrast. The angels just said, "Guess who's been born? A Savior who is Christ the Lord. Guess where you'll find him? Wrapped in cloths in a manger."
The shepherd's got to go, "Huh? God just came, He's in a manger?" Again, the humility of Christ coming here, and wrapped in cloths – there's nothing particularly unusual about that. In fact, the sign is not that He's wrapped in cloths, because all babies are pretty much wrapped in cloths, but the manger is the sign. So it says in verse 13, "Suddenly, there was, with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God saying 'Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace among those with whom He is well pleased.'"
I'll point out a couple of things here – first of all, it happened suddenly, all of a sudden, just like that, the angel finishes giving the good news and, all at once, the shepherds find themselves surrounded now by a myriad of angels coming out of the bright light. This is mind-blowing. They were just minding their own business around the campfire, and, all of a sudden the light, the shepherds, now there's a whole bunch of them, and they're all around, a multitude, we don't know how many, the translation of the Greek word here means 10,000, which is their largest number that they had. So it's really like as many as you can count, thousands, and they were the heavenly host – that's the heavenly army of God that have come. God sends an army, and He brings news of peace with the army.
At the coronation of a Roman emperor, the birth of his son or the son of the king, it would not have been unusual in the public gathering to celebrate with a choir or an orchestra to provide pomp for the event, and here God provides a chorus of a multitude of angels who are amazed at this act of condensation [sp] on God's part. Now, keep in mind, these angels know Jesus, okay? These angels have been spending a long time with Jesus – not eternity, because they didn't exist in eternity. God created them, but they've been with Jesus for a long time, and they remember back when Satan rebelled against God, and God kicked him out of heaven. And then they watched the creatures on earth rebel against God, and now they're seeing God send His Son to redeem these creatures, and the angels go, "This is amazing." They see God's love and the sacrifice of Jesus.
And I just have to point out, they didn't sing. Okay? I know, I know, all of those songs now at Christmas are messed up for you, I understand that, but the angels didn't sing. There are two times in the Scriptures where the angels sing. Do you know where they are? At the Creation and at the consummation – before the fall, and when all things are righted.
I don't know if angels can sing with humanity in the state they're in, but there is no record in Scripture that they do. They sing before the fall, they sing when God makes all things new. But they're not singing here. They say "Glory to God in the highest," and, it's interesting, the contrast, the parallelism – "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth to men." They're explaining the significance of the birth here. This is a birth that will give glory to God and will bring peace to men. This is not world peace, okay? This is not – this is peace to men in terms of reconciliation of the relationship with God.
Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God." The relationship that was fractured, we have peace with God. Ephesians 2 talks about how Jesus has broken down the dividing wall not only between Jew and Greek in here, but He has also broken down the dividing wall between God and Man. "He is our Peace," Ephesians says, "who has broken down every wall." So the peace that Jesus brings is the peace of a reconciled relationship with God. With whom, by the way, He brings peace to those with whom He is well pleased and you know what? Do you know why God is well pleased with men? Not because of men but because God chooses to be pleased with them.
He didn't look down and say, "You guys are – you know, you're doing pretty well. I'm pleased with you, I'll send Jesus." No, He said, "It pleases me to send my Son." Well, when the angels went away, verse 15, when the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." I don't think they said it right away. I think there had to be a little bit of a pause there after the lights out and the angels are gone, and they're looking at one another and eventually they say, "I think we should go to Bethlehem," and they were given this sign, and I don't know if there was any discussion, you know, I don't know if any of the shepherds said, "Well, you know, we'll go in the morning," or "It's big news, but where will we ever find Him?"
There seemed to be no hesitation on the part of these shepherds. I just want to comment on that, as J.C. Ryle, the Anglican bishop from the 1800s, this is what he wrote – he said, "We see in these shepherds no doubt, no questioning, no hesitation. Strange and improbably as these tidings might seem, at once they act upon them. They went to Bethlehem in haste. They found everything exactly as it had been told them. The simple faith received a rich reward. They had the mighty privilege of being the first of all mankind after Mary and Joseph who saw, with believing eyes, the newborn Messiah. They soon returned glorifying and praising God for what they'd seen."
Then Bishop Ryle says this – "May our spirits be like theirs. May we ever believe implicitly, act promptly, and wait for nothing when the path of duty is clear. So doing will have a reward like the shepherds. The journey that is begun in faith will generally end in praise." That's a great statement, isn't it?
But might we be like the shepherds who, when we receive God's Word, we respond. They went quickly, and the rest of this scene is pretty straightforward – it doesn't take a lot of explanation. It says in verse 16, "They went with haste, found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger, and when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured these things pondering them in her heart, and the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they'd heard and seen, just as it had been told them."
Now, a couple of quick notes – I just imagine the scene – here are the shepherds coming into town from Bethlehem and, by the way, where are the sheep? They're backed up on the hillside in the pen and somebody – I don't know if they said, "You stay and watch the sheep while the rest of us go," or they just said, "You know, if God sends an angel, He can probably take care of the sheep for the night. Let's just all go."
So they wander into town, they're looking around, "Okay, what are we looking for? A baby in a manger." Well, they're not going door-to-door saying, "Do you have any babies in mangers?" They go, "Well, where are we going to find a manger?" Well, they're going to find them at the place where the animals are kept. So they're going to the places where the animals are typically kept, and they're walking around, looking, "Anybody got a baby in a manger?" And they walk in and, here, Mary and Joseph, they just had the baby, they're there with Jesus, the baby is in a manger and, all of a sudden, shepherds are going, "Pardon me, ma'am, is your baby in a manger?" "Why, yes." "Okay, this is going to sound real strange to you, but let me just tell you what just happened out on the hillside."
You know, this is how the conversation likely went, and they're – it says all who heard them, that's not just necessarily all who heard them right then, but when they went back and told this story later, everybody who heard them for the next several weeks and months as they unpacking this story, they're amazed at what the shepherds tell them. History is being made and only a handful of unimportant people know.
Mary, in verse 19, treasured all these things in her heart. How did Luke know that? Well, it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, but he likely had some dialog either directly with Mary or maybe with Peter, who had spoken with Mary. But somehow the word had been – Mary had told this story to people, and she had said, "I remember. I just treasured it all in my heart." Luke got that part of history, and they go back to their field, to their jobs, but when they come back to their field, they come back different.
What do they come back doing? Verse 20 – "they come back singing and praising God and saying 'Glory to God.'" They've just seen the Messiah. So look what happened here. God came to the shepherds, the recipients, through an angel, the messenger, who preaches the Gospel to them, that's what he does, "I've got good news," and they believe what the angel tells them, and they respond to their belief by going to Bethlehem, and, as a result, they find themselves in the presence of God Himself. Their faith is deepened, and when their faith is deepened, and when they've seen it, what's their response? They tell others. Hm, they see Jesus, their faith is strengthened, and they go tell others.
The shepherds praise and glorify God for all they've seen. Can I suggest to you that if you know Christ, you've had something like this happen to you. Now, you may not have been on a hillside with a bright light, but there was a time in your life when you were minding your own business, and a messenger came. I don't know who the messenger was, I don't know if it was a friend of yours or a parent, I don't know if it was a stranger, I don't know if it was God through His Word speaking to you by His Holy Spirit, but you were there, minding your own business, and a messenger came with a message of good news, and you believed, and you responded to that in faith.
You've had this same thing. Now, the question is – are you doing what the shepherds did? Glorifying God and telling others what you've seen and heard? The very first birth announcement ever made was actually the first case of sharing the Gospel in the New Testament. An angel comes and says, "I've got good news. I shared the Gospel with you." These guys heard it, what did they do? They went and shared the Gospel. And if you're here tonight, and you don't know Christ, let me just say, you're not here by accident, I don't think, because God brought you here to hear the good news – good news of great joy. The question is – how are you going to respond to it?
Bob: Well, we've been listening to part 2 of a message from Luke's Gospel, Luke, chapter 2, and that is the question – what is our response to the good news of Christmas?
Dennis: And there's two kinds of people listening – those who have never heard that good news or have yet to respond to it in faith and embrace the Savior for the forgiveness of their sins and make Him their Lord and Master and become a Christ follower for the rest of their days, or a second group who have heard, have believed, and are like the shepherds – in need of going and announcing wherever they go that there is good news.
And, Bob, I'm convicted about this at a whole new fresh level because with the economic uncertainties that are in our country, I think there's need in our land for people to share hope and give them meaning for life. I think the people we're passing as we're checking out of a grocery store, as we're purchasing fuel for our vehicles, as we're …
Bob: As we're returning the gifts we got for Christmas.
Dennis: There you go – or as we're visiting friends' house or neighbors. I think we need to give them a reason for hope, and there is no greater reason for hope than that Jesus Christ came, He lived a perfect life, He died on the cross for our sins, and on the third day He was resurrected from the grave, and He ascended, after 40 days, into heaven and, today, is seated in authority, and He can promise eternal life to any person who comes to Him.
And maybe we're just talking to one person here who needs to come to faith in the Savior, but if that's you – why waste another day of your life? Simply, right now, cry out to Him, confess Him as Lord and Master and ask Him to forgive your sins and place your faith in Him, and you know what? He will declare you not guilty, and you know what? That is the good news of Christmas, and that is worth sharing with other people.
Bob: That's right. If you'd like to know more about what it means to be a follower of Christ, if you're ready to pray that prayer and ask God to come into your life and to cleanse you and to transform your heart, there is a book that we'd like to send you called "Pursuing God," and you can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, and we'll have that booklet sent out to you at no cost to you. It explains to you what it means to be a follower of Christ, and we will rejoice with you, as well, in the spiritual decision that you have made to trust Christ. Again, our toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY, and just say, "I want to become a Christian, and I'd like that booklet," and we're happy to send it out to you.
And let us also mention that this is a season of economic uncertainty, and we have heard from many of our listeners over the last several weeks who have been responding to the matching gift opportunity that has been made available to us this year. We have had some listeners who have offered to match every donation we receive on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $425,000, and many of our listeners have responded. They have called and said, "We want to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today." We like the idea that our donation can be doubled, and we just want to say thank you to those of you who have responded.
We are still a ways away from being able to take full advantage of that matching gift, so we're hoping between now and the end of the year, we will hear from more listeners who will help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: That's right, and I want to add my thank you to Bob's, just to say thanks for those of you who have responded. But just say to you, as a listener, if you've benefited from FamilyLife Today, and what we seek to do here every day in bringing timeless principles to your home and equip you to have a godly marriage and family, would you pick up a phone and call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a generous donation to this ministry? Or go online at FamilyLife.com? We need you to stand with us. As Bob mentioned, we still are short of our goal, and these are important days for this ministry to be able to continue to bring this broadcast to you on a daily basis.
Bob: Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY. You can also go online at FamilyLife.com and, again, thanks for your support. We appreciate your partnership with us here in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
And we hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend, and I hope you can be back with us on Monday, when we are going to consider the power of our words for good or for ill. We're going to hear a challenging message from Dr. Tom Elliff, and I hope you can join us for that.
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. We'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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