December 17, 2017
No doubt this Christmas you will suffer by standing in a long line at a store. You have 1 item but it seems everyone in front of you has 10 items to purchase. Suddenly a person in the next cash register announces that he or she will take the next customer and you excitedly step over and immediately go to the head of the line. That is a message of good news. But you have to move quickly or you will miss out.
Today we are considering the story of the shepherds who cared for sheep in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. It was just another boring night of watching sheep when suddenly it was if the next cash register opened up. They were absolutely amazed at what opened up for them. And I can tell you it wasn’t a cash register. Rather, an angel appeared with an amazing announcement. The announcement to the shepherds is an opportunity to embrace Jesus.
I. WE SEE PEOPLE WALKING IN DARKNESS. Lk.2:8
Over the years as I have preached on the shepherds, I have read various things. I have read that shepherds were poor and considered to be at the bottom of society. They were looked down upon, uneducated and untrustworthy people. On the other hand, there are those who point out that in the Old Testament shepherds are not looked down upon in Israel. In fact, King David is called a shepherd. Israel’s priests are likened to shepherds. God is the Good Shepherd. So we want to be careful in how we paint these shepherds. It does seem that one can safely say that shepherds were generally poor and not the best educated. They were lowly and humble, like many common people in any society. Some suggest that they cared for the sheep that were destined to be sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem.
And I imagine that they were lost people, like most people are in any society. You may be wondering what I mean by saying they were lost. Well, obviously they were not lost in terms of geography. They lived in the area of Bethlehem and knew exactly where they were. They were not lost in terms of society. They probably knew exactly where they fit in on the totem pole of social standing. No, I am speaking about the condition of their heart in relationship to God. When it came to the matter of their relationship to God they were lost. They were separated from God and did not know God. Nor did they live their lives as if God were their God. They may have been religious, but they didn’t know God.
We might just say they were sinners. But saying they were sinners doesn’t really explain the depth of the problem. Sinners are people who think, do, and say sinful things. But it is not just the sinful things we think, say and do that is the problem. The core problem is that they had turned away from God in their hearts. Their hearts were not inclined towards God and his ways. A heart that is turned away from God has no room for God because many other things, namely one’s own thoughts and desires, clutter the space in their heart. In Eph.4:18, Paul writes about unbelievers. “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”
Think about this. These shepherds may have been poor, but at least they were employed and contributing something to the functioning of society. And while they probably were uneducated, it’s possible that they were just a good bunch of guys, like any other group of guys you might find at a local bar on a Friday night. What I’m trying to say is that these shepherds were probably no better or worse than most people.
What strikes me about our society is that for the most part everyone looks generally good. And yet every day we see supposedly good people being charged with serious crimes. There’s a sense in which you can say that every person is a mixture of good and bad behavior. However, according to Jer.17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” In our society, as long as a person thinks they are generally good, they will think they are good enough for any god they might have to answer to. If you think you are generally good enough, you don’t have to worry about God.
This is the problem with our hearts. We don’t realize the depth of our pride and self-centeredness. And because of this we underestimate the intensity of God’s love and righteousness. We don’t understand that we are way out of our league when it comes to God. It’s not so much the sin that you committed yesterday that separates you from God. Rather it is your hard heart that allowed you and drove you to commit the sin without regard for God. There are religious people, people who have prayed salvation prayers who have little regard for God. They prayed a prayer when they were young, but today their hearts are far from God.
These are people who are walking in darkness. They are walking in the darkness of their own self-deception. Thinking themselves to be wise they have become fools. They have overestimated their own goodness and underestimated the righteousness and love of God revealed in Christ.
My question for you is, are you walking in this kind of darkness. You may know about God and Jesus and Christmas, but do know God through Jesus? If not, you are walking in darkness just like these shepherds.
II. WE SEE PEOPLE HEARING THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL. Lk.2:9-16
In Is.9:2 it says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” These shepherds were in the dark of night. Suddenly an angel appeared and the glory of the Lord radiated around them. For those of you familiar with the Old Testament, think Shekinah glory, the glory of God. The Hebrew word, Shekinah means the dwelling or resting of the presence of God. God was present and the angel of the Lord was delivering an amazing message of good news. It was gospel news.
Of course, like most people, the shepherds were afraid, “sore afraid” as the KJV puts it. They were not expecting anything like this. In fact they were not expecting anything at all.
The angel had a message of good news which would bring great joy. What is this message? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Notice that this is a very personal message. “Unto you.” This is for you. There is no doubt in my mind that Luke wants us to personalize this message. This is for you and me. Notice also that this message involves humanity. A person is being born into the world. They were afraid of the angel and if God himself had appeared, perhaps they would be dead because no one can look upon God who dwells in unapproachable light, and live. But a baby? Who could ever be afraid of a baby? “Unto you a baby is born this day.” “A baby is born for me?”
But here is the clincher. The baby is born in Bethlehem, the same city that David, Israel’s greatest king, came from. What is more, this baby is the Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. This is the only place in the New Testament where these three terms are brought together in reference to Jesus. “Savior” literally means deliverer. In the Old Testament it is mostly used of God. It refers to someone who delivers or rescues others from peril like one’s enemies or disease. This one to be born is a deliverer. But more than that, he is the Christ or Messiah, God’s anointed king, born in the line of David. There were some Jewish people at that time who were anticipating the coming of the Messiah, but most were not. We don’t know if these shepherds were living in anticipation of Messiah’s coming any more than any of us might be living in anticipation of Christ’s coming. It’s not something often on our radar.
And then the angel refers to Jesus as Lord, Christ the Lord. When Mary visited Elizabeth, as she entered into the house and greeted Elizabeth, in Lk.1:43, Elizabeth exclaims, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” In Lk.1-2 the word Lord refers to God. And here the angel calls Jesus, “Christ the Lord.” Luke doesn’t explain the meaning of this title in relationship to Jesus. Rather we learn the full meaning of this title as we read through the book of Luke. By the end of the book we come to realize that Christ the Lord is none other than God come to earth in human flesh.
Perhaps the fact that the angel said the Savior was born in the city of David may have jogged their memories of a prophecy in Micah 5:2, which makes it clear that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. At any rate the angel told them they that could go and find this baby, this Savior wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.
When the angel had delivered his message, suddenly many angels appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
As long as God remains invisible and unseen, he is no problem for the modern mind. But as soon as God enters into history, taking on the form of human flesh, God becomes a problem. What do we do with Jesus and the historical records about him? Many just dismiss those records, but they have been shown to be credible and reliable. If the angel had delivered a message about a Savior apart from any human birth, the shepherds may have been amazed, but what would it all mean? To receive a message about the birth of a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, allows others to see and experience for themselves.
The shepherds went to see, “this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” In Jer.29:13, God says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” As far as I can tell, that is what the Shepherds did. They heard this amazing message and they believed what they heard and went to see for themselves. And whaddaya know? They found the Savior, lying in the manger.
Babies have an amazing effect on people. As soon as a baby is brought into a room of people everyone’s face lights up. “How sweet! How beautiful! How amazing!” People act in odd ways around babies. They often surrender their dignity to the presence of a baby, making faces and noises that they would never make anywhere else. But we all understand. The shepherds found a baby who was so compelling because this baby was and is the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
No matter how intelligent or sophisticated in your thinking, it does not make good sense to just dismiss this baby who was born in Bethlehem so long ago. Brilliant minds throughout all of history, including our own time have gone to Bethlehem, so to speak, and have found the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. God never expects a person to abandon their mind in order to embrace Christ. God is the source of all truth. But we will have to surrender our pride and dignity if we are to find the Savior. We must all come to Jesus like the shepherds.
III. WE SEE PEOPLE WALKING IN THE LIFE OF JESUS. Lk.2:17-20
Clearly something happened to these shepherds. They saw Jesus in the manger and their lives were changed. They were still shepherds, having to watch their flocks by night. But now they were glorifying and praising God like they never had before.
The reason is because what they had heard and seen was in keeping with the angel’s message. What is more, they were telling other people about the message, the good news, they had received. It was all because of Jesus. They were walking in the life of Jesus. To walk in the life of Jesus is to put one’s confidence or faith in Jesus which leads to peace with God and man.
Maybe you ask yourself, “Why do I need to be at peace with God? I have nothing against God.” Actually we all have something against God. We are against God? In our heart we would prefer to not have to deal with God because we prefer to be our own god. And so many people just ignore God.
This is why God came in the form of a man. Jesus was born to enter into life in this world. From the time of his birth he began to bear the antagonism and rejection of this world. He did this until finally the world put him to death on the cross. But what the world did to Jesus, God used to bring salvation to the world. In dying on the cross, God in Jesus willingly bore the guilt and penalty of our sin and rejection of God. It is only through trusting in Jesus that forgiveness of our sin and peace with God, reconciliation with God and mankind is possible.
You may have questions about God and Jesus and the story of salvation. But I would urge you to not let your questions hold you back from coming to Jesus. In fact it would be a good thing for you to consider why you have these questions? Sometimes our questions are little more than excuses that we use to justify our unwillingness to consider the good news about Jesus Christ. Our questions are really an expression of pride, expressing misplaced self-confidence.
But there one more question I would like to ask. For those of us who confess Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, is the gospel the source of great joy for us? I would imagine that when all those angels appeared, praising God, it was a pretty high moment of great joy for the shepherds. But high moments of joy tend to give way to routine hours of mundane boredom. What happens to the joy that we find in knowing God and Jesus? I would point you to v.19. Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. When you first came to Christ you may have been filled with joy. What a wonderful moment. But as we settle in to follow Christ wholeheartedly, we begin to treasure and ponder the wonderful grace of God bestowed upon us in Jesus. And when the joy seems to fade because of the struggles of life in this world, we must turn and ponder anew what the Almighty has done and can do. Are you walking in the life of Jesus?
Imagine yourself going to the stable with the shepherds to see the baby Jesus. Imagine if Mary asked you if you would want to hold Jesus. Maybe you would feel that you are not worthy to hold Jesus. Maybe your hands are dirty. But this is just the point of his coming. He was already lying in the manger. He came into this dirty world so that he could come into our dirty hearts and make them clean. The baby Jesus would have been happy for you to hold him then and he desires that you embrace him now as your Savior who is Christ the Lord. Have you embraced Jesus? Amen