We have heard a lot of sermons about who were the first to learn of the birth of Jesus. Most of those sermons marvel that the announcement of the birth of the King of Kings was made to those at the bottom of society's ladder.
We don’t know much about these shepherds. We don’t know their names, or how many of them there were. What we do know was that in those days, shepherds had no authority, influence, or power. After this mention in Luke we never hear of them again. But the truth is that the shepherds play a major role in the Christmas story. Their actions upon hearing the announcement of Jesus can be an example for us as we celebrate the birth of Christ. This Christmas, the Word of God encourages us to celebrate with a shepherd’s faith.
God has a purpose for everything so we can be sure that He had a reason for having this announcement made to these specific shepherds.
In Jewish tradition as revealed in writings called the Mishnah (the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature. - Wikipedia) there was the belief that the Messiah would be revealed from the Migdal Eder ("the tower of the flock"). This tower stood close to Bethlehem on the road to Jerusalem, and the sheep that pastured there were not the type used for ordinary purposes. The shepherds working there, in fact, took care of the temple-flocks, the sheep meant for sacrifice.
The sheep these shepherds watched would have probably been used as sacrifice animals at the temple in Jerusalem, which was not far from Bethlehem. These men who watched the sheep meant for sacrifice got the news about the Lamb who would take away the sins of the world through His death and resurrection. Think about that.
These shepherds were quietly doing their jobs when suddenly an angel appeared to them. I'm not surprised they were afraid! In most of the instances in the bible when angels appeared to men, live and not in a dream, it was by surprise and resulted in fear or panic.
Daniel 10:4-9, 10-12 (HCSB)4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris,5 I looked up, and there was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist.6 His body was like topaz, his face like the brilliance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.7 Only I, Daniel, saw the vision. The men who were with me did not see it, but a great terror fell on them, and they ran and hid.8 I was left alone, looking at this great vision. No strength was left in me; my face grew deathly pale, and I was powerless.9 I heard the words he said, and when I heard them I fell into a deep sleep, with my face to the ground.10 Suddenly, a hand touched me and raised me to my hands and knees.11 He said to me, “Daniel, you are a man treasured ⌊by God⌋. Understand the words that I’m saying to you. Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you.” After he said this to me, I stood trembling.12 “Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers.
Luke 1:11-13 (HCSB)11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and overcome with fear.13 But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.
But as in those instances the angel talking to the shepherds calmed them by telling them to not be afraid because he had “good news”. He told them that this “good news” will be for “all people.”, even those at the bottom of society’s ladder.
Here’s where their faith takes over. They didn’t sit around trying to figure out what all this meant and why they, lowly shepherds, got this news. They didn’t debate the meaning of what the angels said. They didn’t discuss whether it was true or not. They didn’t think about the meaning of the words that were spoken. They didn’t seek out officials to justify their faith in what they had heard. They heard the Word of God by faith and any thought of who they were in the hierarchy of society was left behind, and they went immediately to Bethlehem. The scripture says they left right away. They heard God’s Word and they acted. That’s faith.
But let’s not stop there, unlike the Magi they didn't have a star to guide them. All they knew was “a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough”. So they probably had to go throughout Bethlehem looking for a baby in a feeding trough. Can you guess what people must have thought about some dirty shepherds going through town looking in people’s stables for a baby? It didn’t matte;r they keep looking until they found Him.
Luke 2:16 (HCSB)16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough.
They didn’t keep the fact that they had found and seen the “Savior, who is Messiah the Lord” a secret. They told everybody that they saw.
Luke 2:20 (HCSB)20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.
Luke 2:17-18 (HCSB)17 After seeing ⌊them⌋, they reported the message they were told about this child,18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
The shepherds’ response to the birth announcement and to the newborn Savior revealed hearts of faith that trusted in the words and promises of God.
The message that the angels told the shepherds is the Lord’s message for you. The baby that the shepherds found in a feeding trough in Bethlehem would one day, years later, be nailed to a cross where he would pay for your sins and washed away your guilt in his blood. There was another announcement made, by an angel, over 30 years later.
Matthew 28:5-6 (HCSB)5 But the angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.6 He is not here! For He has been resurrected, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.
Do you have this kind of shepherd’s faith; the kind of faith that believes in God’s personal love for you even if you are at the bottom of society’s ladder; even if you’ve done despicable things from which you don’t think you can ever be forgiven? Do you accept God’s love? If you do pray this simple prayer;
“Dear God, I am a sinner and need forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ shed His precious blood and died for my sin. I am willing to turn from sin. I now invite Christ to come into my heart and life as my personal Savior.”
If you have just prayed this prayer, in all sincerity, call, text, email, Tweet, change your Facebook status and tell somebody, leave me a comment here or send me an email with this Link. Then find a bible believing church and start to fellowship with other believers. Welcome to the family of God.
* #4 in the "Faith at Christmas Series