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When Jesus Entered My World | The Shepherds

The Kingdom of God often comes to the unlikely, uneducated and unsuccessful! Isn’t that great news? No one is out of reach for God. No one is out of place for God. No one is beyond redemption for God. And the proof for all this is the very thing the shepherds heard, witnessed and testified about: the God-child in the food trough.

This is the second message in the series “When Jesus Entered My World”. We look at a couple of stories around the birth of Jesus, seeing how His arrival changed the lives of the people involved. Then we translate this to our own lives, considering our own stories.

In this post, we are going to look at the shepherds who received a special announcement from an angel about the birth of the Messiah. We are going to break the story into little pieces as we talk through it.

Before we shift our focus to the shepherds visited by angels with the announcement of the birth of Jesus, let’s first consider the humble circumstances of the birth of Jesus.

Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

The tiny village of Bethlehem was suddenly overwhelmed with people from all over Israel having to register there.

No wonder there was no available lodging for this couple. Luckily, they find a place used as a shelter for animals, and there Mary gives birth to Jesus.

And there he lies, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. The promised Messiah, Highest King of Heaven – lying in a food trough for animals.

It’s a vivid picture of what the incarnation was like. Paul would later describe it as: “He made Himself nothing”.

It would be the first sign that, this promised Messiah, was not going to fulfil the people’s expectations, but He would fulfill all of God’s promises.

Hearing the Good News

Luke 2:8-14 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven,

and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Significance of shepherds

Who were these shepherds, and why, of all people, were they the chosen ones to first hear this great news?

Shepherds in ancient Israel were somewhat despised. It was considered a lowly profession, and in rabbinic literature, shepherds are described as dishonest.

Isn’t that strange? In the Bible, shepherds are always a picture of what God is like.

Remember how King David – who’s throne Jesus would inherit – started off as a shepherd boy. He would later write the famous Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”. Jesus would later describe Himself as the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and His sheep know Him.

Perhaps it is a combination of these two things; the low social class of the shepherds, a sign from God that this Messiah would come for everyone, even the outcasts – and also the significance of this profession in the line with David and as a picture of God’s care, that made them significant in God’s eyes, and the first recipients of this joyful news.

Fulfilment of prophecy

Personally, I think there is even a fulfilment of prophecy going on here. Take a look at the words used by the angel in the announcement: ‘good news’. In Greek the word translated for ‘good news’ is euangelion, which is where we get the word ‘evangelism’ from and also means Gospel. These are highly significant words and they point to a Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 52.

Isaiah 52:7-8 (NLT)

How beautiful on the mountains

are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,

the good news of peace and salvation,

the news that the God of Israel reigns!

The watchmen shout and sing with joy,

for before their very eyes

they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem.

I think that the shepherds as the first witnesses of the birth of the Messiah may be a fulfilment of this prophecy.

From the mountains, the shepherds who were watching their sheep come down because they have heard this ‘good news’, and they see it right before their eyes – the Lord returning to Jerusalem. And they sing with joy.

The words ‘good news’, the watching, the witnessing and the singing are all fulfilled in this story.

The angelic chorus

And let’s also explore what the angels say here. I mean, if an angelic choir is going to sing a certain chorus, I guess it would be fair to say it is significant…

“Glory to God in highest heaven,

and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

First of all, I love how heaven and earth come together in this chorus, in the way that heaven and earth also come together in the birth of Jesus Christ.

Glory to God and peace on earth.

And this peace – which in Hebrew is shalom, meaning a complete wellbeing of body, soul and spirit – is indeed what the Messiah would minister to the people through His teachings, miracles and His very presence.

The last part of this chorus tells us something important about the Messiah as well. The peace on earth is for those with whom God is pleased – in other words, not everyone.

Some find an argument for election here, but I don’t.

In my view, we can understand this in the context whole ministry of Jesus that touched many lives, but some did not receive Him. In fact, most of Israel ended up rejecting Him and demanding His crucifixion.

Those who receive the Messiah are people with whom God pleased. Yet, there will be many who do not receive Him.

Witnessing the Good News

Let’s continue reading in Luke’s Gospel

Luke 2:15-16 (NLT)

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

So, these lucky shepherds get to be the first ones to witness the Messiah. What an amazing privilege!

The first ones to come to maternity visit were some smelly shepherds. I remember when Bente was born that Anja gave me the important task to tell everyone that stopped by to view our little miracle to wash their hands!

I don’t know what Joseph told these shepherds, but I can imagine some social distancing was involved.

I love how the first to witness the newborn Messiah and King were some of the outcasts in Jewish society. It tells me that, for God, no one is in fact cast out.

Along with the animal shelter Jesus was born in, and His smelly first bed, it’s another beautiful illustration of what the incarnation really means.

The High King of heaven became a human being – one with the people that had rejected Him in Eden. The Creator became a creature. The Sustainer of the Universe became a baby needing constant nursing and attention.

He did this, because He knew that we were lost. And so, the Son of God became a human being, because only in this way He could become our Savior.

The shepherds being the first to witness the newborn Messiah King tells us that Jesus came for all of us as well.

He didn’t come for the upper-class people, the religious authorities, the successful people and the ones who have it all together. In fact, all those people were actually the ones who rejected Jesus.

Jesus came for lost, the hurting, the sick, the broken, the doubting, the wonderers, the ones who don’t have it all figured out – in other words: you and me.

And this is indeed ‘good news’. This is what the Gospel really is!

Salvation is not something you can achieve or deserve, it is something you receive – or actually, someone that you receive.

But be careful, it’s not going to look like what you think it might look like.

It looks like a baby in a manger.

It looks like a King being crucified.

It looks like a life surrendered to God.

It looks like picking up your cross daily.

It looks like loving your enemies.

It looks like going to the ends of the earth to share this good news.

Sharing the Good News

And then, the shepherds became the first evangelists. What did they do?

Luke 2:17-20 (NLT)

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

What the shepherds had heard and seen was so exciting and overwhelming that they immediately went into town to tell everyone what they had seen and what they had heard.

God’s promises to send a Savior was being fulfilled before their eyes. They knew that they had not received this special angelic announcement and hadn’t witnessed the Son of God just for themselves – this Good News was to be shared with everyone. And so, the ones seen as untrustworthy by Jewish society, became the first to testify that the Savior was indeed born in Bethlehem.

Our Story

So, how does all this apply to our lives?

The God-child in the food trough

Well, I think that, first of all, this story of the shepherds tells us something about the beauty of God’s redemption.

God chose unlikely, uneducated, unsuccessful people to be the first ones to hear about the birth of the Savior, the first to witness the God-child and the first to testify of this Good News.

The Kingdom of God often comes to the unlikely, uneducated and unsuccessful! Isn’t that great news? No one is out of reach for God. No one is out of place for God. No one is beyond redemption for God. And the proof for all this is the very thing the shepherds heard, witnessed and testified about: the God-child in the food trough.

God loves to be in the dirty places, because that is where His light shines the brightest. That is where His love is felt the deepest. That is where His redemption is most glorious.

Hear – see – share

Secondly, the story of the shepherds is also a model for our lives. First, they hear the Good News, then they see the Good News and then they share the Good News.

I believe that this is God’s invitation to you and me as well. God invites you to hear from Him – through His Word and through His Spirit. Through Jesus, our relationship with God is restored and can now be called ‘intimate’ instead of ‘distant’. We get to hear from God on a daily basis.

Then we get to see Him. We get to experience the goodness of God. We experience His salvation, forgiveness, restoration and the fulfilment of His promises. We get to experience the good life when we follow after Jesus and live in obedience to Him.

And through our hearing and seeing, God is shaping a testimony to be shared with the people around us. This Good News was always meant to be shared with others.

I pray that, this year, Christmas may be a time for us when we hear, see and share this Good News again.

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