Contemplate: What does it say about Jesus that shepherds were the first to receive – and tell – the good news of His birth?
Read: Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, ” Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 ” Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Learn – We have looked at many aspects of the Advent of Christ — His birth in a manger, the experiences of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the type of people Mary and Joseph were, angels, and more. The final group of interest is these shepherds to whom God sent the entire host of heaven to tell of the birth of the Messiah. But rather than only look AT their role in the story, let’s consider their inclusion in the story period. I think it is no coincidence they are brought to the manger on the night that Jesus was born.
By Christ’s day, shepherds had lost much of their ancient esteem from the days when Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David plied the trade. They were no longer among the mighty, the rich, the great, or the respected among the population, but were on the margins of society, working a difficult, dangerous and undesirable job of watching over some of the smelliest, stupidest animals on earth, living outside in the cold and weather, and not being highly paid for doing so. Thus, choosing to give such a great honor to the shepherds, and therefore, snubbing the high priests, the rich, and the kings of the earth like Herod, sends a message from on High. As we have touched on before, it must represent the “great reversal” that Christ’s Kingdom brings, where the humble are the exalted, and the exalted are brought low. It is an instant fulfillment of the prophecy Mary gave in her Magnificat, saying,
“he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:52-53, ESV)
The shepherds also played another role in the multi-layered Messianic drama that God staged at Christ’s birth. The coming Messiah was called a Shepherd. This term was applied to strong, loving, and protective leaders in the Old Testament Scriptures. Note Micah 5:2,4-5, quoted in part in Matthew 2 concerning Jesus, which said,
“2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days…
4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
5 And he shall be their peace. (ESV, emphasis mine)
The inclusion of the Shepherds at the birth of Christ highlights the role of Jesus as “The Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20).” Like Christ, these shepherds were “not highly esteemed” (Isaiah 53:3), and were constantly guarding their flock to their own peril. Christ would do the ultimate and “give His life for his sheep (John 10:11).” The prominent role of the shepherds in the advent of Christ brought this to the forefront.
Finally, the shepherds are the first witnesses to the good news of Christ. They were given the good news of Jesus by the angels, and it says that, “they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” Without any instructions, they went and told the townspeople the wonderful news. The first evangelists of Luke were marginalized shepherds, given the message by angels. This reminds of another marginalized group, women, who were spoken to by angels, and they became the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection (Luke 24:1-8).
This Christmas, I think it would be good for us to remember the depths of what happened in Bethlehem that night that ultimately pointed to a cross in Jerusalem 30-something years later. God is in the business of exalting the lowly, and in Christ, all human oppression is broken which sets up false values of one human being over another. As the words to O Holy Night proclaim, “Chains shall He break, for the slave is a brother.”
But even the lowly are sinners in need of a Saviour. In fact, we are all equally sinners and separated from our Holy God on the one hand, while being equally valuable as His children made in His image and bought with His blood on the other. It’s quite a mystery, really. But that’s what made the manger and the cross so amazing. God came down and put on human flesh to show us the incredible value that we are to Him, while at the same time He later suffered and died in the flesh, which showed us the incredible depth of our sin that He would need to do so to purchase our salvation.
When the angels sang “Peace on earth, good will to men,” to the shepherds, that phrase meant something much more than the kind of peace our culture associates with it. It’s not a peaceful feeling, or a lack of stress. The peace that the angels told the shepherds about was a declaration that a war was over, and hostilities were ended. Man, whose sin was rebellion in the face of a loving, and holy God, was being paid for by God, come in the flesh. If you’ll recall the Micah 2 prophecy we read, that’s exactly what the prophet said that the Messiah-Shepherd would do: “And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace. That is what led the angels to say, “Glory to God in the highest!!” and it is what motivated the shepherds to share this great, great news in Bethlehem and beyond.
Pray – Lord Jesus, we thank you that we have peace with God because of your work on the cross (Rom 5:1). It is only by your blood that we are forgiven and restored in relationship with God when we call on your name. We thank you for such peace at this Christmas season! Amen.
Watch “Glory to God” the angels announcement to the shepherds, and the shepherds announcement to Bethlehem! http://youtu.be/uuuuAP50RLI
Research for this post was conducted using the Olive Tree Bible Study App.