In ancient times, the job of shepherd was about as low on the rungs of society as one could go.
It was a dirty task left for those who didn't mind long hours and not much pay. Sheep were raised for temple sacrifice just a few miles south of Jerusalem. It was to men tending these sheep that angels announced the greatest event to ever take place on planet Earth. From Chicago, this is The Moody Church Hour, a weekly service of worship and teaching with Pastor Erwin Lutzer. Today, we conclude a four-part Christmas series that probes what happened in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. After the Moody Children's Choir brings their annual Christmas program, Erwin Lutzer will come to speak on The Mystery of the Shepherds.
Minister of Music Tim Stafford comes now to open today's service. And now let's begin our service with reading from the scriptures, Advent Sunday number 4, the Candle of Joy. And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has looked on the hubble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed, for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name, and His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours, searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves, but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preach the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. For you are obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of yourselves. On this fourth Sunday in Advent, we light the rose-colored candle of joy. Let's stand together. In your hymnals, number 270, you'll find Joy to the World.
Let's sing together. Joy to the world, the Lord is come Let earth receive her King Let every heart prepare him room Let heaven intercede, let heaven intercede Let heaven, heaven, heaven intercede Joy to the world, the Savior reigns Let men their songs employ What gives and loves, what gives and plays Beneath the sounding door, beneath the sounding door Beneath, beneath the sounding door The Lord sits on a broom The Lord's impressive crown He comes to make his blessings known As the curse is found, as far as the curse is found He rules the world with truth and grace And makes the nations prove The glories of his righteousness And wonders of his love And wonders of his love And wonders of his love The beauty, the humility, and the simplicity of children. This past week someone sent me some Dear God letters from children. Dear God, instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones you have now?
It's an idea. Dear God, in Bible times, did they really talk that fancy? Dear God, I think of you sometimes even when I'm not praying.
You know, that's not bad. This one I like the best. Maybe Cain and Abel wouldn't kill each other so much if they had their own rooms.
It worked for my brother and me. You know, of course, that those who work on these Christmas programs, Abby, of course, and all those who serve with her, they're always a little bit nervous about what the children are going to do, and I'm simply saying relax. Children are children, and we're going to enjoy whatever it is that they have prepared.
Even if they do something that isn't been prepared, Abby, it's going to be okay. We're going to give this service to God, we're going to give our children to the Lord in you, and we're going to worship together as we learn from them, and then very briefly afterwards I'll be bringing a word from the Word. But let's pray together. Father, thank you so much for children. Thank you that the New Testament says that Jesus took the little ones in his arms and blessed them, and we bless these children today.
Thank you for all those who worked so hard to put this program together. We seek your blessing upon it, your benediction. In Jesus' name, amen.
Amen. You may be seated. Up in the attic, they're waiting there, waiting for a special time. When the box is opened so carefully and they begin to shine, Up on the mantel or on the tree, they'll be put upon display. They'll bring the message when the time has come to celebrate the holidays. So hurry Christmas, hurry now, cause when you come it's just like wow. So hurry Christmas, don't be late, we're all ready, we can't wait.
So much excitement, so much to do, don't forget that they are there. They're standing ready to call upon to hang another year. Up on the mantel or on the tree, they'll be put upon display. They'll bring the message when the time has come to celebrate the holidays. So hurry Christmas, hurry now, cause when you come it's just like wow. So hurry Christmas, don't be late, we're all ready, we can't wait. So hurry Christmas, hurry now, cause when you come it's just like wow.
So hurry Christmas, don't be late, we're all ready, we can't wait. Hey, hey, everybody, wake up, wake up. What?
What's going on? I think it's time. Time for what?
Time for us to do what we do again. Really? How can you tell? I felt some vibrations and I think the Watsons are taking the box of decorations out of the attic. We better get ready then our box could be next.
The ornaments on the tree should be going up soon. Help, help, Angela Beth. Who's that? Help, help, somebody help. Oh, it's Frosty, come on Beth. Okay, come on, one, two, three, lift. There you go. Thanks, I hate being stored on my back, it makes it almost impossible to stand up by myself. While you're standing now and looking ready to adorn another Christmas tree at the Watsons.
So good. Could you tell us about this baby? Can you tell us the whole story? Yeah, the only parts we know are about the stars. And angels. I'll be right back home to you if you tell us.
Okay, okay. Well it all started many years ago when prophets heard from God that he was going to send his son to save the world. And an angel appeared to Mary and told her that she was going to give birth to the one that was promised.
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. Well, months later there was a new law that said we had to go to our hometowns and pay taxes, so Mary and I left our hometown of Nazareth and made the long trip. Soon after we got there, Mary had the baby and we named him Jesus, just like the angel told us to do. That night, angels appeared to a group of shepherds keeping sheep on the hillside. An angel told the shepherds to come see the Savior for themselves. Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, in excelsis Deo. Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, in excelsis Deo. Later, even some wise men from the far east followed the star of the leather to us and they worshipped the Christ child.
Alleluia, how the angels sing, Alleluia, how it rang. And the star was bright with the holy light, Twas the birthday of the King. And the star was bright with the holy light, Twas the birthday of the King. So that's how it happened. Is that why we're all here? What do you mean by that, Frosty? The Savior's birthday is why we even have Christmas, right, Joseph?
That's right. It's literally a birthday party for Jesus. But I still don't get it. Why such a big deal for a little baby even if he was God's son? Well, Jesus doesn't stay a baby and we don't live in a barn forever. Later, Jesus changes the whole world.
Really? I'll be. Can you tell us about that story too, Joseph?
Sure. We can't talk about how he came without talking about why he came now, can we? He came to tell us whose we are.
He came to trade us light for dark. He came to mend our broken hearts that we might come to him. He came to be a friend to all. He came to show the love of God. He came to give his life for us that we might come to him. He gave, he came, he might come to him.
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord. He came to make us new inside. He came to be our sacrifice. He came to bring eternal life that we might come to him. He came to be a friend to all. He came to show the love of God. He came to be a friend for us that we might come to him, that we might come to him. O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord. O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord. O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Can you do that? Oh, is it like getting a new wire hanger or a paint touch up? Well, it's nothing on the outside. First they believe that Jesus is God's son and that he really died for them. Then they ask God to make them brand new on the inside. Did this new faith change everything about the Watsons? Yes. Like their marriage? Especially their marriage, Beth. Oh, is that why they went to Hawaii to celebrate their anniversary?
Well, that's part of it. They celebrated their new lives in 20 years together and they even renewed their vows in the islands. Like a second wedding.
That's so romantic. I hate to ask, but does this mean we won't be needed anymore and that we won't be coming out of the decorations box this year? Yeah, what about our souls, guys? Will we have a place in their new lives?
Of course, Frosty. Their new lives will change everything about them, including all of you. But?
But what? But Jesus will have first place. Our stable, our manger, the whole nativity scene will remind them that the Savior born from them in Bethlehem was born to save them. Then that's how their lives will be from now on, all about the Savior. Mr. Joseph, do you think we could see the baby? I mean, if Mary says it's all right. Well, I'll go ask.
Why don't you guys stay here? I'll be right back. Okay. Well, Frosty?
Yahoo, girl. Looks like we're kind of on equal ground now, huh? Yes, it does. We're all special in the new life of the Watsons. I reckon that's true. Put it there, Angela.
Sure, Tax. I think I'm going to cry. Group hug. Beautiful Savior, King of creation, Son of God and Son of man. Truly and coming, truly and serving, I come first for my joy, my crown.
Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations, Son of God and Son of man. Glory and honor, praise and oration, now and forevermore, even. Glory and honor, praise and oration, now and forevermore, even. Glory and honor, praise and oration, now and forevermore, even. Glory and honor, praise and oration, now and forevermore, even. Glory and honor, praise and oration, now and forevermore, even. Glory and honor, praise and oration, now and forevermore, even. Glory and honor, praise and oration, now and forevermore, even. Glory and honor, praise and oration, now and forevermore, even. All come, let us adore him, all come, let us adore him, all come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord. All come, let us adore him, all come, let us adore him, all come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord. Hallelujah! Well, folks, it has really been a wonderful morning as we've thought about Christmas, as we've thought about the children, and didn't they do well?
Oh, yeah, good, good. Hi, hi, what is your name? Jojo. Jojo.
And are you enjoying Christmas, Jojo? Yes. How old are you? Seven. Seven. Does your mommy love Jesus?
Yes. All right, good for you, Jojo. Let's give Jojo a hand. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen. It's Christmas. Can you believe it?
Of all the people we see, we know where there are all kinds of concentrations. But let's focus our hearts. Let's be the ones who adore Christ. Amen? Let's sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, and then we'll be seated. Let's sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, and then we'll be seated. Let's sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, and then we'll be seated. Let's sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, and then we'll be seated. Pray, Lord, we greet Thee For this happy morning Jesus, to Thee, O glory.
Word of the Father, now in flesh of me, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. The story of the angels being with the shepherds and revealing to them that Jesus is to be born in Bethlehem is known to all the different religions of the world. Everyone knows the story, and the reason that it is so important is because of who was born in Bethlehem and the transformation that He can make in our individual lives. I want you to look very briefly at Luke chapter 2.
Luke chapter 2, it's a story that we know by memory because we have read the Christmas story so often. But these shepherds, God bless them, there are several things that we know about the shepherds. First of all, we know where they were.
We know where they were. You'll notice it says in verse 8, And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Now the same region is the region, of course, of Bethlehem, but Bethlehem is close to Jerusalem. Today, when you go from one to another, you hardly know when you're leaving Jerusalem and entering Bethlehem. But in those days, they were about five or six miles apart.
Today, the cities have expanded. But in the temple area, sheep were offered every single day. Sheep were to be offered both morning and evening.
An unblemished lamb was to be offered. And it is said that the lambs that they used were those that were taken care of in the Bethlehem area. So it could be that these shepherds were actually herding temple sheep that would be used for sacrifice.
And Jesus, of course, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he is the one who will become the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. So we know where they were. We also know what their occupation was.
We know what they did. They were shepherds. And shepherds in those days were despised for a number of different reasons.
First of all, because it was a dirty job. You know, some of those shepherds, when they left home, they'd be gone for two or three weeks at a time. And during that period of time, they wouldn't take a bath. They were, of course, taking care of sheep. You've heard me tell you the story before about a man who said to a Bedouin, how can you live with a goat in your tent?
And he said, it's no big deal. He says, eventually the goats just get used to it so you can understand what kind of a life the shepherds lived. They were despised because it was a dirty job. But there was another reason, and that is that the Orthodox Jews had made so many different regulations, so many different rules about cleanliness and washing that no shepherd could really live up to these.
So oftentimes they were looked down upon. But it was in the midst of this that we have the angel coming. An angel of the Lord, the Bible says, appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And so they have this revelation of Jesus. So here we have disciples, or I should say we have shepherds. We know where they were. We know what they did.
And we know where they went. They went to the little town of Bethlehem, as the angel told them to do. Now, why Bethlehem? Why this little town? I think that one of the reasons is because Bethlehem in the original Hebrew means house of bread. Beit lechem, house of bread. In fact, that's why when you read the book of Ruth, there's some irony there.
It says that there was a famine in the house of bread. There may be another reason, and that is that Bethlehem was indeed the city of David. That's the town in which David was born. Now, were it not for the fact that the prophet Micah predicted where Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, there'd be no way for us to try to second guess God to know where Jesus would be born.
I've discovered in my life, as I'm sure you've discovered in yours, that God is very unpredictable. He could have used Jerusalem. Jesus could have been born there. He could have used Rome. He used a little town, not the smallest of all towns, but one of the smallest of all towns. Because God's ways are unfathomable.
You and I don't understand it, do we? I remember a seminary professor who used to say that long ago, he gave up on the idea of trying to predict whom God would mightily use. Here you have a student who gets straight A's. He's one of the most gifted and qualified. And lo and behold, he doesn't end up anywhere.
And then you have somebody else who struggles and you think to yourself, he's not going to make it. And yet God mightily uses him. God is that kind of a God. He breaks into our lives and he does the unpredictable even in your life today. You see, what you didn't know is you are here because you're worshipping the Lord in Moody Church. But maybe you're here because a friend brought you. Maybe you are here to see the children for any number of reasons.
You may be here today, but God may have you here for an entirely different reason. And that is to show you his glory and that you might connect with Jesus Christ, his son. So we know where they went. We also know what they saw. What is it that they saw? The Bible says that they came to Bethlehem and they saw Mary and Joseph and the child. The text doesn't say it, but I have no doubt that these shepherds were devout people. I have no doubt that they worshiped the Lord Jesus Christ and those Christmas cards that you get with the shepherds bowing to the one who is there in the stable in the manger, the little baby.
Those are authentic in terms of their historical significance because that's where the shepherds came to. And there's no doubt that they bowed before the baby and they were willing to give praise to God because the angel had said that a savior would be born to them. And so they saw this. They saw the one who would eventually die on the cross and then rise again. And of course, as I've told you many times, every Christmas, sometimes almost every Christmas Sunday, when they looked at the baby Jesus, there was much more to Jesus that they could not see. His divine nature was invisible to them.
But in that baby localized was God. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Bible says, well, what is it that they experienced? They experienced the joy of knowing that they had seen the savior and what courage it gave them. You'll notice it says in verse 16, and they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a 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.
You can imagine their excitement. They suddenly now become evangelists and they're telling everybody about the angels. They're telling everybody about the baby that was wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger. And they are spreading the word. Can anyone remain quiet after you've seen Jesus the savior?
I don't think so. And that's why the shepherds kept telling everyone who would listen that they had seen this baby in accordance with what the angels had mentioned to them. You know, as I look at this text and as I pondered it this week, I'm asking, what is really the bottom line?
What's going on here? Why the shepherds? Why would they be the ones that would be chosen by God for this special experience? And it occurred to me that this is really an example of the shepherds coming to the chief shepherd. Maybe one of the reasons that God chose the shepherds to be the ones to whom the angels would come is because he knew that his son would grow up and become a shepherd. You know, the imagery in the Bible is that we are sheep and he is the good shepherd. Now, we are sheep because the Bible says we've turned everybody to his own way. Sheep are notorious for getting on the wrong path and going the wrong direction and being stubborn about it. And that's the way we are. We are sheep going to hell, as it were, in our own way, because of our own reasons and because of our own sins that we like too much to try to ask forgiveness for. And so we are, as people, scattered and doing our own thing. Sheep sometimes choose false paths because they look at some wind swept area of the desert and they think that it's a path or they try to make it into one, even though it leads nowhere, which is really a story of us as human beings.
Today, I'm speaking to some of you, and you know that your life is really going in the wrong direction, but still you like it too much to deal with it and to deal with the savior who came to save us from our sins. Now, what about the good shepherd? Jesus said of himself as he grew up and became a man and began to teach, he said, I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd. Number one, he knows his sheep. He knows them. These shepherds, I'm sure they knew their sheep. I'm told that shepherds have a name for every sheep and the sheep recognizes his or her name. And the shepherd knows them and they know his voice. They recognize it.
You see, the relationship that Jesus Christ is the good shepherd wants to have with us is a personal relationship. The Bible says that he knows us all by name. He knows the sheep by name. The shepherds knew their sheep, but Jesus knows millions of his sheep, millions who have believed on him. He knows them by name.
Exactly. Doesn't he? One time, Rebecca and I were driving with an old couple and they were pointing out to us where they had bought some cemetery plots. And they said, you know, will God know where we are buried? Will he remember our names?
Well, the answer is yes. The good shepherd never loses his sheep and he knows them by name and they know him. So I have to ask you today, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Is he someone simply to be worshipped and admired and talked about at Christmas?
But that's it. No, he's to be our personal savior. Also, the relationship with the shepherd is such that the shepherd leads them. Jesus says he leads his sheep and shepherds have the responsibility of taking sheep sometimes where they don't want to go because the shepherds know where the grass is. And sheep, again, are notoriously difficult to lead. And sometimes what a shepherd will do when he can't get the sheep to go where he wants them to go, he'll actually reach into the flock and he'll take a little lamb and put it on his shoulder and he'll carry it. And then he'll begin to go and he'll begin to go up the ridges where he wants the sheep to graze during the summertime. And eventually, when that little lamb begins to call out for its mother, the mother begins to go, the you and then others begin to go. And pretty soon you've got the whole flock of sheep going in the right direction. And isn't that exactly what Jesus, the good shepherd, does? Sometimes when he wants us to think about eternity and heaven, he will reach down and he will take a lamb. Some of you know what that is like today, don't you?
I'm thinking of those of you who lost children this past year. The shepherd looked down and he took them to himself and took them all the way to heaven. And now, because they are there, we begin to look in the right direction. We begin to think heavenly thoughts because we know that this world is not our home.
We're simply passing through. And the good shepherd takes his sheep home with him. And that's what he does. And at the end of life's journey, we will go home to be with Christ because the good shepherd loves his sheep. His relationship with them is personal.
His relationship with them is practical. He leads them. And during this past year, we can look back, despite the heartaches, despite the difficulties and the disappointments, we, as God's people, have been led by the good shepherd.
And for that we are deeply grateful. But Jesus said something else. He said, when he spoke about being a shepherd, he said, if you hire somebody to look after the sheep, when the wolf comes, that hired hand will run.
He'll let the wolves devour the sheep. But Jesus said that in that regard, he's not a hired hand. He says that he protects his flock and he guides us all the way to heaven.
But also, he says, the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. And that's the bottom line when we think of the Christmas story. The Christmas story, we always have to be able to transport people from the story of the manger all the way to recognize that Jesus came ultimately to die. We could say this, that that little baby that was in a manger was actually born crucified.
He came to save his people and he came to die to do it. And the reason is that this sense of alienation, this sense of separation from God, that because of our sin that we've all experienced is a situation that you and I cannot repair. We can't make it any better. We can't manage it.
There's nothing that we can do about it. All that we can do is to try to do the very best that we can, going from pillar to post, being caught in the wheels and the spider web of our own bad decisions and sins. But Jesus came to die for us, to give his life on our behalf, that we might be saved. Because, you see, we owed God what we could not pay. Justice demanded a kind of perfection that we do not have. And Jesus said, I'll pay it.
I'll do it for you. And that's the Christmas story. During the days in Russia, there was a czar by the name of Nicholas I. It is said that he appointed a friend of his to be a paymaster. In those days, a paymaster had the responsibility of giving the payment to the soldiers and making sure that the money was divvied out correctly. So he dealt with an awful lot of money. This paymaster, unfortunately, was not up to the task in terms of his character, and he actually took some of the money and he gambled it away. Now, when it came time for him to pay the troops as he was supposed to, he realized that he was out an awful lot of money and there was no way that he could possibly, possibly pay what he owed. So the story is that he actually sat down and made a list of all of the debts that he had incurred because of the sin of gambling. He listed it and then wrote on a piece of paper, too much to pay, who can pay. His intention was to commit suicide.
But as he was there with his gun, thinking that he would commit suicide at midnight, he fell asleep eventually that night. And he woke up in the morning and he saw the piece of paper that he had written out and it had a signature on it, and it said Nicholas. Now, he didn't believe that it was his friend, the czar, but it was.
He actually checked the signature against one that he had on file. Who can pay? The answer is Nicholas.
And Nicholas did pay because he sent a messenger the next day to make up for the man's transgressions and to pay the soldiers. Now, folks, you and I are in that predicament. Who can pay? Who can be the one who can take our sins away? Who is the one who is able to guide us when life gets difficult?
Who cares sometimes when we're out of work and we don't know where to turn? Who can meet all of these obligations? Jesus came. The Good Shepherd gave his life that we might be saved. And so these shepherds returned from their experience having seen the Good Shepherd.
And they told everyone, they told everyone what they had seen. Today, as we think about Christmas, people are in a mood to be able to accept exchanges of gifts and kind words. Let it be said of us that we, like the shepherds, tell everyone that we meet about the Jesus who came to save us, the Lamb of God, the shepherd who died for his sheep. I want to conclude today talking to you very directly because there are some of you here, it can be said of you that you've played by all the rules. You've done all the right things. You consider yourself even to be good and to be religious.
But what you can't explain is the emptiness that there is within your heart and in your soul today. Would you come to the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd, about whom we read, that as many as received him to those he gives the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe on his name. Let this Christmas be the Christmas that changes you or that God changes you.
You're allowing him to do it. Let's let that happen in our lives today. Would you bow with me as we pray together? Our Father, we want to thank you so much. Thank you so much for this story of the shepherds, a true story. Thank you for the angels that led them to Bethlehem. And thank you that there they saw the shepherd who would give his life for the sheep.
Help us this day to be encouraged. May we remember that he knows us by name. May we remember that he guides us to green pastures. May we remember that he gave his life for us. And we pray, Father, for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, they've never believed on him. At this moment, I pray that they might be caused to see their need and they may believe on Jesus.
If you've never trusted him before, would you right now pray to him and say, Jesus, I do trust you as my Savior, dying in my stead, paying a debt I could not pay. We ask, Lord, that you shall do that in Jesus' blessed name. Amen.
Amen. Let's stand and sing, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, as we conclude this morning. It's 277 in your hymnal as well. On today's Moody Church Hour, Pastor Lutzer spoke on the mystery of the shepherds, the last of four messages on the mystery of Bethlehem. We so appreciate the many whose help all during the year keeps The Moody Church Hour on the air.
It's because of the investment of many people that The Moody Church Hour is heard around the country. We'd like to ask you to consider becoming an endurance partner, someone who stands with us on a regular basis with your prayers and gifts. For full information, go to our website at moodyoffer.com and click on the endurance partner button. That's moodyoffer.com. Or call us at 1-800-215-5001.
That's 1-800-215-5001. Or you can write to us at Moody Church Media, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60614. Join us next time for another Moody Church Hour with Pastor Erwin Lutzer and the Congregation of Historic Moody Church in Chicago. This broadcast is a ministry of The Moody Church.
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