Night had fallen over the little town of Bethlehem in Judea, and there were shepherds that night watching their flocks in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. Jerusalem is only about five miles away, not much to us, but a lot in those days as you had to walk over a kind of trail. And these shepherds knew of Jerusalem because no doubt the lambs from their flocks were some of them would have been taken there for the sacrifices in the temple.
But there they were that night. Possibly it was a cold night, we don't know, and they may have had a little fire that they were gathering around. They were in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a little town but it did have an impressive history. Rachel, the wife of Jacob, was buried at Bethlehem.
You may remember that Ruth and Boaz fell in love in the fields of Bethlehem. And most important of all, Israel's king, its greatest king, King David, was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was the hometown of David, and most of us love our hometown.
And David loved his hometown. And one day David, as a mature man, as a warrior, he's far away from Bethlehem and he's being pursued and he's fighting against the Philistines, and he expresses a wish as he's surrounded by some of his mighty men. And he says, it would just be wonderful if I got a drink from the well of Bethlehem. It wasn't a command, but out of love and loyalty to their commander, three of the mighty men heard that wish from David, burst through the Philistine line, went to Bethlehem, got water from the well, went back through the line of the Philistines and brought that drink from the well of Bethlehem to David.
David was so moved by the love, the courage, the loyalty of his men that he said he couldn't possibly drink it. And he poured it out as an offering to the Lord, Bethlehem. Bethlehem certainly had a lot of history, but over the years it appeared that it became more and more insignificant.
A great history, but in a sense, a bit forgotten. So by 700 years before the birth of the Messiah, one of the prophets, a man called Micah, you can read it in Micah chapter five, verse two, wrote this amazing prophecy. Here it is, but you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth the one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose going forth is from of old, from ancient days, from everlasting. What a prophecy that from this little town of Bethlehem, albeit it had a spectacular history, but now it was just another of the many little towns in Judea. From that town, that little town of Bethlehem, the Messiah was going to be born.
I didn't say when he was going to be born, but the prophecy is clear that the one who is from old, from ancient times, from everlasting, the Messiah is going to be born in Bethlehem. And now on this night, this unforgettable night, this first Christmas night, that ancient prophecy is now being fulfilled. On that most holy, that most memorable nights at Bethlehem, events were going to take place which have altered the course of human history so that the world has never been the same since this event took place.
What was happening? Heaven was coming to earth. And these shepherds, these humble shepherds, these ordinary men who were there in what they thought was just another night's work as they were watching their flocks were going to have the most remarkable experience ever. And we're going to read about it in Luke chapter 2 verses 8 through 20. So this is the word of God to us this evening, this morning rather. In Luke chapter 2 verse 8, here is the word of God to us. I realize there may be familiar words to some of you, perhaps some of you are hearing them for the first time, but wherever they are, can you listen to the words?
Don't gloss over and say, well I know that. Here is the living word of God coming to you and to me. Luke 2 verse 8, and in the same region there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night 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. 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 for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you, you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. 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. 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. But Mary treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart and the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen as it had been told them.
Look chapter 2 verses 8 through 20. I want to look at this very simply as we're so close to Christmas we've been thinking of the events at the manger and the personalities at the manger. We thought of Mary certainly at the manger. We've thought of Joseph at the manger. Now we think of the shepherds who are going to come to the manger at the time, the very time of the birth of the Lord Jesus. At the manger we're going to learn there is hope.
There is hope. And so we read of these shepherds they're watching their flocks by night. Night had fallen over the little town in Bethlehem as I said they may have lit a small fire and then suddenly without any warning suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherd. And we read that the glory of the Lord shone around them transforming that little hillside these ordinary fields around the little town of Bethlehem transforming that from blackness to inexpressible light. Not one of us here have seen the glory of the Lord like that but they did.
We know when the tabernacle, the tent, the place of worship that Moses was instructed to build as the people were going to go through the wilderness. We read that at the end of Exodus when the tabernacle was built, the place of worship when it was built exactly according to the commands given to Moses by the Lord when it was completed we read that the glory of the Lord, the Shekinah of glory filled the tabernacle signifying the presence of the Lord. That's where the Lord was in the Holy of Holies and his glory signified his presence. Think of this glory, this glory which shone around ordinary shepherds.
What was happening? God was coming to earth. Immanuel, God with us and we read in verse 9, not surprisingly and they were filled with great fear.
Wouldn't you be? It doesn't surprise us who could stand in the presence of the Lord. When Isaiah came into the temple and saw the glory of the Lord he said woe is me. Although he was a prophet he spoke the word of God.
He said I'm a man of unclean lips. In the presence of the glory of the Lord he's aware of his own sinfulness and the shepherds certainly had never seen anything like this. They'd never been into the Holy of Holies. Dirty, unkept shepherds as it were and when they saw the glory of the Lord they probably were expecting, don't you think, they were expecting the judgment of God. They were insignificant shepherds.
They weren't priests, certainly not high priests and shepherds find it rather difficult to keep themselves clean. I mean if God was going to speak to them wouldn't it be a message of judgment, a message of condemnation, a message of doom, don't you think? What do you think if an angel of the Lord came into your home?
What do you think an angel of the Lord would say if the angel came into your place of employment, if appeared to you? I think like the shepherds all of us would be very, very afraid because here we are sinful men and women in the presence of complete and utter holiness and purity, inexpressible light, the glory of the Lord shining around us because unless we're terribly deceived all of us are spiritually dirty. We are sinful people and the Bible makes that very clear. The Bible describes our spiritual struggles and failures in various ways. It says, it uses the analogy of being trapped in the sea of mud and the more we try to extricate ourselves the deeper we fall in the mud. It pictures us being in a pit with high, high walls and we find it impossible to get out of that dungeon.
It's too high and we're too deep. The Bible pictures us as people who are ill on the point of death. The Bible pictures us as it were in prison and there's no sign of a release. The Bible pictures us as lost and we can't find our way home, we're confused, we're in the darkness and it is to such people that the message, the angel comes and notice what the message is, it is not one of condemnation, it is not one of judgment, it is not a message of doom, it is a message of hope. How the shepherds must have rejoiced when the first words out of the mouth of the angel was, verse 10, the angel said to them, fear not, fear not. Have you ever been afraid?
Of course you have. Little children know fear, fear of the dark, fear of a bad dream, fear of a nightmare as we get older and face the reality of life. All of us know about fear, fear of failure, fear of losing our job, fear of a marriage falling apart, fear of being alone, fear of having some terrible illness, fear of the judgment of God. But here is a wonderful message from heaven to earth. To ordinary men, fear not. And as far as the shepherds can see, around them the hills are filled with thousands of angels saying what? Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among those with whom he is pleased. A message of hope, a message of peace, yes a message of transformation. Notice, fear not, said the angel, for behold I bring you good news. The gospel is good news, good news of great joy. Not sure if I know the difference between joy and great joy, but the fact is this is a message of tremendous indescribable joy that will be for all the people. Aren't you glad the angel said for all the people? Not just the shepherds, not just to Israel, not just a certain class of people, not to a certain nationality, but it is for all the people. I want you to take that message very personally today.
Do you hear it? That the message from heaven to earth that we hear at Christmas as we come to the manger is a message of hope, is a message of fear not. And by life I've come across people, not infrequently, who think that their life is doomed. But some terrible thing has happened to them and they feel life has been unfair. Perhaps they've created their own problem, perhaps it's been inflicted by others by circumstances, by abuse or whatever it is, unfairness, injustice, and people are sad. Some of them are in despair. Some of them are despondent.
They are in fear. They live isolated lives, lives of hopelessness. And we're told by the social scientists that this problem of hopelessness, of anxiety, of depression is more and more frequent in our society when we have so much.
When this we would say is one of the greatest countries in the world to live and yet in our society there are more and more people who live in a kind of hopelessness and a kind of depression and a kind of disappointment and a kind of fear, fear. Some of you here like this, know what God is saying to you today? Do we believe this is living? This is the living word to God. Do you hear it?
Fear not. You say, John, you don't know my life. It's all right for you. Life is pretty easy for you. I'm not sure how we compare one another's life, but life is tough for all of us sometimes, isn't it? Who has not gone through difficult times? But I can say to you, whatever your circumstances, it may be very, very problematic.
And from a human perspective, there may not be a solution and you may feel hopelessness and you may feel despair. Can I say to you in the authority of scripture, God is saying to you today, fear not. As we come to the manger, there is hope. We sang a couple of weeks ago, joy to the world.
Why? The Lord has come. Without the Lord, without that message from heaven to earth, yes, our life is totally meaningless. Our life is hopeless. Our life is despairing. What might as well end our life?
I mean, what's the point of it all? But God is saying to us, there's hope. There's hope. I don't know what your future is, but when you have Christ in your heart, as you come to the manger and as you look at your life, I want to say there is hope. This is a message I have to tell myself. This is a message I need to be reminded of that God is saying to you and to me, come to the manger, look at Christ. For you, there is hope.
There is also the manger and this is related to the first. There is salvation. What's the message? Verse 11, why is there hope? I mean, is this just some kind of psychological trick we play on ourselves to get through life?
Not at all. This is reality, verse 11. Why is there hope? For unto you is born, think of it, unto you. He's talking to shepherds. Not just the shepherds, but to all people, to you and me. The message is unto you is born this day in the city of David, Bethlehem, a savior who is Christ the Lord. Christ is on a rescue mission.
As I speak to people, I think the majority of people don't understand that. If I asked average person in Charlotte, why did Jesus come? Many would say, well, he came to be a great example. Yes, he is the perfect example. He's not just an example.
He is the example. But the problem is the example of Jesus is too high for any of us to keep. Do you really think you could live like Jesus? You can put on your car what would Jesus do or put a little band around your wrist and try and say, well, I'm going to live as Jesus lived.
I guarantee you cannot do it. Why did he come? To be a social reformer? Well, he certainly was cultural, countercultural. He advocated social change that is right, but Jesus is much more than a social reformer. Jesus is concerned not just with the external, not just reorganizing society, not just reorganizing religion as it were. He deals fundamentally with the heart.
Why did he come? You say to be a great healer? Yes, he was a great healer. He gives sight to the blind. He could heal a leper. Most impressive of all, he could raise the dead. Ah, but he's much more than a great healer.
Why did he come? To be a great teacher he was, the best teacher. He was the perfect teacher. As they listened to him, they marveled at the gracious words which proceeded from his lips. They marveled that he taught with authority and not like the scribes and Pharisees.
His teaching was so brilliant that he could communicate with the youngest of children and speak to scholarly intellectuals. He was the greatest of teachers, but don't we need someone who can change us, not just tell us what to do? We need more than a teacher. We need more than a healer.
What do we need? The angel gives us the answer. Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior. That's what we need, that Jesus comes from heaven to earth on a rescue mission. His very name, we thought of this when we thought of Joseph two or three weeks ago, is Jesus.
Why? Why Jesus? For he will save his people from their sins. He comes to save, he comes to rescue us, and he comes right to where we are. The shepherds needed to hear fear not as the angel came to them, and you need to hear that. God is saying to you, fear not. John 3 verse 17, for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, to judge the world, but that through him he might be, what? Saved.
Saved. You say, well, that's an old-fashioned word, John. I don't know if it's very relevant today. Let me tell you, it's absolutely relevant.
It's absolutely practical. If you don't understand that you're sinking, that you're struggling, that you cannot make it to God on your own, that you'll never get into heaven apart from Jesus Christ, you're in a very serious condition. No, we need a savior.
That's our greatest need. Yes, we need teaching. Yes, you may need healing if you've got an illness. Yes, you may need your marriage restored. Yes, you may need a good job.
Yes, you may need more money in your bank. All of that may be true, and certainly our society could be organized much better than it is educationally and politically and economically and all of that. That is true. We're in a fallen world, but our greatest need is a personal need. It's a need of salvation. You need to be saved. You need your sins to be forgiven. And here's the message.
Unto you is born this day in the city of David as Savior, who is Christ the Lord. At the manger, there's hope. I find that reassuring. We're almost up into 2023. What's going to happen in 2023?
Good job we don't know, isn't it? But we do know that He is with us and that the God who walked with us and who continues to walk with us in 2022 is the God who's going to be at my side in 2023. I don't know about many things, but I know this, that there's hope and there's salvation. And at the manger, we must do what the shepherds do. We must bow in worship. Do you understand that Jesus says that the Father seeks worshipers? Do you realize this is the highest thing that we do to worship? You can worship at home and I trust you do. You can worship as you go for a walk with your dog.
I hope you do. But when we come as the people of God to worship – this is our greatest privilege – to worship God. Why would we worship? Until you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, that's the Messiah, the Lord. He's the Lord, He's God. To save us, God doesn't shout instructions from heaven to us. No, He comes to us. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. He is Emmanuel.
He's not a God who's afar off, He's a God who is near. He is Emmanuel, God with us. This is a promise of God to His people, that He will not leave us, that He will not forsake us, that this God as we come and we receive Him as our Savior in Jesus Christ and our sins are forgiven, this is a God who is with us each step of the way. This is why we're people of hope.
This is why we're people of joy. This is why we have a supernatural strength as we look to Christ to guide us. Here He is, the long-promised Messiah, the anointed one, that God Himself has come. Yes, that little baby, that little baby lying in that manger, that animal's feeding trough was God, God incarnate. There's many people who admire Jesus. There's people who come to your door and hand you a Watchman paper and try to tell you that Jesus is not God, this one in the manger is God. He is Christ, the Lord. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 9 verse 10 regarding Christ the Messiah as he's writing to the Jewish people, he says, Christ is what? God over all, blessed forever. God incarnate.
And one of the earliest, the most basic of the Christian creeds is that Jesus is Lord. He's the supreme one. He has no rivals.
He has no equals. He's God. And He comes, the just dying for the unjust. The Holy One dying for unholy shepherds. The Holy One coming to die for us that He might bring us to God. He's the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him.
He's your only way of salvation. And the shepherds understood that. Notice what they did when they left. The manger, verse 20, the shepherds returned, that is returned to the fields. I thought yesterday when I was looking, I thought, I wonder what happened to the sheep? And I thought, that's a silly question. I think God can't take care of some sheep on a hillside when the shepherds leave them.
I'm sure they were still there. When the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen as it had been told them. This is what we do, isn't it? We praise God. We encourage one another. We read the Word of God together. We listen to, as we've done today, we listen to hymns and songs and psalms filled with scripture and biblical truth that we can be strong so that we can return and say to God, what a great God you are. And that we can leave here renewed and refreshed that as we go into our homes and our streets and wherever we work, wherever God in His sovereign purposes places you, we can go there telling people that Jesus is Lord. Isn't that wonderful?
Refreshed, encouraged. Luke wrote this gospel, as we know, and we know from the beginning of Luke and also the book of Acts, Acts also written by Luke, that he did some research into it. He must have interviewed some people and I can picture Luke interviewing one of the shepherds about these events. One of these shepherds might have been called Eliezer and Eliezer has agreed just now, as I conclude, to tell us a bit of the story in his own words of the interview he had with Luke.
Think of Luke, perhaps 30 years, 40 years after the event. He's researching, he's going to write his gospel and he goes. He's a trained physician.
Good doctors are good at observing, they're good at listening. And he goes and he speaks to one of these shepherds. I can imagine the shepherd saying, several years ago, I was interviewed by a doctor, Luke, who was writing an account of the life of Jesus. He called it a gospel and he wanted me to tell of that unforgettable night in the fields when I was a young shepherd and I told him, how could I ever forget? It was the most significant event in my life. How could I forget the angel of the Lord coming?
How could I forget that majestic hall singing glory to God in the highest? And Dr. Luke explained that that little baby I had seen in the manger that night many years ago was in fact the Messiah. It was true, he was the Messiah. He grew up, never committed sin and he died on the cross, not for his own sins, but for the sins of the world. Luke explained that not only did he die on the cross, he was buried and he rose again, making it very clear to everyone that he was God, that he was risen from the dead. And Luke said to me, an old shepherd, that Jesus in fact had come as a lamb. I know about lambs, but this one was the Lamb of God, Luke said, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And as an old shepherd, I bowed and I received this lamb, the Lamb of God, Jesus, the Christ, the Lord, who died for my sins and rose again, I received him as my Savior. And as Dr. Luke was leaving, I said, Doctor, before you go, I've got one question, a question that has troubled me over the years.
What's that question? Look, why did the angel come to us that night? Of all of the people he could have appeared to, of all of the people who could have been told to go to the manger, why did he come to simple shepherds like us? Why didn't he go to the rulers? Why didn't he go to the holy men in the temple? Why didn't he go to the, to the scholars? Why did he come and reveal himself to us, to someone like me? And Luke smiled and said, you already know the answer.
You've given me the answer. Didn't the angel say that this one, this was good news of great joy to all the people and that the Lord Jesus came to save shepherds, shepherds like you, Eliezer, people like you and me. So as an old shepherd, I want you to do what many have done and perhaps some of you have never yet done as we prepare our hearts for communion to bow your head and say, come Lord Jesus and save me. You know this, he'll take away all of your sins. He'll give you hope. He'll give you salvation and you will follow this savior, the Lord Jesus Christ through all of life.
You don't need to worry where he's going to lead you. His way is perfect. It may be difficult, but his way is perfect as you follow him. And for those of you who have received Christ, as we break bread in a few moments, will you rededicate your life to this one who came, Immanuel, to seek and to save the lost. Father, we thank you for this message. We thank you for your love. It goes to shepherds, ordinary men, as it were, people like us, with their struggles, with their fears, with their failures. It goes to all the people. And so I pray for each person here, for our children, our students, adults, that you'll open our eyes, that we once again will see the beauty of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, Immanuel, the Lord from heaven, and bow and adore him, and worship him, and love him with all of our hearts, in Christ's name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-21 13:47:48 / 2022-12-21 13:58:55 / 11