They were keeping watch over sheep that were destined to become one of thousands of lambs headed for the altar to atone for the sins and bring reminders of atoning, bloodshed for the people. Can you imagine the significance of God's announcement? He announces the birth of the sacrificial lamb to men watching over sacrificial lambs. These whose livelihood was watching sheep destined for the altar are given the news that the one destined for the final altar has just been born. I think we typically expect that the first people to learn of the birth of a new king, apart from his family, would be people of importance.
Noblemen, presidents perhaps. Why did God select shepherds as some of the first humans to learn that Messiah had come? Jesus set his kingly attributes aside and became a man. But he didn't just stoop low enough to become a man. Jesus didn't have to be born in a stable. He chose to.
And that's our theme today here on Wisdom for the Heart. Stephen Davy concludes his series entitled Emmanuel by looking at the birth announcement delivered to shepherds in a field. He was known as a brilliant young little boy. He was a child prodigy, the crown jewel of Vienna. By the time he was five years of age, he had written an advanced concerto. By the time he turned 10, he had already composed and published several violin sonatas. He was playing from memory the best works of Bach and Handel. By his 12th birthday, he had already composed and directed his own opera. He was awarded the honorary appointment as concert master with the Salzburg Symphony Orchestra when he was a teenager. My wife and I had the privilege while visiting with some missionaries in Austria visiting Vienna and touring the palace grounds in Salzburg and listening to the orchestra play some of his works in the very hall where he once as a teenage boy directed. He died when he was only 35 years of age.
Before his brief life, however, had ended, he had written some 48 symphonies, cantatas, operettas, hymns, and a dozen operas, 600 works in all. His name, if you haven't guessed it already, was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Amadeus Theophilus Mozart. With a name like that, you're destined for greatness.
You're going to be made fun of on the playground too. The tragedy is that Mozart fell from such an incredible beginning as a child prodigy to an impoverished, obscure, unlovely young man. His fall from greatness was so swift that by the time he died, he had virtually no true friends. For the most part, he was forgotten. He was living in poverty, his money wasted. Because of a sudden storm, only a few friends who came to the cathedral where his funeral was held never went to the graveside. By the time anyone bothered to ask where the location of his grave was impossible to identify, the unmarked grave of Mozart, perhaps the greatest, most gifted composer of all time.
No one knows where it is. What a tragedy to lose such influence and prestige and wealth, to literally go from riches to rags in a matter of a brief time. What an incredible descent it was. Stories abound throughout history, if you like reading history. The fall of men and women, the loss of individual fortunes and influence. A more recent story would be the brilliant businessman named William Durant, who by his own creative and organizational genius single-handedly created General Motors by talking men into joining him, like the French race car driver Louis Chevrolet and the American businessman named David Buick. He formed this company and I have read that more than 50 men became millionaires simply by being part of his original team. But he eventually lost his fortune and he lost control of his company. Some bad decisions were made. In his valiant efforts, as best as he could try, he still could not gain in his bid for control and he filed personal bankruptcy.
The last job he had before he died some 60 years ago was managing a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan, too poor to own one of the several million cars made by the company he had built. What an incredible reversal of fortune. Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, I'm sure all of the stories that history could potentially divulge to us pale in significance when you consider God the Son giving up the splendor of heaven and coming to planet earth and living like a man. You would have to admit, and I would as well, if we were God and we were going to exercise this incarnation, we would have at least arranged it rather differently. We would have arranged to land on satin sheets, not some sort of prickly straw in a feed trough.
We would have been surrounded by physicians and caregivers, not animals in the smell of manure in this dank, dark cave-like stable. We would have been born into the most prestigious, most influential family in Jerusalem, not born to impoverished peasants who through their carpentry business barely eked out an existence. This is the great reversal of fortune.
This is going from riches to rags. I invite your attention back to the Gospel by Luke, chapter 2, where we have been exploring the gems of truth related to this reversal of fortune in the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Bethlehem, as you remember, probably can only imagine, it is overrun with people. They are crowding back into the village as they are all of the villages to register their current family members' names by order of Caesar Augustus, who was at this very time being hailed as the savior of the world. In our last discussion, we watched as this young teenage couple tried to make the best out of the worst of conditions. They had found shelter in a Bethlehem stable, evidently because of the presence of a manger.
The stable was more than likely a shallow cave, which was common in this region to provide shelter for the animals of travelers. It is in that cave where Mary gives birth to Jesus. There are no doctors, no nurses, no midwives, no fanfare, no one to help this frightened teenage girl deliver her slippery son into the calloused hands of a young carpenter named Joseph. Back in their hometown of Nazareth, if everything had gone according to plan, the birth of a son was a cause for a great celebration. Proud parents would call all of their friends and relatives. It was the custom during this century for the father to hire musicians to come and sing as they celebrated the birth of their baby boy. Well, Mary and Joseph, I'm sure, could not have felt more alone than now. They had swaddled their baby boy, as was the custom by wrapping each limb, and then one large piece tightly around the body of the baby. Cradle was Joseph's cloak, perhaps some fresh straw arranged in the corner of the feed trough that had been carved out of the corner of the cave or along the side, and he made a little spot there in that manger, that feed trough literally, where they laid the baby.
No friends to celebrate with him. There certainly were no musicians to call to the stable. But then again, maybe God had arranged for some new friends and some musicians. Let's discover what God had in mind as we rejoin our study with verse 8.
And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out of the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior which is Christ the Lord. This is an absolutely astounding event for more reasons than we could ever have time to discuss.
Let me give you a few of them. It's first of all astounding to me because of who God would disregard this night. If you were assigned the public relations job, which you would not have taken, of adequately announcing and advertising the birth of God, it is your job to announce to the world that he's come.
You would begin by making a list of everyone that you believe ought to know, and everybody who ought to know, you'd make sure knew somehow. But God disregarded anybody you and I would have ever thought of putting on the list. He bypassed announcing the news to the educated, the religious, the elite, the politically well-connected, the powerful. He didn't announce it in the courtroom of the Sanhedrin. He didn't announce it in the temple in Jerusalem. He didn't have somebody send a memo like I would have to Caesar Augustus saying something like, you think you are the Savior of the world?
Just wait, buster, something like that. The astounding thing to me is who God disregarded this night. But it's also astounding in who God will dignify this night. The Bible informed us in verse 8 that the most unlikely people who ever be given the news of Christ's birth were given the news and told to tell the news. We read, there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. You need to understand, ladies and gentlemen, that at this particular time in Jewish history, the only people considered lower than shepherds were lepers. Shepherds were not able to keep all of the regulations of the Pharisaic law and code, such as washing their hands at certain times and never touching blood or a dead animal, which were all things that fit well within the job description of a shepherd who were delivering lambs and fighting off wolves and not quite able to wash their hands before they eat out on the hillside. According to the Mishnah, which was the Jewish codified scribal law, shepherds as a class of men were under the ban. What that meant was they were disqualified from worshiping in the temple. They could not enter the precinct simply because they—well, for one thing, they worked on the Sabbath. The sheep don't take Saturday off, and so the shepherds couldn't either. And so because of all of the violations—in fact, one author said that there wasn't any time when a shepherd wasn't violating at some point some law.
And so they were under the ban. They were unable to officially worship God. Look who God disregarded. Look who God dignified. It's fascinating to me that he would come to those who were disqualified from worship, and those men would be the first to officially worship the Son of God.
I think it's amazing. Isn't it fascinating as well as you study through the New Testament how Jesus dignified this office? He called himself the good what? The good shepherd. Peter called him, in 1 Peter 5.4, the chief shepherd. In Hebrews 13.20, Christ is called the great shepherd. In fact, shepherding has become a metaphor from the Scriptures to us for those who serve in a lifetime of ministry, a calling to the Scriptures, a calling to the leading of people in worship. It's a title that God chose to give those men who would serve the church and lead the church and feed the church. Of all the titles he could have bestowed upon that office, he chose the one that in this day was dirty, unkempt, officially unable to worship, in violation of the law. He chose the title poimenos, shepherd. There are other terms for this office, episkopos, presbuteros. And yet when Paul in Ephesians 4.11 summarized the gifted men that God gave as gifts to the church, he selected that term, shepherd, poimenos.
A few years ago, a builder in our church was sort of entering semi-retirement from the field. He asked me if I wanted his Chevy pickup truck. He said, it's got 140,000 miles on it, but it's in great shape. Do you want it?
Of course, I said, yes, thank you very much. Are you kidding? There's nothing like a pickup truck. Well, when I got it, I told my wife that I was going to go get a vanity license plate. You know, you see them all over. You sit there at the red light and try to figure out what those letters mean.
Some of them are very clever. She said, what are you going to put on it? I said, shepherd. Wouldn't that be great for a pastor to have a license plate that said shepherd?
Well, I thought it was great. Well, anyway, I went down to the DMV and stood in line for, I don't know, 13 or 14 hours and finally got up to the counter. You know, you've been there. A rather irritated young lady sitting behind the counter, and I would not have her job, bless her heart. She said, what do you want? I said, well, you know, I want one of those plates. I couldn't bring myself to say vanity plates.
It just didn't fit the occupation. I said, well, I want one of those plates that you can put a word on instead of numbers. And she said, well, what do you want on it?
I said, well, I want the word shepherd. People turned and looked and she looked at me and thought I had dropped off the edge. And she typed it in and then she said, somebody's got it. And I thought, some other pastor in North Carolina took my idea first. And I stood there and I knew that if I didn't do it now, if I didn't have something related to the pastorate, I wouldn't come back in and change it. And I stood there thinking, you know, what am I going to do? And then it hit me.
It hit me. And I said to her, I'll bet nobody has it in Greek. I said, type this in. And she typed it in. And she said, well, what do you know?
Nobody's got it. Man, that was great. Poimenos. I came home so excited. I told Marsha, I said, honey, I got a license plate. They didn't have the English for shepherd or pastor, but I got it in Greek. The honest truth, she was quiet for a minute and then she said, well, the way you drive, I'm glad it's in Greek.
I didn't think it was funny either, actually. But I tell you what, I wear that name with pride. A title that at one point in the history of mankind was an indictment.
It was a blight. It referred to those who could never worship God, and God would choose that word for those who would lead people in worship. Isn't that divine irony? Look who he disregarded. Look who he dignified. By the way, you ought to know also that the shepherds were never allowed to be witnesses in any Jewish court of law.
They were considered unreliable. Yet God would choose these to be the first to testify of his son's birth. At the very outset, you cannot help but see the gracious God and how his incarnation plan involved the outcast. It was the grace of God condescending to the lost among the lost of classes of people.
Look who he dignified. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1, for consider your calling, brethren. There were not many wise, according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble. God has chosen, as he speaks to us as an entire body, he's chosen the foolish things of the world, ashamed the wise. God has chosen the weak things of the world, to shame the things which are strong, the base things or the things considered unimportant of the world and the despised.
God has chosen. One more thing about these shepherds. The text tells us that they were in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem was only six miles south of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, you remember how it would swell during certain festivals, especially Passover, as millions of Jews would come and sacrifice their lambs in celebration of their former deliverance from Egypt. You probably remember if you've ever read Exodus 12 about the death angel as sort of the final plague that allowed Pharaoh to finally let the people of Israel go. But you remember how the death angel came sweeping into the land and only those who had the blood of the lambs on their doorposts.
The death angel would sweep over them, but he'd take the firstborn of the families who did not have the blood on the doorposts. Thus began this tradition of annual celebration as lambs were slaughtered and eaten and they remembered. First century Jewish historian Josephus records for us that every year Psalm 250,000 lambs were killed and eaten. A quarter of a million lambs every year in remembrance of their Passover, their exodus, their safety. Could these shepherds have anything to do with this? Where would all those sheep come from? Now we know that the temple raised animals and sold them to worshippers who came without their own. Many people would raise their own, of course, but there were many who would buy them from the temple system who would come without an animal. These shepherds that night, could they have been temple shepherds watching over sheep destined for temple sacrifice?
I have no doubt they were. One of the most confirming evidences of this is recorded in the Mishnah, the ancient Jewish code book. It stated in printed law, listen, that any animal found between Jerusalem and a small village nearby were to be available at any time for sacrifice in the temple of Jerusalem. And that little village's name was Bethlehem. These shepherds were temple shepherds. They were keeping watch over sheep that were destined to become one of thousands upon thousands of lambs headed for the altar to atone for the sins and bring reminders of atoning, bloodshed for the people.
Can you imagine then the beauty, can you imagine the significance of God's announcement? He announces the birth of the sacrificial lamb to men watching over sacrificial lambs. God announced to men considered sinful and out of fellowship with God that the ultimate Passover lamb whose blood will cleanse sinners and bring into fellowship those who are outcasts from God has been born. These whose livelihood was watching sheep destined for the altar are given the news that the one destined for the final altar has just been born.
They are the lamb keepers. They were the first to hear that the lamb has just been born. What a volume of rich truth revealed here giving us the wonderful, deep, condescending grace of God. That's just verse 8. Verse 9 is where it really starts to get good. Verse 9 says, And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them. I believe it's probably Gabriel who is now speaking with the shepherds. Notice further in verse 9, And the glory of the Lord shone round about them. You have angels appearing and the glory, that is the Shekinah glory of God is surrounding these shepherds in its brilliance.
The text tells us they were terribly frightened. An angel said to them, verse 10, Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Three titles or names are given here. The first designation is Savior. This was a title especially understood by the Gentile world.
It was a common term. In fact, I've already told you that Caesar Augustus claimed the title for himself. The next title is Christ or Christos. This was a name specifically given for the Jew to understand.
Why? Because Messiah was the Christos. Messiah was the anointed one and that's what Christos means anointed one. Only the Messiah could claim to be anointed by God. He could claim the title Christ. So you have the Savior who is the Messiah.
The last title sums it all up and it is breathtaking in its claim and it's easy to miss. It is the title Lord, Kurios. That Greek word is the counterpart of the Hebrew word Yahweh. In fact, throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament, more than 6,000 times the Hebrew name Yahweh is translated Kurios, Lord. That means, ladies and gentlemen, that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. That's why the Apostle Paul said in Romans chapter 10 verse 9, if you want to be saved, you have to confess that Jesus is Kurios, that Jesus is God.
He's the only one ever claimed to be God. Notice verse 13, suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying. You could translate verse 13 this way, a multitude of the heavenly host were praising God literally with these words.
Here are the lyrics and what do you have next? You have the poetic form verse 14. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased. Do angels sing? Well, we do know they sing. In Job 38 they sang at the dawn of creation. God gave them the ability to sing.
He created them that way. We know in Revelation that the citizens of heaven will sing to the lamb and angels will join in in that great choir. So here at this significant moment of the incarnation, the angelic host is bursting forth with singing. And I love the fact that culturally God the Father has brought the musicians to celebrate the birth of his son.
It was an incredible moment. These terrified shepherds are filled with holy wonder as this song breaks forth celebrating the birth of the son. Verse 15, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, let us go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us. So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph. The verb, by the way, found their way means to discover after exploring. They had to search. Fortunately Bethlehem was small and there probably weren't many inns for travelers and they were told that they would find the baby swaddled in a trough. And so that certainly helped identify the few places where they would have to look.
And that was the sign, you remember. How would they know that they found God in the flesh? Well, he was a baby swaddled. Well, perhaps there were other babies born in Bethlehem that night. And they would have been swaddled, as was the custom, but none of them would have been laid in a feed trough. He was the only one.
They found him lying in the feed trough. Verse 17, when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told to them about this child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told to them by the shepherds.
But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. By the way, the angels aren't doing it anymore. God could send more angels, couldn't he? Why didn't he? Why didn't he fill the sky with them?
And every time some individual or some nation curses him or denies his rightful position as God in the flesh, why don't you hear the thunder clap of their singing again? Why didn't he write the authenticity of his son's birth and nature in the clouds? He could, but from that point till this, he has chosen to use ordinary, sinful, forgiven, once outcast men and women and young people to serve as the messengers of the news of his birth. These were the keepers of lambs in the first century and they were given the wonderful message. For those who believe that he is God, who have trusted him as personal Lord and Savior, we today in a very real way are 21st century keepers of the lamb.
We have him in our hearts, but we can't keep him to ourselves. So we take the place of the shepherds, praising and glorifying God for all that we have heard. What a great picture of how we can and should respond to Christ for all that he has done for us. This is the final lesson in the series called Emmanuel. Stephen called this lesson the lamb keepers. Today's also the last day you can receive a free copy of Stephen's paperback booklet called Emmanuel. We're sending one free copy to everyone who makes their first contact with our ministry. If you've never contacted us before, call 866-48-Bible and then join us next time for more wisdom for the heart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-19 13:50:22 / 2022-12-19 14:00:22 / 10