Gracefully Truthful

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Discover the original intent of Scripture. Make good application to our everyday lives.
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Read His Words Before Ours!

Luke 2:8-20

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors! 15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.

The Original Intent

1) Why did the shepherds receive a sign to look for in identifying the Messiah? (verses 10-12)

The angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds in Bethlehem saying, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”

The shepherds not only heard about the good news of Jesus’ birth, they also received a sign to verify the proclamation. An angelic herald of Christ’s birth made sense, but not the circumstances described; surely the long-awaited Messiah (Isaiah 7:14) would come with pomp and circumstance, not sleeping in a manger!

According to author, David Guzik, “If the angel had not told them to look for such a specific sign, they would never have believed it.” Author Joseph Benson suggests, “Surely they might know Him by this token, for what other babe could be found in so mean a condition? […] It was therefore very proper that the angel should forewarn them of this circumstance and make it the signal whereby they should distinguish Him.”

An additional sign, apart from a multitude of angels, was also given so the shepherds would have evidence to support their claim of an angelic messenger, which could be called into question. Visiting the Holy place of birth and seeing the Newborn King with their own eyes gave them something credible and verifiable to report.

As author, Alexander Maclaren, suggests, “The fact of the birth, which could be verified by sight, would confirm the message in its outward aspect, and thereby lead to belief in the angel’s disclosure of its inward character.” How good of the Father not only to share His Good News with humble shepherds, but also allow them to witness it for themselves!

The Everyday Application

1) Why did the shepherds receive a sign to look for in identifying the Messiah? (verses 10-12)

When I was 4 years old, my dad prepared a bowl of cereal for my breakfast, adding sugar to the unsweetened Cheerios. He later found me scooping more sugar into my bowl, insistent that he left it out. He instructed me just to stir the sugar in more thoroughly so it could sweeten the whole bowl, but I staunchly argued it didn’t taste sweet because it needed more sugar.

After I stubbornly refused to eat until I could add more sugar, he poured the cereal out, showing me the mound of sugar on the bottom of the bowl. He knew that I wouldn’t believe there was already enough sugar in the cereal until I saw it for myself.

This idea that “seeing is believing” describes the shepherds receiving a message from the angel of the Lord in Luke 2:10-12. The angel announced Jesus’ birth, and then he gave them a sign to look for: a baby lying in a manger. God wanted to make sure the shepherds saw with their own eyes where the baby lay in a humble trough beside His peasant parents, surrounded by animals and moonlight.

He wanted them to see that the “great joy for all the people” (verse 10) had come as a helpless baby of humble means to live and serve among those He came to save. (Mark 10:45) God made plain to the shepherds that His Rescue Plan (Luke 19:10) was not what they expected. “Jesus’ birth into humble conditions and a family with low social status foreshadows the upside-down nature of Jesus’ Kingdom” (The Bible Project)

At Christmas, and all throughout the year, we rejoice in this “good news of great joy” that the Shepherds celebrated around the manger the night Jesus was born.

The Original Intent

2) Why did God follow His message to the shepherds with a heavenly host of angels praising God? (verses 13-14)

After the Angel of the Lord told the shepherds the good news of Jesus’ birth, they encountered a host of angels, “Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!”. (verses 13-14)

One reason these angels appeared was because there was great joy in heaven that God’s rescue plan (John 3:16) was finally entering the next phase. After hundreds of years of waiting for a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15), God was making His entrance into the world, and heaven had longed with joy for this moment! (1 Peter 1:12)

The angels’ appearance also served another purpose. Author Alexander Maclaren suggests, “It was fitting that such angel voices should attend such an event, whether men gave heed to them or not; and because, recorded, their song has helped a world to understand the nature and meaning of that birth.” The angels delineated what the Messiah had come to accomplish.

Charles Spurgeon explains that the angels proclaimed “the salvation which He came into this world to work out . . . first, that it gave glory to God; secondly, that it gave peace to man; and thirdly, that it was a token of God’s good will towards the human race.” The angels’ declarations taught the shepherds, and everyone who would ever read Luke’s account of the event, to give God glory and praise for sending His Son, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), to bring us saving grace.

The angels excitedly announced why the coming of the Savior was such Good News! (Isaiah 52:7)

The Everyday Application

2) Why did God follow His message to the shepherds with a heavenly host of angels praising God? (verses 13-14)

I grew up in the 1970s, before one could simply Google a pork carnitas recipe or watch instructions on creating an origami basket. (both of which I looked up last month!) Recently, I became mildly frustrated that I couldn’t search the internet to find every novel my book club covered in the last decade! I’ve grown accustomed to having the answers to all my burning questions just a few keystrokes away.

The shepherds at Jesus’ birth didn’t have access to Google, but they still received a heavenly information download. Luke wrote, “Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!”. (Luke 2:13-14) From a host of heavenly angels, the shepherds received the benefit of an explanation on the missional purpose of Jesus’ arrival.

Bible student, Adam Clarke, asserts that angels appeared “to teach the shepherds, who were about to be the first proclaimers of the Gospel, what to think and what to speak of Him, who, while He appeared as a helpless infant, was the object of worship to the angels of God.” Angels showed the shepherds they should glorify the Babe in the manger as God’s Son and share about the peace He offered those who would receive Him.

Angels proclaimed this Good News to the shepherds, so they could declare it to others. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth asserts, The song of the angel is good news that eclipses and overshadows whatever else is happening in your life right now. It’s what ‘all the people’ need, for all the things that threaten to deprive us of joy.”

We can rejoice that the Gospel message the shepherds shared is the same message God sends us today for His Son is our Redeemer!

The Original Intent

3) Why would God choose shepherds to verify the birth of the Savior and share the good news with others? (verses 17-20)

When Jesus came to redeem humanity, the revelation came not to religious or political leaders, as one might have supposed. Instead, God sent a host of angels to a band of shepherds to announce Christ’s birth. Why would He choose lowly shepherds and charge them with spreading the Word? Because everything about the Savior’s coming was humble, including His entourage.

Author Marvin Vincent notes, “Luke’s Gospel is the gospel of the poor and lowly. This revelation to the shepherds acquires additional meaning as we remember that shepherds, as a class, were under the Rabbinic ban, because of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance well-nigh impossible.”

Having shepherds present also had a symbolic significance. Author William Barclay suggests, “It is then a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

Shepherds may also have been included so the prophecy of the Savior would come full circle, as asserted by Joseph Benson, “Here we see, that as Abraham and David, to whom the promise of the Messiah was first made, were shepherds, so the completion of this promise was first revealed to shepherds.”

The other visitors to the young Christ child were wise men. Though their visit was likely 18-24 months after Jesus’ birth, author John Trapp suggests that “God, to show that He respected not persons, revealed this grand mystery to the shepherds and the wise men; the one poor, the other rich; the one learned, the other unlearned; the one Jews, the other Gentiles; the one near, the other far off.”

God’s love came down at Christmas to show every person, great and small, that His gift of love was for them!

The Everyday Application

3) Why would God choose shepherds to verify the birth of the Savior and share the good news with others? (verses 17-20)

When my kids were little, they loved playing with their Little People Nativity set, taking turns setting up the figures and acting out the Christmas story. One year, I thought I would be funny and hide a similarly colored Bob the Builder ornament in among the wise men! They had fun discovering him and incorporating him into their play.

When my son got older, he turned the tables on me and hid a Star Wars Yoda figure in my Nativity crèche and waited to see how long it took me to discover it . . . about 3 weeks! Now, hiding Yoda in the Nativity is a yearly tradition, nestling him in among the shepherds.

While we are familiar with shepherds being part of the Christmas story now, their presence at the birth of Jesus was radically unexpected. Author, David Guzik, notes, “As a class, shepherds had a bad reputation. […] More regrettable was their habit of confusing ‘mine’ with ‘thine’ as they moved about the country. They were considered unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in the law courts.”

Most people would not have chosen rough and lowly shepherds to receive the news of the Newborn King of the Jews. Much about the coming of the Messiah was unexpected, though. Author Donald Spence Jones suggests, “It seems as though this very humble order was selected as a practical illustration of that which in the future history of Christianity was to be so often exemplified – ‘the exaltation of the humble and meek.’”

God chose plain and ordinary shepherds to play an integral part of His Redemption Story because He wanted people to understand that His love extended to everyone. (1 John 4:10)

The point of Christmas is that Jesus came to save us because no one, shepherd or king, could be worthy of access to God without His righteousness given on our behalf. (Ephesians 1:7) He’s our only Hope, and a Glorious One at that!

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