The Visit of the Shepherds
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. /// Luke 2:8-20
At Christmas time, we remember two visitations at the birth of Jesus. One is the visit of the wise men, which we discussed last week. Today, we’ll look at the second visitation: the visitation of the shepherds. Why did the angels announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem and not to Herod, King of the Jews? He was a murdering, selfish ruler. Why didn’t the angels appear to the High Priest and the rest of the priests? Maybe the lack of visitation to the priesthood had something to do with what we talked about last week. Israel knew of the prophecies of Messiah. If anyone should have been looking and searching for the time of His birth, it should have been the priesthood of Israel. Instead, the priesthood of a nation other than Israel was used to alert the Israelites to the birth of their King. The irony is amazing! Could it have been that the priesthood of Israel was not looking forward to the appearance of the Messiah? His appearance would certainly cut into their recognition.
Whatever the reason, the announcement of the birth of Christ was made to lowly shepherds. After all, Jesus did descend from the line of David – the first shepherd – king of Israel. The prophecy given to the Magi when they sought the birthplace of Jesus states His calling as shepherd – king:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel. /// Micah 5:2
What is it about shepherding that was so desirable that God wanted those attributes in His Messiah? At least part of the answer is explained in David’s most famous psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, Forever. /// Psalm 23:1-6
These words describe the Lord’s heart and His ministry. It likens His leading, feeding, calming, healing, sheltering ministry to that of the caring shepherd. 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah described it this way:
Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young. /// Isaiah 40:10-11
A king lives in His palace – a shepherd must dwell with the sheep to adequately care for them. This is the heart and ministry of Jesus. So, God sent His angels to announce the birth to shepherds watching their flocks outside of Bethlehem. You see, there was an ancient watchtower in the fields of Bethlehem: created for shepherds to oversee their flocks. It was called:
Migdal Eder which means, “Tower of the Flock”.
So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel's grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. /// Genesis 35:19-21
History tells us that the lambs used by the High Priest to sacrifice for the sins of Israel were raised in the fields of Bethlehem. Some accounts give descriptions of lambs without blemish being wrapped in swaddling cloths to protect them from the elements. It was to the keepers of the flock that a massive choir of angels announced the good news of His birth and filled the skies around Bethlehem with praise! The message of the angel host?
On earth – peace and goodwill toward men!
So, the shepherds were the first who were entrusted with the message of Messiah and were the first to share it with others. You can’t speak of these things without remembering the words of Jesus when speaking to the very priests who should have been looking forward to His birth:
I am the good shepherd, The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by My own. /// John 10:11-14
God is not looking for hirelings but shepherds for His flock. He set the example for leadership for all who follow. In the House of Bread – Bethlehem; in the district of the fruit of the vine – Ephrathah, the Shepherd – King of Israel was born as the sacrificial Lamb of God, so that all of us will know that God’s heart toward us is one of peace and goodwill.
- Luke 2:8-20
- Micah 5:2
- Psalm 23:1-6
- Isaiah 40:10-11
- Genesis 35:19-21
- John 10:11-14
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