Let's Go with the Shepherds!
A sermon based on Luke 2:8-18, 20
Sunday, December 24, 2012 – Christmas Eve
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
I. To See the Savior Born for You
Imagine it. There you are sitting out in the quiet, peaceful field. Not a sound to be heard for miles except for the bleating of a few sheep and the quiet conversation of you and your companions. Except for the small fire you huddle around to keep warm, there are no lights for miles, no city glow to hinder your view of thousands of stars in the sky. But suddenly, in an instant, your whole world is shaken! Imagine out of the dark sky thousands of halogen lamps suddenly appear out of nowhere shining right in your face, blinding you with a light so bright it physically hurts your eyes! (And remember there is no electricity, you've never seen or imagined a light bulb. The brightest light you've ever seen at night before this night is a campfire.)
No wonder the shepherds were terrified. Like a deer caught in the headlights they must have froze in shock and awe and sheer terror at the sight of this unidentified flying object shining in all its brilliant splendor! And far greater than the fear of the unknown light, must have been the realization of what that light was. This was no alien abduction. This was far more terrifying than that! It could be nothing less than a holy angel of God. And here they were lowly sinful shepherds.
How can sinners dare to stand in the presence of the holy? They can't! I imagine the shepherds must have fallen to the ground and covered their heads in their terror. Surely God must have sent this holy angel to destroy them for their wickedness just as he'd done to Sodom and Gomorrah, just as he'd done to the Assyrian King Senacherib. Sure this was the angel of death come for them! Shaking uncontrollably they must have sensed the certain doom of their impending judgment. They knew terror like few have ever known.
But wait… the angel spoke. "Do not be afraid," he said, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." What relief must have washed over those shepherds! He wasn't here to punish or destroy them for their sin! He wasn't the angel of death, but a messenger angel, perhaps Gabriel himself, come to deliver a message from God. That message? "11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
Wow! What huge news! News worthy of such a delivery that put the most elaborate and prestigious press conference to shame! A Savior has been born to you! The messenger angel told Joseph, "you are to give him the name Jesus" (which means "Jehovah saves"), "because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) He was not a political savior, come to deliver them from the Romans. He was not a medical savior, come to save them from sickness, disease and pain. He would not end their suffering in this life or make everything in their life run smoothly. But he would do something far greater! He was the Savior who would deliver them from their sins. He would rescue them out of death, snatch them out of the hell they deserved!
The angel told the shepherds, "He is Christ the Lord." This little baby was the Lord, true God himself! He was the Christ! The word Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. Both mean "the Anointed One." This little baby was the one God promised to Adam and Eve; the one who would crush the devil's head and undo his work (cf. Genesis 3:15). This baby was the one God promised would be pierced and crushed for their sins; the one who would bring them peace by his punishment, the one who would heal them by his wounds. (cf. Isaiah 53:5)
And that's exactly what he did! Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared and the army of God proclaimed a message of peace! "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." This baby would do the impossible—not just create peace between men and men, but create peace between men and God! How? In his humility. Born in a barn, laid in a feed trough, he began his human life in low humility. And his birth characterized the rest of his life. And it characterized his death. Ridiculed and tortured, beaten and scourged, stripped of clothes and his dignity he was nailed to a cross, to bleed, spasm, and suffocate to death.
Why? To pay for sin. To cause God's favor, once turned away from mankind because of his sinful rebellion, to rests on mankind once more. Now, through the sacrifice that this little baby would make, God had "goodwill toward men" once more. He was no longer hostile to them, ready to pour out his wrath against their wickedness! Their wickedness was removed and placed on Christ. God's wrath was poured out on him.
And lest the shepherds doubt that this good news of great joy was for them, the angel made it clear, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." For all people—even for those on the lowest rung of the social ladder! Even for the country hick shepherds that most classy Israelites despised.
And even, dear friends, for you. Have you ever been terrified? On your own, you should be. You should be terrified, but not by a UFO like the shepherds were, not by the fear of losing a job or losing health. You should be terrified, not of some imaginary thing that lurks in the dark or the monster under the bed. But you should be terrified by your sin, by those skeletons in your closet.
We should shake and tremble uncontrollably by the thought of our sin, which must be answered by the wrath of a just and holy God. We should grow weak in the knees when we recognize that no amount of good deeds or kind acts will ever undo the evil we've done. We should be terrified by the knowledge that one day soon we will all have to stand before the throne of God and give an account for what we've done and even said and thought; by the knowledge that we sinners cannot dare to stand in the presence of the holy. We should feel the terror of the shepherds.
And when you do realize how serious of a problem your sins present, then go with the shepherds and hear the good news. "Do not be afraid!" For us that baby in the manger was born! For us God became man! For us he lived in humility! For us he died on that cross! For us he endured hell there! For us he was wounded, punished, crushed so we could be healed of our sin, restored again, at peace with God. Our Savior was born—Christ the Lord!
Now we are holy and sinless in God's sight. We can stand before the Holy God with perfect confidence. We have peace with him—a peace that he established. We really do have nothing to fear! For even if I lose my job, my health, all those I love and starve to death on the streets, I'm never alone. My Savior is with me! If I starve to death, I die and go to heaven! My sins are forgiven! Glory is mine! What peace I have because in that little baby, and not in anything I can or ever could do, God's favor rests on me!
II. To Spread the Word Concerning Him
What joy those shepherds must have experienced! What peace was theirs in knowing that the long awaited Messiah was finally here to remove their sin! Listen to how they responded…
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them… 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Out of sheer excitement, they hurried off to check it out for themselves; to verify the message and to see the Baby—their very Savior! Wasting no time at all they sped away as quickly as their legs would carry them, leaving their sheep behind. But wait a second! What if a wolf came while they were gone! Who would protect the sheep?! It didn't mater. This was more important than sheep, more important than their jobs, more important than their livelihoods, more important than anything! This was literally a matter of eternity and in their excitement they simply had to see him for themselves!
And what joy they must have had, having "found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger." How awesome it must have been to see that little child—the God-man, the Christ, their Savior from sin! And again they simply couldn't contain their excitement and joy! The news really was good news of great joy! You can almost picture them leaving that stable, leaping for joy, kicking up their heels, shouting and laughing! Telling everyone they saw, "We've seen the Messiah! He's born! He's here in Bethlehem! He's finally arrived! The prophecies are fulfilled! Our Savior! The Christ! The Lord is here! To save us! To take away our sins! To give us peace with God!"
And those simple, uneducated shepherds, rather than the priests and rabbis or the teachers of the law, became the first missionaries. They didn't need years of study. They didn't need to know every prophecy and fulfillment of Scripture. They didn't need to have so many passages of Scripture memorized. They simply shared what they knew—"they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child." And what an effective witness it was! "All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."
And the shepherds returned to their sheep glorifying and praising God. And while outwardly their lives may have appeared he same, back in the same old fields, watching the same old sheep, their lives were forever changed. Every day as they continued their work, they could glorify God in their daily labors, praising him for his overwhelming grace to them in revealing their Savior and for forgiving their sins in that little baby, Jesus!
Friends, may we respond to the message of the angels in the same way the shepherds did! Don't just take me at my word when I share with you the good news of the Savior born for you. Go check it out for yourself! Dig into the Word of God. Search the Scriptures. Grow in your faith. Nothing in life is more important. One hundred years from now your career won't matter. When you die, how much you have saved in your bank account won't matter. How much you enjoyed life, won't matter. The only thing that will matter is spiritual matters.
So don't worry about the sheep. Leave them in the fields by themselves for a bit while you go see your Savior. And don't delay! Don't wait until you have more time to grow in your faith. That time might never come. Make it a priority now to grow in your faith and learn more of your Savior. Hurry off to your Bibles to find the baby in the manger, to follow the Savior through the crowds, to kneel at the foot of the cross, to run to the empty tomb! Follow him in his Word and in your excitement check it out for yourself!
And don't stop there. Don't just go with the shepherds to see the Savior, but go with them to spread the Word concerning him. When you do discover the truth of God's Word, just as you've been told—when you find him in the manger, on the cross, outside the empty tomb—then you simply can't contain yourself any more than the shepherds could! You simply must share this good news of great joy for all people with all people and tell anyone who will listen!
And you don't need any special training. You don't need years of study. You don't need to know every prophecy and fulfillment of Scripture. You don't need to have so many passages of Scripture memorized. Simply share what you know and spread the Word concerning what has been told you about this child.
No, you don't have to run through the streets of the Peninsula, shouting and laughing. But spread the Word at home with family devotions. Spread the Word with friends and co-workers who don't yet know of the peace with God that Jesus won for them. Spread the Word in the way you live your lives. And tell others that the Messiah has come! A Savior has been born! Our Savior! Our Savior from sin! We have peace with God. And give glory to God in the Highest for the peace on earth for us on whom God's favor now rests! And glorify and praise God for all the things you've heard and seen, which are just as you have been told. Amen.