It wasn’t the world’s oldest profession, but it was close! I mean you know what the world’s oldest profession is right?
That’s right, farming. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain the oldest was a farmer, thus making farming the world’s oldest profession.
What were you thinking?
And Abel the younger brother was a shepherd making that the world’s second oldest profession.
If there is one scene that seems to shout Christmas to us it would be the shepherds on the hillside staring in wonder at an angel choir in the sky. And we all know the story and Christmas wouldn’t be complete without the keepers of sheep pressed in tight to see the one who would be called the lamb of God.
And although they weren’t lead characters the shepherds were part of the chorus in the production of the first Christmas. When I was in high school our school was known for the great musicals we put on. And during my three years we performed The King and I, South Pacific and the Music Man. And when they were casting the musical, they would cast the male lead and the female lead and then the supporting roles. And all those roles had names and were highlighted in the program. And then they got to the bulk of the players and they were called the Chorus. And that’s where I ended up, in the chorus. But you couldn’t have the musical without the chorus. If you just had the leads you wouldn’t have a musical, you would just have a small ensemble.
In the same way there were the leads in the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph, the angel Gabriel and the baby Jesus. They get top billing. And then there were the supporting roles. The innkeeper, King Herod and the Wise Men. They got second billing. And then you have the chorus. That would be the angels and the shepherds. If you were doing up a program from that first Christmas they would be listed in a group after all the others in the play it would say “and the shepherds.”
This is the fourth week of Advent, and coincidently the fourth week of our Advent series, funny how that works. Over the past three Sundays we’ve been looking at the various “Fear Nots” or “Do not be Afraids” that are mentioned in the Christmas story.
And we’ve discovered that they’ve all been delivered by messengers that we call Angels. The first was in the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, the man who would become the father of John the Baptist.
It was John who was so instrumental in introducing Jesus to the world. And we discover Gabriel’s message to Zechariah in Luke 1:13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.” And my theme that week was “Fear Not, Just Believe”.
In week two we looked at Mary’s encounter with Gabriel and these words, Luke 1:30-31 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”
In that message, our theme was “Fear Not, Just Trust” And we saw how Mary had to trust God with the details of how she would become pregnant as well as the immediate and long-term ramifications of her decision to trust God
Last week, we looked at Mary’s fiancé, Joseph who was told in Matthew 1:19-20 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
And so last week’s topic was “Fear Not, Just Obey”. And because Joseph did obey he provided Mary with a husband and Jesus with a father, and he was willing to pay the price that obedience required.
This week we are taking you out in the fields, let’s pick up the story in Luke 2:8-10 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”
So, here is our fear not for this week, “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”
So, the angel begins by saying, I Bring You . . . Of all the people in and around Bethlehem that day, the angels didn’t appear to just anybody they appeared to somebody. So, who were the somebodies the angels appeared to?
I know you are probably thinking, “Hey Denn they were shepherds, duhh.”
Well sure they were, but what does that mean today?
For most of us, the closest we’ll ever come to a shepherd is wearing a wool sweater and eating lamb chops. And because of that when we think of shepherds we immediately shift to the Christmas story and kind of romanticize who they were and what they did. But really, they were just guys who watched sheep.
There probably wasn’t an intensive training program for the job and they probably weren’t anywhere near the top of the economic heap. Nor would they have been near the top of the social heap or even the religious heap.
The problem was their jobs. The demands of the flock were so great that even if the shepherds were inclined to be religious all of the rules and regulations of Judaism, with the various hand washings and other parts of the ceremonial law, were out of their reach, so they could never really be “Good Jews”
But it wasn’t enough to know who they were, it would be a good thing as well to know who they weren’t.
The biggest surprise here is that they weren’t anyone special. I mean if I was God, creator of all things, master of the universe and I was announcing the birth of my Son I’m not sure that shepherds would have made the short list. Or for that matter the long list. Kings, emperors, potentates they would have been the ones on my list, not the keepers of sheep.
But these guys were just ordinary people with ordinary jobs. Nothing special, just a bunch of shepherds doing what shepherds do, watching their flocks. However in saying that it’s seems as if God has a special place for shepherds, Abel who was commended for his offering was a shepherd, Moses who led the people of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt was a shepherd and David, Israel’s greatest king and the writer of the psalms was a shepherd.
Now that being said there are those who have speculated that even though they were shepherds they may not have been your everyday run of the mill shepherds. Culturally we are told that because of the frequent sacrifices at the temple, every morning and evening an unblemished lamb was to be sacrificed, that the temple authorities kept their own private flock of sheep. And historically we are told that these sheep would have been pastured near Bethlehem.
And if all of those things are true then there is a pretty good chance that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the temple offerings were chosen. And if that is the case then it is pretty cool that the birth of the “Lamb of God” who would take away the sins of the world was first announced to those whose job it was to take care of the temple lambs, who were sacrificed for peoples sins.
And into the ordinary lives of ordinary men is injected an extraordinary event. Most of us aren’t special enough for God to take an interest in our lives, but He does. Remember the words of Jesus in Luke 12:6-7 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
As I read the story again it dawned on me that the twelve verses that tell the story about the shepherds is a look at how most of us became Christ Followers.
And you are thinking “Denn I don’t even like sheep and there were no angels involved when I became a believer.” Perhaps but bear with me. Luke 2:9-11 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
The first thing we discover is that, The Shepherds Were Told About Jesus We all know the story, the shepherds are in the field watching their sheep when suddenly an angel appears with a message. “The Messiah is here!” and then that angel is joined by a whole flock of angels who are proclaiming the goodness of God.
In its most literal sense, the word “angel” as used in the original language simply meant messenger now that doesn’t negate who appeared to the shepherds that first Christmas.
These weren’t just messengers; these were Heavenly messengers. Luke tells us in Luke 2:13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God. . . Now most of us don’t get Angels in the traditional sense, and if you did, cool. But the majority of us do get a messenger with news about Jesus.
We see a great example of this in John 1:40-41 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”). Andrew heard about Jesus from John and then Simon heard about Jesus from Andrew.
Who was it that told you about Jesus for the first time? Who was your angel? My angel’s name was Reg. Which is kind of a strange name for an angel when you think about it, but still.
For most of us, we don’t just stumble into Christianity. I mean it does happen sometimes, and when it does it makes a great story. For example, Billy Sunday was a professional baseball player for the Chicago White Stockings and one Sunday afternoon in 1886 he and some of his fellow players had a few beers and were wandering through the streets of Chicago where Sunday heard a street preaching team from the Pacific Garden Mission.
And the rest as they say is history. Billy Sunday became a Christ follower and went on to become the Billy Graham of his time, or more correctly Billy Graham became the Billy Sunday of his time. Over the course of his ministry Sunday preached to a 100 million people and recorded over a million converts.
But most of us have someone, a friend, family or a co-worker who brings the message to us and invites us to come. Paul spells it out for us in Romans 10:14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
And so, it was on a lonely hillside outside of Bethlehem that the Angels came and told the shepherds about Jesus. And the story continues.
Luke 2:15-16 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
But not only did they hear about Jesus, The Shepherds Came to Jesus. Now the reality is that the Shepherds could have heard the message and thought “Well that was interesting” and then simply returned to their sheep. But they made a conscious decision to leave the everyday and venture into the eternal.
Simon Peter could have listened to what his brother Andrew told him and then gone back to fishing instead of going to meet Jesus.
It’s not enough to hear the message unless we actually respond to it. And we all have that choice; the choice to respond to the claims of the gospel or reject the claims of the gospel. There are some of you here today who have heard the message over and over again, and your response is the same as King Agrippa’s response in the book of Acts.
Maybe you know the story and maybe you don’t. Paul has been hauled before the authorities, including King Agrippa, for preaching and he launches into his story and his conversion experience. And then he says to Agrippa: Acts 26:27 (NKJV) King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.” And Agrippa looks at him and responds Acts 26:28 (NKJV) Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” And two thousand years ago, almost wasn’t good enough for Agrippa and it’s not good enough today. Just think, he missed it by that much.
If you are going to be a Christ follower first, you have to make the decision to come to Christ in order to follow him. It is a conscious decision that you have to make, yes, I am going to do this.
For the shepherds that meant physically leaving the fields and their flocks and coming into Bethlehem and then finding the stable where Jesus was.
Today it means that for a little while we too leave the everyday and venture into the eternal, accepting who Jesus is and embracing his claims and the grace and forgiveness he offers. John spells it out in his gospel. John 1:12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
But the shepherd’s story doesn’t end in the stable, Luke 2:17-19 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.
The Shepherds Told Others About Jesus. I love this, they could not contain what had happened in their lives and wanted everyone to know about it. Isn’t that what normally happens when we make a new discovery? Whether it’s a great new restaurant, or a movie, or book or musical artist. We want to tell those we care about the news.
D. T. Niles was a Sri Lankan preacher and he summed it up this way: “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
The problem is that we have made evangelism into some mysteriously difficult thing that only professionals or special people can do. But listen again to how Andrew did it: John 1:40-41 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).
just told his brother what he had experienced, didn’t hand him a tract or lead
him down the Roman Road, just told him, “Hey I met Jesus.” And then if we keep reading, we discover John 1:42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus.
In His book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched Thom Ranier and his colleagues interviewed several hundred people in both the US and Canada who do not attend church, they are unchurched people. And they made some surprising discoveries.
This is one of those discoveries: 82 Percent of the unchurched are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church if they are invited. Perhaps we need to pause here to allow that to sink in, maybe we need to restate it 82 Percent of the unchurched are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church if they are invited. If you don’t remember anything else from this message hang on to that. 8 out of 10 of your friends and co-workers would be at least somewhat likely to attend church if you invited them.
So what is an invitation? For many of the unchurched it would simply mean being asked. For others it included the offer to meet them at the front door to show them around. But in either case it goes back to a simple premise, invite them and there is a pretty good chance that they will come.
The story goes that an atheist once told William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, “I do not believe in your God; I do not believe in your Bible; I do not believe in your hell. But if I did, I’d crawl across London on my knees across broken glass to warn them!”
So there can only be one of two reasons for why we don’t tell people about Jesus 1) We don’t really believe that what we’ve discovered about Jesus is all that important or 2) We really don’t care about people’s eternity.
The story goes on, Luke 2:20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
4) It Impacted the Shepherds Daily Lives. Did you catch what happened? They went back to work, but they didn’t leave their experience behind them. For too many people they are quite content to leave Jesus either in the manger or on the cross but there is no room in their everyday lives for Him.
But He is supposed to make a difference in our lives, such a difference that your entire life has been changed and it appears to be brand new. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
How does that look in our lives? In Eugene Peterson paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, we read Romans 12:1 MSG So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
If you are one person when you are in church and another person when you are at school or work and yet another one when you are with your family, then you are wearing a mask at least some of the time.
2000 years ago in the Greek theatre the actors all wore masks and there was a Greek word that was used for actors and it literally meant a mask wearer and it was hypokritēs, that same word is translated into English as hypocrite, and two thousand years ago that was a neutral word, sure isn’t today.
Our encounter with Christ needs to affect who we are and how we live. You can’t just take him as a fire escape from hell and continue to live like you always lived. If he doesn’t make a difference on this side of eternity it is doubtful that he will make a difference on the other side of eternity.
After the shepherds encountered Jesus they went back to their flocks, they didn’t stay at the stable or even in Bethlehem, but they went back to the hills where their sheep were waiting.
Our witness to what Christ has done in our lives will be played out not in church but in our daily lives. How we deal with our family, our job and our finances. “What would Jesus Do?” became a cliché twenty years ago, but the question that really needs to be asked is: “What does Jesus want me to do?”
At this time of year, we give gifts to people we love, how about giving a birthday gift to Christ for the same reason? You don’t even have to go to the store or shop online, he even tells us what he would like for a gift, so we don’t have to guess, and you don’t even have to wrap it. John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”