Rejoice with the Shepherds

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” Those words spoken to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem were earthshaking. They were indeed good news. Focus on the response of the shepherds as recorded in Luke 2:15–20.

See Christ the Lord. Listen to God’s good news. After the 400 years from Malachi God was breaking the silence. Gabriel had spoken to Zechariah, then to Mary. Now an angel announces good news to a band of shepherds. The good news looks back to Malachi, to Micah, and to Isaiah and the other prophets. It looks back to the covenant promise God had made to David, to the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It goes back even further to that promise spoken in the context of the curse on sin, that one day the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. It was news that was so big that it could not be confined to one people. It is for all the people. All that the Old Testament had been anticipating was happening. It was taking place that very night in Bethlehem. “All salvation, all truth in regard to man, has its eternal foundation in the triune God Himself. It is this triune God who here reveals Himself as the everlasting reality, from whom all truth proceeds, whom all truth reflects, be it the little streamlet of Paradise or the broad river of the New Testament losing itself again in the ocean of eternity. After this nothing higher can come. All the separate lines along which through the ages revelation was carried, have converged and met at a single point. The seed of the woman and the Angel of Jehovah are become one in the Incarnate Word.” (Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology,” Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, p. 13). The identifying sign of the cloths in which he was wrapped and the manger bed implied that they would seek out this Savior, who was Christ, the Lord. Notice that this is not just the Lord’s anointed. Rather, the anointed one, the Messiah, is the Lord himself. God himself becomes man to deliver his people from both the punishment and the curse on sin. The consultation by the shepherds reveals that they cannot simply ignore what God has said. They must go and investigate. They must see what has happened, for the Lord has told them about this. They take God at his word, and act upon it. The Lord expects a similar response from you.

Come and see Jesus! It is not enough to hear the good news about Jesus. Luke was seeking a response from Theophilus, and the Holy Spirit inspired this gospel so that you might trust in Christ. The good news invites you to come to Jesus. You cannot hike into Bethlehem and find him in a manger. But he comes to you in his Word. You can come to him in faith, believing that what the angel said about him is true. He is the Savior. He is Christ, the Lord. The good news requires you to come to know Jesus. To be a passive hearer of the gospel is to reject it. The Baby of Bethlehem has ascended David’s throne. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. That is whom the shepherds find in Bethlehem—the newborn King in a manger! What’s next?

Spread the Word. The shepherds could not keep quiet about Christ’s birth. They were the first to come and see Jesus. They experienced for themselves what the angel had said. They spread the word concerning what had been told them. This news is too good to keep quiet. It has to be talked about. The greatest event of human history had begun—and they were witnesses of it. The story spreads, and is received with amazement, v. 18. How do your respond?

As God’s people, tell the good news. Luke keeps writing of people proclaiming the good news. Anna speaks of what she has seen, v. 38. The 12 go out (Luke 9), as do the 70 (Luke 10). The church is commissioned (Luke 24:45-49). That leads to Acts 1:8, and the work of ordinary believers in Acts 8:4. Consider Paul’s work and the spread of Christianity throughout the world to Rome, recorded in Acts. This is indeed good news of great joy for all the people. You, speak the good news. Proclaim it to your neighbors and friends. Simply report what God has done. This is your task individually. It is also corporate, the church of Jesus Christ as church making known what God has done. She calls people not only to trust in Christ, but to be his body, to live as his church.

Return, glorifying and praising God. Rejoice in what God has done. The shepherds must praise God for what he has done. They had heard the message of the angels. They had come to see for themselves. They had told others the good news. But the most basic response is to glorify God. Their initial terror at the presence of the glory of the Lord has been transformed into praise and joy. And the reason for the transformation is the One they have just seen in the manger. The echo of the song of the angels had faded away. But it begins to resound from new voices as the shepherds return to their flocks. The praise shared by angels and shepherds looks forward to the completion of the reconciling work of Christ. You share in praising God. How does Revelation describe the saints in heaven? Ascribing worth, glory, to the Lamb and to his Father sitting on the throne. As you have lifted your voices in song today, you have taken part in that response! But there is also something else.

Return to your work. Yes the shepherds did take time to find the newborn Lord and to worship him. Then they returned to their flocks (while glorifying and praising God). We have spent time listening to angelic announcements of good news. We have heard the responses of prophecy, praise, and joy. We are spending this Lord’s day celebrating the salvation provided by the Lord’s Christ. Tomorrow God expects you to return to your work. The shepherds returned to their mundane tasks. The sheep were still smelly, stubborn, and prone to stray. The hyenas and leopards still threatened the flock at night. They still had to deal with buyers who just could not appreciate the value of the care the had provided the flocks in the fields. But they were doing the work God had called them to do. “The shepherds had to return to their flocks but they returned with a song in their hearts and carried the joy of adoration with them. They really felt they could take care of their flock again because the praise of God no longer conflicted with their earthly occupations.” (S. G.. De Graaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 3, p. 326). That’s where your work comes in. There are still fields to plow and plant, trees to trim, houses to build, computers to program, dirty dishes to wash, diapers to change, children to teach. Go back to these tasks to which God is calling you. Yes, they are the same tasks you have been doing—and yet they are different because of what happened that night. God is involved in your life. He has reconciled you to himself, and brought together all things in heaven and earth. The tasks that you do now, are not just drudgery, but are service performed to the glory of your God. They, as well as your songs of praise, are a crucial part of your glory to God!

With the shepherds you need to listen to the angels. But then you need to see and know the Christ. You are to tell the good news. Then return to your work, glorifying and praising God for the coming of the Christ.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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