FEAR OF GOD
TEXT: Luke 2:8-20
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
10 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.
11 "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 "And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"
15 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."
16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
I found a website called Funny Historical Accounts. It tells the unfortunate story of 24-year-old Danny Simpson of Ottawa, Ontario. In 1990 Mr. Simpson was given six years of imprisonment for robbing a bank of $6,000. In the robbery, he used an old Colt .45 pistol. He was arrested and the gun was impounded by the police.
What’s funny is that the police recognized the gun as an extremely rare collectors’ item. It was made under license by the Ross Rifle Company in Quebec City during WW1, one of only 100 Colt .45’s ever made there. The gun was worth between $100,000. Mr. Simpson could have walked into any gun shop and sold the pistol for at least ten times as much, and likely much more, from his raid without breaking the law.
If he had just known what he carried in his hand, he wouldn’t have robbed the bank. In other words, Danny already had what he needed.
After reading this, I thought, “I wonder if that’s how we are, too.” I wonder if most of us, any of us, have any clue to what we are entitled to. I wonder if the majority of us live way below God’s abundance for us. I wonder how differently we would live if we were aware of God’s presence in our lives. Let me use the story of the shepherds to explain. Let’s read Luke 2:8-20 again.
Now, we are wrapping up our series on fear. Three weeks ago we looked at Zechariah, a saintly old man who had lived his life with unanswered prayers. He saw an angel, and the good news was that God had heard his prayers. So don’t be afraid of your doubts and struggles.
Two weeks ago, we looked at Mary. The angel told her not to be afraid of God changing her plans for her life. At times they would be scary and unsafe, but they would still be good. After all, Jesus coming into the world was good for us all. So don’t be afraid of God changing your plans.
Last week we looked at Joseph. He was told in a dream not to be afraid of how things looked. Things sometimes look pretty bleak and grim, but God knows more than we do about everything. So don’t be afraid of appearances.
Today we are looking at the shepherds, the unlikely spectators to a wonderful event – the arrival of the Son of God. Now, let’s look at these guys and what their role in this story is. They were keeping watch over the flocks of sheep by night. Now, some scholars feel that the sheep were usually brought under cover from November to March; as well, they were not normally in the field at night. But there is no hard evidence for this. In fact, early Jewish sources suggest that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside year-round. Which all means that this could have happened in December, but maybe not.
Further, these guys had an important job, but it seems they were not exactly the upper level of society. I mean, they weren’t looking after ordinary sheep. The sheep these guys took care of were sacrificial sheep. These sheep would end up in the spring as sacrifices for Passover, the day set aside to remember God sparing His people from death while in Egypt. It was an important day with tremendous meaning, a sacred and holy day.
But, despite their importance, shepherds weren’t the most influential people of the day. As a matter of fact, they were among the lower class of the day. What they did was not a career that many people desired – it was just kind of one you were stuck with.
Most were immigrants, who ate and slept with the animals, and no doubt smelled like them too. The sophisticated peoples rolled their eyes and kept their distance whenever they came walking down the road.
Despite their importance, they were not treated importantly. But suppose this happened. Suppose that our president went on vacation. Maybe some of you think he’s always on vacation. Anyway, suppose that he went to Jamaica for a month. Honestly, do you think we’d notice too badly? Do you think there would be much of a difference around here?
But then suppose that Joe’s Garbage Pickup went on strike for a month. Suppose there was no-one to pick up your trash for a month. Do you think you’d notice that? Would you notice the smell of turkey carcass? Would you notice the smell of empty milk cartons? Would you notice the smell of uneaten leftovers? Of course you would. Sometimes what the world deems as significant and important isn’t always that. And sometimes what the world deems as insignificant and unimportant isn’t that, either.
Listen: smallness is not bad. Richard Foster wrote, “God’s heart is the most sensitive and tender of all. No act goes unnoticed, no matter how insignificant or small.” It’s not how many people you touch that matters. It’s what you do with your life around those whom you do touch. You don’t have to be a superstar, and this church doesn’t have to be a superstar church. In fact, what we can see from this story is that, no place – not the hillside of the shepherds, not the small town of Bethlehem, – no place, is insignificant if Jesus is there.
That was God’s view of these shepherds. They were not small and unimportant. In fact, God singled them out specially, to hear the good news. And of course, they were terrified. They saw an angel, and God’s glory was shining all around them. This was a scary sight.
But the angel told them not to be afraid. So what were they afraid of? They were afraid of the presence of God. It’s not that the presence of God was bad. It wasn’t painful or hurtful. It was just scary.
The Bible scholar JB Phillips said, “The presence of God is a fact of life. Paul rightly said of God, "In him we live, and move, and have our being." Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you." We may, by defying the purpose of God, insulate ourselves from that presence. We may, by unrepented sin, cut off the sense of God because we are clouded by a sense of guilt. We may, through no fault of our own, be unable to sense the God who is all about us. But the fact remains, that he is with us all the time.”
But then, there are times when God’s presence all seems touchable. Sometimes you could describe God’s presence as “thick”. So, even though God’s presence always surrounds us, there are times when it’s there even stronger.
I’m wondering if maybe we are like those shepherds of Bethlehem long ago. I wonder if we live in fear of God’s presence. I wonder if we are scared of getting too close to God. I wonder if we are frightened by the possibility of really feeling God and sensing Him around us.
After all, we are sinful mortals, and He is a holy God. God’s presence isn’t just meant to make us feel better; God’s presence is meant to make us better. God has no desire to make us content with our sinfulness; He wants us to change us. Which is a hard thing to swallow sometimes, because we don’t like change.
We don’t like to be told we are wrong. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – that’s why people change churches. They say they have a problem with the preacher, but it’s really that he’s just revealing something they don’t like.
Of course, the flipside is true, too. Sometimes a preacher drives people away, but blames it on the message. Maybe, in reality, it’s a little of both.
But the point is, God’s presence purifies us, and sometimes we don’t want that. We want a jolt of energy, a blessing, but we have no interest in changing anything about ourselves. And so, we pull away from anything that might actually draw us closer to Him. That’s why prayer is so hard. We come into God’s presence, God shows us who we are, we don’t like the implications of it, and we shy away.
That’s why it’s so hard to keep focused on the Bible. Because God uses it to speak to us, and we don’t like to be reminded of how far short we fall of what He wants for us, and so we shy away.
Same thing with church. It takes some energy and attention and motivation and determination and concentration to get something out of it. Then, we are reminded of how little we actually get into God’s presence, and we don’t like to feel bad about ourselves, and so we shy away.
I think of A.W. Tozer, who wrote a book called “The Pursuit of God”. He wrote these words: "Why do some persons find God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience? Of course the will of God is the same for all. He has no favorites within his household. All he has ever done for any of his children he will do for all his children. The difference lies not with God, but with us."
We are too scared of getting close to Him. We are too scared of allowing God to speak to us. We are too scared of seeing God move in our hearts. We are so much like Adam and Eve, who ran and hid when God came near.
But the angels brought God news. That’s the same for us. Being in God’s presence is not something we should run from, no matter what happens. Even if God shows us our faults, the good news is that He loves us enough to let us know where He wants to improve us. God coming near us is good news, even if sometimes His presence is a little scary.
When electricity became available in remote rural areas, one woman went to great trouble and expense to have electricity installed in her home. A few months after the wiring was installed and the power was turned on; the power company noticed that the home didn’t use very much power. Fearing that there was a problem they sent a meter reader to check on the matter.
The meter reader saw that the power was indeed working properly and then asked the woman, “Do you use your electricity?” The woman replied, “Of course we do. We turn it on every night to see to light our lamps and then we turn it off.”
It is sad that the very thing that gives us strength to press forward is the very thing we are scared to enter into. Much like this lady’s electricity, we don’t use what God has given us to carry on a spiritually productive and uplifting life. May this season find us wanting more of God than what we are already used to, and may we reach out to be found in His presence.