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Summary: No person is an 'untouchable' to God: and the things revealed that first Christmas are such that 'angels desire to look into...'

ANGELS AND SHEPHERDS

Luke 2:8-20

To be a shepherd was not necessarily considered to be one of the higher occupations in the Judean province. This is surprising, since some of Israel's great leaders had been shepherds. Abraham had his flocks, as had Isaac. Jacob kept the flocks of his father-in-law, as did Moses of his. David, the author of the well known and much loved shepherd's hymn, Psalm 23, was drawn out of the fields of Bethlehem and anointed King!

Somehow Judean shepherds came to be known as the lowest of the low, vagabonds, outcasts, thieving rascals. They may have brought that stigma upon themselves. However, it is typical of society – any society – to do-down their rural cousins.

Tinkers and gypsies, circus-folk and travellers have all historically been treated as outcasts. The Christian world conveniently forgets that John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim's Progress, was a tinker himself. One of the world's largest democracies has a whole cast of people known as untouchables, yet I have been in a building of these people filled with love and beautiful Christian song.

Whatever reputation they may have had amongst men, it was to humble shepherds watching their flocks by night that the angel of the Lord appeared (Luke 2:8-9). There is nobody so low that the Lord cannot reach down into their situation, and raise them up. There is nobody so far from God that He cannot draw them to Himself with cords of everlasting love.

The sudden appearance of the angel at first struck fear in the hearts of these hardy country men. The original Greek text of Luke 2:9 tells us that “they feared fear great.” The dynamic of this idiomatic expression is captured in such English translations as “they were sore afraid” (K.J.V.) “they were greatly afraid” (N.K.J.V.), and so on.

People who have time to share scary stories by night might be susceptible to suggestion by the smallest incident, so that the appearance of just one angel has a negative effect upon his reception. It is therefore better not to scare ourselves with silly stories at all. The imperative “fear not” of Luke 2:10 should shake us awake from such folly, and in the shepherds' case alerted them to the gospel message which followed.

The gospel is “good tidings of great joy” to vanquish all fear. Why can't people understand that? It is not a list of rules and regulations, but “only believe” for “by faith alone” we are made “right with God by the Lord Jesus Christ.” Israel's redeemer has come, which is good news to be shared with all people.

The name Jesus, which He was so named when the angel had appeared to Joseph nine months before (Matthew 1:21) means the LORD (God) saves. Now the angel announced other names and titles to the shepherds (Luke 2:11). There was a hint as to His identity even in the fact that it was in the city of David (not Jerusalem, but Bethlehem) that the child was born.

First, the newborn infant is a Saviour for sure, but what does He save us from? The world, the flesh, and the devil. He is come to save us from ourselves, from the guilt of sin, and the legacy of death and hell. He is come to overcome death, the wages of sin, and to usher us into a new kingdom of life and righteousness and heaven itself, into the presence of God forever.

Jesus is named secondly as Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. Prophets, priests and kings were anointed, and He fulfils all their ministries in His own Person. He is the chosen one who will bring salvation to Israel, and light to the Gentiles – thus fulfilling Israel's ministry to the wider world.

And thirdly, He is Lord. Amongst Greek speaking Jews this meant He is the God of Israel, the true and living God whom they dare not name. Let no-one be deceived into thinking that the Bible does not teach the deity of Christ!

There was more than one occasion during Jesus' ministry when He was asked for a sign, in order to establish His authority. The shepherds didn't even ask: the angel offered the most beautiful, and perhaps one of the most well-known and well-loved signs of all: the babe in the manger (Luke 2:12). It is a simple sign, but carries all the magnificence of the incarnation into the realms of the familiar.

God is come in the flesh to redeem mankind, nothing less. He is born King, and yet born to die. He alone can bear away the sins of His people, making reconciliation with God by His own blood. He alone can conquer sin and death on our behalf. Mysteries which even the angels are left desiring to look into (1 Peter 1:12).

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