Summary: Every year at Christmas time this great line is drawn. Here are people who are like shepherds & wise men coming to Jesus to worship Him. And there are others like Herod who stand hard & cold, resisting all that God is trying to do in their lives.
MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER CENTRAL CHRISTIAN, BROWNSVILLE, TX
ILL. It is a time of great rejoicing in the palace, for a prince has just been born. Near the throne there is a lively discussion going on as the king’s advisers are making their suggestions concerning the best way to announce to the wonderful news. They have suggested some elaborate ways to publicize & celebrate this great event.
All but one have expressed their opinions, & now the king turns to him & asks, "How about you? Do you have any ideas? What do you suggest?" "Well," came the reply, "I think that we should send a messenger out at night into the fields to tell some shepherds about it."
What a ridiculous idea! And yet, that was God’s way of announcing Jesus’ birth. God’s ways are certainly not our ways, are they?
A. Listen as I read those very familiar words in the 2nd chapter of Luke, beginning with vs. 8. (READ Luke 2:8-15)
Somehow, when we hear about shepherds coming to the manger & seeing the Christ-child it makes us feel warm inside. If shepherds are important to God, then we are important, too. God loves the common people, & God loves us!
B. Now turn to another very familiar passage in Matthew 2, beginning with
vs. 1. (READ Matt 2:1-12)
The story of the wise men is also a story of love & worship & adoration. They represent the aristocracy of the time - the rich, the educated, the learned. And they are valuable to God too.
Whenever we think of the shepherds & the wise men, we invariably see scenes of love & joy & worship.
C. But when we think of King Herod we see darkness & hatred & death. In verse 16 we read this terrible statement, "When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, & he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem & its vicinity, who were two years old & under."
Why do people react like Herod did? Why are some people filled with love & happiness, while others are filled with darkness & despair?
I think we can learn something about that as we look again at what these Scriptures tell us about the shepherds & the wise men & Herod. Maybe through it all Christmas will mean even more to us.
I. GOD CAN WORK WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE PREPARED TO RECEIVE HIS MESSAGE
First of all, I think that God chose to announce to the shepherds & the wise men the wonderful news of the coming of Jesus because they were prepared for that event. Somehow the soil of their souls had been plowed & made ready for the planting of that glorious news.
A. Who understood the idea of sacrifice better than shepherds? Do you realize how close Bethlehem is to Jerusalem? They are just a few miles apart, separated only by some hills on which shepherds raised their sheep.
ILL. History tells us that many of the sheep raised on those hills between Jerusalem & Bethlehem were raised specifically to be used as sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem. You see, once a year every Jewish family was supposed to come to Jerusalem & offer sacrifices in the Temple for their sins. And the animal that they sacrificed was generally a lamb.
They didn’t bring a sacrificial lamb along on the long journey from their homes to Jerusalem. Instead, they waited until they got to Jerusalem & then bought a lamb there to use as a sacrifice.
So these shepherds knew about sacrifice. They spent their lives on the hills outside of Bethlehem watching little lambs born. Watching them grow to maturity & realizing that someday a priest would come & buy them & take them back to the temple to offer as sacrifices for the sins of the people.
They realized that sin was so awful in God’s sight that it required the shedding of blood & the giving of life. So how appropriate that these shepherds should be the first to hear about the "lamb of God" who would be "the Savior, Christ the Lord."
They were ready for that. Their minds were uncomplicated. They were not great theologians. They didn’t think of reasons not to believe. They just believed. Their hearts & their souls were ready & when God spoke through angels they listened & accepted the news with great joy.
B. The wise men were also prepared. Evidently they had studied the great prophets of Israel. Undoubtedly they came from the area where Daniel, the prophet, had had such great influence & power. Did they have some of the prophecies of Daniel that we don’t know anything about today? I don’t know.
But somehow, they were waiting & hoping. And when they saw that bright light, that star shining, they knew it meant something special. They recalled all of the things they had learned & they were ready to make their journey, because they knew the star meant that somewhere a king had been born & they wanted to worship Him. They were prepared & ready for Christmas.