Lessons From The Shepherds
* It was during the time when the Roman Empire had stretched her tentacles as far as possible to even absorb the country of Judah when Caesar Augustus decided to take a “census” of the people under his control. He wanted them counted, registered, and by the way, they were to pay taxes for being in this great Empire. The manner in which this was to happen in a little different than what we know today in the USA.
* Every ten years in all its wisdom, the census bureau sends out people to record the pertinent information of all citizens in this nation. Caesar had a better idea. Instead of sending government people out to count, he required every person to return to the city of their heritage and there to take care of this business.
* In Nazareth of Judea (a territory now in the Roman Empire) lived Joseph of the tribe of David whose town was Bethlehem. He was committed to a woman named Mary. The couple had not yet married when through some unusual events Mary discovered that she was expecting a baby. First, this was unusual because the couple had kept their relationship free from immorality. It was also unusual because both of them had seen visions from God indicating this baby would be very special indeed.
* In response to the registration mandate, Joseph loaded up his new bride (now late in her pregnancy) on a donkey for the almost 100 mile trip down to Bethlehem. The trip was planned so quickly and there were so many people in town that the motels were all filled. Finally one hotel manager seeing Mary, 9 months pregnant, fatigued from the journey, and possibly have contractions, offered his barn for shelter and rest. Joseph probably cleaned up the stable and feeding trough to prepare for the baby.
* Giving birth to her boy, Mary wrapped him as warmly as she could in some cloths & laid him in the feeding trough. As the story continues, we know that this baby was Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man born in Bethlehem of Judea.
* The scene changes. Every Father is proud of His Son & God expresses, His own way, & His feelings about Jesus.
* It happened in the hill country nearby. Shepherds were just getting their settled down on what, at least to this point, was a normal starlit night. All of a sudden it was daylight in the middle of a dark night. The light was shining everywhere and the shepherds were terrified. In the midst of the light they saw what they would call an angel. Then the angel spoke and said, “Don’t be afraid, I have good news for you.” Just like everyone else, the shepherd needed a little good news so they listened intently. The angel continued, “A baby has been born over in Bethlehem in a barn and this baby is the Savior which you have been looking for. So if you’ll go look, you will find him in a feeding trough wrapped in poor man’s clothes.” As if that wasn’t enough, this one angel was now joined by untold other angels who were singing, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth Peace to men.” The song rose to a crescendo until just as quickly as the angel appeared they all disappeared and the quiet of the night replaced the singing of the angels.
* For me, it takes no imagination to think the shepherds, for a moment, sat there in silence. Maybe they were looking and hoping the angels would come back and sing again.
* Then the shepherds begin to talk among themselves. “Wow that was great!” But what exactly was it that the angel had said? A baby? In Bethlehem? In a barn? And did he say the baby was the savior? Maybe we should go and check this out. And they did go, they did check it out, and guess what? It did check out, every bit of it. The baby, the barn, the clothes, everything the angel had said. The shepherd returned to their lives, but they returned changed men. Now, they had a story to tell about this special baby called by the angels, “savior.” They also found a God to praise. Sounds to me like they became men of faith after meeting Jesus.
* What a story! It’s the true, real, authentic Christmas story and it bears our review today. This morning I want to look at and learn from the shepherds. We can discern some interesting lessons from them. I’ll divide our thinking into two main thoughts; 1) Their Response and 2) The Results.
1. Their Response – Can you put yourself in the place of those shepherds and understand their state of mind? All in all things like this didn’t happen every night. In fact, they probably were “wondering” if it had really happened this time. I applaud the shepherds for their response.
a. Action – They said, “Let’s go.” Were they Baptist, they might have said, “This sounds good, but let’s pray about what we should do.” When we read about God speaking, as a general rule, He calls us to go and do something. It is true that He desires for us to “be” before we “do”, but today there are too many that use this ‘be’ for ‘being’ the wrong thing. The greatest call to “be” is to “be like Jesus” and Jesus was nothing if not a man of action. He began the day with prayer and ended the day “doing.” The shepherds responded to the message of God to go. By the way, they went “straight”, “quickly”, “immediately”, or “without deviation” to Bethlehem. They took action.
b. Aim – As I just mentioned, they went straight to Bethlehem. Shepherds are not known to be complex people, but rather very pragmatic. Their logic said to head straight for the goal, the aim. I suggest to you that in the very birth of Jesus we are taught to have purpose, direction, and an aim for our lives (as well as in the life of our church). Everything God does and Jesus did is done with intentionality, they have a reason or purpose for it. The shepherds demonstrate the same directedness by simply following the instructions. God expects us to follow His directions.
c. Acknowledgement – Listen to the words of the shepherds, “and see what has happened, which the Lord made known to us.” God has made it known to us and we want to know about it. They knew that God had given them the word of something special.
==> I’ll submit that this response (acknowledgment) is the first step toward a proper response. Here’s why; once you do this, you discover your aim and decide to take action.
==> Just as surely as the Angels were sent, so God sends His word today and He calls us to respond.
2. The Results – Allow me to make this as personal as possible. With every situation and set of circumstances you encounter, you are faced with a choice. It is our choices which make us who we are and what we are. Watch what happens with the Shepherds.
a. Discovery – The shepherds discovered everything exactly as the Angel had told them. They found Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the barn, the manger, and even the clothes just as the Angel described. The truth is this; when we follow God’s word, in detail, the discovery will always be the same; God is as good as His word. The shepherds found the baby in the manger and today you can find that same baby except that now He’s no longer a baby. Today, He is your hope, your help, your strength, and yes, He is your any possibility of joy and peace. Jesus, the baby in the manger became Jesus, the crucified Son of God, who became Jesus, the Resurrected Lord of Glory, who forgives sin, redeemed lives, grants eternity, provides for need, and protects forever. This morning, the greatest discovery you can make is that this Jesus is everything the Bible and the Father says He is.
b. Decision – Although the word “decision” does not appear in the scripture passage, it is obvious that the shepherds were convinced that this baby was indeed the savior of the world. The scripture says that “after seeing the sights, they reported the message they had been told.” Faced with the decision, they were convinced that Jesus was indeed the one for whom the entirety of Judah had been waiting. Here is the payoff; every person who encounters Jesus is faced with a decision. Just like you. What will you do?
c. Devotion – Have you ever considered how devoted the shepherds were? Look at verse 20. There became devoted enough to glorify and praise God. They did this “along their way”, not just in church. Their lives were changed forever. Do you know what you and I are devoted to? Whatever we glorify and praise with our lives.