Summary: What significance do the shepherds of Bethlehem have to us today?
Shepherds Watched The Sheep By Night
Sunday, December 9, 2012
By Rev. James May
Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Luke 2:9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
Luke 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Luke 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
Luke 2:16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
Luke 2:17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
Luke 2:18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
The hills of Bethlehem were quiet on this night. Shepherds had already settled the flocks and had prepared for a long vigil until the sun would rise on a new day and then they would lead the sheep to greener pastures. Sheep tend to eat every single blade of grass and wipe an area clean of food in a short period of time so the shepherd had to continually find new pastures.
I’m reminded of Psalms 23:1-2 where David said, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters." I’m also reminded of the command that God had given the Israelites in the wilderness that they could only gather enough of the Bread of Heaven, called manna, for just one day at a time. They had to get up every day and search for their sustenance for that day, but God always provided something fresh and new every morning.
Our Great Shepherd still does the same for us! Lamentations 3:22-23, "It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness." Several times in the New Testament we are instructed to “take no thought for tomorrow, what you shall eat, or what shall you wear”, for God will provide all your needs. The Shepherd of our souls does not ignore His flock, but leads us every day into green pastures where we will receive his provisions for the day.
The shepherds on the hillsides surrounding Bethlehem had a very special flock to care for. According to Jewish history and tradition, these were flocks that were destined to provide the lambs that would be used for sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem.
The Jewish law required that every household had to sacrifice a lamb at Passover time. This amounted to a very large number of lambs. The Law also dictated that each lamb had to be without blemish. In order for that many unblemished lambs to be available, huge flocks of sheep had to be carefully monitored and raised according to strict standards. This, of course, was not left to chance, but the priests of the temple established a method for making sure the Law was complied with and that there would be a sufficient supply of unblemished lambs.
As with most things that man becomes involved in, this whole system of raising and providing lambs for sacrifice in the temple on Passover became a very corrupt business from which the priests and the temple would gain much wealth and have power over the people beyond what God had designed from the beginning.
If a family brought their own lamb to sacrifice, it had to be inspected by one of the Temple priests and the chances were high that it would be rejected as having some blemish. There was probably some cost incurred in having a priest do this inspection to begin with. Then, if the lamb was rejected, there was no choice but to buy a lamb from the Temple itself, one that had been pre-inspected and preapproved for sacrifice. These lambs, naturally, commanded a high price. After all, when you have the only lambs that qualify, and God’s judgment for the sin of your whole family hangs in the balance, what price would you pay for a chance to be forgiven?