Summary: If we do not value people’s souls, we will not go out looking for them. And if we do not go looking, then we cannot fulfill our purpose … which is to bring people into a right relationship with God. And if we do not fulfill our purpose, then what good are we to God?
Imagine you’re God and you want to announce the most amazing, incredible, joyous news ever … an event that will literally change the course of history … the birth of your only Son, Jesus Christ … the birth of the One who will be the Savior of the whole world … the One for whom the Nation of Israel has been waiting and hoping and praying for for hundreds of year. Finally, the moment has come. He has arrived. Who do you announce it to? Who do you invite to come and see this miraculous event?
When a child is born to a member of the British royalty … for instance, when Kate Middleton and Prince William had any one of their three children … they didn’t send a messenger down to the docks to break the news to the longshore men and fishmonger first. They didn’t issue personal invitations to the cab drivers of London to come visit Kate and the newest arrival to Windsor Castle. I’m guessing that if any announcements or invitations were sent out, they were printed on gold leaf and hand-delivered to political leaders and foreign heads of state, don’t you?
The point is that you would expect an event like the birth of Jesus to be announced to the most important people in the nation. Political leaders … kings, governors, magistrates … even Caesar … might be invited to come and pay homage to this future leader of the world. You would think that all the religious leaders …. Priests, rabbis, synagogue officials, the head of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin … would have been invited to worship their long-anticipated Messiah. Military leaders … wealthy merchants … men and women of standing and distinction … the news media. Nope!
Who gets a personal invite? A few poor shepherds … social and religious outcasts. Why? Why would God do this? Why would He send His angels to announce the birth of His Son to these shepherds? Invite them and only them to come and see the Miracle of the Ages, Christ Jesus?
Where the shepherds especially pious? Unusually holy? In spite of the fact that they couldn’t participate in organized religion, were they just outstanding believers in God? It’s doubtful. Although Luke does tell us that they believed what the angels said and did what the angels told them to do, there’s nothing in the text or the Gospels to indicate that they were more religious than anyone else.
Were they perhaps expecting this? Were they looking for God to visit them? Could they have been anticipating this in any way? Hardly. In fact, if I were a shepherd, I would no doubt be convinced that God had no idea who I even was. I wasn’t allowed to sacrifice at the Temple. I was too busy tending sheep 24/7 to attend any religious festivals. Didn’t go to the synagogue very often and when I did I wasn’t made to feel very welcome. My deepest theological discussions were confined to other shepherds. If God even knew I existed, I doubt that He would have thought very much of me or about me.
Which is exactly why I think God announced the birth of His Son, Jesus, to the shepherds first. He wanted to show the world that His love does not discriminate on the basis of class, wealth, or social standing. He does not respect kings or princes more than hourly laborers. He does not value priests or pastors more than He does the people in the pews. God does not show favoritism. He does not give preferential treatment to one group of people over another. His love is available to all on the same basis: faith in Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world” … the world and everyone in it … “that He gave His only Son, so that” … who? “So that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus didn’t come to be the savior of the political and social and religious elite. Jesus didn’t come to be the savior of kings and governors, popes and priests. Jesus came to be the Savior of the world and everyone in it, including lowly, despised outcasts like the shepherds. He chose the shepherds as a sign that He doesn’t discriminate on the basis of intelligence, education, religious training, wealth, profession, political power, social standing or any of the other qualities that humans use to judge each other. His love is offered indiscriminately to anyone who will repent and believe … anyone who will trust in Him as their Savior.
I think the shepherds’ response validated God’s reason for choosing them. They left the manger “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20). No one told them to do it. Jesus didn’t stand up and command them to go out and share the good news of His arrival. They were not the religious leaders who would question and challenge and debate Jesus, demanding proof of His claims. They were simple people who were willing to simply believe what God told them and to simply do what God commanded them to do. When they heard the news, they didn’t seek the religious professionals to get a second opinion. They simply accepted what the angels told them. When they were invited to visit Bethlehem to see the newborn Messiah, they didn’t worry about who was going to watch their sheep. They didn’t get bogged down in debates about how they were going to find one small baby in such a large town. They simply obeyed and went … and who they saw was “Immanuel” … “God With Us.” God loved us … all His children … including shepherds … so much that He put on flesh and became one of us.