Summary: The shepherds and the magi demonstrate the kind of worship that is pleasing to God.
Beginnings are really important. Just think about how many great literary works are known by their opening words. Let’s see if you can identify a few of them:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” [A Tale of Two Cities]
“All children, except one, grow up.” [Peter Pan]
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” [Pride and Prejudice]
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” [1984}
“I am Sam. Sam I am” [Green Eggs and Ham]
And good filmmakers understand the importance of grabbing our attention with the opening scene. From my perspective, the opening scenes in most of the James Bond movies best illustrate how the opening sequence in the movie can have us on the edge of our seats, wanting more.
And as we’ve seen for the last couple of weeks, the beginnings of Jesus life set the stage for much of His earthly ministry. So far, we’ve looked at His genealogy in Matthew’s gospel and the accounts of how Mary and Joseph reacted to the news that God was going to entrust them with His Son. This week, we’ll look at two more accounts that record some of the events associated with Jesus’ birth. Let’s begin in Luke chapter 2. I’ll begin reading in verse 8 and you can follow along as I read.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)
Once again, even if we didn’t know we were reading from Luke’s gospel account, we could guess that this passage was from Luke since he focuses on the lowly shepherds and the physical birth of Jesus. In a moment, we’re going to see what we can learn from the reaction of the shepherds to the birth of Jesus, but first let’s read a related account from Matthew’s gospel:
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.