“Reactions to Christ’s Birth” series: (post #3)
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12. N.K.J.V.)
Some of the greatest characters from the Old Testament spent time shepherding. The list includes Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Amos. Even more impressive is the fact that in passages such as Genesis 49:24, Psalm 23:1-4, Psalm 80:1, Isaiah 40:11, and Ezekiel 34:31 God labels Himself as a Shepherd.
By the time of Christ’s birth, however, the minds of Israel’s religious elite had become so radically different from God’s that shepherds were considered the riffraff of society. First, shepherds were considered ignorant because they had never been schooled in Jewish law. Second, they were considered ceremonially unclean because the nature of their work required them to be around manure and (sometimes) dead carcasses. Third, they were considered unfaithful because they couldn’t leave their flocks long enough to perform all the prescribed rituals to achieve ceremonial cleanness. For these reasons, they weren’t even allowed to enter the Jewish sections of the Temple complex. As a matter of fact, their reputations were so bad that their testimonies weren’t even admissible in court.
So, when God the Father was ready to announce to the world that God the Son had been born in Bethlehem, who were the first people to hear that message? A group of shepherds, of course. It was as if God was saying to the Jewish religious elite, “You people might not think much of shepherds, but they still hold a very special place in My heart.”
Interestingly, the Greek word that is used in reference to the angel’s message is euagelizomai. This is the verb form of euangelistes, the noun from which we get the English word “evangelist.” Just as the noun refers to “one who proclaims good tidings,” the verb means “to proclaim good tidings.” This same Greek verb gets translated in Matthew 11:5 as “have the gospel preached” (N.K.J.V.). When you understand all this, you can understand why commentator Herschel Hobbs wrote, “Actually he (the angel) said, “I evangelize you to a great joy.”
And how did those shepherds respond to that angelic announcement? As soon as the entire host of angels departed from them, the shepherds said, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15, N.K.J.V.). You’ll find no hesitation there. No debating. No doubting. They didn’t say, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see if this thing has come to pass.” Nope, they believed the good news and responded accordingly.
As I consider the shepherds and their reaction to the news of Christ’s birth, my mind goes to the lesson of 1 Corinthians 1:26. There, Paul says:
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. (N.L.T.)
Those shepherds who first heard the news of Christ’s birth certainly weren’t wise in the world’s eyes. Neither were they powerful or wealthy. And yet they not only became the first people to receive the news but also to deliver it. As Luke 2:17-18 tells us:
Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (N.K.J.V.)
Those last three words of that reference might well jump off the page at us. This incredible story, this message of salvation, this potentially soul-saving piece of good news wasn’t told by the priests or the scribes. Instead, it was told by the shepherds. Remember, these are the guys whose testimony isn’t even admissible in court! I mean, the news that a Savior has been born and is lying in an animal’s feeding trough in Bethlehem is unbelievable enough, but now it’s being told by men who are supposedly the most unreliable witnesses in that whole culture. God must have gotten a real kick out of that, right? And you know what? He gets just as much a kick out of us today when we share the good news about Jesus. In this way, we should all have a little “shepherd” in us, and it should come out anytime we are around someone who needs to hear the good news about the Savior.