RPM, Volume 17, Number 45, November 1 to November 7, 2015

Jesus' Life Changing Birth

Luke 2:15-20

By D. Marion Clark


Imagine with me a scene in heaven. Michael the archangel is giving another assignment to Gabriel to deliver another message to the human creatures.

Michael: Gabriel, God has another message for you to deliver to the human creatures.

Gabriel: Very good. What is it?

Michael: You are to announce the birth of the Messiah.

Gabriel: Great! I am honored to receive such a mission. Is it to be private like the others?

Michael: Oh no. You are to make it outside to a group of humans. And, not only that, but you will be accompanied by an army division of fellow angels.

Gabriel: Wonderful! That is how an announcement for the Son of God should be carried out. To whom will I be speaking — priests? royalty? Pharisees? I've noticed how diligent they are in obeying the Law.

Michael: Actually, none of them. You are to speak to a small group of shepherds while they are out in the fields.

Gabriel: Excuse me? Shepherds? Have I missed something here? I do like to consider myself somewhat of a sociologist. Are you aware that shepherds are on the low end of the social pole in Palestine these days?

Michael: That has been considered.

Gabriel: Has it been considered that their testimony would have little credibility since they are not even allowed to give legal testimony in court?

Michael: Oh yes. That's all been thought of.

Gabriel: Well, who am I to question God? I don't want to be struck mute like Zechariah. I'll get on it right away.

And you know the rest of the story, how the angel did appear to the shepherds with the good news of the Messiah's birth. We considered that message last Sunday. This morning let us see what we can learn from these shepherds.


15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

Give the shepherds credit here. I think I would be too overwhelmed to say or do anything after a visit like that. An army of angels appears out of nowhere surrounding them and booming forth exaltation to God, and then, as suddenly as they came, either disappearing or rising up into the sky — however it happened, my nerves would have been shot! My focus would have been on the angels. "Did you see that? Did you see that?"

And yet, these men think about the message. "What message?" I would have asked.

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

The birth of the Messiah has taken place. That is the message. Note also who they name as the messenger: which the Lord has told us about. Why do they say "the Lord" rather than "the angel"? Remember that I explained last Sunday that, for a Jew, standing in the presence of an angel was the equivalent of standing in the presence of God? The same dynamic is involved. Hearing from the messenger of the Lord is equivalent to hearing from the Lord. Indeed, in the Old Testament record of visitation by angels the people visited or the writer will interchange "the Lord" with the angel or angels. The visit of three angels with Abraham in Genesis 18 is a case in point. The Lord and the three angels are referred to interchangeably so that at one time they speak and at another "the Lord" speaks. This interchange occurs because the angels, one, represent the presence of God, and, two, they speak only the words of God, so that what they say is truly what the Lord says.

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

Here is the next thing to give these shepherds credit for — they go. They do not delay visiting the infant. How did they find him? Did they call out, "Anybody seen a new baby?" Actually, they may have. Bethlehem, even with the census, would have been a small town and it would not have been difficult to find out what they needed to know by asking a few questions. Not many other babies, if any, would have been born that particular moment.

17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Interestingly enough, Luke does not comment on what the shepherds actually did upon seeing the baby. It is what they did afterwards that he is interested in. They spread the word. We don't know to whom, supposedly whoever they happened to come in contact with. Most likely their contacts were with the "common" people. The people who hear are "amazed," but Luke records no action on their part.

We will not this time reflect on Mary's reaction to what the shepherds had said, though that is worthwhile sometime to think about. Note the last remarks about the shepherds.

20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

We really do not know anything about these shepherds — whether they were especially religious or not. But what we do know is the impact of the angels' visit and then the shepherds' own visit to see the Savior. They are filled with praise for God. They are not the same men they were a few hours previously. These men who were blue collar laborers, who received little respect in their society, became the evangelists for the Messiah and the devoted worshippers of God.


What then can we learn from these shepherds? This first lesson may seem simplistic, and actually it is. The shepherds acted before they contemplated. They had been given a startling message about the birth of the Messiah who was described as a Savior and as the Lord. I daresay that if the same message had been delivered to the priests and scribes that their first response would have been to debate the meaning of the message. "What does he mean calling the Messiah 'Lord'?" "The Messiah is supposed to appear suddenly, not as a baby." "A manger? That can't be right."

Indeed, the simplicity of the Christmas story is a major stumbling block for many. The history of the world turns on the birth of a peasant baby. The salvation of hundreds of millions of people throughout history lies in a manger. Yeah, right. Let's get real.

My view of nativity pageants has changed over the years. I considered them at best to be cute, but most of the time embarrassing by the amateurish way of presenting the birth of our Lord. I think now our simple attempts to present the Lord's birth may be more on target than any sophisticated productions. The birth of Christ, the glorious Son of God, was an embarrassingly simple, homely affair. And the first visitors, the specially chosen band of men to whom the glorious angels brought the message, were country bumpkins who no doubt had no idea how to act before this baby and certainly no eloquence in declaring the news of his birth. They just acted on what they were told, and then on what they had seen, which by the way simply would have been an ordinary peasant baby lying in a manger.

Is the nativity foolishness? Of course it is. A virgin birth, angels who appear to shepherds, mysterious magi and an escape to Egypt — it is the stuff of myths and a poor one at that. And to believe that what matters is that it actually happened, rather than finding significance behind the story, well then, that it is the height of folly.

Or it is the height of mystery and of a wisdom far beyond man's comprehension. Would it not be like God to make what seems like a children's story be the means of the world's redemption? Sometimes our sophistication dulls our wits so that we unable to scale the heights of God's wisdom in ways that children and the simple minded can who believe what they are told.

Sometimes what we need to do is what Michael Card says well in his song about the incarnation: "Give up on your pondering, and fall down on your knees." Sometimes the key to finding truth is through humble action — a simple prayer, taking what one hears at face value, attending that Bible study or worship service, opening up one's heart to another.

The second lesson we can learn is that the historicity of Jesus' birth is important. Have you picked yet on the repeated references to that? 15 …the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 17 … they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

If we had never been told how the circumstances of Jesus' birth, then how he was born might not matter. But we have been told and the question for us is whether we take the Lord at his word. Just as the shepherds accepted the word of the angel as the word of the Lord, so ought we to take the word of Scripture as the word of the Lord and believe what has been told. Luke makes the point that what the shepherds saw was exactly what the angel had told them they would see. How then can we say that it does not matter if the Christmas story is true? Is Luke playing with us? Is it not clear that Luke is emphasizing that the Christmas story occurred just as it has been told and that we ought to believe?

There is another lesson to learn from the shepherds. They did some telling of their own.

17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

That word "spread" is the exact Greek word used in verse 15 for "told." Luke is saying that the shepherds took on the role of the angel of making known the birth of the Lord. They did not walk back to their field discussing it among themselves. They let the word out.

Now, you know the lesson here. Tell the news yourselves. Tell it! Here is a question. Could someone, by the Christmas cards and messages you send, or by the decorations in your home, tell that you actually believe the Christmas story? There are two houses on one block near my home. One has a lighted scene of the nativity; another has the nativity and Santa Claus and everything else it can cram in the yard. Which house is telling the good news?

This is not a sermon railing against Christmas decorations. I actually like a lot of the tacky decorations. I just want you to think: have you considered how you as individuals and as a family can be messengers of the good news, especially at Christmas time? Have you considered how to get the message across that the Savior has indeed come to earth?

Those of you with young kids, how about a birthday party for Jesus and invite the neighborhood kids? Have you made use of our Live Nativity? You could do what Bob Greninger use to do and is still being done. He would bring international guests to the nativity, then take them home and discuss what the Christmas story is about. Did you in your Christmas cards and letter express your joy and faith in Christ's birth? What gifts do you exchange with your neighbors or fellow workers? Have you given Christian books or tapes or music? There are many ideas, but you must first get into the mindset that you will be a messenger of the Lord. The shepherds are proof that you don't have to be an angel.

In fact, they are proof that God can and does work through anybody. God could hardly have chosen more unlikely candidates to be his messengers. Being on the bottom of the social ladder, they had no influence. My goodness, their testimony was not even accepted in court, they had such a bad reputation. They were uneducated and certainly not socially cultivated. No education, no preaching skills, no credentials — and yet God chose them to be his first evangelists. Were they successful? We don't know. All we know is that they were obedient.

Finally we can learn from what did God did to the shepherds. No doubt about it, these were changed men. Maybe they were already religious men; maybe they were good moral men; but what they had now were hearts that took delight in God and filled with zeal to tell others about the Messiah.

If you learn anything from the shepherds, I want you to learn that the essence of being a Christian is not becoming a moral person. Don't get me wrong. A Christian ought to be moral, at least more moral than when without Christ. But what sets a Christian apart from the merely religious person is a heart filled with joy in the glory of God and a zeal for others to know that joy.

After the shepherds did their work of evangelism they returned praising and rejoicing in God. They did not punch in their time cards glad to get that work done with; nor did they return proud of themselves for doing their work and expecting a little praise from God. No, their minds were not upon themselves but upon their glorious God.

You see, joy is at the bottom of the Christian faith. When all is said and done we worship and serve our God because he is so wonderful. What God is like this: A God holy and just, who bears wrath against our wickedness and holds us accountable for our sin; a God who then shows such unexplainable mercy that through the love he bears for us, he plunges the depth of humility and pain to save us; a God who glories in redeeming hopeless creatures like ourselves; a God whose will is not so much that everyone behaves himself, but that we all take eternal delight in him.

The name Jonathan Edwards conjures up images of a fiery preacher who focused on the wrath of God. Have you ever heard his testimony? He was a preacher's kid and grew up with the typical tension of being religious and yet with a cold view of living for God. Time and again he would recommit himself to be obedient to God and, as he said did a rather good job of being religious.

I was then very much affected for many months, and concerned about the things of religion, and my soul's salvation; and was abundant in duties. I used to pray five times a day in secret, and to spend much time in religious talk with other boys; and used to meet with them to pray together. I experienced I know not what kind of delight in religion… My affections seemed to be lively and easily moved, and I seemed to be in my element when engaged in religious duties. And I am ready to think, many are deceived with such affections, and such a kind of delight as I then had in religion, and mistake it for grace.

What he eventually came to discover was the delight in God.

The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, I Tim. 1:17. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever, Amen. As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before…

From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ. and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him…

Learn what the shepherds learned, what Jonathan Edwards learn. Learn the delight, the joy in God that that little baby in the manger brings to all who believe in him.

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