Friday, December 24

Shepherds Keeping Watch Over Their Flocks At Night...

Plays and films, as well as popular Christmas songs and carols, portray the angels singing praises to God as the shepherds are watching their flocks at night. In this entry of "The Truth," we will examine the role that the shepherds, who were outside of Bethlehem in the fields, played in the Christmas account. (NIV used for references. Photo credit to: Godward Thoughts)

The shepherds are not mentioned in Matthew's gospel, but their account can be found in Luke 2:8-20. Let us take a look at the text, "And there shepherds living out the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.' 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.'" (Luke 2:11-15)

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (Luke 2:16-20)

Essentially, there were shepherds - we are not told how many - watching their flocks at night. Suddenly an angel appeared and declared to them that the Messiah had been born that very night in Bethlehem. After the angel had said this, "a heavenly host," a multitude of angels, appeared and began to praise God. When the angels had gone into heaven, the shepherds left the fields and went into Bethlehem, where they found Joseph, Mary... and the Messiah, Jesus.

The text does not reveal how the shepherds found the baby, in regards to whether they had seen a star. All that the angel had told them was, "You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." There may have been several in Bethlehem, but there was most likely only one with a baby lying in it - and the crying of the newborn probably aided in narrowing their search.

It is interesting that shepherds would be spoken to, considering the many parallels between Christ and Shepherds all throughout the Bible. For example, Psalm 23:1-4 likens God unto a Shepherd. "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshed my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

Psalm 80:1 also likens Him unto a Shepherd, "Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us," and again in Isaiah 40:11, "He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." (Also in Isaiah 44:28)

Here we find a situation in which what were considered lowly shepherds are told about the birth of the Savior of all mankind. What picture does this paint for us, to this day, more than 2000 years later? It shows us that, though we may be lowly in rank, Christ made himself lower than all, to sacrifice himself for us. Philippians 2:7, "rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!"

Think on the following, found in Hebrews 2:6-9, "But there is a place where someone has testified: 'What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.' [From Psalm 22:22] In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."

Jesus made himself a lowly servant while on Earth, so that by accepting him as Lord and Savior, and believing that he died and rose again, that we would be saved. (Along with asking for forgiveness of sins) Now, Luke says nothing more about these shepherds, but we can tell from the text that their visit certainly impacted Mary, who "treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)

I had mentioned Christ being likened unto a Shepherd. Let us take a look at John 10:7-15, at the words of Christ. Think on his words, and ponder them in your heart. "Therefore Jesus said again, 'Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'"

"'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep.'" (John 10:11-15)

What about us? Consider the following, from 1st Peter 5:2-4, "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you; but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

Though that particular passage was addressed to the elders in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, (1st Peter 1:1) it can be applied to now only the pastors of present-day, but to each individual. We are commissioned to spread the truth of Christianity, but be certain to do so in a correct manner, not an arrogant fashion.

The shepherds, the lowly servants, were told by the heavenly messengers that the Messiah, the Savior of the World, was born. They came to the manger, where they worshiped the king, the Creator of the Universe incarnate, the Messiah. The Savior of Humanity was born in a small town, his birth heralded by angels to lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night, just outside of Bethlehem.

Be safe wherever and whomever you may be, take care, and may God bless you. Troy Hillman

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