“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and the were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you, You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it (him), they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” Luke 2:8-20
The good tidings of great joy!
The announcement of the most important birth in the history of the world came to shepherds abiding in the fields outside of Bethlehem. Shepherds! Most probably the least influential people of that day. Most were outcasts. They were the lower class of society. They worked on the Sabbath!!! No one was to work on the Sabbath; it was against Jewish law. Because they could not keep the Jewish laws, they were considered unclean. But, their profession was essential to the Jews. The people needed sheep to bring to the temple for the sacrifices.
John MacArthur notes that Rabbinic teaching “required that flocks be kept only in wilderness areas.” (http://www.gty.org/resources) Bethlehem is located about six miles from Jerusalem. The area between Jerusalem and Bethlehem would have been purposely used to keep the sheep for sacrificing. The sheep would be close enough to be available but not so close as to break Rabbinic laws.
These particular shepherds may have been caring for the sheep that would used as sacrifices. If they were in charge of shepherding the sheep to be used in the temple, they may well have believed in God. They would have been aware of the need for a quarter of a million animals killed during Passover. They had probably heard the priest speak of a day when there would be no more sacrifices. A day when their Messiah would be with them. Immanuel. God with us was their hope. Maybe they heard discussions of what Yahweh had told the prophets concerning the coming of this one who would be their shepherd. I can imagine them re-tell stories they had heard about David and his shepherding skills. Yes, I believe because of their actions when they heard the good news, they believed in the true and living God.
If we believe in the true and living God, can the world tell by our actions?
They could have been devout righteous men who were looking for the Messiah to come. MacArthur writes, “How interesting that the announcement of the final and full sacrifice, the Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world, the Savior of the world, was made to shepherds, who very likely took care of sheep who were offered as pictures of that coming sacrifice.” (http://gty.org/resources)
When the angel appears, the shepherds were frightened just like we would be. But they believed the message given to them. We see that they “made haste.” (Luke 2:16) They didn’t want to miss this one who would be the Savior. Once they saw the baby, they didn’t just go on back to the fields and forget about it. “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” (verse 17) They did not keep it to themselves. They felt great joy and they spread their excitement. “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds,” (verse 18)
We are separated by 2000 years from Jesus’ birth. The story has become so familiar to us that we lose the excitement that the shepherds felt. This same Jesus who was born in a stable told us in His love letter to us that he will return. The wonder of Jesus birth and the anticipation of His return is “good news”. Ask the Lord God to revive the wonder and excitement of His story this Christmas. Then go out and tell someone the good news that we have a Savior who came as a baby born in a stable, announced to the least of society, and given to a young couple of humble means. He has come to bring us forgiveness of our sins and an eternal home in heaven with Him.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” John 3:16
Angels We Have Heard on High