Lessons From Characters of Advent/CHRIStmas…Pt 2
“CHRISTmas According to the Shepherds – God’s Grace is for All!”
Excerpted from “The Real Shepherds of Bethlehem” by Nick Harris (http://www.arielministries.org/ariel/roar_main_december2008.html)
On the first Christmas night, there were shepherds tending huge flocks of sheep in the fields near the village of Bethlehem. This was odd since in those days it was unusual for shepherds to tend large flocks near towns and villages. The reason? The odors of very large flocks fouled the air so badly that people could not breathe. So large flocks were confined to areas far from the places where the general populace resided.
Bethlehem, however, was an exception. For thirty days, once a year, an enormous flock of one-year-old lambs grazed near Bethlehem, and that time of year was the thirty days prior to Passover. The sheep in that particular location belonged to the High Priest/his family…every lamb selected and declared by the priests as unblemished and set apart to be sacrificed in the Temple or eaten as Passover lambs. The sizes of these flocks required a huge host of shepherds working in shifts. Some watched while others slept.
Bethlehem, itself, was/is a very interesting place. In the time of Jesus it was picturesque. It sits on a high cliff and can be seen for miles in all directions.
The grazing fields where the Temple shepherds tended these flocks are in the valley south and east of the town beneath the cliff. In the middle of this pasture was a structure known as the MIGDAL EDER or “Tower of the Flock”…used by the priests who oversaw the shepherds. By remaining in the MIGDAL EDER the priests were able to keep themselves from becoming ritually defiled.
The shepherds, on the other hand, in their defiled conditions, were not allowed to go to the Temple, offer sacrifices, or go to the synagogues. Any religious experience they might enjoy had to be between himself and God. But to a Jew of that time and especially the Temple authorities the idea of worshipping God apart from the Temple was disgusting.
So, for all these reasons, even the most pious shepherds were labeled unclean, and, according to the authorities, could not enter the presence of God. However, it was these unclean, ritually contaminated shepherds of Bethlehem that would be the first persons God would invite to visit his Son.
Oh, the audacity of God! The Bethlehem shepherds were the last people that God should welcome into His Presence. Most people were sure God would send the “intellectual and spiritual giants” who were found in the Temple.
But God had a plan…even the least among us are invited to have a relationship with His son. None of us are excluded. We do not need to be theologians to enjoy this CHRISTmas relationship; we must simply be willing to come to Him as we are. Just as the Bethlehem shepherds did…
The Gospel According to the Shepherds
So often in the Christmas story, we focus on the main characters: Mary, Joseph, and of course, Jesus. But through the short account in Luke 2:8-20, we can learn from the shepherds four things that should make the top of our to-do list this and every Advent/CHRISTmas season and every day!
Keep in mind who the shepherds were in the world’s eyes and their intimate understanding regarding the perfect, unblemished Passover Lamb.
1) Believe (Faith over Fear) – Luke 2:8-14
The angel said, “Peace on earth among people with whom He is pleased.” Who is that? It’s those who respond to God’s gift through faith. Scripture says, “For by grace you are saved, through faith….”
Faith means you say yes to all that God did through Christ. Yes, he is the Savior of the world. Yes, he came to die for my sins. Yes, through him I find forgiveness and new life. Yes, I want to follow Christ as Lord. Faith isn’t a spectator sport; it’s an active embracing of all that God has promised in Christ. The shepherds had a choice to make and they did just that…
2) Obey (Acting on their Faith) – Luke 2:15
The shepherds did exactly as they were told. Faith without obedience is no faith at all! Their obedience reinforced their Faith! Every step from the fields of Bethlehem where they watched over the Passover Lambs to the stable and manger in Bethlehem where they encountered the Perfect Passover Lamb was a step of faith until they saw Him!
3) Tell Others (Faith becomes Sight) – Luke 2:16-18)
Faith now became sight…they were the first to see The Son of God! What would they do with what they had been entrusted with? When the shepherds arrived in Bethlehem and saw the child lying in the feed trough, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” They weren’t preachers, teachers or missionaries, but that didn’t matter. They had heard and seen the Salvation for the whole world. What else could they do?
4) Experience (Worshiping God – Luke 2:20)
The shepherds were overwhelmed at what they saw. They experienced holy wonder and could do nothing less that worship and praise God.
Amidst all the activity, stop and treasure all these things. Ponder them in your heart. Engage in some holy wonder. Luke 2:19-20
Chuck Swindoll once penned his thoughts about the first humans to see Jesus as a baby. He has a unique perspective that was spawned by a visit that he and his wife took to the Holy Land a few years ago. Read Chuck’s experience in Israel and ponder its compelling impact on your own heart.
Cynthia and I were touring Israel with the ministry. As our motor coach passed through the Judean Wilderness, I spied some people living in tents and tending goats. “Bedouins,” our guide sneered. “Have you ever met one?” I asked. I’ll never forget his answer: “Why in the world would I want to do that? They’re Bedouins.”
As we drove on, it struck me that the Bible has another name for Bedouins ― shepherds.
Contrary to most Christmas pageants, these shepherds weren’t clean people in terrycloth robes and soft, rubber sandals. They were nobodies nobody cared to know―society’s leftovers who looked after stinking animals. Since that day, I’ve never read Luke’s gospel the same way:
There were shepherds staying in the fields . . . Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared . . . “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior ― yes, the Messiah, the Lord ― has been born today in Bethlehem!” (Luke 2:8-11).
The shepherds were stunned! Not just because they were terrified, but because the Lord had proclaimed His message “to all people.” Even them. In light of God’s boundless grace, they felt compelled to go to Jesus and exclaimed, “’Let’s go to Bethlehem!’” (Luke 2:15). But that wasn’t their only response: “After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened: (Luke 2:17).
They were compelled to go to Jesus, and then having met Him, they were compelled to make Him known.
Chuck went on to say, “Having met Jesus, I am continuously compelled to make Him known. His grace compels me! And look at how His grace makes a difference: Cheryl wrote…
I am just a nobody single mom who works overnight in a grocery store stocking shelves. This is when I listen to IFL podcasts. The messages have blessed me and made me feel strong when I have felt so very weak from the challenges of life.
Cheryl is one of thousands and there are millions more who need to hear that God’s Word is for “all people.” When they do, they will be compelled to go to Jesus, and having met Him, they will be compelled to make Him known.
Make it a great day and God bless in Christ!
Love and Lordship…Food for Thought – We have heard God’s message! We have been compelled to go to Jesus, and having met Him, we’re compelled to make Him known! This December, and every day, let’s remember those who feel like Bedouins…like nobodies nobody cares to know. And together ― like those first lowly shepherds ― let’s proclaim the Good News: God’s grace is for all!
Love and Lordship…Action Item(s) – Here are ways to engage in holy wonder…1) Stop in the middle of your shopping just to read the CHRISTmas story. 2) Gather your children or friends around a Nativity scene each night and unwrap a different piece and talk about the role it plays in the Advent and CHRISTmas story. 3) Wake up early one morning (or every morning) and find a place you can watch the sun rise as you meditate on Luke 1:76-79