Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why Shepherds?

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 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." 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!" So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 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. But Mary kept all these things and pondered [them] in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. 
Luke 2:8-20 NKJV

To many, these words from Luke are very familiar, yet I never tire from hearing or reading them. Of course, this story like the rest of the Bible, has much to say if we but look a little deeper. Today I want to share just a few thoughts on shepherds, and a possible reason that God made the decision to announce the coming of His Son to them rather than kings or rulers.

In that part of the world, in that culture, shepherds were considered to be the lowest of the low. It took no special talent nor education to be a shepherd, and their responsibilities were extremely simple ones. According to the Bible, a shepherd was expected to feed and protect the flock, (Ezekiel 34:2,12), and rescue them from any danger, (Amos 3:12). In ancient Egypt, shepherds were also considered to be unclean, and thus not allowed to live close by but rather made to dwell away from others.

"So it shall be, when Pharaoh calls you and says, 'What is your occupation?' "that you shall say, 'Your servants' occupation has been with livestock from our youth even till now, both we [and] also our fathers,' that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd [is] an abomination to the Egyptians."
Genesis 46:33-34 NKJV

Do you find it interesting as I do then, that some famous people in the Bible were shepherds? People like Joseph, Moses, and David? Of course, we can never forget that Jesus is referred to as a shepherd throughout the New Testament as well. However, even with all this to consider, I still often wondered why God chose to send the angels to announce the birth of His Son to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem?

As I studied this question I discovered something I didn't know before that might explain God's reasoning, and give us an answer. You recall that shepherds and their sheep were, as a general rule, made to dwell away from the general population. If you wanted to find them, they were out in the country someplace. Yet these particular shepherds were in the fields outside of Bethlehem, which is only a few miles from Jerusalem. Why so close? It is believed that these particular shepherds were tending to the flocks of sheep that were used for the temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. If that was the case, consider how John the Baptist refers to Jesus when he first sees Him.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:29 NKJV

I can't help but wonder if God wanted to tell the shepherds who were protecting the sacrificial sheep that the “Lamb of God” had been born and was in a manger just a couple of miles away? I couldn't help but notice too, that there was no hesitation on the part of the shepherds to leave their flock and run to Bethlehem to see what the Lord had made known to them.  Now that could certainly be a result of seeing and hearing angels, yet I can't help but wonder if their responsibilities towards a lamb that had wandered away from the flock had anything to do with their quick response.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, I hope we remember that He was born to die, so that we can live. It was His ultimate sacrifice which allows us to make the choice to accept Him as our Savior, and become one of His sheep which He will soon take home to spend eternity with Him.

If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to allow Jesus Christ to come into your heart, and accept the free gift of eternal life He has offered you, I urge you to do so right now. You can do that by simply praying this prayer and accepting the gift of eternal life God has offered you by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life to you. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

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