Why Christmas II: Why Shepherds?

Why did God choose the first earthly messengers of the gospel to be shepherds? Shepherds were blue-collar farmhands, manual laborers, usually poor, and somewhat isolated by their trade. Once again we see the connection with the story that God is repeatedly telling: power through weakness, the mighty humbled, the humble lifted up.

But we need to add another side to the story: the reputation of shepherds in the Bible gives us a different perspective. In the Bible, shepherds are protectors, defenders of the weak and powerless. Israel’s heroes are all shepherds, men who need to be gentle and tender enough to care for little lambs, and strong and dangerous enough to take down lions and wolves. There is something fatherly, something husband-like in the way that shepherds care for, provide for, and protect their flock. This is who shepherds are.

Looking at this particular group of shepherds, and what they do when they receive a midnight visit from heaven, we should take note of four actions taken by the shepherds. This is what the shepherds do: they fear (v.9, 15); they hurry (v.16); they tell (v.17); and they worship (v.20).

First, the shepherds fear – in verse 9, they are simply afraid when the sky splits open and the night turns into the blinding glare of glory. But the angel immediately tells them I to be afraid – this is not judgment day, this is good news! And so the terrified, startled fear is replaced by godly fear, that holy respect for God’s word that is demonstrated by obedience – in verse 15, they quickly respond in faith to the Word that they’ve heard, and their fear of God is shown by their rushing off to Bethlehem.

Second, the shepherds hurry. Look at verse 16 – when they hear the message, and witness the praises of the heavenly host, they make haste to get to Bethlehem. This is another sign that they actually believe the angel’s word: they respond quickly. The point is, when God speaks, you listen, and when God tells you where to find something wonderful, you don’t mess around. When God speaks, run to the manger!

Third, the shepherds tell. They spread the message far and wide. See verses 17-18: after worshiping at the manger, they make a scene throughout the town, telling this amazing story to everyone. The shepherds don’t hide the light they’ve seen – they shine the glory out to everyone telling their tale with conviction and with power, and causing the town to stop in their tracks in amazement.

The fourth thing shepherds do is that shepherds worship. After they fear, after they hurry, after they tell, they return back to their sheep, glorifying and praising God. When they went back to work, they went as worshipers. Evangelism and worship are the natural results of an encounter with Jesus.

God is recruiting an army of worshipers, and the first to join up are not the ones you would expect. God brings heavenly worship out of herdsmen! At the beginning of the story, angels are sent with a message and a doxology, and at the end of the story, the angels are gone, but a new set of messengers are telling the story and singing God’s praise! The shepherds have become angels, messengers of heaven. Glory to God in the highest!

When God brings the gospel to us, we should want to become shepherd-angels, humble messengers who tell others what they’ve seen. You don’t have to be famous, well-dressed, important, or well-respected. Just act like a shepherd by telling the story of Jesus, and going about your work glorifying and praising God. This is the kind of messenger God uses, and this is why God chose shepherds: He was looking for simple people eager to obey by telling others and praising God.

Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 by CJ Bowen