FIRST CHRISTMAS Series
  • We celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth each year at Christmas time. But what were the impressions, responses, and transformations of those involved in the very first Christmas? In this series we'll look at those first impressions, and in them, learn how we can and should respond to the reality that God in the Person of Jesus came to earth to bring transformation to human beings who respond to His love and grace.
2. The Shepherds' View (Luke 2:8-20)
  •  Shepherds were on the bottom rung of the social ladder in the time of Jesus' birth. Why did God involve them in the events surrounding the Advent? What was their view of this most important event? Let's see what insight the Scriptures provide.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • God's message of salvation is for all people. Luke 2:10
  • God has communicated His message of salvation even to those who have no standing in society, and that, through angels. Luke 2:8-12
  • The Advent of Jesus Christ the Messiah is the most important event in history and for it God is worthy of utmost praise, and the message worthy of retelling. Luke 2:13 & 14, 20; 15-18
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • What is the meaning of the coming of the Messiah?
  • Why did God use angels to communicate?
  • What is my response to the revelation that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus to save human beings from their sin? Would I respond like the shepherds did?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • Why did God send an angelic messenger to shepherds?
  • What was the main message from the angel, and why was it good news?
  • What did the angel say about the baby in terms of who the baby was?
  • What are the truths about salvation to be gleaned from the message of the angel?
  • Describe how you think the shepherds first reacted to the revelation to them?
  • Why did the angel give the shepherds information about where the baby was?
  • Characterize the response by the shepherds in verse 15. Did they believe the message of the angels and why?
  • What did the shepherds share about what they had seen and heard and why?.
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • How do you think you would respond if an angel were to suddenly appear before you and the glory of the Lord were to shine? Why would you respond that way?
  • God has revealed Himself in many ways. What was He revealing in the message of the angel? In other words, what was the essence of the message?
  • What does it mean to you that the baby was a Savior? That He was the Christ? That He was the Lord? What do these titles say about Jesus?
  • What do the words of the angelic host in verse 14 mean to you? How do they apply to you?
  • Would you have any doubts about the truth of an angelic message given to you? Did the shepherds? Why did they go to Bethlehem?
  • Do the truths about salvation and the Messiah as revealed in these verses cause you to glorify and praise God? Do they cause you to want to share this good news with others?
  • Do you believe? And will you share this good news of Jesus Christ with others?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
In the last Notes of this series we looked at the First Christmas from the view of the angels. We saw the angel Gabriel, God's special messenger, bring God's word to Zechariah when he was serving in the Temple, and to Mary at her home. His message as a whole was that God is at work to bring salvation: Zechariah was told a baby would be born to his wife, and that baby would grow up to prepare the way for the Messiah; Mary was told a baby boy would be born through her and He would be the Messiah. Months later, another angel brought the same message about the Messiah to a group of shepherds watching their flock in the field, with the added information that this Messiah had actually already been born. And that is where we left off – with this message and announcement of salvation having been given to these shepherds. In this installment, we want to look at how these shepherds viewed this first Christmas.

Let's first look at the place of the shepherd in this period in history when Jesus was born. Shepherds were on the bottom rung of the social ladder. Pious Jews hated them because they were ceremonially unclean due to the fact that they lived outdoors in the fields with, and constantly handled, their sheep. Thus, they could not participate in the purification rites mandated by Jewish law nor worship in the Temple courts. They were also outside of the Jewish power structure, and were viewed as outcasts – outcasts who did a dirty job; poor and uncouth ruffians. They were generally considered to be untrustworthy, and often merited that view because many of them were not shy about helping themselves to the property of others. They were not allowed to testify in court. In short, shepherds were the lowest of the low, which was an interesting development given that the Jewish fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), the great prophet Moses, and the revered King David, were all shepherds. Despite how they were viewed, shepherds were important to the economy and to the Jewish religious system. Through their sheep, they provided food, milk, hides, leather and wool. They also provided the sheep for the constant sacrifices made at the Temple in Jerusalem. Their job consisted of watching over and protecting their sheep, pasturing them by day to provide their food and water, and herding them into “sheepfolds” (which were either areas surrounded by stone walls fashioned by the shepherds, or caves) at night while they slept nearby. The tools of their trade were a rod (like a modern policeman’s club, made of wood with a knob at the end; used for protection), a staff (a stick 5-6 feet long, often with a crook at the end, used like a walking stick, to guide the sheep, and for protection) and a sling (used to cast or throw stones where aimed; useful to direct laggard sheep and for protection). Most shepherds also carried a flute which was used to quiet the sheep. The shepherd would call his sheep with his voice, and the sheep would become familiar with the sound of their shepherd’s voice, coming when he called. The shepherd would also often give names to his individual sheep to aid in herding and leading them. The shepherd’s overall responsibility was to watch over, protect (from thieves and wild animals), feed, care for, nurture, guide and lead his sheep; he was willing to risk life and limb for the sheep in carrying out this responsibility.

So in Luke 2:8 we find some shepherds watching over their flock in the night. It seems that they were not yet asleep (when sleeping, they would normally stagger their sleeping times so that there was always at least one shepherd awake at all times to guard the sheep in the sheepfold) as they were all aware of what was going on when the events unfolded (Luke 2:8 & 9). The shepherds were no doubt talking among themselves, playing their flutes, and resting in light of their exhausting task. Remember, these were hardy, fearless men, used to living outdoors, not afraid of the unknown, skilled at attentiveness and watchcare, alert to all that would go on around them. This particular night was nothing special; it was like every other nights during which they simply bed down to watch the flock, get some rest, and be ready for the next day. But this dark night also represented the darkness of sin and a world that does not know God, into which the light of God was about the shine.

But this night turned out to be very different; in fact, it would be the night of a lifetime for these shepherds. One moment then are watching the sheep, “minding their own business” so to speak, when suddenly an angel appears standing before them! And with the angel is the visible manifestation of the glory of God shining around them. If any of these shepherds had been sleepy, they weren’t now in the presence of the angel and God’s glory. In fact, they were now fully awake and “terribly frightened.” (one translation reads, “they were filled with fear”). As mentioned in the last Notes, fear seems to be the first reaction of any human being when confronted by the appearance of an angel not in disguise, by God’s glory, or God’s very presence. Zechariah was afraid (Luke 1:12); Marty was afraid (Luke 1:30); the prophet was afraid (Daniel 8:17); the apostle John was afraid (Revelation 1:17). We can only surmise what it must have been like, but it clearly was a circumstance which even strong, fearless shepherds could not handle. What did they think? Did they know this was an angel, and if so, how? Perhaps some passages of the Hebrew Scriptures came to mind. In any case, they instinctively knew that this creature was not human or of this world, and as a result were afraid for their lives, especially if they grasped that this might be God’s glory and, thus, His potential judgment on them. Immediately, however, the angel tells them not to be afraid.

As the pounding of their hearts lessened with the words of the angel, the shepherds were about to become the recipients of a heavenly message. The angel’s message was to the point: it was “good news;” it was news of a “great joy;” it was news and joy for “all the people” (by clear inference, including even the outcast, the low and the downtrodden, like the shepherds). And what was this good news? In the Roman empire, the proclamation of “good news” most often had to do with celebrations of the cult of the emperor who was hailed as Savior and Lord. In this scene, the contrast is stark: the “good news” indeed had to do with a king and potentate, but it was the true king who, at the very time of the angelic announcement, had been born in Bethlehem (the city of David). In short, the announcement was that the Messiah had come. Note the titles given to the baby: Savior; Messiah (literally, Anointed One); Lord (Yahweh, or God). This was indeed the promised Messiah, and the time had arrived for the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the Messiah, about which, presumably, the shepherds knew. Now what did the shepherds think? They were recipients of a message being delivered by heavenly messengers proclaiming that God was initiating salvation in a human being (“there has been born”) who was also God (Lord). Did they wonder why this message was being given to them, some nameless, unimportant and powerless shepherds? But before they could think it all through, the angel told them of a sign that would prove the truth of the message: they would find the baby wrapped up in swaddling cloths (typical of the times, newborn babies were wrapped in strips of cloth for warmth, protection and security) and lying in a manger. In short, this event had really happened and they could confirm the message in person by the facts on the ground, so to speak. Before they could react to those words, suddenly a “multitude” of “the heavenly host,” that is, a “whole lot of angels,” appeared and they were engaged in praise to God for what He was in the midst of doing. Were these angels in the sky above the shepherds? Were they on the ground? Were they all around? How many were there? We don’t know the answer to these questions except to say that there were a lot of angels, that they were all visible to the shepherds, and that they were in full voice of praise. Their praise was twofold: first, they gave glory to God in the highest, likely meaning among the heavenly and the heavenly hosts; second, they acknowledged that with the Messiah has now come “peace” among humanity (which, as we now know, means just that … all humankind, not only Jews) upon whom God is extending His favor (“in whom He is well pleased” Luke 2:14). Were the angels singing this praise or just repeating it together in loud voices? Again, we do not know the answer, but suffice it to say that it must have been glorious, and it certainly underscored the crucial importance of not only the occasion but of what God was doing in and through the Messiah.

No sooner had the angelic host finished their doxology and praise than they and the initial angel went away into heaven, perhaps fading from view as they returned to their heavenly home (Luke 2:15). Apparently theirs was not a sudden return as were their initial appearances. In any case, the night and the night-time sky was now back to normal, leaving the shepherds to consider what had just happened to them. Their response is telling – they excitedly determined among themselves to go straight to Bethlehem to look for the baby who was the subject of what was made known to them. It is probably a fair assumption that these shepherds were Godly men in some measure as they understood that what had happened to them was a special revelation from the Lord. They didn’t question or doubt; them simply believed that the promised Messiah had now come, and they could see the baby for themselves (Luke 2:15). So off they went in a hurry to Bethlehem (Luke 2:16). Somehow they made arrangements for the care of their sheep, one supposes, and they left. If these shepherds were in fact caring for sheep that were to be used in the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem, they would have been in the Judean hills outside of Jerusalem, likely to the south where Bethlehem was situated some 5+/- miles from the city. Bethlehem was a small village, and upon their arrival the shepherds would have looked to find where there was a newborn baby in a manger. They found Mary and Joseph and the baby, and thus the angel's words were indeed confirmed; the Messiah had been born and they have seen Him! So excited were these shepherds that they were among the first to see the Messiah, and then became the first to share the good news with others, to give testimony to what they had seen and heard, first in the village, and then to all with whom they came into contact as they returned to their sheep (Luke 2:17 & 18, 20). Interestingly, it was shepherds, those not permitted to give testimony in Jewish courts, who gave witness to the coming of the Messiah. They were not afraid to share this good news, and in fact were intentional about it (“they spread the word ...” Luke 2:17). Those who heard their testimony were amazed, and one might guess that the word spread rapidly in Bethlehem and beyond.

When they returned, the shepherds continued glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen. Their reaction to what they had heard and seen was to believe, to tell others, and to worship God, all appropriate responses to the revelation from God. They didn't keep God's word and His program of salvation to themselves; they shared it with others even as they themselves were amazed that they had been the recipients of God's favor in this way. Their faith, it would seem, was deepened, and they knew that this good news from the angel was in fact the greatest news of all, that the Messiah had come to bring peace to men, even to lowly, outcast shepherds. They glorified and praised God for that news, and so should we; they shared that news, and so should we.