The Shepherds of Bethlehem

“In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8)

We are all familiar with the story that the angels appeared to the Shepherds of Bethlehem first to announce the birth of Jesus. Even as the shepherds were considered to be the bottom of social structure at the time of Jesus’ birth I believe there is a great significance that these shepherds of Bethlehem were chosen to receive the glad tidings of great joy. To understand this let us first look to the father of the Israelite nation.

Abraham was a great man of faith whom God called to be the father of God’s people. At a time when he was well advanced in years God made a promise that his descendants would be as numbered as the stars in the sky. Abraham believed this promise that God had made to him and lived as a father even as he had no children. God also promised that the Messiah would come from his seed. “And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3) This of course has come true. Abraham is the father of the Israelite nation, God’s chosen people, and because the Christian nation has been grafted into God’s chosen people, Abraham has blessed all nations of the earth. The interesting thing here is that Abraham was a shepherd.

Further down the bloodline of Abraham a son was born unto Jessie in the town of Bethlehem who would become the King of Israel. We are familiar with David as he is tagged as a man who sought after the heart of God. God also made a promise to David that his throne would be established for eternity. “I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever And build up your throne to all generations.” (Psalm 89:3-4) We also know of David that in his youth he was a shepherd boy who tended his father’s flock around the town of Bethlehem.

Even as society considered the shepherds to be of low status God has great respect for them. It is fitting then that the birth of the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep should first be announced to the Shepherds of Bethlehem.

Around Bethlehem’s pasture fields is a place known as Migdal Eder or “The Tower of the Flock.” The Prophet Micah told us of this place when he prophesized that the Messiah would be born there. “As for you, tower of the flock, Hill of the daughter of Zion, To you it will come– Even the former dominion will come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8) It was here at the Tower of the Flock that the shepherds were tending their flocks on the eve of Jesus’ birth. This then would have been the perfect place for Jesus to have been born. As it is as God’s plan and will are perfect.

This pasture land around Bethlehem was where the sacrificial lambs were raised for the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. It is the birth place for tens of thousands of lambs for this purpose. This then would have been the perfect prefigure of the birth of Jesus as He was the sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus proclaimed that Jesus was the “Lamb of God.” “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Another fact of fascination about these shepherds is that they were involved in the preparation of the lambs to be taken to the Temple for sacrifice. The lambs had to be perfect, without spot or blemish. Before the lambs were transported to the Temple in Jerusalem the shepherds wrapped them in swaddling cloth to protect them. We read that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloth as well before placing Him in the manger. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

It was not by circumstance but by the will of God that Jesus’ death occurred at the Passover. This signified the end of animal sacrifice for the remission of sin and now the perfect sacrifice had be given, Jesus who was perfect, without spot or blemish. God’s best. As the Apostle Peter testified. “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) The Apostle Paul also testified that Jesus is our Christ at Passover. “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7) In the book of Revelation the Apostle John recognizes Him as the Lamb that had been slain. “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:6)

The Shepherds of Bethlehem take on another significance by their actions. They received the message from the angels and then they went to see this great thing that had happened. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) They were as many who hear the invitation and then go to see and investigate the truth. But unlike many they believed and left with faith in the new born Savior of the world. “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” (Luke 2:20) They were filled with the joy that only Jesus can give to the spirit of a man.

For many, many years the Jewish people had been in wait for the Promised Savior. The Shepherds has witnessed that this long awaited hope had come to pass and they glorified God for the gift that He had given unto mankind.

The left rejoicing that the Savior had come. The angel had told them, “In the city of David there has been born for you a Savior.” The Shepherds knew of the importance of this event and they also knew of their unworthiness to receive it. Yet they knew of their need for a Savior and now by the grace of God the prospect of salvation had come to them. They were well aware of the privilege shown to them by God that they should be chosen first to hear the good news.

The shepherds also rejoiced that they not only had heard the good news but that is was good news for all the people. The angel had said, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” And the shepherds glorified God for all that they had seen and heard.

The shepherds glorified God by doing that which we all are to do. Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. The shepherds left doing that which Jesus so often commanded all His disciples to do, go and tell. This was the great commission that He gave to His disciples before returning to the Father, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) After the shepherds had come to the manger and saw the new born King they worshiped Him, adored Him, and left rejoicing and glorifying God. With faith in the new born Savior they went out to tell all abroad the Good News of Jesus the Christ. “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2:17 KJV)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, December 13, 2015

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