Why Shepherds?

Suggested Reading: Luke 2

FOCAL PASSAGE: 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.10 And the angel said unto them, fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14 glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into Heaven, the shepherds said one to another, let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. Luke 2: 18-17.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field…” I suppose I will remember those words until the day I leave this earth; at least I hope so…they are very precious to me. As a small boy, the passage in Luke 2:8-16 is among the first scripture I ever memorized. I remember as if it were yesterday; reciting it first for my mother for practice, and then in Sunday School class. It was a long passage for a child, and I was very proud.

Of course it was the King James Version, that’s what most of us read back then. Its poetic beauty is unmatched, but I’m glad we have other translations to read today as well. I particularly like the way The Message Bible puts this verse:

“There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood”.

Sheepherders. If you’ve ever watched an old western (I confess to not only watching, but owning a few hundred in my movie collection), then you know that sheepherders were not the most respected people in the west, particularly among the cattlemen. The same perception was true in New Testament times. Shepherds were poor, lower-class people in their society, despised by religious Jews because their work kept them away from many religious activities. Shepherds had once been held in high esteem among God’s people, but they had become unwanted, left out, and pushed to the side. They smelled like sheep. They slept on the ground. Their jobs made them little or no money…they came from the lower rung of society.

So why did God choose to reveal the glory of Heaven first to a bunch of unwanted and forgotten shepherds? Of all the people to whom He could have chosen to announce the birth of His Son, why shepherds? I suppose there might be several reasons:

-These were Bethlehem shepherds. Shepherds in this area raised sheep to be offered as sacrifices at Passover. So even in the announcement of His birth, we are reminded of His sacrificial death.

-Abraham, Moses and David were all shepherds. God made great promises to them about deliverance for their people and that the Messiah would come. Maybe He used this opportunity to show that He honors His promises by announcing it to shepherds first.

There are probably countless other parallels and I believe among the most important is this: Jesus spoke of shepherds often. It is the image He used for an example of a leader…one who pastors, who shepherds his flock and is even willing to lay down his life for them. God is frequently identified in the Old Testament as the loving, tender shepherd of His people:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1.

And in John 10:11, Jesus identifies Himself as the good shepherd who gives His life for His sheep.

In verse 10 of the focal passage, the angels spoke of “good tidings of great joy”. Look further in verse 11 at the three words they use to describe Jesus. What are they? A “Saviour” which is “Christ” (or Messiah) and “Lord”. Think about what these three words would have meant for lowly “sheepherders” who were under Roman occupation in the first Century. They meant hope…freedom…salvation.

Guess what? They mean the same for us today. Jesus came for me! I am not too low, too insignificant, too unimportant, too powerless, too forgotten, or too anything for God to love me, search for me, find me, and want to bring me home. HOW COOL IS THAT?

I received some good news yesterday in a phone call. A large contract that I have worked hard on for over a year came through. The first thing I did was tell my wife, and then I picked up the phone and called three other people and told them. I was excited…and I wanted to share it.

That news of course pales in the light of the good news the shepherds received that night. If you notice, the passage I mentioned memorizing as a child did not include verse 17. It should have. It’s an important part of the scripture…otherwise it wouldn’t be there.

“And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”

Have you received the good news about Jesus? Have you shared it?

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