By Andrew Calabrese
Are you excited about Christmas? I am–excited to be around family, open presents, and reflect on God’s goodness–Christmas truly is one of the “most wonderful times of the year.”
We often give and receive gifts during this season. Gifts have a way of lifting our spirits, and well-chosen gifts bring us great pleasure! Birthday gifts bring joy to children; anniversary gifts say, “I love you;” farewell gifts ease the melancholy of parting ways, and Christmas gifts bring laughter and fun to the cold, gray-skied winter season. But I think that there is nothing more delightful than receiving a surprise gift, an unexpected gift, a tangible expression of love for no particular reason.
God is the premier gift-giver, and He specializes in surprise gifts! I believe He glows with pleasure whenever we stumble upon the gifts that He leaves in our paths. The apostle James said, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). The Lord showers us with grace at every opportunity, including little surprise gifts, “just because.”
No gift, however, could ever exceed the surprise gift that He delivered to this world in a lowly manger in Bethlehem nearly twenty centuries ago. He gave us a Savior, Christ Jesus. In Luke 2, we have Luke’s narrative on the birth of Christ. As we read this narrative, we are introduced to a group of shepherds, and would they ever be surprised with a gift that they did not expect?! The Bible does not tell us how many shepherds there were, but that is beside the point.
Some things you should note about shepherds who lived during this time is that they were considered the lowest of the low. If there were a scale of the greatest people in the Jewish community to the least greatest, shepherds would be at the very bottom of the list along with lepers. They were thought of as insignificant to society. They were usually uneducated, ignorant men. The “religious” groups of that day looked down upon them because shepherds could not practice the Sabbath due to their profession–therefore, they were labeled as outcasts. They really were the lowest of the low in the Jewish community.
But aren’t you glad that God reaches out to everybody? He reached out to you! You know, it’s just like God to announce to a group of lowly shepherds the birth of His Son. They may have had a poor reputation, a poor standing in the community, but that was just perfect for God.
So here we are introduced to shepherds who were, “keeping watch over their flock by night.” Then the Bible says in Luke 2:9, “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.” These shepherds were terribly frightened, and I could only imagine! Here they are, out in the field, minding their own business, doing what shepherds do, and then, all of a sudden, an angel of the Lord is standing in their midst. The Greek word for “came” in the text is the Greek word ephistemi, and it literally means “to stand near somebody.” The angel was standing right near them, and these shepherds knew, “This guy isn’t one of us!” The Bible also mentioned that the glory of the Lord shined around them. This was that same Shekinah Glory that brooded over the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. This was the manifestation of God’s presence in the form of light. The shepherds must have realized, “This is no small event. This is the glory of God coming down around us!” And they were terrified.
But the angel of the Lord quickly told the shepherds to stop being afraid, because the message that he had for them was good news. In fact, he said that this good news would produce great joy within them. The phrase used in the Bible, “I bring you good tidings,” is from the Greek verb evangelizo from which we get the transliterated English word “evangelize.” This angel was evangelizing to these shepherds! By the way, this good news that the angel told the shepherds wasn’t just for the shepherds, but it was for all people! There are no exceptions when it comes to the Gospel. It is for everybody!
What was this good news? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Just in case the shepherds did not believe the angel, the angel gave them a sign: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). The Savior of this world would not be found couched in royal splendor, as these shepherds may have expected, but rather he would be found lying in poverty, signifying His humility (Philippians 2:5-8). This good news was confirmed by the presence of a host of angels as they were, “praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13b-14). We ought to respond with praise when we consider the reality of the Gospel too.
Now notice the shepherds response, and this is really what I want to point out to you. The angels had now left their fields, and the shepherds had left their flocks. They ran to Bethlehem, hoping to see this Savior. They spontaneously, mutually, and collectively had the same response: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see if all of these things that were told to us are true” (Luke 2:15). There was a spontaneity about them. Nobody had to lead them; nobody needed to sort of get them to comply. These shepherds were eager to see the Savior of the world.
In verse 16, we see that they eventually found Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger, just as the angel of the Lord had told them. What they heard now became a reality to them. We see their response in Luke 2:17: “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”
When the shepherds realized the truth of the Gospel, they proclaimed it to others! One man has said, “Someone who has heard the Gospel then witnesses.”
I do not think I would be too far fetched to say that the most aggressive, faithful people in proclaiming the Gospel are the newest Christians. For new believers, the joy runs so high, the excitement is so great, and the enthusiasm is so profound. But what has happened to us born again believers who have been saved for a while now? It seems as though the excitement has dissipated, the joy of our salvation has turned into apathy, and the enthusiasm to proclaim the good news to others has worn off!
So, these shepherds become the first New Testament evangelists. And they repeated the astounding revelation from God, as well as their own personal meeting of Joseph and Mary and the baby lying in the manger. They could not restrain themselves. I mean, this was the greatest news the world would ever know! This was the greatest news they ever heard. It was far beyond anything they could have ever imagined. I mean, there was not anything in their humdrum life that could equal this. Might I suggest to you that the true spiritual commitment of a person is determined by the quality and the tenacity of their long-term joy over salvation. You can say you’re committed, you can talk about the commitment you have to Jesus Christ, but it really comes down to how much joy you have and how eagerly you share that.
Christ gave you the greatest surprise gift ever given…what are you doing with it? When we realize the truth of the Gospel, we ought to proclaim it to others! This surprise gift from God—Jesus Christ—was not just meant for you, but it was meant for all people! And Christ has given us the responsibility and the privilege to “make it known abroad” to all people.
I find it interesting that God didn’t deliver the good news of the Messiah’s birth to priests and prophets, or kings—the influencers of society. Rather than issue an official proclamation from the steps of the Temple or the throne of a king, the Lord sent His angels to a group of nameless shepherds, and stirred within them the enthusiasm to spread the news, “which shall be to all people.” He chose the least qualified individuals—humanly speaking—to become the first evangelists.
While the shepherds undoubtedly recognized their own lack of training and experience, nonetheless, they responded immediately. I find a few points of application from the story of these shepherds for us today:
1. Respond immediately to opportunities.
No sooner had the angels disappeared, the men said, “let’s go,” and they went in a hurry to find the Savior. I want to encourage you to make haste, and meet with Jesus. Make haste to read your Bible and pray. Do it as soon as the opportunity arises!
Specifically, in application to this passage of Scripture, I encourage you to not wait for special occasions to talk about the Lord. Speak up whenever the opportunity arises. You don’t have to be obnoxious by forcing the conversation, but I want to encourage you to remain continually transparent about your relationship with Christ. Watch for open doors; don’t hesitate.
2. Share your experience.
These shepherds had no training or skill, and they didn’t use that as an excuse to not tell people about the truth of the Gospel. What does the Bible say that the shepherds told people? It says, “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”
Biblical and theological training is good, and I am thankful for it. I would recommend it for everyone, but you do not need formal training to tell others about the truth of the Gospel any more than you need medical training to recommend a good doctor. If you are a born-again believer, then you have “before-and-after” story of your experience with Jesus Christ. Before you placed your faith in Him, and repented of your sins, your life looked a certain way. After you trusted in Him and repented of your sins, your life should have changed. Your “testimony” is all you need to share the truth of the Gospel with others. Tell people how God changed you!
If a group of shepherds could do it, so can you. So, respond immediately to opportunities, share your experience, and lastly…
3. Love all people, because God does!
Shepherds were the lowest of the low, but God still reached out to them. Who won’t you reach out to? Who’s too low for you? We should be accepting of everybody, and love them enough to share the truth of the Gospel with them.
I want to encourage you this Christmas season, as you may be around lost family, and lost friends, or lost co-workers…
- Respond immediately to opportunities.
- Share your experience.
- Love all people, because God does!
Christians, Christmas truly is a season to proclaim the good news!