25.12.12 – Seeking A Saviour: The Shepherds – Peter Cheyne

Read Luke 2:8-20

I am not sure if it has been apparent to you but in my mind there has been the theme of “Seeking A Saviour”. On Sunday I suggested that the whole world is actually seeking a saviour. Last night we looked at the magi (the wise men) who came in search of the Saviour. Today, I want to look at the shepherds who also sought the Saviour.

For the shepherds it was a little more straight-forward. The angel that visited them told them, very explicitly, “Today, in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you, He is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Shepherds in those days were people of pretty poor repute. They were rough, dishonest men. They probably weren’t regular worshippers in the synagogue, but, even so, they were Jews and they would have been very familiar with the concept of the Messiah. It was part of the whole Jewish way of thinking. The nation longed for God’s promised Messiah, the One who would come and set things right; the One who would deliver them from their oppression.

So this must have been an extraordinary night for the shepherds! First there was the appearance of an angel. The glory of God shone around them. Imagine sitting quietly at night, maybe dozing, when suddenly there is a bright, radiant light and an angel. The Bible says they were terrified. There would be the shock of it but not only that. Probably the most terrifying aspect would have been the awareness that this was God.

Shepherds were generally not close to God. Shepherds were known as dishonest people. To be in the presence of God (or even of one of God’s angels) would have been terrifying. Were they about to receive what they deserved? Were they about to experience the holiness of God? Was this their moment of judgement? Were their chickens coming home to roost? Were they about to be struck down by an angry God – and rightly so?

Imagine knowing some of the things you have done in your life and suddenly being confronted by God. Are you ready for that?

But the angel spoke comfortingly and reassured them: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.”

This could have been their moment of bad news; their time of reckoning. This could have been the time when they were confronted by their own sin and they would not have had an answer. They would have been found guilty. This is it; we’ve been found out.

But instead, somewhat surprisingly, the angel announces good news. That was unexpected.

It was not only good news but good news of great joy. Their emotions were going to swing from utter terror to great joy. Rather than fear what God was going to do to them, they were going to rejoice.

And not only was it good news of great joy for them but for all people. The experience of the shepherds that night could be the experience of all people. It can be our experience too.

What was the reason for this joy? The good news the angel brought was: today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; He is the messiah, the Lord.”

Yes, they were scoundrels who deserved to face justice but God announces good news. A Saviour had been born and, quite specifically, he had been born for them. Even shepherds had a Saviour: the Messiah, the Lord. They could escape the judgement they feared and that they knew was justified. God had provided them a Saviour.

But, again, it was not only for them. This was good news for the whole world. There is a Saviour.

Then it became apparent that they were to go and see this baby but there was a very practical matter to attend to: how would they find him? How would they know which baby was the Saviour?

The angel said, “This will be assign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

A manger? An animals feeding trough. There would be very few babies lying in mangers. No self-respecting mother would put her baby in a manger. That certainly would be a unique sign. There could be only one baby in a manger.

Then there was another display of God’s glory. A great many angels appeared singing praises to God. Imagine a vast heavenly choir. Imagine the harmonies.

They sang glory to God and they sang peace to people – peace to people on whom God’s favour rests. Those who know the goodness of God would have peace.

For the shepherds who had been terrified, the promise of God was peace. Their whole lives were about to change. Their whole relationship with God was about to change from terror to peace.

So, the shepherds huddled together. “What do we do now? Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They were keen. They hurried off as fast as they could, they were so excited.

And they found this baby – the one lying in a manger just like the angel had said.

We don’t know what they did in the presence of that baby. Did they creep forward in silent wonder? Did they fall on their knees and worship? Did they bubble over with noisy enthusiasm? Did they speak to Mary and Joseph? Did they tell them about the angel and the message and the choir? We don’t know but there are two things we do know. We know that Mary treasured up all of these things and pondered them in her heart.

Maybe that suggests that the shepherds did tell her all that had happened.

The other things we know is the reaction of the shepherds. Twice we are told. In v.17 we are told that, after they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child. They went around telling everyone they could the amazing message they had received. This child was the Messiah. He was the Lord – God Himself. But He was also a Saviour. He would bring peace.

And all who heard it were amazed. What an incredible thing: the Messiah had arrived but He was a tiny baby and he was lying in a manger! God had announced good news of great joy for all people. This was too big to grasp.

Then in v.20 we are told that the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard. They went back to their sheep singing and rejoicing. They possibly had a reputation, after their visits to town, of noisily stumbling through the town singing bawdy songs in their drunkenness. How different it was now. They were close to God. They were worshipping and singing God’s praises.

And notice how the very last comment in this story records that their experience was just as they had been told. There must have been a sense of wonder that it turned out exactly as the angels had said. Every detail. The baby was lying in a manger. This truly was the Saviour. They were filled with great joy. Just exactly as the angel had said.

There are four things in this story that I want to highlight to finish.

Firstly, there is a Saviour and he saves even shepherds. Even those people who live furthest from God can experience joy instead of judgement. Even when we have lived self-indulgent lives and have ignored God – even when God would be quite justified in demanding that we give account – there is a Saviour.

Just as the shepherds were transported from utter fear of God to hearing God say that He had given them a Saviour and they could, instead, experience joy and peace, so we can move from being far from God to being one of His beloved children, totally forgiven and at peace with Him.

This is the gospel. This is the good news. Shepherds who feared for their lives, experienced God’s forgiveness.

Secondly, everything turned out just exactly as God had said. There was a baby in a manger; they did experience great joy and peace.

God keeps His promises. It will be exactly as God has said. God says to us that there is good news that those who trust in Jesus will be forgiven and will live forever in His renewed and perfect world. That is exactly what will happen. People who come to know Jesus experience the same joy as the shepherds and have the assurance of a future eternity with God. It is exactly as God has said.

But the shepherds had to go and find the baby. That’s my third point. The blessing for them was not in hearing about Jesus but in meeting Him. We too have to come to Jesus. Only those who come to Jesus will receive God’s peace and joy. It doesn’t all happen to everyone automatically but to those who seek Jesus out. Jesus said that he would never turn away anyone who comes to Him. But we must come.

Fourthly, there is the response of the shepherds. They worshipped God and they spread the news. Part of their response was towards God – this gracious God who had given them a Saviour. Part of their response was towards other people who also needed to know this good news that they had received.

There is a reminder for those of us who are Christians. Are we overflowing with joy such that we worship God with grateful praise and we share this good news that has turned out just as God said – in fact, has turned out to be more wonderful than we could have imagined? Are we telling others?

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