If you want to follow along in your Bible, you may want to come to Luke chapter 2, and we want to begin by reading verse eight. We're going to talk about the shepherds and the sheep. "There were shepherds living out in the fields near by keeping watch over their flocks at night." Who is the best-known Shepherd in the Bible? It would be Jesus, wouldn't it? And then maybe David. There are great shepherds that were in the Bible and most shepherds who watched over sheep by night were nomads. Like gypsies. They lived out there. They didn't have many possessions. Some had permanent facilities with watchtowers and walls to keep their sheep safe at night, but most of them did not. And they would guard the sheep from wolves, from thieves, from bears and lions that they had over there. The shepherd was so well known by his sheep that they would come to his call, and if several flocks got all mingled in together one shepherd would stand over here and call and all of his sheep would come.
There's something interesting about sheep. They will not respond to anybody else's call. Look at John 10 and verse 3 in your Bible. This mentions one exception to that rule. John 10:3. "The watchman opens the gate for him and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he has brought them out on his own he goes ahead of them, and his sheep follow him, because they know his voice." Now there's one group of sheep that will follow a stranger. Verse five. They will never follow a stranger. In fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize the stranger's voice. There are some sheep who will follow a stranger. And do you know who they are? They'll follow anybody. Sick sheep. If they are sick, they will follow a stranger, and I think some Christians do that too.
I receive publications in the mail at my house, and they're very critical of the church. I am more or less ashamed of an organization that their main job description is to throw mud at Seventh-day Adventists. I don't understand that. They're sick. And they will follow anybody.
One night some shepherds were in the field, here in Luke chapter two, watching their sheep, and it was time for the lambs to be born. They were tending their sheep in the very same fields that David tended his sheep. Same ones, according to The Desire of Ages, page 47. Like David, they probably did have a rod and a shepherd's staff, and they had a sling and two bags. Now David just had one bag. The shepherds most of the time carried two bags. One for food, and one for stones, which was their ammunition. And they also carried a small lightweight tent and a blanket. They were kind people. They led gently. Their priority was to take care of the sheep.
Now if you are about to be in a collision and you're going to be in a wreck, should you protect yourself or your dog. Let's suppose you and the dog are in the car and you're about to, one of you is going to die, one of you is not going to make it. Which would it be? The dog or you? You're going to take care of yourself first. Well the shepherd was just the opposite. They would take care the sheep first. If a lion came they'd say, "Well here I am. Eat me first because the sheep are more valuable than I am." That was their mentality. And that is also, by the way, Jesus' mentality. He would rather die then you die. In fact He did.
The Church leaders of the time looked down on shepherds because they were lawbreakers. You understand that. A shepherd could not live up to the rules and regulations of the temple. For instance, a shepherd is out in the field and regulations of the temple say you've got to wash your hands before every meal. How could a shepherd do that? He's out there in the field. They did not keep the handwashings. The shepherds in our text here in Luke just happen to be keeping their flocks in the fields that were very close to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They were between these two towns and they were just about a mile out of Bethlehem. Not far from the town limits. That was no accident because they were hired by the priests in Jerusalem. In fact this very flock of sheep were destined to be killed in the temple. All the lambs were out there, says Sister White, to provide a continuous supply of perfect lambs for the temple. That's why this particular group of shepherds and sheep were there. The spotless lambs would be killed in the temple, but not until the priests had gotten their wealth from selling them. They often sold them right there in church. Right in the temple, in the courtyard, to supply the lambs for the slaughter.
Life was hard for shepherds. Undoubtedly they were underpaid. They were cold. They didn't take a bath very often. They didn't smell good. They didn't have the privilege of sleeping like the priests did in the warm homes. The priests made all the money. The shepherds got very little. But they did not harbor a grudge against these people. They were not interested in criticizing the church or the priests.
Luke two verse eight says they were out in the fields keeping watch by night. The Desire of Ages says something interesting here. They were doing more than just keeping watch. She says, "Through the silent hours, they talked together of the promised Savior, and they were praying for the coming of the King to David's throne." They weren't just out there watching the sheep. They were talking. They were praying. They were watching and waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ the Savior. They were sincere seekers of a deeper religious experience, and while they were out there doing that, the leaders of the temple were sleeping. So no wonder the leaders of the temple didn't see Jesus come. No wonder the shepherds did. You can see the difference here. One group was praying and studying and the other was sleeping and snoring. God does not reveal Himself to a snoring church. We need to be wide awake. They were among the small faithful number mentioned by Luke 2:25 who were waiting for the Consummation of Israel. For the Deliverer to come. The Messiah. So no wonder they saw the Angels, and no wonder the Pharisees missed it.
Are you spiritually awake? Are you snoring? Will you sleep through Jesus' coming again?
Was this a cold winter's night? Now definitely not. This season for lambs to be born was not in the middle of the winter. Their birth would be during a milder time. Winters get cold. Snow sometimes happens there in the mountains. You could see it. It gets cold there. The cold begins sometime in October or November, and so the time of the birth of the lambs was before that, during the milder fall weather. Our closing hymn today is The First Noel. Let me quote you some words from this song that are not correct. "The first Noel, the angel did say, was to certain poor shepherds." That's true. The priests were wealthy. "Poor shepherds, in the fields as they lay.". They weren't lying down. They were talking. They were awake. They were praying. "As they lay keeping their sheep on a cold winter's night that was so deep." Not true. It was not a winter night. They were hungering and thirsting for Jesus. It was the mild fall of the year. Isaiah 44 verse three tells who will receive Jesus. "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty." They were hungering and thirsting for Jesus to come.
Look at Luke two verse nine. "The angel of the Lord appeared to them," probably Gabriel, "and the glory of the Lord shone around about them and they were terrified." Would you be terrified if you saw Gabriel. If you were praying for something to come and it came, would you be terrified or would you be glad? There's a difference there. Look at verse 10. "The angel said to them don't be afraid. I bring you good news." And that's the gospel right there, the good news. Same word for the 'gospel' in the Greek, "and great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you and He is Christ the Lord. And above all those mountains." They called the things around Bethlehem and Jerusalem 'mountains', but they aren't really. But there were millions of angels waiting, all awaiting the signal to sing, and had the leaders of the temple been true and faithful they might have shared that same joy, but they were passed by. They were unaware of anything at all. You realize that they went to bed praying for the coming of the Messiah. And they woke up that morning and probably prayed, "Lord, please send the Messiah," and He was already in town. He was already there and they didn't know it.
Look at verse 13. "Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the Angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men and goodwill.'" In those days whenever a baby was born they would send out a musical group, usually from the temple. They would send people who would sing or play instruments, but nothing like that was done for Jesus. But God was ready. God had a musical group ready and He had a choir of who knows, maybe millions of angels filling the skies, who came and sang and welcomed this Baby and carried on that tradition. I like that. Can you picture a million or more angels all turning on their headlights at the same time, and all of a sudden you could see them and there they are. What a majestic thing that would be. What a sound and sight show.
Isaiah 9 describes that event. Verse two. "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. A light will shine on all who are in the land where death casts its shadow." On all of us it will shine. There's another reason the shepherds saw it. While 99 or a hundred percent of everybody else did not see it and that is in Psalm 112 verse four. It says, "Unto the upright, the upright, arises light in the darkness."
I have noticed when I go to Home Depot or when I walk through the mall, even before Thanksgiving, these little lights appear. Way before Thanksgiving. The Christmas lights start shining and people put up their trees, and after Thanksgiving it begins in earnest and there are Christmas lights everywhere. Whole houses covered with lights. Lights all over the roof. It's amazing. Light has always been associated with Christmas. I like the Christmas lights, and they last till after Christmas. People used to throw their trees out a day or two after but now that we have artificial ones they leave them up till mid-January sometimes. The lights of Christmas surround Christmas day. I like that. I think Christ is supposed to surround our lives. Jesus Himself said He is the true Light of Christmas. Luke two verse 32. A Light to lighten the Gentiles. He wants to be the Light of your life as well.
Let's go to part two, which is in verse 15 and 16. The shepherds actually become sheep here. Look at this. Shepherds becoming sheep. Verse 15. "It came to pass as the Angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go now, even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.' And they came with haste and they found Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger." They came, they found and they worshiped.
Now that could not happen today. Today, if they were in Bethlehem, and they saw the Angels, then the Angels went back to heaven, and they would say, "Let's go into Bethlehem. Let's leave this field and go into town and see the Baby." They could not do that, because today in Bethlehem there is a wall .26 feet tall that runs right through Bethlehem. 26 feet is very, very tall. A big wall with barbed wire on top and watchtowers every so many feet sealing off the Palestinians from the Israelis. And so if the shepherds would go from their fields into Bethlehem today and they were Palestinian shepherds, they would have to swipe a magnetic ID card, first of all. They would have to show a permit. They would have to give a thumb print routinely, and often wait hours just to cross through to the other side. I am so glad Jesus was born at the right time, aren't you? Had He been born today it would've been hard.
I've always wondered what happened to the sheep by the way. When the shepherds came in to worship the baby, who cared for the sheep? Were these under-shepherds or somebody? The shepherds did come. They did find Jesus. They did fall and worship at His feet and they did not worship Mary. They worshiped Jesus. That's what we should do. With David of old they could say, "The Lord is my Shepherd." And so these shepherds became sheep of the true Shepherd. They accepted Jesus as their Shepherd, which means they are sheep. First Peter chapter 5 verse four, "When the chief Shepherd appears you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." And so they became sheep. Obedient sheep.
On that first Christmas, God so loved the world that He gave His best gift to humanity. Have you thought what the best gift is that you have ever received. Think back when you were a child. Some of you still are children. Some of you are long since removed from that, but think back to your favorite Christmas and the favorite gift that you received when you were a girl or a boy. What was it? Was it a bicycle or a doll or a dollhouse that your daddy made for you or a toy train? I think back to my favorite Christmas and it would've been an erector set. A Gilbert erector set. That would be mine. When I was about nine or 10 there was that heavy box under the tree with my name on it. I thought, "What is that?" On Christmas morning we opened it up and there it was. An erector set and I was so overjoyed. I could build jeeps and towers and bridges and wagons. They were just wonderful. What an erector set that was. I spent a lot of happy hours with that erector set.
Years later we were looking for a gift for our boys, because we had two boys and a girl, and I thought, "Maybe I should give my erector set to one of my boys for Christmas. It's the most valuable gift that I received, that I appreciated when I was a kid. Maybe I should do that. But would they appreciate it like I did? It's still in good condition. Should I give it to one of them for Christmas? I could never replace it. Would they value it as much as I did? Would they eventually throw it out? Would unappreciative hands ruin it?" It was a great risk to give my treasure away, perhaps to only see it rejected or to see the disappointment in their face at receiving a used erector set. So after great thought my wife and I got them something that was on their list.
You know, God had a similar choice. God's most valuable Gift was irreplaceable. Would He dare give that to His children? It might be destroyed by unappreciative hearts. They might not love His best Gift. But after a lot of thought God decided to give His best, His most valuable Gift, to His children. And how it must've hurt God when cold hearts rejected His Gift. They slept the night that Jesus came. Herod tried to destroy God's Gift and Jesus was wasted on a cross. And so how emotional God must have been when these shepherds came and appreciated His gift. Tears must've come to the Father's eyes seeing that at least somebody came.
Part three. Luke two verse 17. The sheep become shepherds. Look at verse 17. "When they had seen Him," what did they do? They spread the word. They themselves became shepherds. Just like the disciples who were fishers of fish became fishers of men, now these sheep became shepherds of, not sheep, but shepherds of men. Taking care of others. Witnessing. They were the first witnesses. They were the only eyewitnesses to that event that night, other than Mary and Joseph. They were the eyewitnesses, and you realize that in Bible times shepherds were never allowed to be eyewitnesses. Legally, a shepherd could not serve as an eyewitness. It was illegal, because you can't trust a shepherd. But who does God appear to with all of His angels? He appears to the shepherds. God does things just the opposite of what we might think. We would expect that first of all the Pharisees would see Jesus come. No, the shepherds did. And they were the eyewitnesses. I would've expected several books of the Bible to be written by these shepherds. We don't hear anything else from them.
I hope that when God gives you His best Gift that you won't reject it. I hope you got a good Christmas present yesterday, I hope you gave one and I hope you receive Jesus as your Savior. Don't waste God's Gift in unappreciative hands. Make sure you accept it with your heart.
sing our closing hymn.
Dear Father, thank You for sending us something far more valuable than a doll or a doll house or an erector set or a train. Thank you for sending us Jesus Christ. May we accept and fully appreciate and utilize that Gift in our life, our family and our home. Thank You for promising that Jesus will come again. Help us to be ready that time. We ask in Jesus' name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #115, O Come, O Come, Immanuel Scripture: Luke 2:8-11 Hymn of Response: #118, The First Noel
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 1/29/10