First to the Shepherds

shepherd-sheepThe account of the angels announcing the birth of Christ to shepherds near Bethlehem is a familiar chapter in the Christmas story. However when examined closer, this event is extraordinary for its significance, both then and now.
Although the birth of the Messiah was foretold in some detail for centuries, those awaiting His coming expected a royal birth with much fanfare, not a child born to a poor couple in a borrowed stable in a backwater village. And who should be the first to hear of the birth of this king? Most likely the political leaders of the day, or the high priest, or even Caesar Augustus himself. Definitely people of influence deserved to be told first.
But God, in a beautiful foreshadowing of His Son’s ministry, made the announcement to a bunch of lowly shepherds minding their sheep on a dark hillside. In fact, the pre-incarnate voice of Christ speaks about who He is coming for in Isaiah 61.
“…the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (vs.1)
Contrary to popular belief, the Messiah was coming to minister to the humble, the meek, the poor, the imprisoned; not to further the agendas of those in power. So it makes sense God would choose shepherds, the lowliest, commonest of unskilled peasants in the Jewish social strata, to hear the greatest good news the world had ever heard. He came for people like themselves.
The shepherds were not aware that during His life Jesus would often use their occupation as a picture of His purpose on earth. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) A shepherd’s life did not garner status in Jewish society, yet Jesus saw the value of the sacrificial, caring traits they embodied.
Not only was Jesus depicted as a shepherd, but also as a lamb. The flocks of sheep the shepherds near Bethlehem were watching were most likely reserved for temple sacrifice. The Messiah would someday die at the time of the 3 o’clock afternoon sacrifice, making it no longer necessary for sheep such as theirs to die for people’s sins. The Lamb of God had come to die once and for all, so that lambs such as these would no longer be needed.
The message the angel brought to the shepherds over 2000 years ago has not changed in its purpose or impact.  “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
This was not a generic message, it was personalized for the shepherds, and it is personalized for us as well. We are still the recipients of this “good news of great joy.”
Jesus – our Savior, is Christ – the Messiah of Israel, and Lord – God manifest in the flesh.
Glory to God in the highest!

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