Bethlehem's Best - The Shepherd's Story

Bible Book: Luke  2 : 8-20
Subject: Shepherds; Bethlehem; Jesus, Birth of; Christmas
Series: Bethlehem's Best

In this awesome story, we find one of the most stunning events found in the entire bible. I honestly think that many never even give it a second thought; the events that happened outside the fields of Bethlehem.

On the night that God was going to proclaim the birth of His Son, the Savior of mankind, the Gift of Eternal Life, let us consider whom He chose to be His spokesman. In the fields outside of Bethlehem were various groups of ostracized shepherds.

Society had a distinct distaste for these men due to their occupation. The shepherds were men that had notorious reputations for pilfering and dipping into the coffers as they traveled from place to place.

The night was swiftly falling into place as God had previously planned it ages ago, but much more was needed than just allowing the babe to be born. The Lord would need someone to proclaim the birth of His Son. Who would be chosen for this notable and most solemn task? If we were to travel down the road to Cesar’s palace, we find many that felt worthy to proclaim the birth of God’s precious Son.

In His divine wisdom, God did not need famous people to proclaim the birth that was to change the order of the entire world. God did not deem it necessary to use notable media stars such as Larry King, Anderson Cooper, CNN, or Fox News. On this night, he would chose Bethlehem’s Best, the shunned shepherds that were abiding in the fields attending to the needs of their flocks; these men would be His spokesman. In a manger within the city of Bethlehem, the Lamb of God was about to be birthed, so God sent some shepherds to check upon Him. That, dear friend, is Bethlehem’s Best.

I. The Shepherds and Their Humble Vocation (v 8)

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

In being a shepherd, these men had jobs that were menial and not looked upon as prestigious. The shepherds were restricted from partaking in religious ceremony and religious rites. The Jewish law deemed them as unclean men, whereas society labeled them as unfit and always available for distasteful accusations.

A. Nomadic Workmen: “Their Many Fields”

The shepherds would travel from place to place with their flocks. In the winter, they would travel down to the low places, and in summer they would move back up to the higher locations.

In mentioning this, one can easily decipher that Jesus literally wasn’t born on a cold, crisp night in late December. The shepherds would not have been in the fields of Bethlehem in winter time, but, more probable in the last summer or early fall.

The shepherds would daily move their flocks from place to place, so as to feed them. In moving around the various places, these nomadic workmen would have to find water and food for their sheep. It was this moving from place to place that helped to make them infamous with the general population. The easy choice would have been to blame the shepherds for missing possessions or damaged property. The shepherds were like modern day gypsies; they were despised and distasteful. The truth of the matter was that someone had to do this job and many of the bible’s most notable characters were shepherds. We can easily name them: Abel, Jacob, Abraham, and, of course, the most noted of them all was David, who had walked these very mountainous ranges.

B. Needful Watchmen: “Their Mandated Flocks”

The shepherds were not only nomadic workmen, they were also needful watchmen. In their journeys, it would have fallen upon them to protect their sheep. The nighttime would have found the shepherds literally sleeping right in the sheepfold with their flock.

The wolves, or other stalking creatures, would have to get by the shepherd to wreck havoc upon the flock. The bible tells us that a true shepherd would give his life to protect his sheep. The shepherd would know his sheep literally by name. In traveling with his sheep, he would have developed a personal knowledge of the nature and the needs of each and every one of them.

The shepherd realized that his very well being hinged upon his provision and protection of the flock. In understanding the value of his flock, he would do all that was required to see that he diligently protected them.

II. The Shepherds and Their Holy Revelation (vs. 9-12)

The setting of this story would have been the same as most other nights in the vast fields of Bethlehem. The stars overhead would have been glistening and brightness of the overhead canvas had to be a beautiful sight to behold. The sheep would have been huddled closely within the sheepfold. The conversation would have been natural and nothing had forewarned these men of the events that were about to occur in the fields of Bethlehem.

On down the road, in Jerusalem, one could find various religious figures, dignitaries, and other notable figures. On this majestic night, God chose to grasp the attention of a few shepherds as they tended their sheep. I would dare say that none of us would have chosen the shepherds to be the ones to receive these good tidings concerning the birth of God’s Son.

If it were me, the setting would have gone something like this: “In heaven, God has summoned all of the previous stalwarts of heavenly history.” The events of the night would be discussed and debated.

Firstly, the baby would be born today and not back then. I would have made sure that He was born during the age of modern medicine, with modern technology, and, of course, all of the modern day conveniences to ensure that all goes as planned.

Secondly, He would be born at (insert name of children’s hospital here). In allowing for this baby, he would also have access to the best pediatrician in the entire world. In birthing this baby, Mary would find all of the luxuries that life could afford royalty.

Thirdly, before the baby is to be born, we would have hired a noteworthy publicist and he would have had Mary and Joseph do all of the morning and daytime news shows. The couple would visit all of the talk shows. It would have been an all-out onslaught of publicity, so that the story could be adequately publicized and preserved.

As we well know, God’s ways are not our ways, and that fares much better for mankind. Note Isaiah 55:8-9.

God chose to let Jesus be born back then and not now or any other age. I hope that we all understand the greatness of that decision. The baby would be born in Bethlehem and not a children’s hospital; in a manger and not a pediatrician’s ward. The babe would be laid in a manger and not an incubator. The publicist for this night would be lowly shepherds, and not lofty stars. The story would be entrusted to men that were lowly, despised, and rejected by most in society. The story would not be found in the New York Times, but would flow from lip to lip by this chosen group of men.

A. Glowing Appearance of this Angel (v. 9)

It seems to me that we haphazardly read these stories and miss the wonder of what happened. One must comprehend that an angel appeared to a bunch of shepherds in a field.

This was not just any angel; it was the angel of the Lord, God’s mighty messenger. On this night, God sent an angel-gram from heaven to Bethlehem. The angel would have just appeared out of nowhere. I’m sure that it caused much confusion and consternation within the camp on this awesome night. The men would have been scared literally to death, some of them may have run from the camp fearing for their very life. I wonder how we would have reacted if the Angel of the Lord showed up? Note the angel’s startling presence and shining persona.

B. Gratifying Assurance of this Angel (v. 10)

This messenger that was sent to earth from heaven had soothing words for these shepherds. This angel-gram was not sent to upset these men, but more so to uplift them. It was about to get lively in the sheepfold on this notable night in Bethlehem!
The moment that fear was perceived among the shepherds, this angel mightily proclaimed that this night was not a night of fear and perplexity, but of fortune and praise. On this noble thought can the world find assurance;

Christ came to offer those that would believe the most precious gift, and that is real peace!

C. Glimmering Acquaintance of this Angel (v. 11)

The People (for unto us)

The Point in Time (is born this day)

The Place (in the city of David)

The Person (a Savior)

The Prominence (which is Christ the Lord)

The angel wasted no words in declaring his awesome news to this group of shepherds. The angel clearly places emphasis upon the role and royalty of this baby. On that nigh so long ago, there were numerous births but nothing compared to this setting.

The baby born on this night was a prophetic baby. In descending from heaven to earth, this angel of the Lord was about to proclaim that now was the time that God had chosen to send for His Son. The boy would be the “God Man” and He would eventually offer salvation to the entire world; He is our Savior.

D. Guiding Assistance of this Angel (v. 12)

The Sign and Clarity

The Setting and Clothing

The Symbolism and Container

The angel now delivers the details to the shepherds. It is exciting to read this story, because in it I see hustle and bustle, excitements and expectation. I honestly think that this is one of the things that makes Chrismas different than any other holiday that we as Christians celebrate.

The wonderment of that night moves from awe to action as the angel now tells the shepherds to go and see the baby. How many of the shepherds went? Did a few of them stay behind with the flock, or did the angel tend to the sheep as the shepherds go find the Lamb of God?

We need to fully ponder the fact that Jesus would not be found in the polished palaces of Jerusalem, but in the miniscule manger of Bethlehem. The Savior of the world would not be introduced by lofty soldiers, but by lowly shepherds. In considering this, I find amazement and wonderment in God’s arranged plan.

The shepherds would have had a long search if not for the clear signs given by the angel. The baby was in Bethlehem and he was not in a nice, cozy room. Rather, He was outside with the livestock. It is shocking to perceive but God allowed His Lamb to be placed in a natural setting where lambs should be born. He also sent the right people to find His Lamb, and the chosen ones were Bethlehem’s best; the lowly shepherds.

The Swaddling Clothes:

Now, the question arises: why would a baby in cloth be a “sign” to the shepherds that this was the Christ-child? The angel didn’t mention the manger first. Rather, he mentioned the swaddling clothes. What is it about swaddling clothes that would be a sign?

The term “swaddling clothes” is still used today by nurses who wrap a baby. Unfortunately, that term is a 2,000 year old misnomer. The origin comes as a result of the harsh countryside in the Middle East. As people took off on trips that often lasted for months, it was not uncommon for sickness or accident to take place. There were deaths on these journeys.

The Middle Eastern culture developed a way to deal with in-journey deaths. Each person would take a long, thin, gauze-like cloth and wrap it several times around their waist. This would be one of the bottom layers of clothing. This cloth would be reserved for death. If someone died during the journey, their friends or family would remove the “swaddling cloth” and wrap them from head to toe so that they could complete the journey.

The baby Jesus was wrapped in Joseph’s death cloth. The sign for shepherds wasn’t that they would find a baby wrapped in a blanked in a manger. The sign was that they would find a baby prepared for death. Jesus came to earth to die for our sins. That was His purpose. This was shown even from the instance of His birth.

The Ease of Finding Him

The Eagerness of Finding him

The Enrichment of Finding Him

The Manger:

Is it not striking to find the baby to be lying in a manger when He is destined to sit upon the throne of David?

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David.” Luke 1:32

In our modern day Christmas nativities, we have numerous errors that should be corrected. The most erroneous of them all is the using of females as angels. In the bible, we never find a female angel. The next erroneous depiction is the manger; it was not made of wood, but most likely hewn out of stone. The last erroneous depiction is the wise men showing up at the birth of Jesus, when, in reality He was a small child by the time the wise men reached His place of abode. In searching for the baby lying in a manger, the shepherds may have felt even more confidence in their journey to Bethlehem. One thing was sure in the life of a shepherd, they knew what a manger looked like and most assuredly knew where to find the ones that were in the little city of Bethlehem.

The Manger Held the Predicted Lamb

The Manger Held the Provided Lamb

The Manger Held the Precious Lamb

The Manger Held the Perfect Lamb

It was an exciting night when the angel gave clear direction on where to find the precious Lamb of God! The atmosphere was one of exciting energetic eagerness, as they were fixated upon leaving their little lambs to find The Lamb. Abraham had pronounced the ultimate provision of this Lamb, and the time was now at hand.

III. The Shepherds and their Heavenly Congregation (vs. 13-14)

It was startling to have just encountered a single angel, but now the shepherds are confronted with an angelic multitude and they were singing praises unto the very God of this universe. I think that they may have had to pinch themselves to make sure they were not dreaming.

A. Words of Praise and Glory: “Heavenly Acclamation”

This was to be a hallmark moment in the lives of these men; something to speak about for the ages to come. The arrival of this little baby was enough for God to disperse an angelic multitude, and their message was one of prominent praise and adoration.

B. Words of Peace and Goodness: “Earthly Anticipation”

The arrival of this little babe would kick off the final stages of God’s salvation plan for mankind. The only real peace that one can find is having peace with God, and Jesus was the source of this peace.

IV. The Shepherds and Their Hasty Visitation (vs. 15-16)

A. Inward Desire that Impassioned Them (v. 15)

The shepherds do not waste any time, but hastily make their way to Bethlehem to see the newborn babe. The message from the angel had gripped their hearts and they were eagerly embarking on their journey.

It was burning within each and every heart of this group to see this baby. God could have chosen any vehicle to witness the birth of His Son, but He ultimately chose this group of shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The precious Lamb of God was being birthed in the city of David and God wanted to ensure that some shepherds had the privilege of witnessing this holy happening.

B. Onward Destination that Impacted Them (v. 16)

We don’t know if the angel led this group to Bethlehem. The men may have had to search throughout the city, or perhaps God allowed the start to guide them.

We do know that they immediately let the sheepfold and went hastily to Bethlehem. The text tells us that they found Mary, Joseph and the babe lying in the manger. It would have been such a monumental moment in the lives of each man. I wonder if they bowed down with reverential respect, or did they stand back in a holy hush as they observed royalty lying in that manger? The moment is nearly beyond comprehension.

V. The Shepherds and Their Heartfelt Proclamation (vs. 17-19)

A. Evident Proof: “What They Saw” (v. 17a)

This is an awesome setting for the future of the gospel. The men set out to share what they have seen. The greatness of the gospel is that we get to share what God has done for us. The shepherds saw it with their own eyes, and that was enough for them.

B. Eager Publication: “What They Shared (v. 17b)

The men eagerly went forth sharing what they had saw and what they had shared. The beauty of this story is that God has entrusted us to go share our story. The shepherds had no other recourse but to eagerly head out into the streets of Bethlehem and share the story.

C. Enriched People: “What They Studied (v. 18)

The people that heard the story would have to make up their own minds concerning its truthfulness and its relevance for their lives. It is the good news and should be considered as such. The gospel story should be readily shared with the entire world.

The gospel will never be forced upon a person, but should be readily shared and the left up to them to make up their minds concerning how they will receive it.

The shepherds were allowed to be the first proponents of the gospel story. The Lord entrusted the significant story of this monumental moment into the hands of Bethlehem’s Best and the men rose to the occasion.

VI. The Shepherds and Their Hearty Glorification (v. 20)

A. Returned Visitation for Their Sheep Fold

On the journey home, was there much talking among this group, or did each man ponder the wonderment of this night? The men had to go back, but they didn’t have to go back the same way that they left.

The best thing that can happen to a person is, upon meeting Jesus, they depart as a changed human being. The return trip may have swiftly passed as their minds swirled about the baby back in Bethlehem.

B. Raised Vocalization for Their Supreme Find

The lowly shepherds may have been ostracized by most of society, but God thought of them as special and He allowed them to be etched into history.

The men were now rejoicing and praising the very creator of the stars that shined brightly over their heads. The majestic story was safe and secure. God had no reason to worry or fret because the events of this night were entrusted to “Bethlehem’s Best”. I hope that you take time to consider the events of this most notable night. The Lord doesn’t need royalty or dignitaries when preserving His plan, He just needs faithful people that are available and willing vessels.

“Bethlehem’s Best: The Shepherd’s Song”

In yonder ages the Word was proclaimed

That a baby would be born, Jesus would be His name

Years passed by and the world stood waiting

Something had to occur that left no debating.

Out of the blue, on an awesome starry night

Some shepherds had a visitor that left them affright

When time came, God ignored all of the rest

And sent His angel to Bethlehem’s Best.

As the heavenly host praised loudly with one voice,

The shepherds were inspired and were eager to rejoice.

Into the night they fled with no regard to danger

To the city of David, for the babe in the manger.

Into the city so boldly they each walked

The angelic proclamation was the center of their talk.

The events of this night was shared from east to west

All because of the visit by Bethlehem’s Best.