Poster: Thomas Kilian III
Posted: December 15, 2023
9 minute read time
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'” -- Luke 2:8-12
A lot is going on in this passage. The first thing that would have been scandalous about this divine event, in human eyes, is that shepherds are involved. Although the imagery of the shepherd is redeemed in the Scriptures, and the Bible talks positively about the role of the shepherd, in the first century, you couldn't get much lower than the shepherd. History shows that shepherds could not hold public office in this period. Their testimony was not admissible as evidence in courts. A philosopher in Alexandria, which was the center of the intellectual world at the time, said, "There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd.”
The first-century pious Jews boycotted buying things from shepherds, namely wool, milk, and kids because they assumed they were stolen. Why? Many hired shepherds would take the sheep, sometimes months away from the owner's property, to find land upon which sheep could graze. As those sheep had kids, there was no way to mark whether or not the flock had multiplied. Shepherds would take advantage of that and steal the kids and sell the wool and the milk for their own—making money from their theft. Sadly, even honest shepherds could not trade anything to feed their families because society viewed them as thieves. They were the lowest of the low. They were seen as vagrants, thieves, and dirty. They were not allowed in the temple. Because they handled the animals and their supposed lifestyle, they were not allowed to come and worship in the temple and make sacrifices. Yet, moments after the birth of Jesus, the heralding of the good news of the gospel did not go to the ruling elite. The message did not go to the pious and religious, but in a sign of what Jesus was all about, the heralding of the coming of the Messiah went to those who could not come to God. Therefore, He went to them—the shepherds.
In Luke 2, we see the glory of God shining around the shepherds. The glory of God shone not on those waking up early in the morning to get their Torah out, not those who washed their hands 17 times before their meals, not those who tithed, not those who were in the temple every week, not even those who made sure everyone well behaved.
No, the glory of God shone all around the shepherds, those whom society said can't be trusted, those whom broader culture said, "They're thieves," regardless of whether they were or not. The glory of God, the weight of God, shows up among them. Consider some things we see here in Luke 2:9 about the glory of God.
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great…” (Verse 9)
The first thing we learn about God’s glory is this:
The glory of God shows up, and it exposes these shepherds. They're terrified. Isn’t it true that when the glory of God shows up, we see ourselves as we are? The glory of God shows up, and it exposes where we have fallen short. Every bit of our “goodness” and self-justification melts in His glory's light.
The glory of God exposes us. It's why these shepherds were terrified. One could make a case that, "No, it was just the middle of the night, and all of a sudden, there was an angel there," but the glory of God surrounding them exposed them for who they were. If you have been around men, you might know that their conversations are rarely righteous when they get together. When the glory of God shows up, it exposes us for who we are, and we are acutely made aware of our deep and desperate need for a Savior. The glory of God exposes, but that's not all it does…
“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Verse 10)
I love this verse because this is Good News, the Gospel. And it’s where we find the second insight from our Luke 2 passage:
The glory of God not only exposes our darkness, but when that fear grips us, it also drives out fear and replaces it with joy. Paired with His wrath and judgment, God’s glory is meant to lay before us the good news that drives out fear and replaces it with joy. Look at the declaration again in verse 10, "Fear not..." How is it possible not to fear a Holy God who is righteous, hates sin, and rages against injustice? How are we not to fear under God, whom righteous men in the history of the world have fallen down in terror and reverence of? Well, the next declaration helps us. "Fear not..." Why? "...because I bring to you good news."
What is the good news that drives out our hearts' fears about God's wrath? Christ showing up—coming into the world. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This is why the shepherds are receiving good news in this otherwise frightening event. Jesus wasn't born with a little sword and a list of people to kill for not obeying the law. Christ is born as the life raft in a sea of condemnation, death, and destruction, there for all who will climb in the 'S.S. Covenant' to be saved from the condemnation already in the world. The good news is that God has made a way where we could not make a way for ourselves. That's the good news. This good news brings about great joy to those who understand they're sinners. If you're aware of your sin, don't ever despise your awareness. Awareness of shortcomings is a sweet gift from God. The glory of God drives out fear and replaces it with joy because Christ came not to condemn but rather to save the world from condemnation. This brings us to the third revelation of what happens when God’s glory appears:
We know this to be true. Read verse 15…
“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’”
See how the shepherds are reasoning in this text? They say, "Let us go see this thing the Lord has made known." What I love about these shepherds is, upon hearing from the Word of the Lord, they didn't stop and go, "Did that really happen? Let's consider theologizing on what happened." That's not what they did. They said, in short, "The Lord revealed it; let's go see it." This childlike wonderment builds confidence in what God said that now is driving them to see what God has said would be waiting for them. I want my life to be marked by that.
When I read in the Word of God that generosity changes the inner man and pleases God's heart, I want to say, "The Lord said it; let's go see it." When I read about what God calls a husband to be, where I will love my future wife like Christ loves the church, that she will look like a well-watered vine that produces much fruit, I want to say, "The Lord said it; let's go see it." When I think about raising children and what God says happens when a parent puts “kindling” around the souls of their children, I want to go, "The Lord said it; let's go see it." When I read in the Scriptures that the arms of the Lord are not too short to save, I want there to bubble up in my confidence in the Word of God, this sense of adventure that says, "The Lord said it; let's go see it." The glory of God builds our confidence.
When you see the ‘weight’ of God, the splendor of God, the might of God, you're driven into confidence that what the Word of God says is true. Now, here's what's interesting to know. If you plow through these verses, you won't catch all I think the Lord wants you to.Let me break it down… Here’s what just happened. These brothers are away from towns, and an angel says, "Here's the sign. Here's where you find baby Jesus. He will be wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." They respond, "The Lord said it; let's go see it." Now, they have a long walk to Bethlehem. Then, they have to find the stable. Then, they have to find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. We have no idea how long this might take. When we read verses 16 and 20, we find a fourth thing about what happens when God’s glory shows up:
“And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Verse 16)
“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Verse 20)
When Jesus is seen and gift-giving is done, the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Here is what is important to note about what the glory of God does in the day-in and day-out of our worlds. Nothing has changed in the social standing of the shepherds. It's not like all of a sudden, since they had heard from angels, gone to the manger, and seen the Messiah, their testimony will now stand in a court of law. It's not like all of a sudden, they can be trusted in society's eyes. None of that was fixed, yet they left rejoicing.
Here's what the glory of God does. The glory of God injects gratitude in the highs and lows of our lives so that joy becomes a foundational element in the Christian experience, having beheld the glory of God and now being intimately aware of how good and gracious God has been to us, regardless of life's circumstances.
The shepherds leave rejoicing. The shepherds leave praising God, but where are they going? Back to being shepherds, back to sheep. See, the glory of God invades our space. Here is what should be true about us who are in Christ. Having experienced the grace and generosity of God, we should be all the more aware of what is good and right in our world rather than being an expert on all that has gone wrong.
Think about how different things are at home when you look at your spouse and are grateful for all they do and bring rather than being an expert on all they don't do and all you wish they would. Think about how different things are at home when you look at your physical pain and are grateful for the life given to you by God, a life that makes pain possible, rather than being resentful and your spirit withering away. There's change, there's transformation. The Apostle Paul says this, and I hope to encourage you with it:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…”
— 2 Corinthians 3:18
It's those who will do that disciplined work of ‘beholding’ who are shaped by the glory of God and ultimately will lead lives of joy.
May the grace of God keep you and mould you, for His name sake.
Blessings to you in Christ's name.