Worth the Wait: Advent Scriptures and Devotion for December 23
Mon, 12/23/2013 - 9:33am Dr. Carl Peters
We move into the final two days of our Advent preparation. In this study we will consider the very first ones to receive a personal invitation to be witnesses to the coming of the Messiah. One might think that the birth of a king would command the attention of political leaders, dignitaries, members of the intelligentsia, and the religious elite. In keeping with the humility of Jesus‚Äô arrival, the first on the scene to worship God in human flesh, were simple shepherds. In our study for December 23rd, we will attempt to uncover why these tenders of the flocks were given an angelic announcement and first row seats to the greatest birth in all of history. We begin our study with the close connection between shepherds and the dynastic tradition of Israel. Let‚Äôs go back to the story of one of the most famous shepherd boys in the Bible‚Ä¶a shepherd who became king.
1 Samuel 16:4-13
The Lord said to Samuel, ‚ÄúHow long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.‚Äù 2 And Samuel said, ‚ÄúHow can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.‚Äù And the Lord said, ‚ÄúTake a heifer with you and say, ‚ÄòI have come to sacrifice to the Lord.‚Äô3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.‚Äù Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, ‚ÄúDo you come peaceably?‚Äù 5 And he said, ‚ÄúPeaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.‚Äù And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‚ÄúSurely the Lord's anointed is before him.‚Äù 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, ‚ÄúDo not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.‚Äù 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, ‚ÄúNeither has the Lord chosen this one.‚Äù 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‚ÄúNeither has the Lord chosen this one.‚Äù 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, ‚ÄúThe Lord has not chosen these.‚Äù 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‚ÄúAre all your sons here?‚Äù And he said, ‚ÄúThere remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.‚Äù And Samuel said to Jesse, ‚ÄúSend and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.‚Äù12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, ‚ÄúArise, anoint him, for this is he.‚Äù 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.
In this dramatic and ironic narrative, Samuel has been dispatched by God to find the new king for Israel. King Saul‚Äôs failures rendered him impotent and in disfavor with God. Therefore, God sent the prophet to Bethlehem, to Jesse, the father of eight sons. Out of Jesse‚Äôs progeny would come God‚Äôs anointed one.
One by one the sons were interviewed by Samuel. One by one they were rejected. After seven sons had paraded by the prophet, Samuel asks if all of Jesse‚Äôs offspring have been seen. Jesse explains that one son remains. Surely he was not the future king, for the only son left was the youngest who was out tending the sheep. Regardless of Jesse‚Äôs seemingly dismissive attitude toward his baby boy, when Samuel met David, the shepherd, he knew immediately that this was the chosen one of God.
The Lord instructed Samuel to anoint David, for he was the chosen one. Samuel took the oil which God commanded him to bring. He anointed David while his brothers witnessed the spectacle. At his anointing with oil, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David. Indeed David, the shepherd boy had become King David.
Herein lies the connection between the occupation of shepherd and that of king. For David, the mighty King was first a shepherd, and according to 2 Samuel 5:2, would continue to be a shepherd. ‚ÄúAnd the Lord said to (David), ‚ÄòYou shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be leader over Israel.‚Äô‚Äù Likewise, Ezekiel 34:23 states, ‚ÄúAnd I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.‚Äù
And how does this apply to the coming of Jesus, the Messiah? Remember that David was promised by God that one of his heirs would sit on his throne forever (1 Kings 2:45, 9:5). The Messiah would be a ‚Äúson of David.‚Äù It stands to reason that the Messiah, in the line of David, would retain the connection of shepherd and king.
John 10:11-16 make Jesus‚Äô identity as King of kings (Matthew 2:2), and as a shepherd absolutely undeniable. Jesus says, ‚ÄúI am the good shepherd.The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd.I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
In the Davidic kingdom, the king was a shepherd. In the kingdom of God, Jesus, the King of kings, was also a Shepherd. So, it makes sense that a band of shepherds tending their flocks would be offered first row seats for the nativity!
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 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.
10 And the angel said to them, ‚ÄúFear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.‚Äù 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 ‚ÄúGlory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!‚Äù 15
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‚ÄúLet us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.‚Äù16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Have you ever thought it strange that some men announce the birth of their children by passing out cigars? Welcoming new life into the world is certainly a cause for celebration. We want the news to be spread! From frantic phone calls to pictures posted online, we want everyone to know the good news.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a similar dynamic existed. The news of the Messiah‚Äôs arrival should have been received centuries before ‚Äì through the prophetic writings. The ‚Äúwaiting room‚Äù ought to have been full of those who had received the announcement through the Scriptures. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and others had prophesied with great specificity the details concerning the arrival of the Anointed One. Yet, there was no one there to welcome the baby King, save Mary and Joseph, and a cadre of farm animals.
So, God doesn‚Äôt wait for people to figure it out. He sends a personal invitation to a group of shepherds out on the hillside of Judea. In doing so, God also makes a great theological statement concerning the mission of His Son in coming to dwell with men.
Birth announcements by angels or the Lord, Himself, are not uncommon in the Scriptures. This happened to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-13), Abraham (Genesis 17:1-21), Manoah (Judges 13:3-23) and to Zechariah (Luke 1:11-20). To this list add some shepherds from the hills of Judea. What stands out is that the previous announcements were made to those to whom the child would be given. In the angelic announcement to the shepherds, they were given the privilege of being witnesses despite having no apparent relationship to the Mary and Joseph. Could God be revealing that Jesus‚Äô ministry would focus on the humble? He would bless more than his own family ‚Äì but the Messiah would come for all people ‚Äì especially the humble and lowly. Mary‚Äôs song of praise speaks to this. She proclaims that the Lord, ‚Äúhas scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate‚Ä¶‚Äù The angel declared that the birth of the Messiah was good news for all the people!
The story unfolds in a familiar pattern, consistent with the other birth announcements in Scripture. The angel appears, the shepherds react in fear, the angel assuages their fear and makes his announcement concerning the birth of the Messiah, the angel concludes by offering them a sign ‚Äì the babe will be found wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
God‚Äôs glory has oft been expressed as an enveloping cloud. God‚Äôs Presence was made manifest through these occurrences. God‚Äôs glory cloud encircled Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18). His glory filled the temple (2 Chronicles 5:13, 7:1). The glory of the Lord was also associated with the Ark of the Covenant and the most Holy place where the Ark was kept (Ezekiel 10:4). This is also seen at the transfiguration when Peter, James and John are encompassed about by God‚Äôs glory (Matthew 17:5).
On that hillside, the angel appeared to those shepherds, ‚Äúand the glory of the Lord shone around them.‚Äù How do these simple men respond to this spectacle? They are fearful!! After the angel calms their fears, he extends the invitation for them to come and see this thing that has come to pass.
The Great Choir
Once the angel concludes, he is joined by the heavenly host offering praise to the Lord. ‚ÄúGlory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased.‚Äù
As if hearing the angel were not enough, now the shepherds are privy to the greatest choir in human history. A multitude of angels are added to make up a choir of cosmic proportions. Mary‚Äôs song and that of Zechariah were wonderful responses to God‚Äôs favor. But the coming of Jesus called for an epic song of praise offered up by the hosts of heaven. Nothing less would do.
The Threefold Response
After experiencing this, the shepherds find the invitation a cause for action. Whether curious or deeply moved, Luke records that they ‚Äúmade haste.‚Äù This is reminiscent of Mary‚Äôs response to the angel Gabriel. She ‚Äúmade haste‚Äù to go to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). This is demonstrated to be the correct response when God‚Äôs instructions are handed down. Mary and the shepherds were rewarded for their prompt obedience. For Mary, she was given the privilege of being the mother of the Son of God. For the shepherds, they were very first to see the Messiah.
After they found the baby, just as the angel had told them, they went about spreading the news ‚Äì of what they had heard, and no doubt, what they had seen. I suppose we might consider the shepherds the first missionaries. Those who heard them tell of their experience wondered about these things.
Finally, they returned worshiping God! These shepherds had more than a spectacular night. They were transformed by the Word of God. They had not only heard the Word of the Lord, they had met Him! Their obedience, evangelistic fervor and worshipful response has placed them forever on the mantles of Christians celebrating Christmas, and on the pages of Luke‚Äôs gospel where they will be remembered as the first to see the baby King who was also a shepherd.