Sermon 2017 12 31

31.12.17 AM Sermon            (Luke 2:8-20) "Shadowing the Shepherds"

 

On Christmas Eve we considered the example of the Shepherds, albeit briefly.

I'd like us to look at a little more closely at their example, and what implications there are for us.

How are the Shepherds described for us in this passage ?

There are 13 ways that they offer us an example. So as we shadow the Shepherds we learn that they are …

 

1. Living

"there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby."

Now, we know that they are living, as in not dead, but they are making a living, going about their daily lives.

We join them in their work place. Here, for them, faith and the work-life meet.

God was going to visit these men, and they are most likely to have been men, in their work-place.

Interestingly, God often encountered people in their work place or as they were working …

  • Moses looking after sheep and distracted by a burning bush.
  • Gideon threshing wheat
  • Zechariah in the temple told he would have a son and to name him John.
  • John and James in their father's fishing business
  • Matthew at his tax-collectors booth.
  • The teachers of the law in the temple.
  • The woman at the well.
  • The soldiers at the cross.
  • Saul as he religiously persecuted Christians.

There are so many I could name. We shouldn't think of our place of work as being something separate from our spiritual lives.

And there the Shepherds are, minding their own business, or someone else's business, as hired hands perhaps? And God breaks in to their humdrum existence and catapults them into a story that would be told for the next 2000 years.

What they now did and how they reacted and responded would be recorded and recalled by generations to follow. We must not separate the world of work from the world of faith. They are entwined.

Do not think that the work that you do is separate to the life of faith. In fact, a lot of our lives is about work, at school, at home, even in retirement we experience work, and we should also experience God right there with us - not push him out and compartmentalise our lives.

You may be an employee, a boss, retired, a volunteer, a parent, a spouse, a student. Wherever you work may you watch for God to also be at work.

 

2. Neighbouring

These shepherds happened to be outside working at the time, and they happened to be nearby, in the neighbourhood of Jesus - close enough to have the opportunity to encounter Jesus for themselves.

These shepherds at this time, in this place. It all came together for them.

But you know, people can be close to Jesus, but never take the opportunity to meet him for themselves.

There are many who will have missed Jesus as he passed by, there were those who ignored him, how dismissed him, who had better things to do.

Luke tells us of a few encounters with Jesus where those who, when faced with following Jesus, chose to look the other way, or look back. They were near but did not get close.

Luke 9:57-62

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

There will have been people in Jericho, the crowds, but Jesus singled out Zacchaeus the short chief tax-collector who had climbed a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus - he was in the neighbourhood, but wanted to get closer - and he did, he had Jesus round for Tea.

The four men carrying the paralytic couldn't get close to Jesus because of the crowds, so they dug through the room and dropped him in Jesus lap!

The woman who had been suffering from bleeding pushed her way through the crowd to just touch the hem of Jesus' garment.

Blind Bartimaeous ignored the crowds telling him to be quiet and shouted all the louder - "Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!" (Mark 10)

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, when the crowds were gone, or when he could do so in secret perhaps.

If you are in Jesus' neighbourhood, or if he is in yours, if you are nearby, do not ignore him - get closer!

 

3. Watching

The shepherds were (v8) "keeping watch over their flocks at night."

They were doing what good shepherds were supposed to do. These were good shepherds, watchful, guarding their flock. God had much to say about the shepherds of Israel - the leaders - they were unfaithful, not keeping watch - only out for their own gain.

But these shepherds were faithfully going about their work. Not shirking, but working!

They were feeding, not fleecing the flock. Jesus is our example of the Good Shepherd, who keeps watch over his flock. "He leadeth me beside still waters …" etc.

The scriptures have much to say to us about keeping watch, enough for a whole other sermon.

Suffice to say …

Jesus encourages us to keep an eye out for his return, to live our lives in expectation, to be ready, not wasting our time and energies. (Matthew 24:42) “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."

And God calls those in leadership, as under-shepherds, to keep watch over themselves and God's precious flock: (Acts 20:28) "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood."

He warns leaders to be on their guard against false teaching and steer clear of trouble-makers - who are only out for themselves: (Rom 16:17) "I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them."

And He reminds God's people to (Hebrews 13:17) "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you."

It is mutually beneficial for each of us to watch over ourselves and one another - this is a thoroughly Baptist principle.

Baptists hold covenanting together in membership as very dear - and I quote (from the Baptist Union website) "Members were to ‘watch over each other’, holding each other up to discipleship and holiness, in a life that might contain many unexpected developments as they ‘walked together’ into a future in which God made their way ‘known to them’."

May we keep watch, just as those faithful few shepherds did.

What if they had not be watching over their flock, but had left their flock to their own devices and been at home? They would have missed out on the angelic orchestra with their good news perhaps.

 

4. Listening

And now it came time to listen. May we be ever listening to what God may say to us, even in unexpected circumstances, even in the hum drum.

We read how (v9) "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified."

Even in their fright they needed to listen - they could have made a run for it in that uncomfortable place, but they held fast, not knowing whether this was going to be good or bad news.

May we listen to God even if he wants to share some home truths with us - perhaps disappointing news. He will journey with us through it all, bad and good.

(v10) "But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."

Oh good! What a relief - good news!

(v11) "Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."

Wow! This is the day! The long awaited Messiah that God promised. He has come. And we are the first to hear it! Wow!

But their "Wow!" may have quickly turned to a "What?"

(v12) "This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

A manger! Hang on there, do you know who you're talking to? Shepherds! We know mangers! We know what they are for. They are not for babies! They are certainly not for Saviours! No! No way! What? A Manger!!

And before that could really sink in …

(v13-14) "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

This does not make sense at all. Glory, highest heaven - a Saviour, in a manger?

But they needed to listen and take it in. Sometimes we need to carefully listen and not dismiss what the Lord is saying to us - we can all have a "I know better" attitude - but we need to see past our manger barriers, and trust the Lord's word to us.

 

5. Discussing

I love the fact that next we see how (v15) "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another …" They had a discussion, they talked, chatted with one another. They each did not act alone here. They collectively took in what God had said, together they discerned what they should do. It was a collective decision. You could say this was a simple model for a church meeting - God spoke, they listened, they discussed, they decided, they acted.

 

6. Planning

And we see how they formulated a plan (v15) “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened"

This was the agreed plan - they were not going to ignore the good news, they were going to get more of it.

In so doing, they were about to become bearers of good news.

May we as a church, listen to what the Lord is saying to us, and plan ahead our response.

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. And this plan is to be one grounded in faith.

 

7. Believing

For we read how they say (v15) -  “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

The Lord has told us, and it has happened. Here is faith that is not dead, because it is being acted upon.

They take God at His word and respond together immediately, and indeed they waste no time for we see how in response to God's good news they are …

 

8. Hurrying

(v16) "so they hurried off" I love this phrase; one of my favourites in the Christmas story, perhaps scripture.

They wasted no time and acted upon their plan, their decision - with eagerness and enthusiasm.

It gives the impression that they hadn't quite got everything together - leaving in a hurry - you take only what you need quickly, no time for dallying, no time to take anything unnecessary. No encumbrances.

Procrastination can be the death of faithful obedience.

I'll do it tomorrow. It can wait. When the time comes. When I feel like it.

Hurry to obey God, do not delay. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.

 

9. Discovering

And the reward of their hurried obedience was the greatest discovery they would ever make for they (v16) "found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger."

Shepherds were used to searching for lost sheep, or for safe and wholesome pasture, or fresh water.

These shepherds didn't give up but searched for the sign, the child in the crowd, the baby boy in bustling Bethlehem - their tenacity was rewarded, the treasure hunt yielded found treasure; the majesty in the Manger. They had found their Shepherd, they were the lost sheep, they had found their promised land, their living water. Have you discovered for yourself the greatest treasure you could ever behold?

He is there … for you. Yes you!

Smelly shunned overlooked shepherds; the bottom of the heap, told first. When a royal birth in the UK s announced, there is a procedure to tell people in the right order. In order of importance.

But throughout scripture we see God's order often the reverse of this world's.

Shepherds, elderly Simeon, widow Anna, then foreigners following a star, then King Herod (two year later!)

10. Seeing

And we see that with their own eyes the Shepherds saw their Saviour, (v17) "When they had seen him".

Do you see your Saviour? - in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth; the babe in the rented manger, the God Man on the reviled cross.

If you really do see him, they you won't want to keep him for yourself.

Sadly, for many who claim to be His followers, for many who claim not only to have seen him but to have received him as their own Saviour and Lord, He is their best kept secret.

But for these Shepherds they could not hold Jesus back

 

11. Spreading

They told the tale, an incredible story by questionably credible witnesses.

(v17) "they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child."

The first evangelists were stinky shepherds  - enthusiastic in their evangelising.

They did not need to be persuaded to go out or taught how to share - this was all about gossiping good news - they saw and heard and spoke - with their  focus upon Jesus, they shared everything concerning him.

And these witnesses may not have been our first choice to be the first to announce the Jewish Messiah.

I mean perhaps they were thought of as having had a bit too much to drink out in the fields.

Similar to the accusation that was made of the disciples on the day of Pentecost - babbling drunks.

But we read how (v18) "all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

Could this be? That the Saviour has come? If so then we have amazing news!!

 

12. Returning

But it did not stop there, for ordinary life continued. For we read how  (v20) "The shepherds returned" - they went back to their work, their lives had changed for ever, but everyday life had not stopped. And perhaps thirty years later some of them were learning about this Jesus causing a stir in Jerusalem - only 5 miles away, less than 2 hours walk away.

Those we may have encountered Jesus for ourselves, our perhaps hum drum life continues - but with a new focus, a new purpose, a new foundation, a new perspective.

Indeed we read how they continued in their worship.

 

13. Glorifying & Praising God

(v20) "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." God had blessed them with the first view of their long-awaited Saviour.

It was true and it resulted in lives of praise and worship, thankful full hearts and lives.

God had spoken, they had heard and responded, and it all added up.

 

May we at the close of this year and the outset of a new one, learn from the Shepherds.

May we step into the shadow of these mighty yet humble individuals and group.

May we learn from them how we might encounter God in our everyday lives, wherever we may be or may be doing, in the home or the workplace, at rest or play. May we draw near to Him and seek to get ever closer to him, whatever others may think or say. May we watch over ourselves and one another, ready for Jesus. May we be ever listening, in every situation we may find ourselves, prepared to hold in check our preconceptions or objections. May we value one another's listening and journey together, discussing, deciding as God's people seeking to discern the mind of Christ, with the presence of the Spirit, according to the scriptures. Planning together, in faith, trusting in God's word to us. Indeed, not delaying but hurrying to obey, knowing that we are never going to have it all together, we are never going to be fully ready to take the steps of faith that God is calling us to  he will provide and guide though. And discovering the reward of obedience, seeing for ourselves the grace of God in our midst, and being able to spread this treasure without measure, even though we may still be where we were and what we were doing as before, but now different - living lives of worship and praise and glory to God. Amen.


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