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But why shepherds? Why did they have to be there? Why not prominent people like Herod or the rich? Shepherds were the poorest people and the lowest type of laborers at the time. They were unschooled and often rough mannered. And yet, they were the first to be told of the birth of Jesus.
But first things first---take note that God chose to send his Son to a poor family when he came to the world to save us. It was no accident. It was pre-planned. Father, Son and Holy Spirit sat down and carefully planned all this and decided to go to a poor and weak nation under Roman rule, to its smallest and poorest town, Bethlehem, and to a poor family. This alone speaks volumes of what is in God's heart. There was a vital reason for all this.
I often wonder---why not be born in Rome? Why not be born as a son of Caesar Augustus? Jesus could have so easily spread the Gospel and evangelized the whole world as a son of the most powerful emperor in the world. Or at least a son of Herod. Why choose to be a poor carpenter's son? This has lots to do with how our ministry should look at things. What is it in being poor that God took preference for it? Later, Jesus's first teaching would be, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
In God's logic---poor conquers the rich and powerful. Weak conquers the strong. Least is the greatest. But we miss all this with the way we celebrate Christmas, and the way we're so engrossed in it. Just look at church budgets for their Christmas program expense. And we see the poor, weak and least as those who'd likely not enjoy Christmas. You'd need lots of money to be happy at Christmas. And sadly, the modern church joins the world in this idea.
Moreover, being least and last and weak and poor is the last thing churches want to be. They struggle with the secular to be something in this world---to be first, to be praised, looked up to and recognized. To be as prominent as those of the world. Sometimes, to be more worldly than the world. Jesus didn't want any of that and chose to be born poor and unknown. This is something the church still needs to see and understand. Church still marvel at the look of success in this world.
Anyway, back to the shepherds. God wanted them to be there. So he sent an angel. The angel appeared to them one night with "the glory of the Lord" shining around them, says Luke. Imagine that! You'd never realize how exciting this was if you don't have any idea of what the glory is. God seldom revealed that glory to people---he didn't do it to Herod, Pilate or Caesar---but he decided to show it to these lowly, unknown, faceless shepherds.
The angel said, "I bring you good news of great joy for all the people!" Now, here's what convinced the shepherds to go see the baby in a manger---the "good news." How can a baby in a dirty, messy, smelly, yukky and disgusting manger be good news? You know what a manger is---it's where animals eat and defecate and do all kinds of mess. In those times, animal cages and mangers were not disinfected like they are now in the modern cattle industry. You were not supposed to give birth to a baby in a manger.
But mangers and cattle habitats were the world of shepherds. They grew up there. It was the only life they knew about. And this angel said, something in their way of living or livelihood was "good news!" It tickled their imagination. Really? There was hope, after all, for them despite their station in life. And the good news was great joy. How can mangers and dirty barns be great joy?
And here was the twist---a Savior was born in David's town, none other than Messiah the Lord! What? The Messiah? Born in a miserable manger? What's going on here? Wasn't the Messiah supposed to be King? In fact, he was supposed to be God!
If you really think about it, the announcement was nothing short of ridiculous. It was hard to believe stuff like this. So, the announcement was immediately backed up by the appearance of myriad of angels. And angels were known to be close to God, hearing his Word and seeing his face. You know that they know what they're talking about. It was easy to trust them.
If you share the Gospel with people, it's important to have good testimony. People should see that you're close to God, you hear his Word and you see his face. Do folks around you know you in this way? What more if you're a whole church with this righteous testimony? All you have to do is tickle people's imagination about the good news of Jesus which is great joy for all, and then leave. No need for follow up. No need to invite them to come back next Sunday.
Sadly, we're often known only to be active church members, not people who are close to God, hear his voice and see his face.
After the angels declared God's glory, they left. No follow up or invitation for the shepherds to come again next Sunday. They just left. The amazing thing was, the shepherds themselves concluded that they must go and see what it was all about.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They made the decision themselves. The angels didn't force them or invite them over and over or trapped them or used gimmicks. Not only that, Luke said in his story that the shepherds "hurried off" to look for the baby in a manger. Of their own volition, they sought Jesus with urgency. This is what should be happening in our evangelism. We tell them the beauty of Jesus and they become mesmerized and desperately seek after Jesus on their own.
Sometimes, instead of sharing Jesus to people, we tell them more about hell. We should attack sin and emphasize repentance, but we should dwell more on the glory of Jesus Christ.
Here are the important factors in sharing the Good News about Jesus:
- We should genuinely know Jesus and be close to him.
- We should hear his voice (because we are his sheep) and see his face.
- We should have a godly life testimony.
- We should be able to tell people how beautiful Jesus is in his simplicity and meekness, not lure people with material blessings, riches and fame.
- We should leave people to decide on their own about Jesus.
- We should not pursue after people.
After going all over Bethlehem searching every manger, they found the baby and his parents. After finding them, they went and spread the good news themselves. That's the result when we do evangelism God's way. People get saved and feel the urge to go out and spread the Gospel, without anyone telling them to.
If we use our own ways and efforts, we may fill up our churches with people, but people who just watch what's going on and never make any commitment for Jesus on their own. Worse, they will later become pains in the neck, church people who rule over their pastor and control the church.
Finally, look at what the shepherds did. Luke said, "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." Of their own volition, they returned. No need to invite them to come back next Sunday. And they came back with worshipful attitudes. If what they hear and see are genuinely of God, they will produce good fruit. This is the result when the good news is shared accurately, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Everything happened "just as they had been told."