Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tree Trimming #2 Shepherds and Spiritual Outcasts

"When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us."  
Luke 2:15

In the digital age, our hands and fingers are trained for typing.  Very few of us who've embraced our technology-driven lifestyle know much about plowing, milking cows, or other aspects of what used to be called "animal husbandry".  Honestly, besides seeing Christmas plays and the occasional clergymen, when was the last time you saw someone carry a shepherd's staff?

We don't know much about shepherds in our day, but the Bible tells us plenty about shepherds in ancient Palestine and the surrounding areas.  While Jacob had apparently mastered shepherding as a science (see Genesis 30:35-43), his neighbors to the east in Egypt despised the occupation and anyone who had taken it up (Genesis 46:31-34).  There are notable exceptions in Israel (David and Amos were shepherds) but generally, shepherds were not thought well of at all.  For details on this fact, see Randy Alcorn's classic article, "A Second Glance at the Christmas Shepherds" from Moody Monthly Magazine.

The angelic announcement to shepherds is perhaps most clearly understood by the fact that the announcement was NOT made to Herod's court, a respected rabbinical school, or even to devout worshipers at the Temple.  Funny enough, in answer to Isaiah's question, "Who has believed our report and to whom as the arm of the LORD been revealed?"(Isaiah 53:1), we only need one word: shepherds.  It's a running theme in the Bible, isn't it?  The least likely candidates are the ones blessed to receive and believe God's word.

Abraham should not have believed that he would become the "father of many nations", but he did.  Why should a harlot named Rahab have believed in the God of Israel? But she did.  Shouldn't Paul have been the last to believe in Christ?  He was the last Apostle, but against all odds he did believe.  According to Deuteronomy 7:7-8, the whole nation of Israel, if based on it's own credentials, should have never been chosen as God's special vehicle to reveal Himself.  And yet, they were.

Have you ever thought about sharing the gospel message with someone and then after a second thought concluded it would probably do no good?  Have you ever intended to invite a friend to a Bible study, small group meeting, or church service but reconsidered because you didn't see any signs that they'd be interested?  Angels sent to random shepherds in the field illustrate God's intent that no one should be overlooked when it comes to hearing the gospel message.

In our preparations to celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord, let us remember how God sent special invitations to persons from the lowest rungs of the social ladder.   If we dare to underestimate a person's capacity to believe the gospel or interest in biblical truth and use our fallible thinking as a basis to abandon our ambassadorial duties to God for their sake (2nd Corinthians 5:20-21), we are in grave danger.  Why?  Because our underestimation of others is really an overestimation of ourselves and a prideful omission of the fact that when we should have been cast out, God called us and when we should have been shunned, God saved us (Ephesians 2:1-5).

In retrospect, maybe we should have expected Christ's birth to be announced to shepherds.  Why wouldn't the birth of a Shepherd (Matthew 2:6 ; John 10:11) be good news to shepherds?  

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