“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”
;Luke 2:8-9 (NIV)
On the night that Jesus was born, the angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to make the announcement, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
But why the shepherds? Have you ever given this much thought? Many individuals simply think it was because Jesus was born into a humble family, placed in a humble manger, all within a humble barn, in a humble town. Certainly shepherds were one of the lowliest and most humble “professions” known at that time. Even Joseph, when ruling in Egypt, indicated “all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (Gen 46:34) and Jesse, when talking to Samuel concerning which of his sons was to be anointed king, indicated his youngest son, David, was but tending the sheep (I Sam 16:11).
But maybe there is more to the story! Let’s consider a different perspective on shepherds by looking back on the establishment of the Passover in Exodus 12. In this chapter of Scripture, the Lord has given Moses instructions in preparation for the 10th plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt, that plague being “every firstborn son in Egypt will die” (Exodus 11:5). The Lord has told Moses, “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of the month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household…….The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect……This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance” (Gen 12:3,5,14).
Now consider this. There are approximately 1,500 years between the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the establishment of the Passover to the time when Jesus Christ was born. So for 1,500 years, shepherds played a key role in God’s plan to provide enough lambs, year-old males, without defect, so that all Israelite families could remember the Passover and worship God according to His will, purpose and eternal plan. In fulfilling their duties and responsibilities, these shepherds had to be active and intentional in their care of the sheep and lambs. As lambs were born, these shepherds had to maintain careful and consistent watch over the flocks from all predators. Many predators would come but these shepherds were committed to protect and serve the flock. Their eyes were keen to crevices and cliffs as they led the flock. And these shepherds made sure they found green pasture to feed those under their care. And perhaps the crowning event each year in the life of a shepherd was knowing his work provided the year-old male lamb, healthy and without defect so that his family and Israelite community members could worship the Lord God properly in accordance with His will. What an important responsibility! There was nothing passive about the work of a shepherd.
So on the night that Jesus was born and the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, could it be that God, who had used this lowly, unsophisticated, humble profession of shepherding to provide Passover lambs for 1,500 years, wanted shepherds to be the first to behold the real, true, and eternal “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This was the Lamb, the Messiah, perfect, holy, righteous, and without defect or blemish, that had now arrived! And in that moment, the eyes of the shepherds were opened and their lives were changed forever. Scripture tells us, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20). Perhaps these very shepherds became some of the very first evangelists, proclaiming the good news and saving life of Jesus Christ. No more need to slaughter lambs from the flock year after year to secure God’s favor and forgiveness of sin! The once-for-all Lamb of God has arrived!
The lowly shepherds were visited by an angel of the Lord and were the first to see and worship the Lamb of God, even before the Magi came, those wise men from the east! You see, Scripture is so true where it shares the very words of Jesus who said, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30). Dearly beloved, like the shepherds of old, I hope and pray that you have come “to see” in the eyes of your heart the Lamb of God. It is His shed blood that provides your pardon and mercy; it is His shed blood that cleanses you of all sin; it is His shed blood that saves you and brings you eternal life.
In Luke 2:19, we are told that as Mary witnessed the visit of the shepherds and their response of worship and praise, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Oh that we would do likewise, accepting by faith the gift of salvation and eternal life so graciously given.