"Showing the way, Teaching the truth,
Experiencing the life in Christ"
The Shepherd's Story
(Luke 2:8-20, NLT)
For the next four weeks, we will learn about the Christmas story through the testimony of four eye witnesses. Today we will hear from a shepherd who was one among many others “guarding their flocks of sheep” on the outskirts of Jerusalem on the night Jesus was born. Luke described what happened when he wrote the words of Luke chapter 2, verses 8-20:
8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,
10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.
11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.
18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,
19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.
20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
II. The Shepherd's Story
Good morning. I guess I should begin by introducing myself. My name is Matthias and I’m a shepherd. I used to scratch out a living tending sheep in the land of Palestine. I’m here to tell you about the night my understanding of God and his purposes, and His plan for my life, changed forever. I’m one of those shepherds Luke referred to when he wrote, “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep” (Luke 2:8, NLT).
I’ve got to level with you. This is not the most comfortable thing for a man like me to do. I’m not as sophisticated as most of you. I’ve never had any formal education. When I was a child my father began to train me in the only skill he knew—shepherding. I’m not a theologian either. Certainly, my parents told me the stories of our forefathers—those great men of faith like Abraham, Moses, and David. We sang the Psalms like all good Hebrews and occasionally went to the synagogue to hear the rabbi teach. But that was about the extent of it.
We didn’t mingle a lot with other people. It’s not that we were antisocial. It’s just that shepherding as a profession wasn’t highly esteemed. It’s hard, monotonous work. You spend most of your time outdoors, exposed to the elements.
Here in your country you have fenced pastures and well-built barns for your livestock. Shepherds in my country don’t have those luxuries. Our sheep graze in the open countryside. We have to lead them to green pastures to eat and to still waters to drink, walking every step of the way.
Suffice it to say that people of my profession are looked down on. We are near the bottom of the ladder when it comes to social standing in the community. Nobody ever says it, but we can tell that most folks don’t want us around. Part of the reason is the way we look and smell.
If you’re a shepherd, there’s not a lot of time to trim your beard or wash your face or clean your clothes. When you spend a lot of time with sheep you begin to smell like them. You may not know this, but sheep are filthy animals. The wool you see ready to be sold and made into clothing has already been cleaned. A sheep in the field is as nasty as a pig. So, you can imagine the reaction of people in the village when a few of us stop in for supplies. They’re happy to take our money, but we can tell they’re eager for us to leave.
What I don’t understand is the mistrust the townspeople have for shepherds. Maybe it is because of our nomadic lifestyle. We move from place to place, sort of like your carnival workers. If something is stolen the shepherd is automatically the most likely suspect. That’s unfair. I’m sure there are some dishonest shepherds, but isn’t that the case in every profession? For some reason people just assume we are all thieves and scoundrels. Even the judges make those assumptions. They won’t allow the testimony of a shepherd in the courts…just because he is a shepherd.
What hurts and angers me most is the attitude of the religious leaders toward us. I am part of a special group of shepherds who raise the lambs used for sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem. We work diligently raising those sheep. We pick out the best male lambs for the priests. They have no spots or blemishes. We never pawn off blind or crippled sheep on the priests. We figure God deserves the best, so that’s what we gave Him.
However, our efforts go unrecognized by the priests and the good religious people. In fact, they often sneer at us when we bring our lambs into the Holy City. The priests pay us and then the Temple guards drive us out as quickly as possible. I guess they don’t want grimy shepherds cluttering up the place.
The religious people look down on us because we don’t attend the synagogue services and religious feasts as consistently as they do. We want to, but we can’t. Shepherding is a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week job. It’s like they never see our problem. We present them perfect lambs to sacrifice, but only because we work so hard at our jobs. Because we work such long, hard hours we can’t possibly be present at all the religious celebrations.
We are also considered ceremonially unclean. The Pharisees have set us elaborate cleansing rituals for those who want to participate in Temple worship. Even if we had the time off we would never be clean enough to participate.
Because the priests and the scribes and the Pharisees look down on us—those who are considered the righteous people despise us—I am beginning to wonder if perhaps God does too. That notion, however, forever vanished from my mind the night the angel appeared. I know this will sound crazy, but it really happened. I hope, unlike most of my countrymen, you will believe the testimony I’m about to share.
It happened late one night. On the Hebrew calendar, it would have been the first day of the sixth month—the month of Elul. On your calendar, it would be about the 11th day of September. All of the shepherds had gathered their sheep together in a meadow just outside Bethlehem. We combined them into one big flock for protection and so we could enjoy one another’s company. Some of the men would sleep while others talked, told stories, or played their flutes and lyres.
Suddenly a strange silence fell over us and an enormous human-like figure appeared near some of the sheep. His clothes were brilliant white. Every shepherd left his post to get a better look at this strange visitor. The sheep just laid there, calm and restful.
What happened next is difficult for me to describe. Every hair on my body was standing on end. I was shaken, but also intrigued, when a bright light shone all around us. It wasn’t ordinary light. It was pure and intense. I could feel it penetrating my body into the very depths of my soul. I was overwhelmed by the power of the light and in my spirit I knew that this was the radiant glory of God. It was the fire of his presence that I’d heard about in the ancient Hebrew stories my parents had told me when I was a child. Luke described it like this: “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them” (Luke 2:9, NLT).
In those moments, surrounded by God’s glory, I recognized my own filthiness. It had nothing to do with the manure on my sandals or the sweat stains on my tunic. I was a sinner in the presence of a holy, righteous, utterly perfect God. For a moment I wanted to run and hide. I felt exposed and afraid. But then I felt unconditional love and acceptance radiating from the One in the center of the light. I fell to my knees and then onto my face.
I would have been completely overcome had the angel not spoken. Peace filled my heart as he said, “Don’t be afraid…I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people” (Luke 2:10b, NLT). God had a message for us, for the whole world. He had not come to judge us, but to give us “Good News.”
Then the angel explained why He had appeared. He said, “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David” (Luke 2:11, NLT). After 400 years of silence God had spoken. For generations our people had been waiting for this moment. God was coming to deliver His people and he made the announcement to—of all people—shepherds. That didn’t make sense to me. So I quickly concluded that He had surely already informed the religious leaders in Jerusalem. They were probably already celebrating.
The angel concluded his message by saying, “You will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12, NLT). There was nothing unusual about the first part of the sign—“a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth.” In those days all good mothers wrapped their babies in swaddling clothes to keep them warm.
The second part of the sign, however, was puzzling. The Messiah has been born and he’s lying in “a manger”—feeding trough? God’s Savior is sleeping on a bed of hay and cow saliva? I didn’t understand, but I took Him at his word.
As I struggled to mentally grasp all that was happening, suddenly, as far as the eye could see, a huge crowd of angels appeared. There must have been millions of them, brilliantly radiant like flashes of lightening. With one voice they sang: “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14, NLT). I would have gazed at them all night had they not disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.
The first light of dawn was breaking when we finally came to our senses. We agreed among ourselves that we should go find this Christ child. I had a pretty good idea where to find Him. I figured his parents were there to register for the census that had been ordered by his pompousness, Caesar Augustus. They probably hadn’t considered how gigantic the crowd in Bethlehem would be. They probably weren’t able to find a place to stay and spent the night in a stable. There was only one lodge in Bethlehem and it had a stable out back just down the hillside.
Several of us were about to run toward the inn when the voice of reason rang out from one of the shepherds. He simply asked, "What about the sheep?" We puzzled over this for a moment, but then one of the older shepherds offered some wisdom. He reminded us that if God had taken the time to announce the birth of the Messiah to us, surely he’d watch out for our sheep so that we could see Him. That was good enough for me and a number of others, so away we ran. Actually, at that point I could have cared less about those miserable sheep.
Unbelievably, some of the shepherds were far more concerned about their sheep than seeing the Savior. A handful decided to stay. To my knowledge they never even attempted to meet Him. They seemed totally unaffected by the angels and their message. Are there people like that in your country?
Those of us who made the journey to Bethlehem that morning found everything just as the messenger said. There was the baby, wrapped up snug and warm, sleeping peacefully in the feeding trough. Luke described these moments when he wrote, “The shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger” (Luke 2:15b-16, NLT).
My suspicions were right. The baby’s parents, Joseph and Mary, had made the 80-mile trip on foot from Nazareth. Neither their relatives nor the inn had room for them. So they had to make do with the stable. The new mother, who couldn’t have been more than sixteen years of age, told me the baby’s name was Jesus.
I was surprised to learn that none of the religious leaders had been there. Jerusalem was only six miles away. Where were the priests and the scribes and the Pharisees— the good religious folks? I found out later that none of them ever showed up.
A small crowd from the inn did come to investigate when they heard the cries of a baby coming from the stable. As Mary nursed him, we explained to everyone about the angels and the message of “Good News” God had given us. Luke recorded what we did when he wrote, “The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child” (Luke 2:17b, NLT). They were all amazed. Some believed and praised God on the spot. Others looked skeptical and left unconvinced.
We huddled around the baby for just a little while. When it was clear that Mary and her baby needed to sleep, we returned to our sheep.
In one night, everything had changed. My doubts were replaced with faith and my frustration with joy. I returned to my work as a shepherd with the peace that comes from knowing that I am loved by God and am immeasurably valuable to Him. One day, when Jesus was all grown up, I was in a crowd listening to Him teach and I heard Him say, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).
Even after all these years, dozens of questions still linger in my mind: Why did God announce the birth of his Son to a band of grubby shepherds and not the religious elite? Why was the Messiah born in a cattle stall and not a palace like the son of a Caesar? Why did Mary give birth to the Savior in a little town like Bethlehem and not in the Holy City, Jerusalem? Why did God choose the Jewish people for the lineage of His Son? The Romans had more military power. The Greeks were renowned for their wisdom. The Egyptians took the prize for art.
But by far the most confusing question is: Why did God reveal Himself to me? The only answer I can come up with is this: God reveals himself to those who are humble enough to receive Him because they believe in Him. Something those angels said sticks out in my mind. They chanted: “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14, NLT).
God is certainly “pleased” with those who believe in His Son and receive Him! About thirty years after I saw Jesus lying there in the feeding trough, I heard one of His followers—a former fisherman named John—say, “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12, NIV).
(Matthew 1:18-25, NLT)
For the next three weeks we will learn about the Christmas story through the testimony of three eye witnesses. Last week we heard “The Shepherd’s Story” from one of the shepherds who were “guarding their flocks of sheep” on the outskirts of Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. Today we will hear from the most overlooked man in the Christmas Story. His name is Joseph. He was the step-father of Jesus!
Matthew told us most of what we know about Joseph when he wrote chapter one, verses 18-25 of his version of the Good News:
18 “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
II. Joseph’s Story
Hi…my name is Joseph. I’m a carpenter by trade, but then if you have read Matthew’s version of the “Jesus Story,” you probably know that. Matthew described how the people of Nazareth responded to my step-son, Jesus, the first time He preached in their synagogue. He wrote, “‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?’” (Matthew 13:54b-56a, NIV).
Everywhere I go I tell people about the unexpected and startling events that I experienced when I was in my late teens. These events forever changed my life...so I want to tell you about them!
My hometown is Bethlehem, but for a few of years I had been living in Nazareth trying to get my carpentry business off the ground. Almost a year ago I was betrothed to the love of my life. Her name is Mary. I was working hard so I could pay Mary’s dad the dowry he had set for me in order to gain the honor of marrying his daughter. My mother had told all her friends about our upcoming marriage. Mary’s dad had made all kinds of elaborate plans for the wedding feast. Life was good…it was very normal. Then one day everything changed.
I was horrified when Mary came to me privately and confessed that she was pregnant! My mind raced round and round in maddening circles.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. She had concocted what I thought was a preposterous story to cover her shame and explain what had happened. My friend Luke included her explanation in his version of the “Good News.” He wrote, “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High’…‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:28-32…34-36, NIV). Not only was her story unbelievable, if it was false…it was blasphemy!
I was crushed. I just didn’t know what to do. I love Mary and didn’t want any harm to come to her, but how could I go through with the marriage when all the evidence indicated that she had been unfaithful to me. It seemed to me that I had three options:
Matthew described my dilemma when he wrote, “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:18b-19, NIV).
As I agonized about what to do, I had an experience I had never had before. An angel appeared to me and told me exactly what God wanted me to do! Matthew told my story when he wrote, “After he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:20-24, NIV).
That night God taught me a lesson that I have never forgotten: “When you get really serious about knowing and doing God’s will—in any given situation, even the most difficult situations—He will reveal it to you!” It isn’t just knowing God’s will that’s important. The important thing is that you are willing to do His will when He reveals it to you—regardless of what it is! Jesus didn’t teach His people to pray to know God’s will. He taught us to pray to do God’s will. He said, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10, NIV).
That’s how our hard, difficult journey began. I “took Mary home” as my wife, simply because God said to do it. It was His will. Let me tell you…living in the center of God’s will is NOT easy. It is strangely peaceful…yes, but not easy. Mary and I learned that lesson the hard way:
I never realized how cruel people could be—friends, neighbors, even the good people from the synagogue! I lost some of my customers. Even when someone did come into my shop to pick up a new table or a mended chair, the conversation was short and uncomfortable. When we went to the synagogue to worship, everyone made room for us. Heads turned our way, accusing looks at Mary’s growing abdomen and then back to me. I guess what hurt the most was the children…they were no longer allowed to come near us. Of course not, we were sinners.
Yet in spite of it all, Mary continued to pray her favorite prayer, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name” (Luke 1:46b-49, NIV).
Everyone thought we were actually married, but we really weren’t. You see in my culture the marriage is not an established fact until it is consummated by physical intimacy on the wedding night. We went through the proper ceremony and enjoyed the wedding feast and I took Mary home with me…but I chose not to consummate our marriage until the baby was born. I wanted there to be no doubt that this was not my son…He was God’s Son! I was a little embarrassed when Matthew included our little secret in His version of the “Jesus Story.” He wrote, “He did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25a, NIV).
Almost nine months passed and I needed to take my family—which at the time consisted of me and my pregnant wife, Mary—to my hometown, Bethlehem, to register in the census that had been ordered by Caesar Augustus. As it did so often, the Roman government was making my life more complicated that it needed to be.
Mary and I should have been enjoying a peaceful life in Nazareth waiting for the birth of the baby, but—thanks to Augustus—we were trudging toward Bethlehem, tired, dusty, and sore; and Mary was due to give birth to her child at any moment!
We had waited in Nazareth as long as we dared…hoping Mary would give birth there, but the Baby and his real Father had other plans. And Caesar’s decree wouldn’t wait. So there we were, on our way to Bethlehem. Luke described our predicament when he wrote, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world...And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:1…3-5, NIV).
When we reached Bethlehem I was stunned. I never dreamed there would so many people in town…but then it was time for the Caesar’s census. As my luck would have it, there were no rooms available anywhere in town, and Mary was going into labor! The only shelter available was in a stable just down the hill from the local inn. Luke described the kind of night we had when he wrote, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:6-7, NIV).
I used my carpentry skills and soon the stable was as comfortable as I could make it. We adjusted to the smells and sounds of our surroundings and settled in for an eventful night. At the first sound of the baby’s cry, Mary’s pain was all but forgotten. Then together we praised God as we realized His presence in that stable. It was just like the angel had said, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:23, NIV). God was actually with us in the stable in the form of a newborn baby! Years later a renowned rabbi-turned-apostle wrote about Mary’s baby, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9, NKJV).
Silently Mary and I watched as God sent His friends to see the birth of His Son. I was amazed that they were shepherds, of all people! I smiled inwardly. These people were not accepted in the synagogue because the priests and scribes said they were unclean. However, there they were kneeling in worship—the first humans to actually see God’s Son.
Matthew included them in the “Christmas Story” when he wrote, “There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night…they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:8…16, NIV). I learned an incredible lesson from those humble shepherds: “When God wants to use someone, it isn’t social status that he looks for. It’s an humble, believing heart!” I’ll never forget those shepherds.
I later learned that when they left our rustic accommodations in the stable, those shepherds told everyone they met about the amazing things an angel had told them about Mary’s baby. Luke reported what they did when he wrote, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them’ (Luke 2:17-18, NIV).
Through the years I have been repeatedly reminded of an incredible spiritual truth: “When God’s people are willing—without any exceptions—to do His will, He is willing to reveal it to them!”
God revealed His will to Mary. He sent an angel to inform her, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” (Luke 1:31, NIV). He did so because Mary was willing to do God’s will—with no exceptions. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38, NIV). In other words, Mary said, “God do what You have said You want to do with me!”
God revealed His will to Joseph. He sent another angel to tell him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20b-21, NIV). He did so because Joseph was willing to do God’s will—with no exceptions. Matthew wrote, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24, NIV).
God revealed His will to the shepherds. The angel said to them, “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12b, NIV). He did so because the shepherds were willing to do God’s will—with no exceptions. Luke wrote, “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’” (Luke 2:15, NIV).
(Luke 2:8-14, NKJV)
During the month of December, we have been looking at the Christmas story from the perspective of eyewitnesses of the event. First, we heard from one of the shepherds. Then we listen to Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, as he shared his version of the Christmas story. But have you ever considered how the Christmas story must have looked from the perspective of the angels? Well, today we are going to hear the Christmas story from the perspective of Gabriel, God’s messenger angel. God always seems to use Gabriel to bring important messages to people on Earth.
There is no record of the creation of angels in Genesis chapter one, so the angels must have already been in existence when God created Adam on the sixth day. They were evidently part of the original creation described in the first verse of the Bible—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, NIV). It appears that the angels were created to serve as guardians of mankind! King David wrote, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psalm 34:7, NIV). Therefore, angels were present to watch as God created Adam.
Then centuries later, when God was ready to send His Son into the world to save mankind from the damnation of sin, He sent an angel to bring the “Good News” to mankind—beginning with a bunch of shepherds. Luke wrote: (Luke 2:8-14, NIV)
8“There were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
10 Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’”
II. Gabriel’s Story
Hi. My name is Gabriel. I’m God’s messenger angel. Whenever the Father has an important message for some human on Earth, He sends me to deliver it. I’ve been around for a long time. In fact, I was here before the Father created mankind. It was an incredible thing to witness. Moses wrote about it centuries later, but my buddies and I saw it happen—“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 1:27…2:7, NIV).
You can’t imagine the “ooouuusss” and “aaahhhsss” that echoed through the angelic community when Adam’s heart began to beat, then his lungs began to fill with air, and his chest rose and fell as he inhaled and exhaled for the very first time, then suddenly he opened his eyes, and sat up! I thought I would never see anything like that again, but I was wrong…
One day my buddies and I were just hanging around watching the Father and He did something just as incredible as the day He created Adam—“The LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22, NIV).
Shazammm!!! It was so sensational for me and my angelic buddies to watch as the Father administered the first anesthesia, observe Him as he performed the first ever surgery, watch Him as He created the first human female, and then witness Him perform the first marriage!
Tragically, we also watched—and a holy hush fell over heaven—as Adam disobeyed God and for the very first time experienced sin’s horrible consequences. My buddies and I were horrified when, “The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:6-8, NIV).
Horror gripped the heart of every angel in heaven as we realized the significance of what had just happened! Everything had changed. Paradise was lost. The real-life “fairy tale” in Eden had just turned into a horrible real-life nightmare. Mankind would now face the horrible consequences of sin!
Fortunately, the story didn’t end there…but at the time the answer to the question as to how the Father would solve man’s sin dilemma was a mysterious to all of us!
III. The Mystery
Somehow, my fellow angels and I knew that God would rescue mankind from the eternal consequences of sin, but we just couldn’t figure out exactly how He would do it. For generations we longed to know how God would rescue mankind from sin’s consequences. Peter referred to this angelic longing, when he wrote, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care…Even angels long to look into these things” (I Peter 1:10…12b, NIV).
Only occasionally through the centuries did the Father provide us with glimpses of His plan to rescue mankind. He did so through the words of His prophets. Let me give you a few examples:
Those statements may make perfectly good sense to us now, because we—humans and angels alike—now know “the rest of the story.” But try to put yourself in the place of an angel who had only those statements to ponder, and ask yourself if you could unwrap the mystery of how the Father was going to rescue the humans from the condemnation of sin.
IV. The Mystery Revealed
Centuries passed and then one day the mystery was suddenly revealed! The Father dispatched me to the tiny village of Nazareth with an urgent message for a young virgin named Mary. Luke, one of the humans, recorded the story when he wrote, “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:26-35, NIV).
Imagine how quickly the news spread throughout the angelic community—God would have a Son who would be the perfect solution to mankind’s sin problem. He would be called “Jesus”—which means “Savior…Rescuer…Deliverer!”
That first Christmas night, when Jesus was born, we angels finally saw—up close and in living color—God’s wonderful plan to rescue fallen man, and we sang in the heavens about the “Good News.” Luke described the scene when He wrote, “There were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:8-14, NKJV).
The moment we angels saw the baby, we knew that He was not only God’s Son, but that God Himself was living in that baby. We angels instantly understood, but it took the humans longer to catch on. More than thirty years later, Paul—one of them—wrote, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9, NKJV).
It finally made sense, not only to the angels, but also to the humans! God would temporarily live like man so that man could eternally live like God. God Himself became a man so He could die in man’s place to pay the penalty for man’s sin! That’s why I joined in with the other angels in the sky over Bethlehem that night and sang “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14, NKJV).
A Wise Man’s Story
(Matthew 2:1-2, NKJV)
We have looked at the Christmas story from the perspective of a different eye witness each Sunday for the past three weeks. First, there was one of the shepherds. Then there was Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather. Then last week there was the angel Gabriel. Even though each of these characters had a slightly different perspective—the story is the same! Jesus Himself summed it up best when He said, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).
Today we will hear the Christmas story again. This time it will be from the perspective of one of the “wise men”—an extremely intelligent, highly educated, Babylonian magician and astrologer who served in the court of the King of Babylon as one of his personal advisors. They are sometimes called the Magi. He was one, among what was probably a vast caravan of “wise men,” who journeyed from Babylon to Israel in search of Jesus, the One “who has been born King of the Jews.”
(Matthew 2:1-2) Matthew introduced them to us when he wrote it:
1“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2 saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’”
II. The Wise Man’s Story
Hello, everybody! My name is Melzar. I’m one of the “wise men” who traveled from Babylon to Jerusalem in search of Jesus, the One “who has been born King of the Jews.” I am a member of an ancient society of magicians and astrologers who serve in the court of the king of Babylon as his personal advisors.
You may not know me, but you have probably heard of one of my fellow “wise men” of long ago, whose story is recorded in the Old Testament of your Bible. His name was Daniel. He and three of his friends were imported to Babylon from Israel as slave boys along with hundreds of others. This is what he wrote in his memoirs: “The king interviewed them [hundreds of these Hebrew slave boys], and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm” (Daniel 1:19-20, NKJV). So Daniel and his three friends were inducted into the society of the Magi.
Because the God of the Hebrews blessed Daniel, he soon became the president of the society. Here’s another entry he made in his memoirs: “The king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48, NKJV).
It was Daniel who introduced the society to the Hebrew Scriptures that you call the Old Testament. He explained from these Scriptures that God’s Son would be “born King of the Jews,” and that God would lead us to Him. So naturally when we saw a spectacular and unusual new star rise above the horizon in the east, we instinctively knew that if we followed it, the God of the Hebrews would lead us to His Son! So the journey began—and it turned out to be a long, tiring, dusty, two-year journey.
I understand Gabriel was here last Sunday. What an incredible story he has to tell! When Gabriel was dispatched from heaven to Nazareth with God’s urgent announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of God’s Son the angels finally understood God’s rescue plan for mankind…but the Devil and his demons understood it too! So as the angels were singing, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14, NKJV) at the birth of Jesus, the Devil was looking an opportunity to foil God’s plan for man’s rescue.
During one of His “Revelation Visions,” God reminded John of Satan’s attempt to destroy Jesus from the moment of His birth. John wrote, “The dragon [referring to the Devil] stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child [the Lord Jesus] the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who ‘will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.’ And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne [Jesus’ ascension to heaven]” (Revelation 12:4b-5, NIV).
For two years the Devil disparately sought an opportunity to stop the unfolding of God’s eternal rescue plan. Then finally…after two long years of waiting the Devil thought his opportunity had arrived…he thought he could use my associates and me along with King Herod to stop God’s plan, but we and the God of the Hebrews were much to wise for that! Oh, but let’s get back to the story…
We finally reached Jerusalem—the capital city of Israel. We thought surely we would find the One “who has been born King of the Jews” in their capital city, among the children of their royal family, but boy were we wrong. Sometime later, a tax-collector-turned-preacher by the name of Matthew described the scene that transpired when we arrived at Jerusalem. He wrote, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also’” (Matthew 2:1-8, NKJV).
Well, I don’t know what kind of fools he thought we were, but he must not have realized that we were “wise men.” If the One “who has been born King of the Jews” was not a member of the royal family, which He obviously wasn’t— judging from the fact that the King had to “inquire” of the Hebrew religious leaders where the child had been born—then the King had no intention of worshipping Him, he had every intention of killing Him to eliminate any potential threat to his throne!
We learned later that our suspicions were true. A copy of a scroll written by Matthew reached Babylon which contained this record of what King Herod did after our visit to Jerusalem: “Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’” (Matthew 2:16-18, NKJV).
What a tragedy! As the society considered Herod’s actions, we concluded that he needlessly slaughtered all the innocent boys in Bethlehem less than two years of age simply because he asked the wrong question. You see, it is always important to ask the correct question. Herod asked, “Where the Messiah was to be born” (Matthew 2:4, NIV). He should have asked the same question we “wise men” had asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2, NIV). Because he asked the wrong question, he missed his opportunity to kill Jesus and needlessly slaughtered countless innocent boys. He sent his soldiers to Bethlehem rather than Nazareth.
Oh well, let’s get back to the story. My associates and I continued our search for the One “who has been born King of the Jews.” Matthew described the final leg of our journey when he wrote, “When they [He was referring to my associates and me.] heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:9-11, NKJV).
King Herod tried to send us to a manger in Bethlehem, but God used His star to lead us to a “house” in Nazareth. We were overjoyed when we saw the star again, because it kept us from making a tragic mistake. We were headed for Bethlehem, but it led us to Nazareth where we would accomplish the purpose of our two-year journey—Matthew wrote, “They fell down and worshiped Him. And…presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11, NKJV). In spite of what many Christians believe today, we found and worshiped a two-year-old Jesus in a “house” in Nazareth, not an infant Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem.
I am always amazed that this God of the Hebrews speaks to people in ways they can understand! He spoke to Mary through an encounter with Gabriel. He spoke to the shepherds through an encounter with a whole choir of angels. He spoke to Joseph through a dream. And He spoke to “wise men” through a star. Maybe the author of your New Testament Book of Hebrews was thinking about that fact when he wrote, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a, NIV).
Our story ended when God warned us not to return the wicked King Herod. Matthew’s document confirmed this part of our story. He made this notation: “Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way” (Matthew 2:12, NKJV).
The Devil failed to destroy the Christ child, so he simply changed his strategy. He has launched a campaign to destroy as many Christ followers as he possibly can. That’s why that outspoken Jewish Christ follower named Peter warned, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8, NIV).
Man’s only hope of escaping the destructive power of the Devil is to have a life-giving, life-changing encounter with God by faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He said, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).
Sunday Service Times
Morning Worship: 10:00 a.m.
M*PACT Kidz: 10:00 a.m.
Helping Hands: 6:00 p.m.
ONE WAY Youth: 6:00 p.m.