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Going to Bethlehem with the Shepherds

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Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Psalters: 424 (1, 2, 4), 88 (1-3), 48 (1, 3-6), 72 (1,4)

Preached in Randolph on December 25, 2003

Introduction:

Heavenly news must be delivered by heavenly messengers.  The news, that night long ago, was indeed heavenly – unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!  It was the Savior for whom Israel had so long waited – the son of David, the one who would rule as King, the Christ who would deliver His church from her enemies.  He had been born!  But this Savior was not only the son of David; He was chiefly, the Son of God.  God come in our flesh!  He must be that, to deliver us.  He had been born!

This news of a savior, which meant salvation, was joyful news indeed!  It must be that heavenly messengers bring this news.  Who else knew?  None – for this wonderful birth happened outside the city of Bethlehem, in a cattle stall, to a couple just visiting, not known by the people.  But the angels knew of it – and what rejoicing must have filled heaven!  Who else was fit?  None – for humans needed to hear it; by virtue of sin there is nothing in us worthy of bringing it.  The angels are sent to bring it!  First one of them – he gives the announcement; then the sky is filled with them, singing praises to God.


Such heavenly news, delivered by heavenly messengers – to lowly shepherds!  Striking!  Striking, that this news is not proclaimed in the city of Jerusalem, the capital and major city.  It is proclaimed in the country, the regions, surrounding Bethlehem.  Striking, that this news is not proclaimed to the governor, and the priests, and other important people.  It is proclaimed to shepherds, watching their flocks.  Striking, that this news is not proclaimed in the daytime, when people are awake, and would be able to hear it.  It is proclaimed at night, when few are awake.

Purposed!  Indeed, it was night.  Spiritually, it was night.  Few were watching for this Savior from sin!  God proclaimed the news at night, to remind us of this.  Indeed, it was proclaimed to lowly shepherds, out in the country.  Not the proud, sophisticated people of the city, but the lowly country people, and to shepherds, the lowliest of the lowly – they are always those whom God intends to hear the gospel news.  God saw to it that His people heard the gospel!

And He does today as well.  The messengers are not angels, but ministers of the gospel; the recipients are not shepherds, but still humble people, unworthy of salvation; the proclamation takes place this morning, and yet in the midst of a world darkened with sin.  But the news is the same, which comes to you and me – the Savior is born!  Then the question is: what will you do with this news?  What did the shepherds do?  They said, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”  Let us go with them!

GOING TO BETHLEHEM WITH THE SHEPHERDS

1.            Not Doubting

2.            Not Hesitating

3.            Not Disappointed

I.       NOT DOUBTING

The text reveals the faith of the shepherds – they believed what was told them.  As to the content of their faith, they believed that the Savior was born.

This was not merely objective head knowledge, which they had – that indeed, a boy was born who would be the Messiah; and who indeed would be found wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  We call it historical faith.  One believes that indeed there was a Jesus; He was truly born, and lived; all that the Bible said about him is historically accurate.


But this was true saving faith – they understood the implications of this word – THEY were saved; this was THEIR savior.  Not merely because they also were Jews; but because they knew themselves to be sinners, lowly, dependent on God for all things, in need of His saving grace.

That they indeed believed, is indicated in the text.  First, they did not doubt or question the word of God.  Second, they immediately went to Bethlehem to see the Christ child.

The particular characteristic of their faith which the text underscores is the fact that they believed, without doubting.  True faith receives the word of the Lord at face value.  It does not question, does not argue, does not look for inconsistencies, or improbabilities.  It believes without doubting.

One can think of reasons why the shepherds might have doubted, or questioned, this word of the Lord.  Bearing these reasons in mind, their undoubting faith is all the more noteworthy.

They might have doubted because there is nothing special about the birth of a child.  Children are born every day.  And no doubt that very evening also, a number of other children were born, even in the area of Bethlehem. So the angel had to give a sign, tell them exactly what distinguished this child from any other – He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  But they might have said – so what?

They might have doubted because of the lowliness of Bethlehem.  By referring to Bethlehem as the city of David, the angels mean to underscore the gospel truth which they spoke – the Messiah is born!  But they might have said – can any good come out of Bethlehem?  Such was certainly the attitude of many Jews in Jerusalem – Bethlehem was a small village.

They might have doubted because of what was told them about the lowly birth of the child.  Can anything come of one who, when born, had to be laid in a manger for his bed?  What greatness is this?


But they did not doubt.

The text indicates this.  First, in that any indication of doubt or questioning is absent.  Second, in that they were immediately ready to go to Bethlehem to see this thing which came to pass, and went with haste.  Third, they express their ready faith in the word of the Lord.  They know that what has been told them was a revelation from God: “which the Lord hath made known unto us.”  And because it is the word of God, they believe!

There is a gospel truth taught us here – the word of the Lord works faith in the hearts of those whom God has ordained to salvation in Christ.  Acts 13:48b shows this to be true in another instance.  So here.  Faith is a gift of salvation, a part of salvation, which the Lord works in His people.  The means by which that faith is worked, confirmed, and strengthened, is His word.  Those who question God’s word, to the point of denying it, indicate it was not meant to work faith in them!

So the question we must ask ourselves is – do we go with the shepherds to Bethlehem today – that is, do we believe, without doubt, that our Savior was born in Bethlehem?

For many reasons we might question the circumstances surrounding this birth.

Likely we will not deny that He was born; that He was human; that He would grow up to be a prophet.  But we could think of reasons to deny that He was truly God’s natural Son; that He was truly born of a virgin; that His incarnation was truly necessary in order for us to be saved.  Men do think of reasons to deny such.  And we could deny that His birth has any benefit for us – thinking that we are not in need of the salvation He would give; that we are not sinners; that we are not dependent on God for all things, but that we can help God save us.  By nature man denies all these things.


But we must go, believing without doubt!  He is the Christ – the Anointed of God, indeed!  Our Lord!  Our Savior!  He is God’s natural son indeed!  He is the one we need to take away our sin!  And the proof is that He was born lowly – took upon Himself the lowliness of our nature, and suffered what we deserve on account of sin.

This we believe, on the basis of God’s Word.  Scripture reveals Him who was born as our Savior!  And this word we hear preached!  But notice: if we believe, it is not that we chose to; it is not that the preacher presented the gospel so convincingly; it is not due to anything in us or other men; it is because God would have us believe, for He desired that we be saved!  For this let us give Him thanks!  For others, hearing, are hardened!  But He so delighted in us, that He works faith in us so that we, without doubting, confess that Jesus Christ, His Son, is our Lord.   Let us go then to Bethlehem!

 

II.     NOT HESITATING

The text reveals the obedience of the shepherds – they did as they were told.

Strictly speaking, they were not commanded to do anything.  That is, the angels did not give them a particular command – go to Bethlehem.

But they understand that this is expected of them.  Why else would the angels have told them?  What other response was expected of them?  And why else would the angels have told them specifically where to find this babe, verse 12, except it was expected of them to go find Him?

Here is the point: although God does give commands in His Scriptures, which we are required to obey, yet one who receives the revelation of the gospel must understand that something is required of him, even if he is not told particularly to do something.


Faith in that revelation is required.  And faith leads to obedience.  In this instance, the obedience was a matter of seeking to know more about that revelation, by going to see the babe Himself, and it was a matter of seeking no other savior than this one, resolving to live in obedience to this Jesus as Lord for one’s entire life.

The text underscores two particular characteristics of their obedience.

First, they obeyed readily, without hesitation.  How does the text indicate this?  First, it was “as,” not “after,” the angels were gone away from them into heaven.  Understand that the angels did not immediately disappear, so that one second they were there, and the next they were gone.  Their departing was gradual – how long it took we don’t know; probably it still happened quickly, a matter of seconds.  But the point is, the shepherds saw the angels, as it were, going back to heaven.  And God caused it to happen this way, in order to impress upon the shepherds that the appearance of these angels was not just an imaginary thing, but the angels really appeared; and the news that the angels brought was true indeed.  As the angels are disappearing, then, the shepherds are already saying, Let us go to Bethlehem!  Very quickly they resolved to do that.

Second, they said, “Let us NOW go.”  At once!  And that, because they believed the word spoken.

Third, we read that they came “with haste” they went to Bethlehem as quickly as they could.  This is striking.  They might have questioned whether any response at all was required of them.  They might have said – that is nice to know, and left it at that.  They might have argued that it was not really a true appearance of angels, but that they had fallen asleep and dreamed.  And, most pragmatically, they might have said – we cannot leave our sheep!  How can we go to Bethlehem, in the dark of night?  The sheep will suffer!


But they obeyed.  And the point of the gospel here again is this – God produces in us obedience to His will.  His word is efficacious, powerful – it causes us to live; it causes us to believe; it causes us to obey.

The other noteworthy characteristic of their obedience is that they all obeyed, and encouraged each other to do so.

All obeyed – we do not read of any staying back with the sheep.  This is because all believed!  And they encouraged each other in this matter – they spoke one to another, we are told.  If any were not of a mind to do this, they would have convinced him to go with them!  God worked obedience in the whole group of them, that they would all obey His will.

So the question we must ask ourselves is – do we go with the shepherds to Bethlehem today – that is, do we obey, without hesitation, all that the gospel requires of us?

We too might think of our reasons not to believe that Christ is the only Savior; and not to obey His law.  Some do not believe in Christ, and obey Him, because they are not sure He is truly the Lord and Savior.  The gospel is an invention of men – men dreamed it.  Some do not obey Christ because they cannot leave their sheep.  How quickly we can be like that!  It costs too much – we are too devoted to our earthly vocations, to leave them for Christ.

But we must obey the commands of the gospel without hesitation.  We must believe; we must seek Him; we must find all our salvation in Him; we must honor Him as our Lord; such is the requirement of God.

And God will cause us to do so – ALL those whom He has ordained to salvation.  He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure!  So ought we encourage each other to go to Bethlehem, to believe in this Savior, and trust in Him, and obey Him!  Let us go then to Bethlehem!

 

III.    NOT DISAPPOINTED

The text reveals the shepherds’ hope – they went, fully expecting to find this Christ child.

Their hope was an eager expectation that they would see Him.  It was not the kind of hope that said – we are not so sure this is true, but we will go find out.  It was the hope that was sure, that was confident – the Lord had revealed it unto them!  They hoped to behold Him face to face, to humble themselves before Him, to worship Him.

Faith always lead to hope.  Faith in the gospel leads to the hope that the gospel’s promises will be fulfilled, and we shall see our savior face to face.

In this hope they were not disappointed; the text indicates the confidence of their hope.

They were not disappointed, in that they did indeed find this Christ.  In order to find Him, they had to do two things.

First, they had to go to Bethlehem.  We know not how far a journey this was.  They were in the same country, vs 8, which suggests they were perhaps not all that far away; yet the word translated “came” indicates that they did have to make a journey.

Second, they had to search for the Christ.  The word translated “found” indicates that they did not immediately find Him; they knew to look in barns, and mangers, but they did not find Him in the first one, perhaps not the second; they kept looking until they found Him.

But they were not disappointed!  They did not look through every manger in the area of Bethlehem, and fail to find their savior!  They found him indeed – exactly as the angel had said.

The directions that the Lord gives us are sure to bring us to the destination He has in mind for us.  In the way of faith in and obedience to the gospel, we will surely be brought into the presence of Jesus Christ – spiritually in this life, and physically, in the next.


They were not disappointed, in that when they found the Christ child, they did not consider Him less glorious than promised.

How lowly He must have appeared!  He was just a babe; His surroundings were very humble; His parents were nothing spectacular; He was wrapped in swaddling clothes.  They might have left saying – this was certainly not worth the trip!

But they were not disappointed.  For they had known what to expect – God had made it clear to them, vs 12.  And, they did not expect earthly greatness from this child, but salvation from their sins!  The lowly sight of their savior must have caused them to see that indeed, He could bear their sins, and give them spiritual riches.

So they leave the manger, speaking to all that they see of the birth of their savior (vs 17), and glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen (vs 20).

The Lord never disappoints His people, in His promise of salvation; He causes us to know exactly what is true of our savior, so that we think nothing less of Him when we enjoy the salvation He gives.

So the question we must ask is – do we go to Bethlehem with the shepherds today, knowing that we will find what we seek, and rejoicing that we have found it?

We seek the enjoyment of salvation in Christ.  Some speak of natural, unregenerate man seeking salvation – that is, trying every which way to find salvation, until finally he tries to find it in Christ, and succeeds.  Such is not, and cannot be, our seeking.  But we, in whom the Spirit has worked new life of Christ, and faith in the gospel, seek in the sense that we go to Christ, expecting to find in Him all our salvation, true joy, peace, happiness, and comfort; expecting to find all the righteousness and all the power to godly living that we need in this life.  Doing this, we shall not be disappointed!


We might be disappointed, if we seek a different kind of savior – one who was great on earth – but God does not reveal such a savior.  We might be disappointed if we seek a different kind of salvation – one from any trouble other than sin – but God does not reveal such a salvation.

We will not be disappointed, if we seek the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, having humbled Himself, in order that through Him we might have the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.  Seeking Him by the power of grace, God will cause us to enjoy richly all His benefits.  And we will leave Bethlehem, speaking to others of this salvation in Christ, and praising God for it!  Will you leave that way?  Only if you came in faith, not doubting; in obedience, not hesitating; and in hope, which shall not be ashamed.  AMEN.

Kuiper, Douglas

Rev. Douglas J. Kuiper (Wife:Teresa)

Ordained: November 1995

Pastorates: Byron Center, MI - 1995; Randolph, WI - 2001; Edgerton, MN - 2012

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