Emmanuel Lesson 3 - The Lamb Keepers
“The Lamb Keepers”
He was known as a brilliant young boy. A child prodigy. The crown jewel of Vienna.
By the time he was 5 years of age he had written an advanced concerto for the harpsichord. Before he turned ten he had composed and published several violin sonatas and was playing from memory the best works of Bach and Handel. After his 12thbirthday, he composed and conducted his own opera and was awarded an honorary appointment as concertmaster with the Salzburg Symphony Orchestra.
My wife and I had the privilege, while in Vienna, of touring the palace grounds in Salzburg and listening to an orchestra play some of his works, in the very hall where this brilliant musician once conducted the orchestra himself as a young boy – a guest of Austria’s Queen.
He died when he was only 35 years of age. Before his brief life ended, he had written cantatas, operettas, hymns, oratorios and 48 symphonies and over a dozen operas. Around 600 works in all.
His name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Amadeus Theophilus Mozart. With a long name like that, you had to be destined for greatness, you’re certainly gonna be made fun of on the playground.
The tragedy is that Mozart went fell from his beginnings as a child prodigy to an impoverished, obscure young man. His fall from greatness was so swift, so devastating, that by the time he died, he had virtually no true friends. He was living in poverty, his money wasted. For the most part forgotten. Even his widow was indifferent to his burial and only a few people came to the church for his funeral but, because of a sudden storm, never went to the gravesite. By the time anyone bothered to inquire, the location of his grave was impossible to identify. The unmarked grave of Mozart – perhaps the most gifted composer of all time was lost forever.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life; Multnomah Press, Portland OR, 1983, p. 177
What a tragedy. To lose such influence and prestige and wealth – to literally go from riches to rags in a matter of years. What an incredible descent it was.
Stories abound throughout history of the rise and fall of individual fortunes and influence.
A more recent example would be the brilliant businessman, William Durant, who single handedly created General Motors. It's said that more than 50 men became millionaires by joining his team. Trouble is, through a series of poor decisions Durant eventually lost much of his fortune and then control of the company. In spite of all his valiant efforts, he eventually lost his bid for power and went bankrupt. The last job he had before he died some 60 years ago was managing a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan, too poor to own one of the several million cars made by a company he had built. What an incredible reversal of fortune!
Ladies and Gentlemen, all the stories history could divulge to us pale in significance when you consider God the Son, giving the splendor of heaven and adoration of his creation away to come down to planet Earth and live like man.
And think about this . . . if we were God, we at least would have arranged to land on satin sheets, ye He chose to be placed on prickly straw in a feed trough. We would have had the finest physicians surrounding us, He chose to be born where the only attendants were the animals and the accompanying smell of manure in that dank, dark stable! We would have been born into the most prestigious, well connected families in Jerusalem. He, the King of Heaven, chose to be born to impoverished peasants whose construction business barely eked out an existence.
He, by His own will, by His timeless council, went from riches to rags in the greatest reversal of fortune in the history of all time.
I invite your attention back to the Gospel by Luke and chapter 2 where we have, for several Sundays, been exploring the gems of truth related to this reversal of fortune in the birth of Jesus Christ.
Bethlehem was overrun with people, crowding back into the village of their forefathers in order to register their current family members by order of Caesar Augustus, a man who was being heralded as the “savior of the world.”
In our last discussion we have watched this young couple make the best out of the worst of conditions. They have found shelter in a Bethlehem stable, more than likely a shallow cave which was commonly used in that region to provide shelter for the animals of travelers.
It is in that cave where Mary gives birth to Jesus – no doctors, no nurses, no midwife, no one to help this frightened teenage girl deliver her slippery son into the calloused hands of a teenage carpenter named Joseph.
Back in their hometown of Nazareth, if everything had gone according to plan – which it obviously didn’t, the birth of a son was cause for celebration. .
The proud parents would call all their friends and relatives – and the custom during this the turn of the century, was for the father to hire musicians to come to the home and play music – celebrating the birth of their baby boy.
Mary and Joseph couldn’t have felt more alone than now. They swaddled their baby by wrapping strips of cloth around his individual limbs and again around his entire body – and their cradle was Joseph’s cloak, or perhaps some fresh straw arranged in the corner of the feeding trough, cut along the wall of the cave, as was the typical arrangement in their day.
There are no friends to celebrate with them . . . congratulate them. And there certainly are no musicians to call to the stable and sing.
But then again . . . maybe God the Father had arranged for some musicians after all . . . not to mention a host of new friends.
Let’s discover what God had in mind as we rejoin our study in Luke chapter 2, at verse 8. In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11. for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
This is absolutely astounding. For a number of reasons.
First of all, it is astounding because of who God would disregard that night.
If you were assigned the public relations nightmare of adequately announcing and advertising the birth of God the Son – you would begin by making a list of everyone who ought to know. And then, making sure that they somehow found out.
But God disregarded everyone and anyone you would have ever put on that list.
He bypassed announcing the news to the educated, the religious, the elite, the politically connected, the wealthy, the powerful. He didn’t announce it in the courtroom of the Sanhedrin or the Temple in Jerusalem; He didn’t have somebody send a memo to Caesar Augustus saying something like, “You think you’re the savior of the world – just you wait, buster.”
The astounding thing is who God would disregard that night, but also, and even more astounding is who God will dignify that night.
The Bible informs us in verse 8 of the most unlikely people to ever be given the news of Christ’s birth.
We read, “there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.”
You need to understand that at this particular time in Jewish history the only people considered lower than shepherds were lepers.
Because shepherds weren’t able to keep all the regulations of the scribes and Pharisees – such as washing their hands at certain times and never touching blood or a dead animal, which all were things that fit well within their job description of delivering lambs and fighting off wolves and eating out on the hillsides without the benefit of purified water for cleansings.
According to the Mishna which was the Jewish writings that codified scribal law, shepherds were under the ban. That is, they were considered unclean. They couldn’t worship or enter the temple. They were religious outcasts.
By virtue of caring for their sheep, seven days a week, day and night, they lived in some way in violation to some religious custom or law. They worked on the Sabbath – obviously the sheep didn’t take Saturday off and neither did the shepherds.
They were under the ban – disqualified from worship – yet they will be the first to officially worship the Son of God.
Look who God disregarded . . . look at who God dignified!
Isn’t it fascinating that one of the things Jesus referred to Himself as was, The Good Shepherd. (John 10:11)
Peter called Him the Chief Shepherd. (I Peter 5:4). In Hebrews 13:20 Christ is called the Great Shepherd.
In fact, shepherding has become a metaphor for a lifetime of service and calling to ministry.
It’s the title that Christ chose to give to those men who serve the church and lead the church and feed the church – of all the titles He could have bestowed on this God ordained office of loving leadership and careful feeding, was the title poimenos – shepherd. There are three other terms used – episkopos and presbuteros. However, in Ephesians 4:11 where the Apostle Paul summarized the offices of men given as gifts to the church, he used this term – poimenos to refer to what we call the pastoral office.
Poimenos means literally “feeder”. It is translated shepherd and pastor.
I’ve told a few of my GreenHouse classes about my license plate. A few years ago a builder in our church was outfitting his company with some new trucks and semi retiring from the field. He asked me if I wanted his Chevy Pickup truck. He said, It’s got 140,000 miles on it but it’s in great shape – you can have it if you want it. I said, “Well, let me check with my financial advisors and I’ll get back to you. No, I said, “Are you kidding?!”
There’s nothin’ quite like a pickup truck. I love picking up guest speakers at the airport – I can only imagine what they’re thinking. This past year I picked up the president of one Christian organization from the airport, he got into my truck and said, “You know, I don’t believe I’ve ever ridden in one of these before.” I said, “Man, you’re in for the ride of your life.”
I see some of you people driving into the church parking lot in your Mercedes and BMW’s and I feel so sorry for you. What a waste of money – when you could drive a pick up truck! Amen?! Well anyway, I told my wife when I got the truck that I was going to get a vanity license plate. She said, “What are you gonna put on it?” I said, “Shepherd.” Isn’t that great?! I went down to the DMV and waited in line for about 3 hours – finally got up to the counter where a rather irritated young woman sat – I would be too if I had her job. I said, “I want to get one of those license plates with a word on it instead of numbers.” She said, “Okay, what’s the word.” I said, “Shepherd.” People turned to look at me. She typed it in and then said, “Nope, sorry, someone’s already got it.” I thought, some other pastor somewhere in North Carolina stole my idea. That was my idea! I stood there thinking, if I don’t get something about the pastorate now, it’ll be too late – I know I won’t come in later and change it. Then it hit me – I said to her, “I’ll bet no one has the Greek word for shepherd.” She just looked at me. I said, “Type this in – P O I M E N O S.” She typed it in and then said, “Well whaddya know, nobody’s got it.” I came home so excited. I told Marsha, “Honey I’ve got a license plate that has the word for pastor or shepherd in the Greek language; I couldn’t get it in English, but I got it in Greek. She was quite for minute and then said, “Well honey, with the way you drive I’m glad it’s in Greek.”
I didn’t think it was funny either.
A name that I claim with a great joy was once an indictment and a blight on a class of men.
By the way, you ought to know as well that shepherd’s were not allowed to be witnesses in any Jewish court of law. They were considered unreliable because they were not men of the temple. They were unclean – unworthy of bearing testimony before men.
Yet God chose them to be the first to testify of His Son’s birth. At the very outset of His Son’s life, you can’t miss the grace of God.
Look who he disregarded! Look who he dignified!
Paul wrote, 26. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27. but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28. and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen (I Corinthians 1:26-28)
One more thing about these shepherds before we move on – the text tells us that they were in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was only 6 miles south of Jerusalem – it was the rural outskirts of the holy city.
Jerusalem of course, would swell with several million Jews during Passover as they came with their lambs to sacrifice in celebration of their former deliverance from Egypt. You remember the story in Exodus 12 where the death angel came sweeping in, killing the first born of every family, including Pharoah’s family. The only way to stay the death angel was to put lamb’s blood on the door of their homes. And those who had the blood of the lamb were safe as the Angel passed over their hut. That began the tradition of annual celebration.
A first century Jewish historian named Josephus records for us that around 250,000 lambs would be killed and eaten in Jerusalem’s annual Passover feast.
Where would they get all those sheep from? Well, many people raised their own – but the temple also raised sheep and other animals which it sold to worshippers who came without an animal to sacrifice.
Could these shepherds this night have been on the temple payroll watching over sheep destined for temple sacrifice?
I believe there’s little doubt. One of the most confirming evidences is a rule recorded in the Mishna, the ancient Jewish code book. It stated in printed law that any animal found between Jerusalem and a small village nearby were to be available at any time for sacrifice in the temple of Jerusalem. And that little village’s name was . . . Bethlehem!
These shepherds were temple shepherds. Keeping watch over sheep that were destined to become one of the thousands upon thousands of lambs headed for the alter to atone for the sins of the people.
Can you imagine now the beauty and the significance of God’s announcement? He announced the birth of The final sacrificial lamb to men watching over sacrificial lambs. He announced to men considered sinful and out of fellowship with God that the ultimate Passover lamb had been born Whose blood will cleanse sinners and bring into fellowship those who are outcast from God.
Here they are, the lamb keepers, who were first to hear that the Lamb has just been born. Oh what a volume of rich truth revealing the wonderful, deep, condescending grace of God!
And that’s just verse 8. Verse 9 is where is really starts to get good. We’re almost out of time . . . we’ll just keep going until they turn my mike off.
9. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, (by the way, angels haven’t been seen for 500 years. For 500 years no angel has been seen by man on earth – suddenly there are angels showing up everywhere. Gabriel came to Zacharias in Luke 1:19; Gabriel came to Mary in Luke 1:26; Gabriel seems to be one of God’s chief messengers to humans; it was Gabriel who spoke to Daniel in Daniel 8:16 and again in Daniel 9:21. I believe it was more than likely Gabriel who is now speaking with the shepherds; notice further in Luke 2:9 and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. (explain the glory of shekinah glory) 10. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid (easy for you to say!) for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11. for today in the city of David there has been born for you (that’s a wonderful expression by the way – “for you” . . . personal . . . why don’t you do what I’ve done and write your name in the margin by that phrase – my Bible reads . . . .a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Three titles or names are given here:
The first designation is Savior – this was a title especially understood by the Gentile. It was known and used in the Gentile world – in fact, as I’ve mentioned before, Caesar Augustus claimed the title for Himself.
But, with each name or title, we get even more specific.
The next title is Christos - this was a title especially understood by the Jews. It meant anointed One and was specifically related to the Messianic office. Only the Messiah could claim the title Christ.
The last title summed it all up – it was breathtaking in its claim.
The title was Lord. Kurios, or Lord was the Greek counterpart of the Hebrew term Yahweh. In fact, throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament, more than 6,000 times, Yahweh is translated kurios.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Lord means God. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, the anointed One who is none other than God.
A Jehovah’s Witness can’t say that; a Mormon can’t say that; a Muslim can’t say that. They can say that Jesus was anointed; they can say that Jesus was a Savior; but they cannot say that Jesus was God in the flesh.
That’s why the Apostle Paul said in Romans 10:9 that in order to be saved you must confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the visible expression of deity.
One day, as the song goes, when we look into the face of Jesus, we will indeed be looking into the face of God.
Notice verse 13. And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…”
Now were the angels singing? Here in verse 13 it says that the heavenly host was praising God and saying, not singing. Well the original word translated praising is the verb aineo (ainew) – it’s rarely used in the Greek New Testament. However, it’s often used in the Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint for the verb hallel. That Hebrew verb means to praise – primarily through singing. Aineo was interchangeable with hallel. Both, I believe referred to praising God through song.
You could translate verse 13, A multitude of the heavenly host were praising God with these words” and then in verse 14 we’re given, clearly in poetic form, the lyrics of their song. 14. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
We know from Job chapter 38 that angels sang at the dawn of creation. We also know from Revelation that the citizens of heaven sing to the Lamb and angels join with them. So here, at the significant moment of the incarnation, the angelic hosts burst forth with song.
Now I must warn you, it wasn’t exactly Handel’s Messiah. Perhaps by way of televised newscasts, you’ve heard snippets of the singing of some rabbi or orthodox Jewish group singing at Israel’s wailing wall or at some festival. It’s a chanting type of singing, mostly in monotone. Beautiful to their ears, strange to ours.
Here in Luke 2, I believe that it’s that kind of singing. You don’t have the big angels singing bass and the little angels singing tenor. It was a poetic, monotone chanting, swelling, praising – this unnumbered host of angels must have shook the ground with their chanting and terrified the shepherds with holy wonder.
- 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.” 16. So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph (the verb translated “found their way” means, literally to discover after searching – what was the sign – a baby . . . several born that night? But this baby was lying in a feed trough . . . this wasn’t a custom – this was poverty stricken….
17. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
By the way, did you notice that now the shepherds are glorifying and praising God – that what the angels were doing earlier. The first century lamb keepers were fast learners.
And that’s why the angels aren’t doing this on earth now. God could send more angels couldn’t He? Why doesn’t He? Why doesn’t He write the message of His Son’s authenticity in the clouds? Why doesn’t he shake the earth with the chanting of angels again?
He could! But He has chosen from this point, until the Book of Revelation, to use ordinary, plain, sinful, forgiven, once outcast, once alienated from worship, now redeemed from sin and guilt . . . now in fellowship with God the Father.
For today, we who believe that Jesus is God have within our hearts the Lamb of God. We are today, 21st century keepers of the Lamb.
Maybe you’re here and you are willing, this morning to commit your life to Christ. In a more specific way – perhaps you will come forward and pray with me for greater courage – or wisdom. Maybe you’re listening and God has fanning that flame within your heart for full time ministry.
This morning you’d come to me and say, “Stephen pray with me - I don’t know how or where or when, but I’m willing to be a shepherd of the sheep; I’ll be willing to feed the flock of God. . .I sense His calling.” On this Christmas Sunday, I want to drive a stake in the ground and pray with you in this service that I’m willing to go and serve Christ for the sake of His flock – wherever and whenever He directs.
Maybe you can’t remember asking Christ to save you. Those are foreign words today – but you’ll admit that you’re not sure you’re going to heaven when you die. And you’d come this morning and say, “Stephen, I believe Jesus Christ was born – He was crucified and rose again for my salvation – but I want to know for sure that He’s my Savior – I’m not confident He is – would you take that step this morning and tell me that – we can make sure of that today!”
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