Good News of Great Joy
As we prepare for Christmas, I want to look with you at the shepherds who were chosen to greet the Savior's birth and the message of the angels to those shepherds.
The shepherds represent the layperson, the common person. I will take the simple approach of looking first at the shepherds and then at the good news and how it brings us great joy.
Do you have a thankless job?
Do you spend all night tending a crying baby? Or perhaps, you spend all night out in the cold and the elements to provide for your family. Then again, maybe you are one of the millions in America who spend all day doing a repetitive action on an assembly line.
Do your hands have calluses?
Does your back ache?
Do your feet hurt by the end of your shift?
Men and women of all times and ages have worked under varying degrees of difficulty. Some grow bitter and cynical. You have all seen this in someone you know.
Some give up. Others live with overwhelming depression. But not all; many live with joy, energy and hope.
It is possible to live in the joy of the Lord and in the victory of the Savor in the face of the trials and hardships of life.
The angels told the shepherds of good news and great joy. This good news and great joy is for all people. It is for you and me.
Let's look at the story of the shepherds and the angels and find this good news and great Joy.
First, let's note that the shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep at night. The sheep required constant watch. For this reason, the night was divided into watches. Three, four or six hours - I do not know how long each watch was, but the text indicates the shepherds were vigilantly keeping their watch. No executions here for falling asleep, just lost sheep, lost income and lost livelihood.
This was a night like any other night. These people did this every night. Backache, so what? Feet tired~ so sorry. Cold~ blow on your hands. Want to sleep some more~ too bad - it's your turn on watch. These shepherds give a good picture of the human condition.
We are no longer living in the Garden of Eden. As a result of sin, humanity is living under the curse. Genesis 3:16-19 tells of the curse when it says:
To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Genesis 3:16-19, ESV
The shepherds represent us because as the curse promises, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread..." The shepherds had to keep watch because the sheep were in danger. A wolf, a lion or even a coyote represented a threat to the sheep. We still have to stay alert. Whatever business a person might be in, he or she must stay alert because dangers and threats are present. These dangers range in severity from minor losses to threats to life and limb. Because of the curse, we have to have a military and we have to have a police force.
We look forward to a day when the curse is removed and there will be no more thieves, murderers or liars, but we will all be made holy.
The shepherds also represent us because the angel had to say, "Fear not..." At the appearance of the angel, the text tells us that the shepherds were filled with great fear. They were terrified. This is again evidence of the curse and the fallen state of humanity. Before the fall, Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden and communed with Him as friends. Because of the fall, the glory of the Lord has become a thing of terror.
However, when God came and lived among us, nobody was afraid of Him. He became flesh and dwelt among us and very few people responded with fear. Nobody needed to be afraid of Jesus. Isaiah 42:3 tells us, "a bruised reed he will not break...” ESV Our sin separates us from God. Our sin makes God frightening. The expectation of judgement creates the terror of His presence.
The good news of great joy for all people comes in at this point. The angel said, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, ESV)
This good news of great joy is for us. It is good news for all people, not just of that day but also for all ages.
The good news starts with a Savior. Jesus took our sins with Him to the cross. There is no longer reason to be afraid of God or terrified at His presence. This is also part of the meaning of the veil of the temple being torn when Jesus died on the cross. Our sins, that which separates us from God, were done away with. Therefore, we can enter boldly into the most holy place, into the very presence of God, without fear.
You probably know John 3:16.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
You probably know that all you have to do to be saved is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. But have you entered into the fullness of what God has for you? Do you still live in fear? Have you entered into the love of God? Do you know what it means to be filled with the Spirit? These and many other things are available to us as believers, but many of us stop short of entering into the fullness of our salvation.
The same God who loved us enough to give His only Son also said:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2, ESV
God said this for our good. He said this because He wants us to live with His joy and in the fullness of our salvation.
However, it is way too easy to be conformed to this world. We hold onto the things of this world as if they are the things that matter. We look for the gifts, riches and pleasures of this world as if they are the important things in life. In so doing, we forfeit the joy and pleasure of our salvation. Oh, we are saved all right. We will not go to hell, but the question remains, are we living in the great joy of which the angel spoke?
Because of the Savior, the thankless job can be done to the glory of God as an act of worship. Because of the Savior, we can look forward to the day when there will be no more aching back, tired feet, sleepless nights and danger. Because of the Savior, a day is coming when the wolf and the lamb will lie down together. Until that day, we can trust that He is able to keep what we have committed to Him.
We still have to be alert. The curse is not yet removed, but we can do all things to the glory of God. Colossians 3:16-17 tells us the secret of living with joy when it says:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16-17, ESV
Part of the joy of this good news is the redeeming of the hard and thankless jobs that we do. The aching back, the calluses and the long hours of work are not meaningless, but can be part of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord. Our life should not be divided in two as if we live one part in the world and the other part in the spirit. All that we do is both in the body and in the spirit. If you swear, cheat and are foul, your life will bear fruit accordingly. And, if you serve God with your whole heart during the week, this also will bear fruit.
Another part of this great joy is that the curse will one day be gone forever. Romans 8 speaks of this when it says:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:18-23
With the final removal of the curse will come our glorification. The glory of God will be revealed in us. It is being revealed in us as we live for Him in the fallen world, but it will be more fully revealed in that day. Because of the Savior, we all eagerly look forward to the day when there will be no more pain, sorrow or loss.
There are two things the shepherds did that we also need to do.
First, they hurried to see this thing that had happened. We too need to hurry to see the Savior. We also must kneel before Him and worship. This is where it starts. Do you humble yourself before Him every day?
Second, when they returned, they were glorifying God and making known what had been told them about the child. We also must make it known. We must speak of what we have seen and heard. Remaining silent in face of the lies, falsehood and deception that fill our world concerning our Savior is not an option. You may not have a pulpit, but you have relationships. Does everyone around you speak only the truth about Jesus? Do you ever question anybody and say, "Where did you get that idea?"
The good news of great joy is for everybody, for you and for your neighbor. Let's enter into the joy of the Lord, glorifying Him in word and deed.