Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 16, 2018
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
— Luke 2:8-18, ESV
This is a crucial component of the Christmas story. It is the shepherds’ story, told from their point of view. In its own way tells the story of the birth of Christ in full. It is a story of surprising revelation, peculiar poverty, and great joy, gospel joy.
The Joy of Revelation
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them … and the angel said to them …”
Imagine going to work, getting lost in the grind, then all of a sudden an angel appears out of nowhere. Like the shepherds, you would jump out of your skin, at first. Then you realize it is “an angel of the Lord,” “the Lord!” He brings with him a special message (“angel” after all means “messenger”) just for you.
How would you feel? The God of all creation has come to you with an important message concerning the most important person and event in human history. Like the shepherds, your fear would give way to attention, your attention would turn to interpretation, and the interpretation would fill you with joy, gospel joy.
God is still speaking, by the way, revealing Himself and His will to us with words. They are not likely to be words coming from an angel’s mouth, but they are God’s words, nonetheless. We have just read from the scriptural pen of Dr. Luke, one of approximately forty human authors of Holy Scripture. In doing so we have heard a word from God.
“This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God!” This is what we say when the Bible speaks, for it speaks the very words of God. Our attitude, at Christmastime and anytime, should be that of the shepherds. We should hear the word of God with a little fear and trembling, give it our complete attention, and joyfully accept and obey what is revealed.
This joy of revelation can only be experienced by certain persons, however. Unlike the beautiful but unfortunate KJV translation, peace on earth and God’s good will do not fall on all men, but upon those whom God wills, “Those with whom He is pleased.” You may be surprised to learn who pleases God the most.
The Joy of Poverty
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
God especially loves and reveals Himself to poor people, perhaps exclusively so. On the outside looking in, this was true at the first Christmas. On the inside looking out, it is always true.
The shepherds were among the poorest of the poor. Few wanted their job or lot in life. They lived with the sheep, slept with the sheep, ate with the sheep, drank with the sheep, and eventually smelled like the sheep. Frankly, they got sick of the sheep. Their work was hard, their wages were low, their joys were few, until the day they realized God had spoken to them and revealed the location of the promised Messiah.
Where did they find the Christ child? “They went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” Yes, a manger, a feed trough, because Mary and Joseph were poor, too. This baby Jesus would grow up to be a man, a poor man, from the rural district of Galilee.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor …” (ref. 2 Corinthians 8:9).
And reading once again from Luke, “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’” (ref. Luke 6:20).
There may be no joy in material poverty, but there is great gospel joy in spiritual poverty.
Spiritual poverty is the knowledge that you need God, that you are lost and undone without Him, and that He has made a way for you to enjoy abundant and eternal life. The way is the way He revealed to the shepherds. It is the way, the truth, and the life found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Would a financially poor person cash the check if they won the lottery? You bet they would. Should a spiritually poor sinner accept Jesus Christ if they hear the gospel? Yes, with great joy, gospel joy!
The Joy of the Gospel
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Good news is the gospel and the gospel is good news — good, great, joyful news. It is good news for Jews, the news of the birth of the Messiah, the promised descendent of King David. It is good news for Gentiles, “For all the people,” that a Savior has come to the world.
But the good news comes with a catch, two of them in fact, wrapped up into one Bethlehem baby. Joy is for those who find Jesus as the right kind of “Savior.” Joy is for those who follow Him as “Lord.”
Jesus did not come at the first advent to save us from bad government, like many Jews thought then and some evangelicals think now. Jesus did not come to save us from doctors and debt collectors, as claimed by the preachers who fly around in private planes. Jesus came to save us from sin, of which all of us are guilty, and Hell, to which all of us will go, apart from the reception and acceptance of the saving good news of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Jesus is only Savior to those who accept Him as “Lord.” As a matter of fact, nowhere in the New Testament are we even admonished to call upon the name of the Savior, but rather, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (ref. Romans 10:13). Lord means owner, ruler, master, benevolent dictator.
For the gospel to be joyful it must be believed and obeyed (ref. John 3:16, 3:36; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). The gospel of a baby who became a carpenter, who became a vagabond preacher, who became a martyr, who became the resurrected and ascended King of kings, who is coming back again, is hard to believe. The gospel of a King who offers a yoke and a burden and a narrow way is costly to obey. But trust and obey we must, if the joy of the Lord of the gospel is to be ours.
And if we have it received it, we want to share it.
The Joy of Witnessing
“They made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”
The shepherds had not graduated from seminary. They had never attended a LifeWay seminar on sharing your faith. They gave no altar calls. They just told other people about Jesus, and joyfully so.
When the joy of the gospel is known, the gospel automatically, organically, naturally flows from our lips to others’ ears. We have found Jesus, through the joyful revelation of thegospel, and we share this good news of great joy with others. Then, we leave it at that.
God does not compel us to compel others to walk down some aisle at the end of a church service. God does not compel us to compel others to repeat some prayer or mantra. God does, however, command us to share our gospel experience with others, like testimony at a trial, in the hope they will repent and believe the good news about Jesus Christ.
There is no pressure on you to be successful, to close the deal, to count numbers of converts. This should make the task of just telling others about Jesus less stressful and more joyful. It should make following Him and worshiping Him with your church family every Sunday lighter, easier, and more joyful. That’s what the shepherds experienced and when they told others, the people “wondered.” In other words, they found the gospelinteresting, important, worth investigating further.
This was just the beginning. The shepherds heard the gospel, experienced the gospel, and told others about the gospel. This cycle of revelation, conviction, salvation, and witnessing continues up to our present day. So come to the manger and share the joy of the shepherds, pure gospel joy.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org