Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE SHEKINAH AND THE SHEPHERDS”

Luke 2.8-9, 15-20

 

We are at that Christmas season of year, so it is once again time for a concerted and concentrated examination of the birth of Jesus Christ. However, before we turn to God’s Word, allow me to read a portion of Josh McDowell’s book, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict:

 

Throughout history, people have given a variety of answers to the question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” Whatever their answer, no one can escape the fact that Jesus really lived and that His life radically altered human history forever. The world-renowned historian Jaroslav Pelikan makes this clear: “Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of supermagnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left? It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse and in his name that millions pray.” (Pelikan, JTTC, 1)

How influential has Jesus been? In their book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe attempt to answer this question, at least partially. They begin with the assumption that the church—the body of Christ—is Jesus’ primary legacy to the world. Then they examine what has happened in history that displays the influence of the church. Here are “a few highlights” they cite:

 

·    Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages.

·    Universities, which also began during the Middle Ages. In addition, most of the world’s greatest universities were started by Christians for Christian purposes.

·    Literacy and education of the masses.

·    Representative government, particularly as it has been seen in the American experiment.

·    The separation of political powers.

·    Civil liberties.

·    The abolition of slavery, both in antiquity and in modern times.

·    Modern science.

·    The discovery of the New World by Columbus.

·    Benevolence and charity; the Good Samaritan ethic.

·    Higher standards of justice.

·    The elevation of the common man.

·    The high regard for human life.

·    The civilizing of many barbarian and primitive cultures.

·    The codifying and setting to writing of many of the world’s languages.

·    The greater development of art and music. The inspiration for the greatest works of art.

·    The countless changed lives transformed from liabilities into assets to society because of the gospel.

·    The eternal salvation of countless souls! (Kennedy, WIJ, 3, 4)

 

Anyone who has studied church history knows that the church has had its share of leaders and sects who have abused the lofty ideals established by Jesus and brought shame to His name. Often it has been those of one sect or another within recognized Christendom who have propagated policies and practices completely at odds with the love of Christ. The persecutions of one supposedly Christian body against another stand as a sad example. And too often the church has lagged behind when some in the secular arena have advanced needed change. Civil rights for African Americans is one such example, although it must be added that the Christian faith was one of the primary motivations of the giants, the champions of racial freedom, such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

On balance, it is the followers of Jesus who have taken the great sacrificing steps to lift others out of the dregs of life. Jesus of Nazareth has been transforming lives for almost two millennia, and in the process He has been rewriting the progress and outcome of human history.

When we consider the basic facts about Jesus’ life, the vast impact He has had is nothing short of incredible. A nineteenth-century writer put it this way:

 

He [Jesus] was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years, He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn’t go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

While He was dying, His executioners gambled for His garments, the only property He had on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life. (Kennedy, W1J, 7, 8)[1]

 

I think I have already answered the question that sometimes forms in people’s minds. The reason we examine the birth of Jesus Christ each year at this time in a concerted and concentrated fashion is because this man, Jesus Christ, is undeniably the single most important person to ever walk the earth, and His life has more real and practical impact on your life and destiny than everyone else you will ever know or know anything about, combined.

That said, and since there is so much information provided in scripture about the Lord Jesus Christ, and about His birth (What do we know about the birth of any other religious figure in history in comparison?), my plan is to focus on a single aspect of details surrounding Christ’s birth leading up to Christmas.

Find Luke chapter two in your Bible, and when you have safely arrived there, please stand so we can give attendance to reading:[2]

 

1      And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2      (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3      And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4      And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5      To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6      And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7      And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8      And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9      And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

 

15     And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16     And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17     And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18     And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19     But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20     And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

 

Although Luke tells us in verse 4, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea,” you will clearly see in the map section of your Bible that they traveled south. This reflects the distinctly Jewish notion that whatever direction you travel, when you are headed toward Jerusalem, you are going up, and whenever you are traveling away from Jerusalem, you are headed down. Bethlehem is but a brief journey south of Jerusalem.

If you have been here for more than a year or two, you might notice my preoccupation each Christmas season with the shepherds. I frequently speak to the children at Pastor’s Christmas Story Time about the shepherds. Why so? Because, like so often with children, the shepherds were overlooked in their day by almost everyone, and are typically overlooked in our day by preachers. Do not overlook the shepherds, or the children.

They both deserve your attention, your consideration, and, if what we read in our text is any indication, your explanation. Tonight’s message will focus on the explanation given to the shepherds concerning our Lord’s birth, while this morning’s message addresses the attention paid to them.

Three very simple points to convey to you, in what I prayerfully hope will come across as a delightfully simple message from God’s Word:

 

First, THERE IS THE MEANING

 

What is the meaning of what is described to us in verse 9?

 

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”

Zero in, if you will, on the phrase “the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” A theological dictionary defines glory in this way:

 

Glory is a biblical term used in reference to the unapproachable and mighty manifestation of the immediate presence of God. The biblical concept of glory carries with it connotations of inexpressible beauty and majesty. At the same time, it implies an absolutely pure and terrifying “holiness” confronting the sinfulness of humans.[3]

 

The importance of God’s glory is set forth in, Psalm 8.1: “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens,” and Psalm 19.1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork,” and in Psalm 24.7-10:

 

7      Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

8      Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

9      Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

10     Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.

 

Clearly, God’s glory is of paramount importance to Him, setting it above the heavens, using His creation to declare it, and so closely associating it with Himself and His name.

There is something about God’s glory that we need to be very, very clear about. Isaiah 42.8: “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another.” Again, in Isaiah 48.11b: “I will not give my glory unto another.” Recognizing that you have your glory and that I have my glory, that each person, that each created being, has his own glory, keep in mind that God’s glory is a whole other matter. He is adamant that His creatures understand that He has reserved His glory to Himself and to no other.

What, then, is the meaning of the glory of the Lord shining round about those shepherds that night after the Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem? To answer that question, let me rehearse what the glory of the Lord was associated with in past times. In Exodus 40.34-35, concerning the Tabernacle in the wilderness, we read, “35 And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys.” Then, in First Kings 8.11, concerning the Temple in Jerusalem, we read, “So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.” These are by no means all the verses that make mention of the glory of God, but I think you see what is significant about the glory. Where God is in a special and marvelous way, His presence is shown by means of His glory. There, between the cherubim on the mercy seat, which was placed over the Ark of the Covenant, the glory of God abode in the Holy of holies.

Sadly, one day the glory departed the Temple. The prophet Ezekiel was witness to it. We have not the time to read the entire tragic account, but listen to a couple of verses in which Ezekiel laments the movement of the glory of the LORD in stages from between the cherubim over the mercy seat, to the threshold of the Temple, and then departing. Ezekiel 10.4: “Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house.” Ezekiel 10.18: “Then the glory of the LORD departed from off the threshold of the house.” Ezekiel 11.23: “And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city.” The glory departed the Temple, as nearly as we can tell, in the year 592 BC. Before the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians, throughout the Babylonian captivity to the construction of Zerubbabel’s Temple, and through the renovation of it to become Herod’s Temple, the glory of God was not there. Why not? Because God was not there.

Then, one chilly night in late December, the glory of the Lord settled around some shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks that night. What did it mean? It meant that after 600 years of absence God is here again! No wonder those men were sore afraid.

 

Which Brings Us To THE MEN

 

From verse 8, we see that they are shepherds. They are not men of means, or they would not have been out at night guarding sheep. No one worked for them; they worked for someone else, or scraped out a living herding their own flocks.

Notice, then, that the glory of God appeared after 600 years, but to poor men and not rich men, to ignorant men and not to scholars, to men of low estate and not to noble men.

Dwight Pentecost writes,

 

These were most unlikely recipients of such a revelation, for shepherds were despised as a class because they were unable to observe the customary laws of ceremonial purification. They were considered unclean. They had not been schooled in the law and therefore were considered ignorant.[4]

 

Is it not just like God to do it this way? These were regular guys, normal men, unaffected by the lure and enticement of Jerusalem’s religious politics. As well, they were shepherds. The arrival of the Lamb of God was first announced to shepherds. The news of the coming of the Good Shepherd was first told to shepherds. Moreover, after they were told, their curiosity gripped them and they went to see where He lay.

 

We Conclude With THEIR MESSAGE

 

We will tend to the details of the angel’s message and the sign that was given to these shepherds in another message. For now, keep in mind what their overall reaction was. They had been the first to see the glory of God in six centuries! An angel appeared and spoke to them, and they were blessed by an angelic choir: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

All of that prompted them to run into the little village of Bethlehem to find this Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. How long they stayed we are not told, but they were certainly gentlemen enough to consider young Mary’s condition. Therefore, they probably did not stay for too long a time. Then what did they do?

“And when they had seen, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” In other words, when the shepherds left the manger and the Christ child, they rehearsed to other people the things they had been told. They certainly told others what the angel told them, and may very well have told others what Joseph and Mary related to them about their encounters with angels.

I point this out to make you aware of what is missing from the account of the shepherds talking to other people. The shepherds apparently said nothing about their experiences, but were intent on spreading the message the angel had brought, and perhaps the facts rehearsed to them by Joseph and Mary. Do you see it? The truth gripped those shepherds more than the miracles they experienced.

 

I have no doubt that those shepherds spent the rest of their lives reflecting on the events of that evening, considering both the words the angel had spoken to them, as well as the spectacular events they had been so privileged to witness.

Think of it. The glory of God! The very Shekinah that guided Moses and the children of Israel through the wilderness that hovered over the Tabernacle, that filled the Temple of Solomon, and that had departed so long ago. Returned! But not to Jerusalem. Witnessed! But not by priests or scholars. Then the angel and the great host of heaven. My friends, there might have been millions of angels in that choir.

However, what was most important was the Babe in the manger. Moreover, what most benefited those they spoke to was not a rehearsal of the details of the spectacular events they had seen, but the words about the Savior they had been told. That is what they spoke about to others. The truth that sets men free.

Oh, let us model our lives after those simple shepherds, my friends. The dazzling experiences are wonderful. However, what is truly important is the Savior. What we must do who have the truth is what those shepherds did when they were given the truth. Those men went and told the truth about the Savior, rather than tell everyone what thrilling things had happened to them. Let us do the same.

Let us, like the shepherds, tell people the truth about Jesus Christ, that He is virgin born, that He was crucified for the sins of others, that He rose again, that that He is coming again.



[1]Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), pages 155-157.

[2] 1 Timothy 4.13

[3] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 55.

[4] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works Of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), page 60.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org