3Kings - King of Fields
December 18, 2011 Series: 3Kings
Passage: Luke 2:8–2:21
Intro: God is Big
Our text today is one of the most well-known Christmas text in the Bible. As Chris shared last week, it begins with a declaration of Caesar Augustus, the self-proclaimed “Son of God” who brought peace through violence and world domination. His ability to restore justice and maintain “peace” for the whole world led to the emperor being trusted as Savior and hailed as Lord. In fact, at one point Caesar Augustus borrowed the Greek word for “Gospel”, or “Good News” and applied it as a label for the new world order represented by his reign. So, more than obeyed politically, the emperor was worshipped religiously by everyone. Yet, while sinful leaders are fearfully working to build their own earthly kingdom, mysteriously God uses sinful men, to masterfully orchestrate the arrival of His Son. Our text begins with the emperor’s decree for a census which just happens to be the right time for young pregnant couple.
God becomes much bigger when we realize how crazy this story really is. During the reign of Savior and Lord Caesar bringing a gospel of peace to the world, an angel appears to a young Jewish teenage girl engaged to be married telling her that she’ll give birth to the long awaited Lord and Savior who will bring peace to the world. This teenage girl wakes up pregnant without ever having sex. Her righteous freaked out boyfriend (Joseph) works toward quietly divorcing Mary before angel shows up talk him out of it. At the decree, he takes his betrothed to Bethlehem, traveling on a donkey, where she had to spend the night in a barn, only to give birth among farm animals who give up their feeding trough as a bed for their creator and true King. When you understand how big our God is, all “problems” seem very small. And when you understand how loving our God is, everything else seems very insignificant.
God’s Campaign Plan
Now, if I was God’s campaign manager, I’m not certain this is how I would advise Him to enter the world. Like all of us, many think that the Creator might decide to wait until TV or the Internet is invented; many wrongly believe that God wants or needs the most SPECTACULAR publicity, or a big splash, or some kind of noise louder than the cry of a baby in order to get the world to follow him. That is the difference between Caesar and the true Lord and Savior. We see that the first pronouncement of Jesus’ arrival was not to large crowds, not to men of fame, fortune or wealth. This is the heart of God’s way. 1Cor. 1.26-29 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
The first announcement of the long-anticipated, incomparable, arrival of our God, Savoir, Lord, and King is made to group of anonymous shepherds who are little more than King of the fields outside of Bethlehem. 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. This might surprise us, but a survey of the Scriptures reveal that God has used the imagery of a Shepherd since the book of Genesis. The first recorded offering to God came from Abel, a keeper of Sheep. Moses spent 40 years shepherding sheep in the hills of Midian. David, the King of Israel, and the earthly lineage through which Christ came was a Shepherd. Songs like Psalm 23 describe the Lord as a Shepherd. The prophet Ezekiel looked forward to the restoration of Israel when all who have one Shepherd. Jesus himself describes his ministry as leaving the ninety-nine found sheep to save the lost one. And Jesus himself came as the Good/Chief Shepherd. And Peter, as with all pastors, are called to Shepherd the flock that is the church. It seems then, that understanding the Shepherd is essential in understanding the heart of God.
Shepherds in the World
And though God uses Shepherds to his glory, we mustn’t romanticize the occupation of the Shepherds. Understanding what shepherd was makes their transformation that much more incredible. For the most part, Shepherds were pariahs in society. They held the lowest of social status and were shunned by the rich, famous, and especially the religious. Shepherds were considered ceremonially unclean. Living with sheep meant they could not keep all of the rules and regulations of the Rabbis. So Rabbis viewed them outcasts and, probably because of their proclivity for dishonesty, considered their testimony not admissible in court. These Shepherds represent the outcasts and sinners Jesus came for. And though none of us want to identify with the poor in spirit—those are the only people Jesus saves. God does not call the rich and mighty; He calls the poor and the lowly—“those” poor people. The problem with all of us is that we all think we’re kings like Herod—we won’t admit we’re dirty and rejected. And so we build kingdoms around us to make us feel better (and impress others), all an effort to hide what we know is sinful and broken.
At the birth of Jesus, an angel of the Lord appears to shepherds in the fields, and it terrifies them. 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. Have you ever wondered what this angel looked like? Historically, the church has concocted some pretty fanciful pictures of angels. They options seems to fall between Angels as FEMAILS, MALE-FAIRIES or as something out of MEN IN BLACK. We mustn’t forget that these Shepherds are not metro-sexual pansies prancing around in the grass with clean fluffy sheep. Shepherds are practical hardworking men, hunters and hikers who have seen a lot, men who are not easily fooled by fantasy, or fearful. The appearance of this angel, surrounded by the GLORY OF THE LORD, fills these men with GREAT FEAR. Proverbs 1.7 Fear of the Lord is beginning of knowledge…Proverbs 15.16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Without this kind of fear, or with manufactured fear, we will FIGHT against God or run from Him—because your kingdom is threatened—you fear losing your little kingdom more than Him. Genuine fear of the Lord, leads those who love Him to fearlessly pursue Him and praise Him.
God’s Good News & His Foolish Mailmen
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!”
The Preacher & Good News with Great Joy
The angel tells these manly-shepherds lying in the fetal position, that he has not come to bring GREAT fear, but GREAT JOY. Namely, comes to announce the good news, literally, the GOSPEL. The gospel is not instructions on how save yourself, or advice on how to reach God, it is the declaration of what God has done to save the world. It is news that completely changes the condition of those who hear it- It did not require action to achieve acceptance, only acceptance of its reality. In what is a direct and wholly unexpected challenge to the Roman World with its Emperor and military might, God sends a Savior that blows away all Jewish and Pagan expectations. He does not send a soldier, a judge, or a reformer, he sends a child to be SAVIOR and who is LORD.
And you have to believe that, after the first appearance of glory is starting to wear off---guys who have probably killed wolves and lions with their bare hands might be unimpressed. I bring you GREAT NEWS—a baby is lying in a food trough. But if one angel made them wet their sheepskin, God sends the multiude, literally God’s Army of angels to take it to the next level. And whether it is sung or simply spoken, God’s creation speaks praise back to God in response to what He has done for man saying: GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST and PEACE FOR MEN.
- Highest Glory – The truth is we praise many things in our lives. This is not something we have to work at, it is something that is spontaneously expressed when we value something—we cannot help doing it. It is the natural response of enjoying something. So, when we speak of giving glory to God, what we are really talking about is experiencing God’s glory and then glorifying him, or praising him, in response. As C.S. Lewis said, God’s command to glorify Him is really an invitation to fully enjoy him and His Kingdom as the most perfect and worthy of all.
- Peace: Great joy in God casts out the greatest of fears in this world. This kind of enjoyment casts out all fear because God’s perfect loveliness is climaxes, and is most clearly seen in the fact that he sent His Son to save us. Everyone has their thing that if given or removed would bring peace.T he Jewish word shalom (peace) means much more than a comfort in the meat-grinder of life. It has a deeper sense of well-being, health, prosperity, security, soundness, and completeness. It has to do more with character than circumstances. Life was just difficult at that time just as it is today. Taxes were high, unemployment was high, morals were slipping lower, and the government was broken. But true heart-peace is not brought through a better job, better health, or better laws. The baby did not come to change their immediate circumstances, but to change the entire context in which all circumstances occur.
Responses to the News
The Shepherds respond to God’s glory as we should. 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.” Not only is it important to understand what this Army of Angels said, it is also important to what the Angels did not tell them directly to go to Bethlehem. Their desire to go to Bethlehem, their desire to seek Jesus, to worship Him is not a response to a directive, but the natural result of a transformed heart. I wonder how often do we excuse or justify, our unwillingness to seek out Jesus, to obey what we know is right, to speak, to act, to walk like Christ ALL BECAUSE we never saw a glowing messenger of God tell us. The obedience of a transformed heart, the desire to worship is one that is a natural response to the AWESOMENESS of the gospel—the glory of a holy God who loves unholy men.
These simple, anonymous, uneducated and inexperienced shepherds are worthy of imitation—they obey with immediately, without complaint, without arguing, without delay, and WITH enthusiasm. 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. These guys went with HASTE, they rushed to Bethlehem like we do to Wal-Mart on Black Friday. Though imagine they could have easily hidden behind the needs of the flock they were watching. Their justifications will sound convincing to those of us who have used the same ones to explain our refusal to seek and set our minds on Christ. I don’t have time. I have a lot of responsibilities. I don’t know where to start looking? The truth is, these guys didn’t have some angel telling them to go. They had a community of guys together who experienced the Word of God together and wanted to drop everything and follow together.
From Pastures to Preachers
And then they find the stable, they do more than just peek in and confirm the truthfulness of Angel’s announcement: 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. The dirty, outcast, under-privileged, blue-collar, uneducated, hard-working kings of the fields, become preachers for the KING—they became evangelists. Imagine if you can. These outcasts walk into town going from stable to stable looking for a baby. They probably asked questions and others asked questions and probably laughed their crazy story off as a drunken tale. But they were never dissuaded from their goal. And as the found the stable, they approached strangers, holding a baby, surrounded by animals, and told them what they saw and heard. They so believed that they were willing to risk unbelief and even ridicule. This is what Jesus has commanded all of us to do—not just the pastors, not the scholars, not just those with the gift of evangelism—all of us. And I fear we have not done it well. That though we may not even build our kingdom like Herod, we do not declare the glories of the Kingdom we say governs us. This becomes most evident at Christmas. We Christians become obnoxiously concerned with making a big noise about keeping Christ in Christmas, as we neglect our responsibility to proclaim Christ in January, February, March, in our neighborhoods, at our schools, in our jobs, wherever we are sent.
And though we can say we need to proclaim the gospel because Jesus commanded it, or because it saves people, the primary reason we do it is glorifies God. And the moment that glorifying God through evangelism becomes duty, you’ve lost, you’ve stopped enjoying the glory of God as fully expressed in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His Son.
And we know not everyone is going to listen to what we say in a way that changes them. But that is not your job to care. When the Shepherds preached: 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Many of us have heard and listened to the same radical story of God as told by the Shepherds. Angels, virgin birth, decrees, Angels, multitudes, and a baby in a manger is amazing. But temporary amazement and wonder alone is not enough. It passes like a Christmas season. Like Mary, if we desire lasting change, genuine transformation, the gospel must become our treasure, the truth of the gospel must go deeply into our heart so that when GREAT FEAR overwhelms us, the GREAT JOY of the gospel overwhelms it.
After their come to Jesus moment high, the Shepherds return to “real life.” 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. My fear is that much of the faith journey’s in this room have been one-hit-wonders. That, upon returning to life after a Sermon, Sunday morning, or even a Christmas season, your faith disappears. My hope is that God will open our eyes to see the glories of the gospel and increase our enjoyment of Him. And as He does, my prayer is that will go back into the world as the outcasts that we are, and proclaim love, grace, forgiveness, and power with all courage and without shame…even after December 25th.