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Christmas Bible study Shepherds in the Field

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Shepherds in the Field
December 22, 2006

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8).

The date of Christ's birth, as observed in the western world, is December 25, although other dates have been observed at various times and places -- in January, March, May, etc. Actually no one really knows. In fact, the church did not observe it at all for the first two centuries. The date in late December which was eventually adopted coincided with the various pagan festivals held in connection with the winter solstice.

A significant clue is found in our text.

Shepherds were almost certainly not abiding in the fields watching over their flocks in late December; the sheep would have been gathered into the sheep folds long before that.

Another clue is the recorded presence of "the angel of the Lord" (v.9) to announce the birth of the Savior, along with a "multitude of the heavenly host" (v.13).

The angel leading the host was likely Michael the archangel (note Jude 9). The angel Gabriel, who stands "in the presence of God" (Luke 1:19) was sent to bear individual messages to Zacharias and Mary (Luke 1:11,26-27), but Michael is the one seen commanding the angelic host (Revelation 12:7).

It may be significant that the ancient church in Britain observed a date called Michaelmas (i.e., "Michael sent"), known as the feast of Michael and the angels. This date (still recognized in England's legal system) is September 29 -- a date when it is reasonable that Jewish shepherds would be in the fields with their flocks. Now, if that just might be the date of Christ's birth, then December 25 (nine months earlier) could well be the real date of the incarnation, when the eternal Creator God left heaven to take up residence as a special "seed" in a virgin's womb!

A Light to the Gentiles
December 23, 2006

"And He said, It is a light thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).

These words were presumably directed to the Son by the Father as the triune God prepared to implement the ancient promise that a Savior would come to bring salvation to a world lost in sin. That salvation would not only be the restoration of Israel as God's elect nation, but also would reach the Gentile nations and spread to the ends of the earth.

The old prophet Simeon referred to this prophecy when he took up the infant Jesus in his arms, and said: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. . . . For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).

Similar prophecies occur in other Old Testament passages as well. "I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles" (Isaiah 42:6). "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. . . . And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising" (Isaiah 60:1,3). The latter verse apparently prophesies even the coming of the Magi to worship the child Jesus in Bethlehem.

Paul used this truth as he preached to Gentiles in Antioch and elsewhere. "So hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldst be for salvation unto the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47; also note Acts 26:23). In fact, Jesus not only enlightens both Jews and Gentiles, but is "the light of the world" (John 8:12).

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