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The Messiah's Birth and Witnesses (Part 2)

The Gospel of Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  32:16
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Luke 2:1-20

PRAY: Lord, I ask you to graciously interrupt our ordinary lives today with your extraordinary goodness. Help us to see more of who you are, and thank you that you have revealed yourself through Jesus Christ. Help our hearts us to kneel before him as Lord and to honor him with our complete allegiance and service. May you be pleased to do these things in us for the sake of your own great name, Amen.
INTRO: Most of the time, we lead very ordinary lives with very little interruption to our ordinary routines. But from time to time, there might come some major interruption to an ordinary day in your ordinary life… perhaps a tragedy (something that humbles you and shakes you to the core), or perhaps an epiphany (something you learn that you can’t believe you didn’t know before because of its significance to everything else in life), or even an encounter with someone whom you are convinced will always be integral to your life from this day forward. … At the very least this morning, I want you to imagine experiencing an event, learning something, encountering someone… that dramatically changes your perspective of what God is doing in the world.
Put yourselves in the sandals of the shepherds in Luke 2, who experience an extraordinary encounter with a perspective-altering, paradigm-shifting truth (to be a found in a person) that will give new light and meaning to every other so-called ordinary day of their ordinary lives.
Luke 2:6–20 ESV
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 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.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, 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. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Jesus the Christ Is Born

Historical Setting (vv. 1-3)
Messianic Setting (vv. 4-5)
Humble Setting (vv. 6-7)
(Here’s what we covered last time in vv. 1-7.) For accuracy in terms of timeframe and circumstances, Luke gives Theophilus (and others) the historical backdrop within the Roman Empire. He also carefully continues the important thread of messianic fulfillment in terms of Joseph and Mary’s heritage and journey to Bethlehem. And then he provides the humble and unadorned circumstances of Jesus’ birth (the only unique factor being that because the town was crowded he was laid in a feeding trough for animals). But for all of what sounded so ordinary in terms of its historical circumstance, in juxtaposing that with all that comes next, or is happening simultaneously with shepherds on a hillside, Luke intends that we will recognize and contemplate who the true sovereign is over all that is taking place (God), and that what makes this news so good is the fact that it is accurate and true. Such was our emphasis last week.

First Witnesses to His Arrival

Now let’s look more closely at how God chooses to use these humble shepherds as the first earthly witnesses to the Messiah’s arrival, even as heavenly messengers announce his coming.
It is humble shepherds to whom God chooses to announce the arrival of the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And the encounter with an angelic messenger, followed by a whole host of angels proclaiming a refrain of praise to God, is bound to make somewhat of an impression on these recipients.

Humble Shepherds Receive the Angelic Announcement (vv. 8-12)

V. 8 sets the stage for what is about to take place: in the same region—in the Judean hills outside of Bethlehem; some shepherds are out in the field keeping night-watch over their flock—there will come an astonishing interruption to this calm, dark night. —> Why does God deliver this incredible, earth-changing, life-altering announcement to a group of shepherds? True, shepherds were a low class of people and not held in high esteem by society. But that in itself is not the point, because in the Bible shepherds have played important roles in God’s plan: consider the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and Moses (during his time with Jethro), and especially David (before his time as warrior and king). Rather than the emphasis being on their despised profession, these shepherds are representative of “the lowly and humble who respond to God’s message.” (Bock, 214) - This is important in Luke’s gospel, not only that Jesus has compassion on those who are poor and needy, sick and hurting, but also that those who come to see themselves as spiritually poor and needy are those who are likely to respond rightly to God’s revelation of Jesus as the answer to their need.
With the sudden appearance of an angel and the presence of the glory of God manifested in bright light, the shepherds have a normal response to the abnormal, a natural response to the supernatural: they are filled with great fear. — But as with other times already in Luke’s narrative (and beyond it as well), God is gracious and the angel quickly seeks to quiet their fears. Darrell Bock states it poignantly: “The initial encounter with God or his messenger frightens most who experience it, but the grace of God is such that this fear is quickly removed as an obstacle. God wishes to interact with his creation.” (215)
The shepherds do not need to fear; instead, what they are about to hear will be cause for great rejoicing, because the angel is announcing good news. The verb for proclaiming good news (euangelizomai) and it’s noun form (euangelion) are especially common with Luke and Paul. This announcing good news, proclaiming the gospel, deepens in its richness and significance as Luke continues his careful account of the Gospel of Jesus and of the birth and mission of His Church in Acts.
The announcement concerns the birth of someone unique, and the significance of this person is declared in threefold title: A Savior who is Christ (Gk form of Messiah), the Lord. “Savior points to his role as deliverer; Messiah points to his office in terms of the promised Anointed One of God; and Lord indicates his sovereign authority.” (Bock) ...A Savior (deliverer), who is the Christ (the Messiah, the promised anointed one of God), the Lord (sovereign master… as Luke’s audience will come to see… over everything).
The angel ends his message by giving the shepherds a sign for how they will find the baby. With the given information, and Bethlehem not being that large of a town, they would need to search but would surely find him.
Now before they have a chance to obey the angel and go find this savior wrapped in swaddling cloths, the strange occurrence gets stranger… and more marvelous:

A Heavenly Host Celebrates God at His Coming (vv. 13-14)

An entire host of angels (which, by the way, almost certainly refers to a nearly countless multitude but yet only a portion of the angels that serve God in heaven), at once declares the praises of God as well as expresses the significance of what God is doing.
And what is the commentary that this chorus supplies? With literary parallelism between God and man, between his exalted location (the highest = heaven) and earth (which he has made), and between glory to the one and providing peace for the other. For what he is doing and all that he is, glory belongs to God, who sits enthroned in the highest heaven. In his inexpressible mercy and grace he is intervening with his creation on earth to provide peace, meaning peace that we need between us and God. Our sin has put us at enmity with God, who in his perfect justice expresses his wrath against sin. We are in desperate need of peace with God, and we are without recourse to initiate that peace. But God!
Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
And that same emphasis is what we find in the final descriptive phrase regarding this peace God extends—it is to those with whom he is pleased. [slide for NIV and NASB text]
“and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (NIV)
“and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (NASB)
The emphasis is not on man’s good will but on God’s good will, not on what we might to do or be to deserve his favor but on the unmerited favor God bestows by his own good pleasure. - Lest you are tempted to be either frustrated or befuddled by that emphasis, consider the truth of it instead with joy and a grateful heart. If God were looking for some good in us that deserved his favor, he would find none. He would not find sufficient good to spare us from our deserved condemnation for our rebellious lack of faith in Him and our ongoing disobedience to his command. No, he looks at us and he sees those who are guilty and found wanting. But in the midst of our inescapable plight, our inability to be made right with him, God himself intervenes through the God-man Jesus Christ to provide forgiveness and make us right with God through faith in His righteousness and not our own—through him we have peace with God.
Romans 5:1–2 ESV
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
While there is and will always be (in this life) a sense in which God’s choosing is beyond our comprehension, His gracious favor to send Jesus to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, and through him to save those who belong to Him, is cause for great rejoicing and praise, and for comfort and rest to those who do in fact come to Him through faith in Jesus. By the truth intervening in our lives (Jesus himself), we are changed and have faith to follow him and bear witness about him.
And so the shepherds become the first of an earthly contingent that is blessed to bear witness to all that they have seen and heard concerning this Jesus!

An Earthly Contingent Is Blessed to Bear Witness (vv. 15-20)

The shepherds don’t stand around befuddled that they were chosen to experience this incredible announcement. They don’t stand around complaining that God sovereignly choosing them instead of someone else just doesn’t seem fair to others. Nope, they say to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Notice they credit God with making it known to them through the angelic message.)
And they wasted no time searching animal caves and stables in Bethlehem until they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. - “In Bethlehem that night there might be one or two babies wrapped in swaddling clothes, but surely only one lying in a manger.” - Leon Morris
When they find the baby just as they had been told, they share their side of the story. …Something like: “An angel appeared to us and said, ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’ And he said that this baby being born was ‘a Savior’ and that he is the promised Messiah, ‘the Lord.’”
The statement that “all who heard it marvelled” gives indication that there were more people who had gathered than just Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. If it was still night, the shepherds had probably caused some commotion and even woken people up. Either way, even if it is now day, with Bethlehem being a fairly small town, it makes sense that others would have followed them as they were excitedly looking for this baby lying in a manger. - Luke has a tendency to highlight in his gospel, that although not everyone necessarily fully understands the true significance of Jesus and believes in Him, the various works and wonders surrounding him and the things that he does himself tends to cause marvelling among people, to create a stir and a buzz. There’s most definitely something unique going on here!
For some reason Luke also notes, as a contrast to the wonderment of the many, that Mary collects all these things in her mind and mulls them over. This is not to suggest that she already has full comprehension, but rather that she contemplates their significance and stores them in her memory. - I think I mentioned to you before in the introduction to Luke that this sort of specificity makes me (and others) wonder if Luke didn’t have an eyewitness source who was very close to the action and attitudes of Mary herself. (Someone like James, the brother of Jesus, perhaps…)
[Finally, our last verse to ponder today…] “And the shepherds returned.” They went back to their lives. But not without a God-ward response to what they had encountered: They glorified God and praised him for all that they had heard and seen—from the message of the angel and the praise of the heavenly host to finding the baby and his parents, which was just as they had been told. - (Another way to say this might be that…) They gave God credit and praised him for all that he was doing and that he had blessed them to be a part of it.
For application, I want you to think with me for a moment. Do you think the shepherds returned, went back to their sheep and lived their lives exactly the way they had begun the night before? Well, yes and no. They’ll have the same responsibilities and the same familial obligations, but they certainly won’t be doing any of their ordinary things with the same perspective as before! They had witnessed a host of angels! An angelic messenger sent them on a mission to confirm that a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, had been born into this world!
Will they forget, or will they tell the story amongst themselves again and again? And will they continue to tell everyone else they meet? Will it become the truth they live by, the encounter that changes everything? Or will it become a stale, distant memory that is hard even for them to believe? I am absolutely convinced that what should be the case is that even their ordinary, daily lives will never be the same, that they will now rehearse again and again for themselves and others the marvelous truth that was made known to them, and they will now live their lives in constant anticipation, awaiting the fulfillment of this one who has come to be deliverer and Lord.
Now I don’t know if you’ve read the whole gospel of Luke, but you at least know the narrative: Jesus does fulfill the promises of the Israelite Davidic messiah; he does offer himself up as a sacrifice for sin so that we can be delivered from our slavery to it; he did rise from the grave and is the Lord over death and life and can restore us to right relationship to God; he is ascended on high and promises to come again for his own. That is truth which changes everything. Once you encounter Jesus, placing your faith in Him as the only true means to meet your insurmountable spiritual need, your ordinary life should never be the same.
I want this same train of thought to be where we conclude today.
Conclusion:
Return to your “ordinary” with new perspective, with new purpose, because the one person who changes everything has changed history and changed you.
Will you now go back to your ordinary routine as if nothing happened, nothing has changed, as if Jesus has not intervened in the world and interrupted our desperate situation to offer us forgiveness of sin and give us spiritual life and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit?
Will you go back to your ordinary routine without overwhelming gratitude that God has favored you to be restored to him and be a part of what he is doing in making a people for himself? Will you go back to your normal obligations without giving God glory for the unfathomable change that he has wrought in you by revealing his truth to your heart? Will you face life’s trials and even moments of pleasure without the deep-seated joy of belonging to God and being caught up in his plan? Will you go back to your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and classmates without praise to God and a testimony of all that you have seen and heard?
Let’s go back to our ordinary glorifying and praising God for all that we have heard and seen, all that has been made known to us concerning the life, death, resurrection, and return of the Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.
Pray: “Lord, thank you for allowing us to gather together like this weekly as your people to be given a new or a renewed vision for who you are and what you have called us to. Change us by faith in your Son Jesus Christ, and strengthen us to live our ordinary lives according to his extraordinary life in us. Amen.”
Closing: So as you go back to your ordinary routine, go back praising God and bearing witness to who he is, and that he has revealed himself and offered peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. Return now as one infected, a carrier of the life-altering, eternity-changing truth that Jesus saves, that he is the fulfillment of the faithfulness of God to all that he promised from the beginning.
Benediction: “Our good and gracious heavenly Father, we cannot take credit even now for responding sensibly to all that you have done through Jesus. And we can’t take credit for you empowering us to do your will in this life. But we ask in humble dependence, Lord, that you will sustain our faith and strengthen us to submit to your Spirit so that we will be faithful ambassadors of the peace that you have offered through Jesus. To you be all the glory both now and forever, Amen.”
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