As a pastor, there have been times in my life when I have staggered under waves of discouragement. There are those Sundays when it seems as though my sermons just dribble out of my mouth, struggle over the pulpit, and die somewhere between me and the congregation. A sense of personal inadequacy for the tasks of pastoral duty feeds a sense of hopelessness that I'll ever really do this job justice. Not often, but every once in a great while I feel like David when he wrote in Psalm 25:
- "I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!" NIV (vv. 16-17)
The good news? I know I'm not alone. Many Christians, when faced with crisis and just plain ‘ol every day stress, struggle regularly with a feelings of hopelessness. The tell-tail signs are the heavy sighs that issue from our lips at the end of a busy day.
Outside of the Bible, hope consists of little more than a half-hearted optimism. But that optimism has no firm foundation—no anchor. Hope, as the word is commonly used in our culture today, is little more than wishful thinking.
- "I hope I win the lottery."
- "I hope Bobby will ask me out."
- "I hope the state trooper didn't have his radar gun turned on."
- "I hope I get that new digital camera for Christmas."
- "I hope the teacher didn't see me pass that note."
- "I hope I go to heaven when I die."
There is no sense of assurance in any of these statements.
The Bible, on the other hand, reveals a hope that consists of unrelenting, confident faith in God's promises. Listen as the Apostle Peter talks about this hope:
*“Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear. You have faith in God, whose power will protect you until the last day. Then he will save you, just as he has always planned to do.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, CEV)
As we celebrate the Forth Sunday of Advent, we celebrate the promise of a Savior and the Christians hope in Christ. The word Advent literally means coming. With the coming of Christ, therefore, is also the arrival of hope.
For the Christian, life with Christ is an endless hope. For those without Him, life is a hopeless end. That's why we continue our Advent celebration by talking about hope. And no one needed a more sure word of hope more than those lonely shepherds tending their flocks in the fields around Bethlehem. These men remind us how men should responded to God's invitation.
I. GOD'S MESSAGE OF HOPE IS FOR THE LOWLY AND DOWNTRODDEN
- “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8, ESV)
- why would God choose to announce the coming of His son first to shepherds and not to the rabbis and spiritual leaders of Israel?
- let me tell you about these shepherds
- First, they were religious outcasts
- according to Jewish religious law, these men were ritually and spiritually unclean
- their line of work prevented them from participating in many religious rites, feasts and holy days that pious Jews were to observe
- whatever might have been in their hearts, they weren't able to participate in the religious life of the community
- Second, they were cultural outcasts
- they were looked upon with suspicion much as we might look with suspicion at gypsies, carnival roustabouts or migrant workers
- they were often assumed to be thieves – if something showed up missing, it must have been ‘those shepherds'
- they were considered untrustworthy and forbidden to give legal testimony in a Jewish court of law
- Third, they were social outcasts
- let's face it—shepherds stink—these guys were with their sheep 24-7-365; they even slept with the sheep
- they had poor people skills – they were not great conversationalists, oh, and did I tell you that they stunk?
- they were the lowest of common folk in Jewish society: In the social hierarchy of that day only one class of people were beneath them and those were the lepers—you did not want your daughter to marry a shepherd
- have I told you that they didn't smell good?
- shepherds were religious outcasts, and cultural outcasts and social outcasts
- these shepherds were the migrant laborers of their day
- they did the 'dirty work' that respectable people didn't want to do and were disdained because of it
- they put up with simple food, harsh weather, primitive lodging, dangerous animals, and disparaging stares and comments
- ironically they provided Israel with its most important commodity—sheep for sacrificial slaughter
- amazingly, these were the men to first hear the good news of Messiah's birth
- “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.” (Luke 2:10–11, ESV)
A. THE SELF-SUFFICIENT AND ARROGANT WILL FIND IT DIFFICULT TO ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD
- "And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:16–25, ESV)
- this individual had everything going for him
- he was rich, young and prominent
- he was clean, keen and reverent
- he was the kind of individual we would covet as a church member if he and his family were to visit our services some Sunday
- this young man is to be commended for going to the right person with his inquiry about eternal life
- sooner or later the thoughts of our eternal destiny come to every man
- sadly, the young man left his encounter with Jesus condemned
- “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18, ESV)
- why did the rich young ruler leave condemned?
- he gloried in his self-sufficiency
- notice his emphasis on personal endeavor in his quest for eternal life ... what good thing must I do that I may possess everlasting life?
- he sees eternal life as something he can purchase like some commodity of the store shelf
- confronted with the choice of either following Jesus or clinging to his material wealth, he chooses the latter
- it is still true today that not many who are great, or noble, or rich, or mighty, open their hearts to the savior
- “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. 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; ” (1 Corinthians 1:26–27, ESV)
B. THE NEEDY AND HUMBLE ARE MORE LIKELY TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD
- does this mean that all those who are poor and the outcasts of society will enter the Kingdom?
- no – being poor or an outcast from society does not give you a free pass into The Kingdom
- even the needy and downtrodden must commit their life to Christ and follow Him as a disciple
- Nicodemus must be born again and so must shepherds
- the point that Scriptures repeatedly make is that the poor and humble have less to loose and so may be more inclined to turn to the Lord
- all those who are needy and humble of spirit – regardless of their position in life – will be open and receptive to the good news – whether it comes form the lips of angels or men
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6, ESV)
- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8, ESV)
II. MEN MUST RECEIVE GOD'S MESSAGE OF HOPE WITH OPEN HEARTS
- “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with 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.” (Luke 2:9–16, ESV)
- salvation requires intellectual belief in the historical events of the Bible, yet salvation is not an academic discipline
- salvation presupposes an acceptance of the miraculous and the supernatural, yet salvation is not a philosophical pursuit
- salvation is a matter of the heart and the will
- “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:10–11, ESV)
A. GOD CONFRONTS MEN WITH HIS MESSAGE OF HOPE IN STRANGE PLACES AND AT UNUSUAL TIMES
- God does not always meet us in a temple, a cathedral, a church or a chapel
- God met Moses at a burning bush in the desert
- He met Elijah in the still small voice while the prophet was hiding in a cave
- He met Joseph in a Egyptian dungeon
- He met Daniel in a Babylonian lions den
- He came to Isaiah in a vision
- He met Jonah is a whale's tummy
- He approached the Apostle Paul on a lonely stretch of desert highway
#.God's encounter with the shepherds is consistent with His peculiar tendency of invading human history – and human lives – at the most unexpected moments
- here were normal men going about their normal routine at its normal time
- suddenly, unexpectedly, a messenger of the most high God is present and the darkness is pierced by the illumination of God's glory
- the shepherds were sore afraid the Scripture tell us
- what an understatement!
- they were absolutely terrified
- the text literally says, they feared with a great fear
- the reason they listened to the angel's message was they were frozen in their tracks!
B. GOD'S MESSAGE OF HOPE IS THAT A SAVIOR HAS COME INTO THE WORLD
- when God speaks, men should listen
- in spite of their anxiety over this heavenly encounter, the shepherds do listen to the angel's message of hope
- there is no reason to be afraid
- stop fearing the angel says (v. 10)
- the angel's message is a message of judgment, but of hope
- the shepherds had feared a great fear
- the angel brought news of a great joy
- what is the reason for this joy?
- the angel brings good news
- this good news will bring joy – literally calm delight
- the message is for all people – it's the same word we translate as whosoever in
- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)
- He is a Savior
- He is the Anointed One
- He is Messiah
- He is the Christ
- “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!” (Luke 2:13–14, ESV)
C. GOD'S MESSAGE OF HOPE CALLS FOR A RESPONSE
- the shepherds believed the message and desired instantly to see what God had done on their behalf
- “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.” (Luke 2:15–16, ESV)
- the word means to accelerate or to cut across
- the implication is that these shepherds had not time to travel the ordinary paths to Bethlehem
- rather, they cut across the fields, and bounded across the creeks—running all the way—in order to reach Bethlehem more quickly
- their rapid journey was not disappointing
- their response tells me that you too, must respond quickly to God in your life
III. THOSE WHO BELIEVE GOD'S MESSAGE OF HOPE MUST SHARE IT TO OTHERS
- the simple shepherds were the first to receive communication concerning the birth of the Savior
- and look. . . these same shepherds were the first to proclaim this event to others
- “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.” (Luke 2:17–18, ESV)
A. GOD'S MESSAGE OF HOPE IS NEVER FULLY FIXED IN OUR HEARTS UNTIL WE PROCLAIM THE MESSAGE OURSELVES & GIVE GLORY TO GOD
- these shepherds made known abroad what they had been told
- they broadcast to all who would listen – and even to those who wouldn't
- so thoroughly convinced were these men of the truth of their story, and so sure were they of its importance, that they were willing to risk disbelief and even ridicule
- these shepherds looked at a baby and saw in his face the hope of Israel
- ILLUS. No wonder Charles Wesley could write the lines "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see: Hail th' Incarnate Deity" We sing those words in that great carol of Christmas "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."
- but their lives could never be quite the same
- the praise of God would continually be upon their lips Biblical hope is based on God Himself, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the living Word and in His written word.
How have you responded to God's message of hope? It's a message for the ‘down and out' as well as for the ‘up and in'. It's a message you must receive with an open heart, just as the shepherds did. It's a message that will bring joy to your heart and praise to your lips. It's a story that we cannot help but tell to those around us.