The story of the shepherds at Bethlehem is just one part of a much larger story - the Story of the Divine Shepherd.
"The Lord is my Shepherd." This is the great testimony of the Psalmist in the most well-known of the Psalms - Psalm 23. The Lord is the Shepherd of love. He is the loving Shepherd. The Lord loves us. He shows His love for us in the coming of Christ to our world.
The Christmas carols announce, for us, the love of Christ, our Saviour.
- "Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love Divine."
- "Son of God, o how bright, Love is smiling from Thy face."
- "Sacred Infant, all Divine, what a tender Love was Thine, thus to come from highest bliss down to such a world as this!"
The love of the Shepherd, the love of the Saviour - This is what we read of in the story of Christ. Jesus is our Saviour, our loving Saviour. Jesus is our Shepherd, our loving Shepherd.
We see His love in his birth. We see His love in His whole story - His life, His death, His resurrection, His coming again in power and glory.
As we look together at the story of the shepherds coming to Bethlehem, let us see it in the broader context of the complete Story of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who died for our sins, the Great Shepherd who, in His mighty resurrection, triumphed over death, the Chief Shepherd who is coming again to establish God's heavenly and eternal Kingdom.
(1) The shepherds came to Bethlehem to worship the Baby who was to become the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us that we might receive the forgiveness of all our sins.
The story of the shepherds and their journey to Bethlehem begins with Good News - The Saviour has been born (Luke 2:10-11). What a wonderful day it was! - the day our Saviour was born. It was a wonderful day, but it was only the beginning of a wonderful life. It was the beginning of a journey which took Jesus from the cradle of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary. It was the beginning of a journey which would bring God's wonderful salvation to undeserving sinners.
At the Cross of Calvary - the place where Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for us, we learn of our sin and God's salvation. It was our sin which sent Jesus to the Cross. It is God's salvation which Jesus brings to us through His death on the Cross. This is Good News of great joy - "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15).
(2) The shepherds came to Bethlehem to worship the Baby who was to become the Great Shepherd who, in His resurrection, triumphed over death.
On the night that Christ was born, the shepherds were given an almost overwhelmingly awesome demonstration of the heavenly glory of God: "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests'" (Luke 2:13-14).
At the beginning of Christ's life on earth, there was a mighty revelation of God's glory.
At the end of His life on earth, there was another mighty demonstration of God's heavenly glory - God raised Jesus from the dead.
One of the Christmas songs - "Mary's Boy Child" - contains the words, "Man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day." We could also sing, "Man will live forevermore because of Easter Day." The Child who was born at Bethlehem became the mighty risen Lord - Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
As we celebrate Christ's birth - the beginning of His life on earth, we must allow our thoughts to move on to the end of His earthly life - His mighty resurrection from the dead. When we do this, we will understand the true and full meaning of the final verse of the Christmas carol, "Hark! the herald angels sing": "Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Light and Life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings. Mild he lays His glory by, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth."
(3) The shepherds came to Bethlehem to worship the Baby who was to become the Chief Shepherd who will come again to establish God's heavenly and eternal Kingdom, the only Kingdom which shall endure forever.
Immediately after Christmas, our thoughts begin to turn towards the New Yea. the future is beckoning us. The future is calling on us. We must move forward. We must step into the future. God's future. God is calling us to move into the future with Him.
In the story of the shepherds who went to Bethlehem to worship the Baby jesus, we have a striking contrast between the past and the future - what the shepherd were, what the shepherds became.
At the beginning of the story, we find the shepherds keeping watch over their sheep. At the end of the story, we find the shepherds glorifying and praising God. they were changed by what happened to them that night. They would never be the same again. They were new men. they had seen the lord and it had changed them.
"Glorifying and praising God" - This was the response of the shepherds to the revelation given to them on the night of Christ's birth. They caught a glimpse of the heavenly worship and they began to worship God with hearts full of praise to Him.
In the story of the first Christmas, we catch a glimpse of something more - the Christ who came to Bethlehem is the Christ who will come again in the fullness of His divine glory: "Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by, we shall see Him but in heaven, set at God's right hand on high, when, like stars, His children crowned, all in white shall wait around."