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Do you love the lamb?

Inquisitive
Creative Commons License photo credit: snailsareslimy

Luke 2:8- 20 Announcement to shepherds

v8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

I saved the story of the shepherds for today, because it is a beautiful chapter in the Christmas story. But I don’t really want to go over it and over it because, let’s face it. We all know the story. We hear it every year.  Right now, some of us that have a nativity or a creche at home that I am sure has a few shepherds in there somewhere.

So my question is this….

In the story before this, the Father of Jesus gets a vision from a single angel – one.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, saw one angel… how many visit the shepherds? An army, a choir, a myriad! The sky is full.

These shepherds aren’t royalty, their contribution to the Christmas story is 13 verses and then they are never heard from again. God’s messengers come to a group of dirty, outcast shepherds, camping outside on the edge of town and the sky is filled with Heaven!

Why?

And then – after they witness what? A newborn baby. Which I don’t think is really that uncommon of a thing and yet the Bible says

17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them

Why shepherds? Why amazement?

The Bible says that v8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night.

Raise your hand if that sounds exciting. Baby-sitting sheep. Ok, let’s pretend this is you, it’s night time, it’s cold, it’s lonely and you are outside in the elements with hundreds of sheep. Where would you rather be? Anywhere! Right!

These shepherds are no different, they don’t want to be here. I’m sure they’d rather be home with their families and in their own beds.  Shepherds are day laborers, they come from poorer stock, they are average, blue collar, minimum wage, street wise people. In fact, in some communities to be a shepherd was almost the lowest position that you could have. Many Rabbi’s forbade Shepherds to testify in public courts.

But the situation here is a little different, these shepherds are outsourced employees of the temple. All of these lambs belong to the Jewish temple. The story takes place in Bethlehem and so these are Bethlehem sheep. And Bethlehem sheep are bred and raised for one use – sacrifice.

Every day of the year two lambs are scarified (that’s 730 lambs a year). A lamb was sacrificed as the 1st and last offering each day. In addition to that, thousands more lambs were needed each year by Jewish families for holidays like Passover. And most people didn’t have the means to sacrifice one of their own lambs, or the ability to bring a lamb with them from out of town, so it made much more sense to get their lamb at the temple.

But the main reason these men are here with these sheep at night is because this is lambing season. Normally we can leave sheep in a pen with a gate, and maybe only have a single watchman, but right now the lambs are all giving birth, and so the shepherds are out in the fields, watching over the sheep to ensure that there are no complications.

v9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.

I think if an angel visited us today and said that the king of the world was born and laid in a cattle trough we’d be a little put off. It doesn’t seem to be dignified does it? Our author, Luke is a Dr. and so he is commenting on something that is actually pretty normal. Newborn babies during this time were bound tightly with swaddling clothes and it was done so that the babies limbs would grow and develop straight.

But the announcement is to shepherds… not a group of Doctors so the question is, would these shepherds think it was weird to find a baby wrapped tight and placed in a manger? Actually no…. for them, that was what they saw every day.

Remember, it’s lambing season, these shepherds are currently sheep mid-wives and so when a newborn baby lamb was born, the first thing that a shepherd would do was wrap it tight in cloth and place it in a manger. Why? Well, so that it wouldn’t roll around and get hurt, or lost in the crowd. Wrapping them tight and placing them in a box was a good way to keep them controlled and organized.  Totally sounds like how a man would handle this.

The angels says, v11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.

You know, hearing that. You’d expect to find the baby in lavish wealth, in riches, in comfort and in a distant mansion somewhere. The announcement from God’s messenger is… your King is born! Your redeemer is born!  This is a black tie, red carpet affair, the birth announcement uses a raised gold font and the ink is made with real gold! Right?

But the angel says,  v12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.

Notice that the “sign” is for them – for who? For shepherds. The angel says they will find the baby, just like a newborn lamb.

Jesus came without a proper bed, without robes, chariots or processionals, he came without a crown!  But this doesn’t lower Jesus or de-value him, rather it connects him.

It gives him a relevant rapport with his people.

Jesus wasn’t going to be a King on a throne, or a King behind a curtain, in fact, when Jesus begins his ministry, he starts by saying that he will bring  “Good news to the poor.” That was to be his mission, to bring light and hope into the dark corners that the world forgot – and we see that mission beginning here and now, even while he is just hours old!

These shepherds, they represent every forgotten person, and every untouchable outcast … and then the Bible says,

v16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.

What do the shepherds see? A tiny human baby boy….well if that were true, if they only saw a tiny baby, that’s a pretty normal thing. But the Bible says they don’t respond normally… in fact the bible says…

v17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.

How ironic is that… shepherds who are not allowed to bear witness in court, are chosen by God to be his first witnesses? Why? What do they see, that we don’t?

Hey – If you want a diamond appraised, you find a jeweler.

If you want a good wine tested, you hire a Somalia.

God was sending something special into the world, so he set in experts to witness it.

Years later when Jesus begins his ministry, his cousin John sees him coming down the road and shouts to those nearby…

John 1:29 “Look, the lamb of god who comes to take away the sins of the world”

And so the story of the shepherds is this, if you want someone to witness the birth of a lamb, you send shepherds at lambing season.

The heavenly hosts come to shepherds, because they were experts in their field (literally in fields!) The sign was for them! Mary and Joseph had to place Jesus in a manger because that was his destiny – to remind shepherds of a newborn baby lamb. And then these shepherds run off saying that they have seen the lamb of God. A King for his people – living among his people.

A lot of times in church you will hear Jesus described as the “lamb of God.” But what does that mean? Did God only send these shepherds because Jesus was placed in a manger, or born during lambing season, or was there something more?

I am sure that you can imagine, that when you are responsible for hundreds or even thousands of sheep giving birth, they’re not all going to make it. Babies die during birth and so do the Mothers. It’s part of life. If a Healthy Mom has a healthy lamb, you have no issues, but what happens to orphan lambs? Who raises them?

Every year at this time, the shepherd will loose 30-40% of his entire flock to birthing complications. And what you end up with is orphan sheep, and Mother Ewes who have milk, but who won’t nurse an orphan. Mother ewes are notorious for not accepting orphan lambs.

You can’t just put another baby with her and convince her to raise it as her own. So what a trained shepherd has to do, is trick the Mother into believing that the orphan is hers so she will adopt it and nurse it.

So the shepherd has two choices, one is to smear the orphan baby in the placental blood of the Mother, that’s a quick cheap way, and sometimes it works, but the sure fire way is to actually get their hands dirty.

The sure fire way, is to take the orphan lamb and cover it in the blood of the baby that died. Then the Mother will smell the baby, recognize it as her own and nurse it.

Through the gift of blood – of the lamb who has died, the living lamb is recognized and restored to the fold, nourished and saved.

Why is Jesus the lamb of God? Because we are orphans, we are born into this world alone and separated, and the only way that God would come near, was if his own son gave his life and we were washed in his blood.

This Christmas, we need to remember that we have been washed in the blood of Jesus; the lamb of God.

Typically we don’t think about Christ’s death for ours at Christmas, during this season it’s usually all about the baby, but the joy of the baby isn’t in his birth, it’s in his death. When John calls his cousin the “lamb of God who takes away sin,” that’s a pretty morbid thing to say of a family member.

The Christmas nail in the lobby for your family is a way to remind us all, that this day is the day that the lamb was born.  God made his entrance on Earth in the least of expected places from the least expected people – in the least expected way – and rather than be a King on a throne, he came as a sacrifice to save.

And he did this so that the worst and the best, the richest and the poorest the first and the last would find him.

There is this weird little story at the end of John. Jesus has risen from the grave and he’s having a picnic with his disciples and he pulls Peter aside and asks him 3x if he loves him. Each time he is asked, Peter gets annoyed says, “Yes, you know that I love you.”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked three times?

Well, remember when I said that the shepherds were watching over temple sheep?  That heard was there so that people could “buy” a sacrifice. But the truth is, neither the temple nor God wanted a sacrifice you just paid for and discarded. It’s not a sacrifice if it didn’t cost you anything.

So each lamb was required to be a pet in the family for at least 4 days. So the day after the final Sabbath Passover, shepherds from the Bethlehem hills drove thousands of lambs into Jerusalem where they were taken by Jewish homes and treated as family. And then, before the lamb was sacrificed the Priest would ask the family, “do you love this lamb?”

Because only lambs that were loved, were accepted.

Jesus asks Peter 3x, “Do you love me?” and by doing so, he was asking Peter to accept him as the sacrificial lamb of God. He was asking Peter to acknowledge him as his Savior – and since that moment, that is what Jesus’ followers have done ever since.

It’s not difficult to receive Jesus. Much of being a Christian is just admitting we love Jesus and then continuing to love Jesus as we live. Bible reading, church attendance, discipleship, obedience, all of that Church language it’s just another way of saying that we love Jesus and we are grateful for what he has done for us.

I’ve felt like a forgotten person, I’ve been the untouchable outcast, but then at one time or another in our lives we all hear Jesus whisper, “do you love me?” If you know the answer, then I invite you to bow your heads and pray this prayer,

Lord Jesus, I do love you and I want to spend my life loving you. Wash me in your blood. Forgive me of my darkness and adopt me into your family. Lord, this Christmas I want to receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of grace.

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