Watching Sheep, Seeing God
Luke 2:8 – In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the field and keeping watch over the flock by night.
It makes perfect sense that God would choose the first people to hear about the birth of His Son to be “some shepherds,” right? I mean, I would definitely pick some smelly guys that hang out with sheep all day to be the first in line to see the Messiah. Obvious choice.
After hearing and reading the story of Jesus’ birth all of my life, I suddenly had a different perspective of the angels visiting the shepherds in the field. I just accepted that as part of the story. But the Holy Spirit pricked my heart. Why did God choose the shepherds? Surely God would announce the arrival of the King of kings and Lord of lords to a mighty man of God … maybe a prophet or a priest or even the guy who washes the temple utensils, but a shepherd?
Today we think of a shepherd as one who “pastors” a flock at a church. While that is true, in this context these guys were pasturing not pastoring. They actually watched sheep. That is what they did. Nobody in Bethlehem was lining up to go hear them speak or watch them do their job. But before God told anyone else, He saw fit to tell the shepherds that Jesus was born. Not only that, but they went to see Him and were able to go right into the delivery room(stable, Luke 2:16-17)! Out of personal experience I know that you just don’t let anyone into the delivery room. It’s the husband and maybe the wife’s mother. It’s exclusive company and a very intimate setting. How did they gain that kind of access to the most momentous occasion in history … the arrival of the Savior of mankind?
Was this a random act of kindness from God? God is not random. He always has purpose in His actions. “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” Psalm 33:11. There are some keys in Luke 2:8 that I believe can help us understand how these simple shepherds received such privileged access to Jesus. In turn it can help us gain the same access.
In the same region… The shepherds were already close to where Jesus was in Bethlehem. Bethlehem which means “house of bread” is where Jesus our Bread of Life (John 6:35) was born. If we want encounter Jesus in a close and intimate way we need to eat of the Bread of Life every day. In the King James version it says the shepherds were “abiding in the field.” They were there for more than a few minutes. Jesus said “abide in Me” (John 15:4). This speaks of a constant closeness to God and He desires that kind of relationship with us.
There were some shepherds… We’ve already established that these were no “special” mighty men of God, but they were doing what they were called to do in humility. No one knows their names or what they look like, but to be sure, God knows. Humility makes room for God’s grace. James 4:6 tells us that “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Grace is unmerited favor. A host of angels telling you about Jesus and then seeing Him in person qualifies as unmerited favor in my book. Oh God, grant us the grace to see You as we humble ourselves!
Staying out in the fields… The shepherds had a job to do and they were staying there to accomplish it. I grew up on a sheep farm and staying in a field watching sheep, as exciting as it may be, will grow tiresome at some point. There has to be some conviction and passion to stay there throughout the night. No halfhearted shepherd will commit to that. He must be all in. The shepherds cared for the sheep. This was their livelihood. They depended on the well being of the sheep for the shepherds to stay alive themselves. We cannot “stay” effectively unless we are diligent and passionate about God or the things He has given us to do. Romans 12:11 says, “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” God responds to the passionate.
Keeping watch over their flock by night… Darkness had come but the shepherds kept watch. We cannot let down our guard when the darkness of the enemy comes against us to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). As we press through the trials and tribulations that come, God is always faithful. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world.” Just as sure as we are about the trouble we are facing, we must be sure that Jesus has overcome! Keeping watch despite our hardships builds our character. James informed us of this truth, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing,” James 1:2-4. Our character needs to be like Jesus’ if we are to enter in to His presence like the shepherds did. Jesus in us will be revealed as our character becomes like His.
This heavenly encounter the shepherds were blessed with shows us that God does not show partiality (Acts 10:34). Those that are willing to draw close to Jesus, walk humbly before God, live passionately for His purposes and persevere in the face of darkness will see Jesus and dwell in His house forever. Even a lowly shepherd.
A Psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.