Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
Sheep were kept in the fields of Bethlehem because it was about five miles away from the temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem needed sheep for sacrifice, and never more than at the yearly Passover festival, when every family was required to offer a sacrificial lamb (Exodus 12:3, 14). John the Baptist would identify Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). So Jesus was born in Bethlehem, to be sacrificed in Jerusalem, during Passover—a few decades later.
Luke 2:9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
The appearance of an angel can be frightening enough, but these shepherds had additional reason to be afraid, since they were likely thieves. Shepherds were often on the move, and many used their mobility to steal other people’s sheep. These shepherds may have stolen some sheep that day, and now they were confronted by an angel of God.
The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:49-50), said Jesus. Angels are not always friendly toward sinners, but this time they were.
Luke 2:10 Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
The good news was not for some of the people, or most of the people, but for all the people. No matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you have done, Jesus Christ is for everyone who believes in him. Whether you are a pastor, prodigal or prostitute (or even all three) God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), wrote Paul. The offer of salvation is for everyone in the world.
Luke 2:11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.
The words Savior, save, saved and salvation occur over five hundred times in the Bible. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven . . . by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). [God] wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). [A]nd you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
This stands in sharp contrast to all other religions. In Hinduism, the problem is not sin, but ignorance. What we need is to be enlightened. In Buddhism the problem is not sin, but desire. Nirvana is getting rid of desire. In Islam, if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds we go up; if not, we go down.
But according to the Bible, even our best deeds are tainted by sin (Isaiah 64:6), so we are all going down. That was our situation apart from Christ. We were without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12), wrote Paul.
In the year 2010, thirty-three miners were trapped beneath two thousand feet of rock when their tunnel collapsed. Their only hope of getting out was to be rescued from above. Teams worked around the clock trying to reach them before it was too late. First they built a capsule in which the miners could rise. Then they began to drill. Two months later, the miners were finally reached. And by climbing into the capsule, they were saved. They could not save themselves, of course, but they could not ignore the capsule either.
And how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:3), says Hebrews. All we have to do to go to heaven is believe in Jesus Christ. But all we have to do to go to hell is nothing. Just ignore the fact that Jesus died for you, and commands you to believe in him. Believing in Jesus Christ is like getting married. If we take him, he will take us. If we decline, we are on our own.
Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
Suddenly, a great assembly of angels appeared with the first angel, and they began praising God together. The Bible doesn’t tell us if they sang, but if they did, it must have been quite a performance. First they gave Glory to God in the highest heaven; then they announced peace to those on whom his favor rests.
Peace with God is not primarily a feeling. It is an objective reality brought about by the crucifixion of Christ, and received by faith. Our feelings of peace change with the weather, but the fact of peace remains forever.
A missionary was working with warring tribes who were known for cannibalism, and was finding it difficult to explain the gospel in a way they could understand. Then one day, he saw a peace ceremony in which a man from one tribe gave his son to an enemy tribe, in order to prove sincerity. The missionary began to speak of Jesus Christ as God’s peace child whom he gave to the world (Don Richardson).
The analogy works in a way, but like other analogies, it breaks down eventually. The enemy tribe was expected to treat the son well, or there would be war again. But God sent his Son into the world knowing that he would be crucified. And the Son was willing to die for a world that hated his Father. And they were willing to do this because there was no other way to establish peace between sinful people and a holy God. Jesus Christ is God’s peace child. [W]e have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), wrote Paul.
Luke 2:15-18 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
The shepherds were amazed at the birth of Jesus Christ. And years later, they must have been amazed if they heard him preach. And they must have been amazed if they saw him heal the sick or raise the dead. And they must have been amazed if they saw him feed the multitudes or calm the storm. And they must have been amazed if they saw him hanging on a cross. And they must have been amazed if they saw him raised from the dead. No doubt about it: Jesus Christ is the most amazing person who has ever lived.
Shortly after believing in Christ, I sat at a table with friends and said, I can’t believe it’s actually true. I can’t believe it’s actually true. Forty years later, I am still saying the most amazing thing about Christianity is that it is, in fact, actually true.
Reflection and Review
Are angels safe?
Why do we need to be saved?
How can we have peace with God?