************ Sermon on Luke 2:10-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 25, 2020
"God's Good News"
I The Shepherd Audience
A God announced good news the first Christmas Day. In fact, it was more than good news; it was great news; the best news ever.
Let's say the first Christmas happened today. If you were the PR agent, how would you make the announcement? You would ask for TV cameras. You would have a press release. You would go on social media. You would do interviews. You would plan an advertising campaign. You would make public service announcements.
If you were the PR agent at the beginning of the first century, how would you make the announcement then? You would go to the leaders, the important people, the movers and the shakers, those persons with influence and power. You would go to the high priest, the chief priests and scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees. You would go to King Herod, King Agrippa, and maybe even send a letter to Caesar Augustus.
B Now look at God's PR campaign. It was directed at shepherds. Until just before New Testament times, shepherds were well regarded in Israel. Abraham was a shepherd. So was Moses, David, Amos. But as the years went by, shepherding became a lowly, even a despised, occupation. By the time of Jesus, shepherds were viewed as insignificant, ignorant, unskilled, uneducated. Shepherds were considered unreliable, untrustworthy, unsavory; they were suspected of stealing sheep and doing other kinds of illegal things. Therefore, shepherds were not allowed to testify in court. The scribes and Pharisees looked down on them because they couldn't keep the Sabbath rules. By the way, we know better than to look down on shepherds. Don't forget, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11). So there is nothing wrong with shepherds. But in Jewish society at the time of Jesus, they were the lowest nobodies. If you were the PR agent in that time and place, the last people you would go to with the announcement of good news is a bunch of shepherds living out in the fields. But that is exactly what God did the first Christmas Day.
C Some 700 years earlier, Isaiah announced this is how God would do His PR campaign. In other words, God planned it this way from eternity.
Isaiah 61:1 (NIV84) — 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor ... (cf Luke 4:18)The word "poor" here means "the humble, the lowly, the meek." So when the Messiah comes, He is coming to the poor, the lowly, the meek, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. That is, God's PR campaign has been designed for people like Bethlehem's shepherds. Imagine this: a PR campaign designed for the meek, the humble, the lowly, the unimportant. That is why, when He began His ministry, Jesus claimed the words of Isaiah to explain His ministry -- why He reached out to the meek, humble, lowly, and unimportant (cf Lk 4:18-19).
II The Angel Messenger
A But now look at who or what God used to publicize the good news: "An angel of the Lord appeared to them" (Lk 2:9).
I need you to forget the typical Christmas card scene. Get it out of your mind. The typical Christmas card scene shows shepherds in the open field with the sheep. That's not the way it was. At night, the sheep would have been in some kind of sheepfold, some kind of enclosure. The shepherds would be laying or sitting or standing in the opening keeping watch over the sheep.
Furthermore, the typical Christmas card scene shows the angels in the sky looking down upon the shepherds. Get this, too, out of your mind. We are told, "An angel of the Lord appeared to them" (Lk 2:9). The word for "appear" literally means "to stand near somebody." The angel stood near the shepherds. And later he was joined by the host of angels (Lk 2:13).
B "An angel of the Lord appeared to them" (Lk 2:9). Nobody back then saw angels. Prior to the Christmas story we hear nothing of anyone seeing an angel in over five hundred years. And now, all of a sudden, we start seeing angels all over the place. Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1:19). Gabriel appears to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus (Lk 1:16). An angel appears to Joseph and explains to him Mary's pregnancy (Mt 1:20ff). An angel appears to the shepherds to proclaim Messiah's birth.
C "An angel of the Lord appeared to them" (Lk 2:9). We are to understand this angel appeared suddenly, immediately, all of a sudden, with no warning. It is the job of shepherds to keep watch. They listen for the howling of wolves, the growling of lions, the footsteps of thieves. They watch for movement outside the sheepfold indicating possible danger. When it comes to God's angels it does no good to keep watch.
D The angel appeared and "the glory of the Lord shone around them" (Lk 2:9). God doesn't have a body, a physical form. He is invisible. He is Spirit. But when He physically reveals Himself, He reveals Himself as glorious light. Shining. Brilliant. Sparkling. Blinding. Dazzling. What the shepherds saw was an angel reflecting or shining with God's glory. But even then what the shepherds saw was muted. Mere man cannot fully see God's glory and live. That's why God put Moses in a cleft in the rock and covered him with His hand until He passed by so all Moses could see was God's back (Ex 33:21ff).
E "The glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified" (Lk 2:9). Terrified. In an absolute panic. Scared stiff. Fear. Trembling. Shaking. Why? Because the shepherds knew who this glory came from. They were not the ignorant, evil, unrighteous men the Pharisees claimed they were. They knew and recognized the glory of God. And it terrified them. They knew their Old Testament. They knew God's glory scared Isaiah (Isa 6). They knew it put Ezekiel into a coma (Ezek 1). And, in the New Testament, it caused the Apostle John to fall as though dead (Rev 1). Terror is the result of seeing the presence of God, even a veiled or muted presence. So fear is the normal reaction.
"The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified" (Lk 2:9). It is obvious, isn't it? Something monumental was happening. God doesn't make a habit of showing His light and glory whenever and wherever and to whoever.
III The Angel's Message
A This brings us to the angel's message on this Christmas Day. "Do not be afraid" (Lk 2:10). "Do not be afraid." In the Old Testament, God said this to Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, David, Nehemiah, Daniel, Zechariah.
"Do not be afraid." There are times when you and I ought to be afraid of God. But there also are times when God says, "Do not be afraid." Every time God tells someone not to fear, it is when God is about to reveal grace -- amazing grace, beautiful grace, abounding grace.
"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people" (Lk 2:10). "Do not be afraid." Why not? Because God's good news produces joy, which is the opposite of fear.
Do not be afraid. That is, terrified. In an absolute panic. Scared stiff. Fear. Trembling. Shaking. Instead, have great joy. That is, happiness. Smiles. Laughter. Delight. Do you see the difference between fear and joy?
B "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people" (Lk 2:10). Great joy. How great? "For all the people." Not just for the movers and shakers. Not just for important people. Not just for scribes and Pharisees. Good news for shepherds too. And get this, good news for Romans, Greeks, Gentiles. Good news for you and me too. So, great fear has been turned into great joy.
C Why this change from fear to joy? Because of Christmas! Because of the birth of Jesus!
Luke 2:11 (NIV84) — 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.It is good news, isn't it, that a Savior has been born? It is good news of great joy that the Savior has been born.
The angel tells us Jesus came at Christmas to be Savior. That's why He came. The reason for Christmas was NOT to be an example of obedience, holiness, morality, and integrity. He didn't come to demonstrate patience, kindness, and tenderness. He didn't come to show us how to handle pain and suffering. He didn't come to be a social revolutionary. He didn't come to be a Teacher, Philosopher, or Psychologist. He came to be Savior. Here we get to the heart of Christmas and the Gospel. Here we get the reason for the season.
The Jews had been looking for a Savior for a long time. Even the Romans felt the need for a Savior; in fact, "savior of the world" was one of the titles of Caesar Augustus. People everywhere have always been looking for a great deliverer, for a great savior.
The angel announces Jesus is the Savior all have been looking for. He is the one only true Savior. The Savior isn't Caesar, or Allah, or Confucius, or Buddha. The one true Savior is Jesus. He came to deliver people from their sins. He came to save us from the judgment of God. He came to rescue us from the fires of hell. He came to bring us into the covenant blessings promised to Abraham. He came to establish the Kingdom and the rule promised to David. He came to give the blessings of the new covenant. He came for sinners. He came to take away sin. He came so our sin is forgiven forever.
I've mentioned fear. I've mentioned joy. I'm afraid there is also a third option: indifference. That's the option chosen by most people in our world, maybe even some in worship with us this morning. Neither fear nor joy but indifference. They don't fear God. They don't rejoice in Jesus. They simply don't care or don't give a thought to what really happened the first Christmas. They celebrate Christmas without once thinking of Jesus. If that is your attitude, let me tell you that on the last day indifference will become fear. My prayer, my hope, is that none of us have fear or indifference. Rather, my prayer, my hope, is that all of us are filled with joy.
Luke 2:10–11 (NIV84) — 10 Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
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