"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Grace and Humility: The Story of the Shepherds

It must have been strange enough from Joseph's perspective, to be standing in a stable as the father to a brand-new Child, the divine Child, laid in a manger for a crib.  But then, to hear quick footfalls and turn to see a group of breathless shepherds, who had obviously been running through the night, stop at this stable and gaze at this Child with a wide-eyed astonishment which all but announced that they had found what they so intently sought - a wholly new experience for this young carpenter, to be sure. 

But then, surely it must have been odd for the shepherds as well, as they stood there, breathing, their hands hanging empty when they had so constantly gripped the rod in careful protection of their now vulnerable flocks.  And now, before them - a family settled into a stable for the night with a newborn laid in a feeding trough.  Who knows but under different circumstances, a chuckle might have escape their lips, or a smirk pulled at their cheeks, to see such a thing? 

Certainly no bemused smiles were to be seen that night, though.  They came not listlessly, but with urgency and purpose:  they sought the Child which the angel of the Lord, blazing the lonely night with the glory of God, had proclaimed to them.  This in itself was a curiosity - the glory displayed through the angelic herald, and through the heavenly host, spoke powerfully of the greatness of the Child.  The angel's description - the promised Messiah, the needed Savior, the proclaimed Lord - would have further assured them that this was a matter of great importance, even if it was not apparent that by "Lord," "Lord of all heaven and earth" was intended.  So they hastened into town, determined to find Jesus (Luke 2:16).

In spite of the majesty and the grandeur which obviously lay within the infant Jesus, the angels did not go up to Jerusalem and proclaim these tidings.  The great kings of the world were not visited.  The religious chiefs of Israel were passed over, in favor of a handful of hardy shepherds of no consequence.  In that day and that time, shepherds were regarded as untrustworthy, unsavory characters, to the point that they were not permitted to testify in court,1 so it is richly ironic that God should so graciously choose such as them to testify of the arrival of the Savior (Luke 2:17).  These were Christ's first earthly messengers, not clothed in pomp and regality, as befits a king, but in unwashed working clothes.

These shepherds were favored not only with a dazzling vista of divine glory and heavenly joy, but with the offer of staggering grace.  "...For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11; emphasis added) This Jesus would extend the offer of salvation specifically to these shepherds, just as He would specifically to countless others!  One cannot help but be reminded of Colossians 3:11b and its description of our renewal in Christ:  "no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all."  Our heavenly Father impartially adopts us into His family, and we are made brothers and sisters to each other just as truly as we become sons and daughters to Him.  Thus does a simple Roman jailer worship alongside a wealthy Jewish woman in Acts 16, and a prominent Pharisee-turned-apostle draw spiritual comfort from a young believer of mixed parentage in 2 Timothy 4:11.  The gospel is offered to all, and Christ, through His powerful grace, draws His people from all walks of life, to the praise of His name!

That unforgettable night, it was granted finally to the shepherds to visit the Child and gaze upon Him with seeking eyes and wondering hearts.  This brings us back to the beginning.  As they beheld Jesus, one cannot but wonder if the ordinariness of the scene might have assaulted their consciences.  Here was a masterful, anointed Savior from heaven, celebrated by the realm of holiness, and when He came to earth, there was nothing of the glory He so clearly deserved.  He rested His head on straw, and He was attended by sinful parents and sinful shepherds.  Mark this:  any personal excursion into humanity constitutes a relinquishment of indescribable and divine glory for Christ, no matter what the circumstances.  The situation in question, however, represented perhaps one of the greatest descents into humility imaginable.  He came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).  He waded unflinchingly into the thick of humanity. 

Ironically, in so laying aside His glory, Jesus saw His name exalted over all others (Phil. 2:5-9).  At the same time, He also laid down for us an example of the godly attitude which we must emulate as His followers (Phil. 2:5), and herein lies the principle.  Jesus' humility is what afforded humanity His exemplary life, just as His grace is what provided us with His saving death.  How wonderfully both of these are realized through the story of these humble shepherds, crushed by glory as the great Shepherd arrived into their world!

1:  Taken from the Reformation Study Bible note on Luke 2:8 - available under "Show resources" at http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke%202&version=NASB


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