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2. The Search FOR the Savior: The Search of the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)

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When you search for something it’s easier if you have a clue to guide you. Treasure hunts are based on signs. If you follow them, you find what you’re looking for.

The wise men searched for the Saviour by following the star and the Word of God, and they found him. But they weren’t the only ones to search for him. The shepherds also searched for the Saviour.

This sermon is part of our series: “Christmas Searches: The Search for the Savior.” And the title for this sermon is: “The Search of the Shepherds” (Lk. 2:8-20).

The angel had told the shepherds of the birth of a Saviour in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord. But what good would the news be if they could not find him, for to not find him is to not know him. His birth is the start. To find him is the challenge. And to know him is the goal.

How then could they find him? They knew that he was born, and they knew when he was born (today), and they knew where he was born (in Bethlehem). But where exactly in Bethlehem was he born? It was census time and the town was full of strangers, so much so that there were no vacancies in the inn. So, how could they hope to find him? What they needed was a sign!

What we learn from this passage today is that “God provides a sign for all who search for the Saviour.” First notice…

I. The Situation Of The Announcement (2:8-9)

8 “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”

Shepherds were the lowest echelon of that society. Perhaps we might think of them as “homeless people”, street people, despised people of society. People who smelled badly and dressed in worn out, dirty clothes, whose habits were not attuned to a sophisticated society. Here they were, just doing their lowly job, “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” No one knew who they were or where they were. Frankly, nobody cared. But to them was made the greatest announcement the world has ever heard.

Jesus’ birth was not announced to rich men, but to poor shepherds; not to wise men, but to uneducated shepherds; not in the capital city by The Jerusalem Daily Post, but in the country somewhere outside the insignificant town of Bethlehem; not by the king, but by an angel; not to the highest government officials in their ivory towers, but to the lowest of society on a lonely hillside; not to famous or prominent people, but to unknown, unnamed shepherds; not at noonday to the entire city, but at nighttime to a few shepherds.

There was no fanfare in the city, but there were fireworks in the countryside. There were no lights in the city, but “the glory of the Lord shone” in the dark countryside. No special editions of newspapers in the city, but “good news of great joy” in the countryside. No singing in the city, but a “heavenly host praised God” in the countryside.

Doesn’t this remind you of what the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians?

18 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:1:18-21)

Well, no wonder the shepherds were “filled with great fear”! The brightness of the Lord’s “glory” that broke through the darkness of that Judean night terrified them. The word “glory” means the weight or significance or excellence of something or someone that generates a response of awe and wonder. The shepherds’ response to this supernatural occurrence was “great fear.”

A number of years ago, our family went to Banff, a tourist town in the Canadian Rockies, to attend a relative’s wedding. After the wedding, some of us stayed around for a few days’ vacation. One day, everyone wanted to go skiing. After all, that was the big attraction in that area. To not ski at Banff would be like going to Vail, Colorado, and not skiing. That’s just what you do when you go to Banff. The trouble was that neither I nor my daughter had skied before. So we decided to rent the equipment and take a lesson before venturing up a ski lift on our own. When we arrived at the pro shop, we were told that all the ski lessons had been booked for that day and had already left. So, we said, “Ok. We’ll just rent the equipment anyway and go up on our own.” The man looked at us with one of those “can’t-believe-what-I-just-heard looks.” He said, “I don’t recommend that, sir.” I said to my daughter, “Well, what do you want to do?” She replied, “We didn’t come all this way to not ski.” So, I said to the man, “No problem, we’ll rent the equipment and go up on our own.”

So that’s what we did. Once we started up the side of the mountain in the ski lift I knew we were in trouble as the base of the mountain slid from view. Not only that, but when the ski lift stopped and we thought we were at the top, we actually had to get out and enter another one! We reached the top and upon getting out, I promptly fell flat on my back. There I was staring straight up into a beautiful cloudless blue sky at the top of Sunshine Mountain. Almost immediately I saw a little old lady looking down at me and she said: “Would you like me to give you a quick lesson before I take my last run for the day?” So that’s what she did. She showed my daughter and me how to snow plough in order to slow down, and how to crisscross sideways across the mountain in order to control your speed etc. And then, as quickly as she came, she was gone. I’m convinced to this day that she was an angel.

But then we were on our own. And as we started down the ski slope, I realized just how scary this was. The bottom of the ski slope seemed like miles away, the slope was so steep, and there were trees on either side. My heart almost beat out of my chest. So with trembling knees we proceeded very slowly down until after 40 minutes we reached the bottom, where we joined my wife and her friend who were sitting waiting for us. Evidently, our faces were white with fear and exhaustion. But after about 15 minutes of resting, my daughter said, “We didn’t come here just to take one run. Let’s do it again!” The second time, we made it down in 20 minutes. A great improvement.

All that to say, that skiing down Sunshine Mountain at that time was without doubt the scariest experience of my life. The shepherds also were “filled with great fear” when the glory of the Lord shone around them. You see, fear is the natural response to divinity – it’s startling, unsettling.

So, Jesus’ birth was announced to ordinary people in an ordinary place, to the “whosoevers” of the gospel, to the “least of these” as Jesus described them. God’s good news is declared to ordinary people in the most ordinary circumstances.

That was the situation of the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Then there were…

II. The Signs From The Angels (2:10-14)

There were three signs for the searching shepherds…

1. The Sign of the Angelic Sermon (2:10-11)

10 “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The shepherds’ fear was soon assuaged by God’s grace, which was extended to them through the angels. For the angel did not come to instill fear but to announce “good news of great joy for all people.” The angelic sermon was one of “good news.” Good news is characterized by “great joy,” therefore they need not “fear”. And it was declared to “all people,” specifically “to you,” the shepherds, who represent “all people.” In fact, the shepherds represent us.

The good news is that “unto you is born this day…a Saviour.” It’s a present reality not a future hope. He is born in the “city of David – that’s Bethlehem. You may wonder why Bethlehem is called the city of David. Well, Bethlehem has always been a place of great significance. Originally it was called Ephrata (Mic. 5:2); later it was called Ephrata-Bethlehem or simply Bethlehem. The first time Bethlehem is mentioned in the Bible is when Rachel, the wife of Jacob died there (Gen. 35:19-20; 48:7). It’s mentioned again when Ruth travelled to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 1:19, 22). And there Ruth eventually married Boaz and gave birth to Obed, who would become the grandfather of David. Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David and it was there Samuel anointed him as the future king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:1).

“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ, the Lord.” The good news is that the Messiah, the Anointed One has come! The One who delivers us from our enemies has come! The One who rescues us from peril has come! The Royal One, the Davidic king has come! “The Lord,” the absolute sovereign, God himself, has come in flesh!

That was the sign of the angelic sermon. Then there was…

2. The Sign of the Earthly Stable (2:12)

12 “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

The wise men’s sign was a star: the shepherds’ sign is a stable. They wouldn’t have to search through every house, motel room, or campsite. Their search was for a stable, where they would find the Baby.

This is a most unusual sign isn’t it? A baby in a feeding trough? Could this be the confirmation of the angelic announcement? Who would look in a place like this for a new born baby? And especially one who was supposed to be the Messiah child! If the angel had not directed the shepherds and if the star had not guided the magi, then, neither would have searched for him nor found him.

If you were looking for a King, where would you look? Not in the best hotel, nor in an inn, and certainly not in a stable, but in a palace. In a good hotel you might find dignitaries. In an inn you might find tourists and visitors. In a stable you might find horses and cows. But you would never find a King there - especially the Saviour of the world!

If you did find a baby in a stable, what would you think? You might pity the baby or try to help its mother. You might report it to the Children’s Aid Society. Or, you might just pass by on the other side. If someone told you that the baby is the King of the Jews, the Saviour of the world, the Messiah, you might ignore them, scorn them, or, you might consider them a little daft. Probably you wouldn’t believe them.

The sign for the shepherds was a baby in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes. The sign was so unlikely that it had to be given by an angel or else it would have been dismissed out of hand. We would have expected pomp and glory fit for a King, but that is reserved for Jesus’ second coming, not his first coming. His first coming was in humility and isolation. If his birth had been glorious, the humble shepherds would not have come near. But in a stable, the poorest people on earth may come to him, alongside dignitaries from a far country.

In his best-selling book, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey contrasts the humility that characterized Jesus’ birth to a visit from the Queen of England. Yancey was attending a performance of Handel’s Messiah in London. During the performance he looked toward the auditorium’s royal box where the queen and her family sat, and, he said, “I caught glimpses of the way rulers stride through the world – with bodyguards and a trumpet fanfare and a flourish of bright clothes and flashing jewelry. Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the Unites States and reporters delighted in spelling out the logistics involved – her 4,000 pounds of luggage included two outfits for every occasion, a mourning outfit in case someone died, 40 pints of blood plasma, and white kid-leather toilet seat covers. She brought along her own hairdresser, 2 valets, and a host of other attendants. A brief visit of royalty to a foreign country can easily cost $20 million. In meek contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendant present and nowhere to lay the newborn king but a feeding trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses. A mule could have stepped on him.”

The sign of his birth foretold the story of his life and death. The humble shepherds are given a sign of a humble Saviour. At his birth he was bound in the stable with swaddling clothes, at his death he was bound by nails to a cross, and in the tomb he was bound with grave clothes. At his birth he lay helpless in someone else’s manger and at his death he lay in someone else’s tomb. He was born with animals and died with robbers. He was born in a manger and died on a cross.

Humble as the sign was, we must take Christ as we find him. How do we find him here and what is the sign? The first sign is humility. We find him in a stable not a palace. Solomon built a temple for God but God came to earth in a stable, “made lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9). The second sign is love. He left heaven’s glory and stooped down to earth because he loved us (Jn. 3:16).

There was the sign of the angelic sermon. The sign of the earthly stable. And…

3. The Sign of the Heavenly Song (2:13-14)

13 “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

An unusual sign is confirmed by an unusual occurrence. An angelic sermon is followed by an angelic song. A stable of humility is accompanied by a celestial harmony. An angel preached a great message to the shepherds and a heavenly host sings a great anthem to God. An inglorious sign is followed by a glorious song.

The stable and the song - one balances the other. The stable speaks of earthly poverty. The song speaks of heavenly riches. The stable speaks of humility below and the song speaks of glory on high. The stable presents a little helpless baby. The song presents a great and all-powerful God. In the stable the shepherds find him. In the song the angels glorify him. In the stable, the animals “low” a lullaby. In the song, the angels sing a sweet melody. The sign of the stable points the way to Christ. The song of the angels points to the glory of Christ. No angel ministered to Jesus at his death, but multitudes sang at his birth. The angelic multitude bears authoritative witness that the sign and the Saviour are true.

The choir sang: “Glory to God in the highest.” The heavens rejoice and praise God for salvation’s plan, that there is a remedy for sin, that there is “peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased.” The result of Jesus’ coming is that peace has been made possible between God and man (Col. 1:20). Those who know His peace are those who are the recipients of God’s favor, God’s grace. And the One who perfectly embodied all God’s favor was this Baby. He is the One in whom God is well pleased and all who follow him benefit from God’s good pleasure.

That was the meaning of Christmas to the angels. They sang not only of the One who was born but of the grace that had come.

The situation of the announcement is confirmed by the signs from the angels which initiated…

III. The Search By The Shepherds (2:15-20)

15 “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’”

1. The shepherds acted in faith (2:15-16). They gave no thought to who would watch over the sheep. For a shepherd to leave his sheep, especially at night, was unthinkable, irresponsible. All their livelihood may be wiped out by this single act. But nothing would stop them in their desire to find the Messiah. Nothing would stop them from acting in obedience and faith.

16 “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” They searched for a baby and found the whole family. What they saw was exactly what the angel had promised - a baby lying in a feeding trough. Their faith was honored. The angels’ testimony was true.

The shepherds acted in faith and…

2. Their search was successful (2:17-20). Their success was evident in the responses.

There was the response of the shepherds’ “testimony” (2:17). And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” The sequence of faith is this: God’s Word prompted them to take action and their action gave rise to their testimony. They heard the Word from the angel and they acted in faith. They confirmed the sign and they testified to everyone about what the angel had said.

There was the response of the people’s “wonder” (2:18). “All who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” They were amazed at what they heard. But there’s no evidence that it affected their hearts or that it stirred them to action.

There was the response of Mary’s “reflection” (2:19). “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She reflected on the events, attempting to understand them. She “treasured these things” because they were of inestimable value - they confirmed all that the angel had told her (Lk. 1:26-38). She “pondered them in her heart.” She reflected on everything that had happened.

There was the response of the shepherds’ “praise” (2:20). “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” What they had heard agreed with what they saw and they praised God just as the angels had.

Final Remarks

Remember our thesis: “God provides a sign for all who search for the Saviour.” So, what is our response and duty?

1. Our duty is to find Him, so that the news “unto you is born” culminates in the declaration “we have found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41).

To find Christ is to bring glory to God, to acknowledge that we are sinners and that we need a Saviour, to respond in obedience to God, to bring honour to what God has done.

To find Christ is to have peace with God: (1) to have peace through his person (“He himself is our peace,” Eph. 2:14), (2) to have peace through his work (“He has made peace through the blood of his cross,” Col. 1:20), (3) to have peace through his justification (“Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Rom. 5:1).

To find Christ is to be well pleasing to God. God has declared: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” When we find and delight in Jesus Christ, we are well pleasing to God.

So, our duty is to find him. And…

2. Our duty is to worship Him, so that the song “Glory to God” culminates with adoration, “Worthy is the Lamb.” He has put a new song in our mouths even praise unto our God.

Related Topics: Christmas

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