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Christmas [1992]: The Simplicity Of Christmas (Luke 2:8-20)

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December 20, 1992

Christmas Message

A man was bothered with continual ringing in his ears, bulging eyes, and a flushed face. Over a period of three years he went to doctor after doctor. One took out his tonsils, one removed his appendix, another pulled out all his teeth. Nothing seemed to help. He still had ringing in his ears, bulging eyes, and a flushed face.

Finally a doctor told him that there was no hope; he only had six months to live. The poor fellow quit his job and decided to live it up in the time he had left. He went to his tailor and ordered several suits and shirts. The tailor measured his neck and wrote down the size: 16. The man corrected him: 15. The tailor measured again: 16. But the man insisted that he had always worn a size 15 collar on his shirts.

“Well, all right,” said the tailor, “but don’t come back here complaining to me if you have ringing in your ears, bulging eyes, and a flushed face!”

Sometimes the solutions to life’s problems are more simple than we think. Our world has incredibly complex problems: wars, terror-ism, famines, catastrophes. People have complex problems: physical, emotional, and family problems. Sometimes we despair as we try to help others or to deal with our own problems. At times the proposed solutions seem so complex that we aren’t sure we can implement them.

But God provides a simple solution for all of the complex problems we face in this world. It is the simple solution of the Savior, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Some would scoff and call it a simplistic solution, one that really doesn’t work. Others would say that its a nice legend, harmless enough; but they would never consider it as a serious solution to any significant problems.

God knows that the basic problem with the world is the sin of the human race. Any solutions that leave out dealing with the sin problem are the simplistic solutions. The only solution that offers true hope and help is that which takes into account the sinful hearts of people and offers a practical solution to that universal problem.

God’s Christmas message to us offers such a solution. The Savior whose birth we celebrate was to be named Jesus (Jehovah saves), for He would save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). The Christmas story as told by Luke, especially the story of the shepherds who went to see the Lord Jesus on the night of His birth, reveals that ...

God’s simple solution for man’s complex problems is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

The first thing that strikes us about this familiar story is:

1. The Christmas message is for simple people.

Have you ever considered why the text does not read (Luke 2:8), “Now there were in the same region scribes and Pharisees, keeping watch over their scrolls and religious rituals”? Nor does it say, “There were in the same region kings and princes keeping watch at the palace.” God chose to reveal the birth of the Savior to simple shepherds who were going about their job. Why shepherds?

That God chose simple shepherds to be the first to know of the birth of the Savior is even more strange by human standards because in Israel, shepherding was a lowly task. Shepherds had not been schooled in the law and thus were considered ignorant. Their work made them ceremonially unclean. According to one Jewish treatise, shepherds were not trustworthy enough to be used as witnesses. According to another, help was not to be offered to shepherds and heathen (see Godet, Luke [I. K. Funk & Co., 1881], p. 81). So why did God choose shepherds as the first ones to receive the angels’ revelation concerning the Messiah’s birth?

In the first place, God chose shepherds to show that…

A. The gospel is for the simple, not for the sophisticated.

God puts His cookies on the bottom shelf. Because of that, the sophisticated and scholarly sometimes miss the truth of it. They’re looking too high; it’s beneath them to stoop to the lowest shelf, and so they miss what God offers freely to all.

If it were any other way, men could boast before God. If the gospel were some complicated philosophy that required a high I.Q. and years of study to grasp, then those who had attained it could congratulate themselves on how much more intelligent they were than the rest of the population. Those who were illiterate or not as intellectually gifted as others could never hope to qualify for salvation.

But the beauty of the good news about Christ is that it was first announced to lowly shepherds. They probably couldn’t read and write. They weren’t leadership material. But God’s love in Christ extended to them. The danger is that we will miss the gospel because it is so simple (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

Every time I think about this truth, I am reminded of a fellow I used to know in Seal Beach, California. Everyone called him “Seal Beach James.” Although he was in his twenties, he had the mental capacity of a child. But James knew and loved the Lord Jesus. Every day he would ride his bicycle, with a basket on the handlebars full of tracts, down to the beach and talk to people about the Lord. He would boldly go up to the muscle-bound beach bums playing volleyball and ask, “Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ?” The amazing thing is that sometimes one of them would actually stop and listen to James!

James’s mother, who had normal intelligence, did not know the Savior. If you were at a home gathering where James was, he would dial his mother on the phone, then hand it to you if you were standing near him, as you heard him tell his mother, “Mom, here is Steve Cole. He’s going to tell you about the Lord Jesus Christ.” And you were on!

To my knowledge, James’s mother died without putting her trust in the Lord Jesus. Perhaps it was foolishness to her. Too simple! But in the grace of God, her mentally handicapped son will one day be standing before the throne of God with myriads of saints singing, “Worthy is the Lamb!”

How about you? Have you given up your pride and come to the Savior who is Christ the Lord? No human merit is allowed at the foot of the cross where the Baby of Bethlehem died. He did it all. Only those who are simple enough to accept His gift will see the salvation of God.

In the second place, God chose shepherds as the first to receive the good news because…

B. The gospel involved the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

We do not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but a December date is reasonable (Harold Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ [Zondervan, 1977], pp. 25-27.) It is probable that the very sheep these men were tending in the fields that night were being prepared for slaughter at the Passover in Jerusalem a few months later. Thus it is symbolic that the shepherds who were watching the Passover lambs would be invited to Bethlehem to view the Passover Lamb of God, provided for the salvation of the world.

The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), eternal separation from God. A holy God cannot accept sinners in His presence unless their sin has been paid for. If He did, He would not be just. In His love for us, God sent His own Son, born sinless through the miracle of the virgin birth, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Just as when the Jews were delivered from Egypt, and were spared from the angel of death if they had the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts, so every person who applies the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, to his life will be saved from God’s judgment.

So God revealed His good news to shepherds because (A.) the gospel is for the simple, not the sophisticated; and (B.) the gospel involved the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

C. The gospel provided us with a Good Shepherd and calls us to shepherd others.

God has always had a special place in His heart for shepherds. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were shepherds. King David was called from tending the sheep to shepherd God’s people. As such, David was a type of his promised descendant, who would reign upon his throne, who said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

As the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus will care for you as no other can. He watches over you more carefully than any earthly shepherd could watch his sheep. He knows your deepest needs. He will protect you from wolves and thieves who would destroy your soul (Ps.23:4; John 10:10-13).

Of course, if the Good Shepherd has called you to Himself, then He also wants you to shepherd others. You may not be called as a pastor in the church. But like these shepherds of Bethlehem, the ordinary people God calls to the Savior are sent back to shepherd the sheep. It may be a Sunday school class, or a group of boys in Boy’s Brigade or girls in Pioneer Girls. It may be your family or a new Christian God brings across your path. As you grow to be more like the Good Shepherd, you will become a good shepherd over a part of His flock.

So the Christmas message is for simple people.

2. The Christmas message is simple in content.

How simple and yet how sublime is God’s means of salvation! Who would have thought that Messiah would be born as a baby, and in such humble circumstances, at that! I would have thought that God would send His Savior as a full-grown man, a mighty warrior riding on a white stallion. Or if He were to be born as a baby, I would have looked in the palace, expecting to see the infant wrapped in fine purple, lying in an ivory and gold cradle, attended by servants.

Many would have stumbled over the angel’s directions (2:12): “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger”—a feeding trough! It smelled like any barn. Contrary to many artists’ conceptions, there was no halo over the baby’s head. Contrary to the children’s Christmas carol, the baby did cry. There were no photographers from the Jerusalem Post; no TV news crews; no dignitaries from the Temple. Just a plainly dressed carpenter and his young wife from the hick town of Nazareth. It wasn’t quite the way you would expect God to launch His Messiah into this world!

Who was this baby whom the shepherds found in such a common setting? The angel tells us (2:11): “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Micah (5:2) had prophesied about 700 years before that the Messiah (= “Christ,” God’s “Anointed One”) would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. This baby fulfilled that prophecy, plus dozens of others. He was the Christ.

That He was fully human was clear to all who saw Him. His mother obviously had just given birth. But the angel said that this human baby was also “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” A Savior, not a Judge; one who would deliver His people, not destroy them. For the angel to call this baby “the Lord” meant that the baby was over the angel. “Lord” is tantamount to Jehovah God. It is the same word used in 2:9, where it says that the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds. The same word is used in 2:23 in reference to “the Law of the Lord,” and “holy to the Lord.” If, in 2:11, the word means some-thing different than the same word used in 2:9 & 23, surely Luke would have noted this. The baby in the manger of Bethlehem is none other than the Lord God in human flesh!

Nothing could be more simple and yet more inscrutably profound! God brings salvation to Adam’s fallen race by taking human flesh on Himself, yet without sin. Then, as our sinless substitute, He bore our sin to satisfy the righteous justice of God, so that God may be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). How simple! Children can understand the simplicity of the gospel, and yet learned theologians cannot fathom its depths!

The Christmas message is for simple people. It is simple in content. Finally,

3. The Christmas message is simple in its obligations.

How should we respond? Just like the shepherds respond-ed. They believed the word of God through the angel, as shown by their leaving their flocks and going to Bethlehem. They told others what they had seen. And they went back to their sheep, glorifying and praising God.

A. We must believe in the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

The shepherds could have heard the angel’s proclamation and said, “Isn’t that interesting! What do you suppose it all means?” And they could have had a stimulating theological discussion around the fire that night. They could have sent a delegation to the rabbis in Jerusalem to get their interpretation of things.

Or they could have said, “We’ve always believed these truths. After all, we’re Jews, you know! Every good Jew believes that the Savior will come from the city of David. Thanks for telling us!”

What I’m getting at is that true belief is more than just intellectual assent. True belief always results in obedient response. The shepherds heard the angel, they left their flocks, and went straight to Bethlehem to see that which the Lord had made known to them. Their lives were never the same for it.

When God reveals Christ to your soul, you must take Him at His word. You must personally believe the revelation which God has given concerning His Son. If you have truly believed in God’s Son, you won’t be going on about life just as you were before. There will be changes in the way you live. No one is saved by good works, but saving faith always results in good works.

What are these good works? They are many and varied, but the shepherds show us two types of works:

B. Having believed, we will tell others.

Verse 17 states: “And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” What had they seen? Verse 16 tells us: “Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.” But remember, they saw with the eyes of faith. When you see God’s Son with eyes of faith, you cannot be silent. It was not a “silent night” once the shepherds visited the manger! They told others what they saw.

If they had stopped to think about it, the shepherds could have come up with a lot of reasons to keep quiet. Remember, shepherds weren’t trusted as witnesses. Nobody would believe them. And it really sounds kind of crazy: “You saw a bunch of angels, huh? This baby belonging to this poor couple out in the stable is God’s Messiah? Right!”

Not everybody is going to respond positively to the gospel. But if we’ve believed in God’s revelation concerning His Son, how can we be silent? This One is the Savior! He is God’s simple solution for every need of every human heart! If we really believe that, we’ve got to make it known!

C. Having believed, we will glorify God in the place He has called us.

Note verse 20: “And the shepherds went back and signed a book contract to tell all that they had heard and seen. They appeared on TV; they began a ministry called ‘Shepherds’ Vision’; they started traveling; they became famous.”

No, “... the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” Went back where? To tend their sheep. What a letdown! They didn’t set up tours to the shrine in Bethlehem. They didn’t sign on as the public relations men for Messiah Ministries, Inc. They didn’t put on seminars on how to have visions of angels. They went back to the place God had called them, but now their lives were marked by praise.

Thirty long years went by before this Child of Bethlehem even began to preach. By then, the younger shepherds from that night were middle age. Why didn’t God move faster? Why didn’t He use these men to get some action going for Jesus while He was still a boy?

We American Christians often buy into a version of Christianity that’s not much like the simple Christianity of the Bible. We seem to have a need for the spectacular and big. People flock to miracle services, they listen to some guy’s supposed trip to heaven and hell, they idolize famous people who happen to be Christians, they feed on the latest seminars and popular cultural fads.

Maybe we ought to get back to the simplicity of steadfast Christian living, centered on “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Maybe we need to see that God is the God of the normal, not just the spectacular. He calls us to be Christians who glorify Him as we tend our sheep or swing our hammer or keep house. God calls us to live in the real world as His people, glorifying and praising Him for His gift of a Savior. It’s not always spectacular. But it is how people who have met the Savior are to live.

Conclusion

The kids were putting on the Christmas play. To show the radiance of the newborn Savior, a light bulb was hidden in the manger. All the stage lights were to be turned off so that only the brightness of the manger could be seen. But the boy who controlled the lights got confused and all the lights went out. It was a tense moment, broken only when one of the shepherds said in a loud stage whisper, “Hey! You switched off Jesus!”

I wonder if you could have accidentally switched off the simplicity of Jesus? Whatever problems you face, He is God’s simple solution—the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. He was born so that you can be born again. Will you receive Him as God’s gift for you this Christmas?

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it overly simplistic to say that Christ is God’s solution for every problem? What does that mean in practice?
  2. Why are American Christians so enamored with the spectacular? How can we develop God’s simplicity in our lives?
  3. A neighbor has a nominal “belief” in Christ. How would you explain to him the difference between his “faith” and saving faith?

Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christmas, Christology, Soteriology (Salvation)