Tag Archives: angels

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…’ Luke 2:8

 

While others slept in the comfort of their beds, the shepherds were out in the fields at night, taking care of their sheep.

The work of a shepherd was serious business in those days. He practically placed his life on the line for each and every one of his sheep. He would lead them to suitable grazing grounds and protect them at all times. If he needed to sleep, he would herd the sheep into a pen and lie on the ground, across the entrance. If any wolf or predator tried to come in to get some mutton, the shepherd would be the first line of defence. He valued the lives of his sheep, possibly because of the income he would get from their wool or from their sale. But the more time he spent with them, the more he got to know each and every one of them, so that if one got missing he would know, he would search for it, and he would rescue it.

But the shepherds of Luke 2 were more than one, so the flock was probably much larger than a usual flock. While they could have been shepherds of different flocks in the same area, some believe that this particular flock belonged to the temple, a flock out of which the relevant sheep and lambs would be selected for the necessary sacrifices. Away from the bustling streets of Jerusalem, the hill country of Bethlehem was perfect grazing grounds for these sheep. The account does not ascertain if they were temple sheep or not, as the sheep weren’t the focus of the story. The shepherds were. Because that very night God gave them a front row seat at the 3DHD premiere of His salvation plan: God had been born as a human baby that day.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and God’s glory shone around them. They were scared at the sudden ‘close encounter of the third kind’ … or maybe of the ‘God’ kind. The angel, bursting with joy, said to them, “Do not be afraid; for look, I’ve got good news, great news for you, and it will bring you and all people great joy! For to you, this day in the town of David, a Saviour has been born. He is Messiah, the Lord! Here’s the sign: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—“

And suddenly, as if one alien invasion wasn’t enough for one day, the night sky was suddenly lit even more as thousands of angels filled the horizon. They were screaming and leaping and shouting their praises to God, filling the air with music and laughter and rejoicing. Their words were summarised as “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

It lasted a while, but soon the angels retreated through their portal to continue the after-party in heaven.

(P.S.: We looked into why the angels were so joyful a couple days ago. You could check it out, using the #FacesoftheChristmasStory hashtag)

The shepherds exchanged glances. Had they all seen the same thing? They had? So it … really was true? And soon the amazement at the angelic visit led to the realization of what they had said: Messiah had been born, in David’s town! Just down there!

And they hurried to Bethlehem to find this Baby. When they, they left to announce to anyone in town who listen, the wonderful things they had heard about this child.

Ever wondered what happened to their sheep? These guys prized the angel’s news over whatever advantage they could obtain from their flock. Nothing else could have drawn them away. Maybe they locked the pen before leaving. Personally, I think the sheep would’ve been fine either way.

The shepherds remind us that God came for us, even to the lowest of us all. They had no offices of governance or priesthood. They were just the working-class everyman, the man that worked day to day to put food on the table. But God called them to be the first to see the Baby, the One Who would be their salvation. God prized them, valued them, just as He values us all. He wants us to be a part of what He is doing, to receive the gift that He’s offered to us.

It is also significant because through Scripture, God had led His people like a shepherd. He had rescued them from their messes and protected them. He promised them that He would give them a shepherd who would feed them and be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23). He came to be that shepherd.

Since the prophecies came to Israel, Jesus even said in Matthew 15:24 that He had come “…for the lost sheep of Israel.” But now He had come to be a shepherd for the whole world, for as many as would come to His fold. Jesus would later tell us that He is the Good Shepherd. He would say of the Gentiles, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

God had come to lead us to a better place. And the first people He told were shepherds.

He came to be one of us, like one of His sheep, so He knows how we feel and why we do the things we do. And that leads to the even more interesting part of this.

Jesus came to be God’s Lamb on our behalf. (John 1:29)

In the Jewish tradition, a lamb was a very important part of the ceremony for an offering for sin. A lamb without spots or blemishes would be selected and sacrificed as an offering for the sins of the nation. The high priest would sprinkle its blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s throne, and the sins of the nation would be covered for that year. There were many other sacrifices for sin that involved lambs. God gave them this tradition as a picture of what He was going to do.

And in the fullness of time, Jesus came to be the Perfect Lamb for us all. He alone was without sin, so He gave His life to be that sacrifice for us. When He rose, He ascended to God’s throne where He is now seated, as the One with all authority and as the One who has completed the sacrifice. Just like the blood on the Ark, Jesus is on the Throne. Now the sins of all who believe in Him are forgiven, because He stood (or sits?) in the gap for us. This is the perfect sacrifice.

God did that for our sakes, when we couldn’t. Like the Good Shepherd that He is. He did it in Himself and by Himself, because He loves us.

Christmas reminds us that God has come to lead us out of the dreary existence we were doomed to, and into a good and fruitful place where He can be with us and we can be with Him. He has come to save us, and He has!

Christmas reminds us that He is always with us, guiding us, leading us, feeding us and protecting us. He knows us all by name, our respective stories, our failures and our triumphs. He is here to bring out His best in all of us.

We don’t have to wander anymore. We don’t have to live without direction or purpose. We don’t have to be slaves to fear anymore.

We do have a Good Shepherd.

 

‘All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has made to light upon Him the guilt and iniquity of us all…’

Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53:6

 

5 days to #Christmas

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FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Angels

‘And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels…’ 1 Timothy 3:16

While the Bible tells us a lot about the activities of angels through the history of God’s people, they do not take centre stage and, as such, one can’t really trace the time of their origin. Some things we know, however, are that they are spirits, they were created by God, they worship Him, they are His messengers, they serve the heirs of salvation, and they do not die.
Also, they are so strong that one killed an army of 185 000 men in one night. And Jesus made reference to the fact that there are whole legions of them (over 80 000), so … yeah, they are quite a lot, and quite powerful too.
So picture this.
Did you know that the angels rejoiced at Creation (Job 38:7)? They had never seen a material world before, nor ever experienced such a dimension as Time, yet they watched as the Lord made these novel constructs, and they rejoiced. “How awesome is our Lord! He is in a class of His own … Holy!” Just when they thought God was so awesome He went ahead and blew their minds, making water and plants and animals and … to top it all, He wanted to make a being in His image and likeness out of, ahem, clay?! Of all the gems in the universe, He chose red earth? Oh well, He knew what He was doing. And what He made was a Clay-being, living and breathing. So much potential locked inside ‘walking Clay’. “Isn’t the Lord awesome?”
And God loved Clay. He gave authority in the material universe to Clay, and the ability to make things, to reproduce after his kind. They spent much time together, like friends. It was a privilege to watch, even much more to experience. But the angels could only watch in amazement as Clay experienced it all.
But Clay went ahead and ruined everything. He sinned and introduced an evil into God’s Creation, an evil that made Time a dreadful thing because of the end it promised. An evil called Death. And it was all because of Clay.
But the Lord didn’t turn away, loving as He is. He stuck with Clay and gave him rules and instructions to keep Death away a little longer, and to allow Clay and his descendants to still be able to interact with the Lord, in spite of their fallen, flawed and Death-tending nature. Over the centuries the Lord would even have to send the angels to help Clay’s people out of their self-induced mishaps and the consequences of their actions. Sometimes He sent them to help those that actually pleased Him. But in the end, Death still took over their bodies and they were separated from the Lord for the rest of eternity. For beings that lived all their lives in an immaterial realm, the ramifications of such a separation were stark and horrific to even consider.
Yet Claykind — or ‘mankind’, as they like to call themselves — lived their lives with its pursuits and desires, ambitions and dreams, oblivious to the larger supernatural world that surrounded and influenced their courses, oblivious to the battles the angels fought on their behalf in the unseen in obedience to the Lord’s orders, and oblivious to their impending eternal doom. Anytime they looked at mankind it was his cringe-worthy fallen state that stared back at them.
But then, the Lord had never strayed from His plan.
In the fullness of time, it all unfolded. The sacrifices and coded notes He’d slipped to mankind over the centuries through the prophets suddenly made more sense. He was going to settle the Man problem, by becoming a Man Himself.
Ah, the privilege! Such a wonder! Such a marvel! For the Creator of Worlds to take on the frame of the very creatures that had rebelled against Him. It was unspoken of in any other terms, but then it was the Lord here. He was coming in to make things right.
He had come, and He was a human baby.
“So this is what the Lord looks like? A Baby?! That’s Him right there, and the people are oblivious to even this? Have they no idea what’s just happened? Have they not an inkling of how privileged they are?”
Soon the order rang out, and one of the angels zapped over to a group of human shepherds to tell them the great news. Soon as he flicked the visibility cloak on, the men gasped in fear at the alien intruder. “Whoa, don’t be afraid! You won’t ever have to be afraid again, because what I’m here to tell you is GREAT NEWS about something that will bring joy to all your kind, EVERYONE! Because, for you, this very day, a Saviour has been born down in David’s town! He is Messiah, yes, the One you’ve been waiting for. He is the LORD! But instead of a shiny being, what you’ll find is a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger—” [a paraphrase of the account in Luke 2:10-12]
The men were still trying to grasp it all when the angel was suddenly joined by a heavenly knighthood, a multitude of them, singing and rejoicing! The skies were agog with light and music and joy so thick. The gist of what they sang was summarised as, “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
They understood that God was bridging the gap between Himself and man, by Himself. But this would not be the end. They would watch Him grow as a man. They would watch Him die, and wonder why. They would watch Him rise, making the way for mankind to become a newer kind of being: sons of God. The Godkind. A people that are pleasing in His sight, and would do His will always. The product of God in union with man.
The journey to this was long and wrought with much agony, but it was the Lord’s doing. And He did it well. And the angels watched it all.
And they still watch, amazed by His goodness and faithfulness shown toward us. They are not to be worshipped, and they are quick to deflect any attempt to worship them, quick to point the attention to the One that deserves it all.
It was all His doing.
And when they look on the New Creation, the result of His sacrifice and victory, they are amazed over and over again.

“How favoured is mankind? The Lord has brought peace and goodwill to him.
How awesome is our Lord?
Just when we think He is awesome, He keeps on blowing our minds!
The Lord God Almighty is in a class of His own!
He is Holy!”

‘All [the prophets] were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves – through the Holy Spirit – the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!’
1 Peter 1:12

#11DaystoChristmas