Hastening To See The LambSeries: Turbulence
HASTENING TO SEE THE LAMB
Sermon By Terry Siverd / December 13, 2020 / Cortland Church of Christ
Jeannie & I (and Bodie dog) will be departing for Arizona early tomorrow morning. We're hoping to undertake a trip of some 2,400 in three days. We're still debating which route to take: via Oklahoma and New Mexico or via Kansas, Colorado and Utah. We hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We are very grateful for this time away (sabbatical) and are planning to return in late March eager to resume our ministry with you for the balance of 2021 and perhaps beyond. We will miss you greatly and will look forward to seeing you all again in the early Spring.
Two of the four gospels (Matthew and Luke) present differing vantage points regarding the birth of Jesus. Not differing in the sense that they conflict, but rather, different in that THEY OFFER VARYING PERSPECTIVES. Very early in Luke's gospel account we read of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus, saying (Lk.1:26) - - Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
“In the sixth month” relates to the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy (Mary's cousin/Lk.1:36). Elizabeth was married to Zacharias the priest. Similar to the OT story of Abraham & Sarah, they were advanced in years and were childless. That was soon to change as the angel Gabriel reveals to Zacharias (Lk.1:18f) that he and Elizabeth would soon welcome the birth of a son named John (who comes to be known as John the Baptizer). This fulfillment of a somewhat mystical ancient prophecy found in Mal.4:4-6 serves to set the stage for the birth of the Messiah and a numerous other eschatological events that had been long awaited by the people of Israel.
Back to Mary. Just as he spoke to Zacharias, the angel Gabriel now speaks to Mary saying (Lk.1:28f) - - 'Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.' Mary was troubled, pondering the meaning of this announcement. And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called The Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. Mary is perplexed because she is a virgin, but the angel tells her that the power of the Most will overshadow her and she would conceive and that her offspring would be called The Son of God (Lk.1:34-35).
In Matthew's gospel we read how an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. While Joseph was betrothed (engaged) to Mary, a sticky wicket materialized that had to be quite upsetting. Mary was pregnant and Joseph knew that he was not the father of the child that was in her womb (Mt.1:18). So, in a dream, an angel came to Joseph urging him to stay resolute and take Mary to be his wife. Mt.1:19 notes, Joseph, (Mary's) husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her her away secretly. While Joseph was weighing this matter Mt.1:20 records - - Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.
We could point you to God's revelation given to Simeon, who labored in the temple (Lk.2:22-35).
Likewise, we could highlight a special revelation that was given to the elderly prophetess Anna (Lk.2:36-38). Next Sunday Vic Rossi will be preaching online (Sunday at 10am on Facebook). He will speak about God's revelation to the Wise Men.
For the balance of our time this morning, I want to focus on God's revelation to the shepherds. As we consider this important text, you can follow along by opening your Bible to Lk.2:8-20.
So far we've not seen any surprises related to revelations about the birth of Christ. Regarding Zacharias & Elizabeth and the birth of John the baptizer- - John was to be the forerunner of Jesus. As to Joseph & Mary - - it only seems reasonable that they would be given a “heads-up”. Concerning the temple stewards, Simeon & Anna - - apparently they both had been eagerly awaiting this event. The special revealing given to the Magi (the wise men) also seems quite befitting. These studious and heavenward looking scholars of the priestly class came a long distance toting expensive gifts to worship One who was to be born King of the Jews - - the birth of a royal One.
My wife and I both agree that the revelation given to the shepherds is one of our favorite parts of the nativity story. On the surface this may appear to have an unexpected twist. In his gospel narrative, Dr. Luke frequently calls attention to “the underdogs” and this tendency seems to have its start with the story of the birth of Jesus. It begins with a young couple from Nazareth, a backwater town in Galilee - - home to a carpenter and his fiancee. John's gospel tells of Phillip's urging Nathanael to come and see THE ONE of whom Moses and the prophets spoke: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. To which Nathanael said, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? / Jn.1:46
Now suddenly and unexpectedly some lowly shepherds appear to stumble into the main arena. I call them “lowly” not because I'm highminded. During the patriarchal days being a shepherd was a noble undertaking. If you remember, both Abraham & Lot were shepherds (Gen.13:5). Likewise for Abraham's son Isaac (Gen.26:12-14) and Abraham's grandson Jacob (Gen.29:2 & 30 and 30:25ff). Prior to Moses becoming God's prophet and Lawgiver he spent 40 years as a shepherd in Midian (Ex.2:15ff & Acts 7:30). His “calling” took place via a the burning bush, while he was tending sheep (Ex.3:1). And, of course, you can recollect than David was also a shepherd (1Sam.16:22 and Ps.23). Something happened over the course of time, however, and the task of shepherding took a hit, socially speaking. Maybe it was the smugness of the Egyptians that ignited this decline. Gen.44:34 declares that “every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians”. At any rate, by the time we get to the days of the NT shepherds their status has diminished considerably. Owning sheep near the temple compound in Jerusalem (Bethlehem was less than 10miles away) could prove to be a lucrative vocation, but most of the actual shepherds of the first century were hirelings (hired hands), not owners.
In this part of the nativity story we see the Almighty God of heaven extending a special invitation to the shepherds. They may have been viewed as nobodies by many, but they were specifically chosen by the God of heaven. Yes, they were ordinary, common folk, uneducated and likely poverty-stricken. They were dirty and smelly. But on this night they were made privy to a truly amazing revelation. Lk.2:9 details the account - - And in the same region (Bethlehem) there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before hem, and the glory of the Lord shone about them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger. And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God (singing), and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men.'
What happens next is so impressive. Lk.2:15 records - - And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, 'Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened that the Lord has made known to us. And they came in haste and found their way to Mary & Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. This expression they came in haste (NASV) is rendered several different ways. The NIV says, they hurried; The NEB states, they went with all speed; The old Wycliffe Bible says, they hieing came.
They did not vacillate. They didn't have to have a council meeting and vote. They just hurried on to Bethlehem. They heard … They saw … They went post haste … and there They beheld a baby named Jesus in the manger.
In re-telling this sacred story I couldn't help but think of that marvelous Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know”? Rick Lowry's lyrics are amazing. The song superimposes questions that might be posed to Mary, like: Did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water? Did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you? Did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? Did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kissed your little baby, you have kissed the face of God? Did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations? Did you know that you're baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb? This sleeping child you're holding is the great I AM?
One day, 30 years after the births of John the baptizer and Jesus, John saw Jesus coming to him, and said (Jn.1:29) - - Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
One can't help but wonder if these lowly shepherds were able to fathom to any real degree the fact that they were hastening to see the perfect Lamb of God!
There is also a wonderful postscript to this brief story of the birth of Jesus. Lk.2:17-20 notes - - When they had seen this, THEY MADE KNOWN THE STATEMENT (i.e., They Spread The Gospel) which had been told to them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which they were told by the shepherds. But Mary treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds went back, glorifying & praising God for all that they had heard and seen...
As I have noted in an accompanying essay, for those of us who have knowledge of the heart of Jehovah God, this preview of the Christ Child to the lowly shepherds is really a not-so-surprising revelation.
How perfectly compatible with the heart of God that these common shepherds would have been offered a front-row seat to hear the good news of a great joy for all the people.
Dear Heavenly Father, Our hearts ache today because we are not able to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ and unite our hearts in song to sing praises to Your holy name. Nevertheless, here we sit in the privacy of our home: overwhelmed by Your love and grace - - that You would send Your only begotten Son to be our Savior has forever changed our lives. May we, like the shepherds, never cease in glorifying and praising Your name. Through Christ, Who willingly journeyed from the manger to the cross for us, we pray. Amen.