Christmas brings us freedom from judgement - Luke 2:1-20
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Eight years ago marked the Olympic Games coming to London, I don’t know if you are like me but out house was hooked. Lauren and I watched, the track events, cycling at the Velodrome, the rowing and so much more. We chatted about the different medals that were won and where team GB were the medals table. It was the hot topic. It was amazing, seeing cyclist Chris Hoy win his record breaking 6th Olympic gold medal by milliseconds at the Velodrome, Mo Farah claiming his 2 gold medal on the track and Jessica Ennis completing all 7 of her Heptathlon events to claim gold in a packed stadium. We tried to get tickets but with no success, but was one of the main topics of conversation with our friends and family. Whether it was the latest medal the the GB had won the excitement of the amazing opening ceremony or the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson getting stuck travelling down a zip wire waving 2 Union Jacks. It was an exciting time and many were amazed. Sorry if you were not!
Well in today’s sermon, we will be seeing the amazement of some lowly shepherds and we’ll see their reaction in this, it’s a reaction that I’d like to be more apparent in my life when hearing from God in his word.
A Lowly Audience
At the beginning of these verses we see that a census is being called in this familiar section of God’s Word often read at this time of year. A census in those days would have been called for military and taxation purposes, basically a way of the ruler, Cesar Augustus exerting his power and influence upon the Roman Empire. According to the Roman imperial propaganda at the time, Cesar Augustus was the saviour who would bring good news of peace. The reality is that amidst this census where Cesar is exerting his great power, another is being born, one who is greater and more powerful than the ruler he is born under. One who is the REAL Saviour, one who brings REAL Good news of REAL Peace.
So we see Joseph and Mary travelling to Bethlehem, which was David’s town, his place of birth, the birthplace of a king and we know that this story is telling the good news of another king to be born of David’s line, a Davidic king as spoke about in Matthew 2 when the the Magi are quoting the prophecy from Micah to Herod...
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
A ruler is coming to be born is Bethlehem and we know from chapter 1 that this ruler will be Mary’s child called Jesus. For the angel Gabriel said...
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.
The Bible is so wonderfully connected and consistent in it’s message, that we can know that this is true. Jesus Christ who was born in a manger, is the Son of God who is the true ruler, the Davidic king who is the Saviour of the world. Yet it is a strange picture, when we see this great saviour being placed in an animal feeding trough, likely in some kind of outbuilding. All this speaks of one being poor and lowly, it certainly does not speak or royalty and splendour associated with a king.
In the next few verses we see that none of this is a mistake, our encounter here is with these shepherds, they are the first people to hear about the birth of the Messiah. Poor and lowly shepherds. In those days and a lot through the Bible, shepherds were on the lower end of the social ladder and in many ways despised. All this is perfectly consistent with the message of the Bible. God blesses the weak and despised, those who are willing to be humble and come to him. We must remember Jesus himself was described as a shepherd in one of the verses I just read. There is no distinction between nation, tribe, tongue or social status, Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the saviour for all from the lowly to the to those with a greater status.
So we see these shepherds minding their own business looking after their flocks in the fields and an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. These men were rightly terrified, what was happening, this was not a normal event.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
We are told a Saviour has been born, in Greek culture this would be an important figure such as a doctor or a ruler like Cesar, but for us it means so much more. The angels then go further and call him the Messiah or the Christ which would have caught their attention of the Jewish shepherds because Messiah means Anointed one, this is the one spoke about in the Old Testament, the future Jewish king from the line of David. Then if the angel needed to make it any clearer the importance of the birth of this baby, he is called Lord, confirming his identity as God, the one who has ultimate authority over all, who created the world, made and gives breath to all in his own mother who gave birth to him.
This declaration of good news of God’s word was followed by a response that all of us should have when reading the Bible and hearing it preached a response of praising God...
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
The response of the Shepherd’s was immediate, there was no questioning the truth of these words, they knew it was true. So they said Let’s go and see this what the Lord has told us about. These men were probably Jews and they would have known the scriptures, they would have know the words of Micah that I read earlier about the coming of a ruler who will shepherd his people. So they hurried off and found Mary, Joseph and Jesus lying in a manger just as they had been told.
An Exalted Response
This causes another response in the shepherds, after their immediate response in going to find Jesus the Messiah, they are so moved by meeting him and hearing the message from the angel, that they spread the word about what they had heard about Jesus being the Saviour of the world. I can just imagine them rushing to tell everyone they saw and knocking on doors declaring what the angels had told them about Jesus.
Christian, we have heard the great truth in God’s word, the good news and we are called to spread the word of Jesus Christ, the saviour and do it in a way like these shepherds did, liberally, urgently and joyfully. It is good news but all too often, we hide it away. Why? This is the most joyful news that we could ever share with anyone... Jesus Christ, the son of God has come down to be among us, living a perfect life and dying on a cross as a sacrifice in exchange for our sin, so that we may live with him for eternity in his good and joyful presence.
This week I received a message about the birth of a baby, it delighted my heart, what response do you have when you receive a message, reading something like this; we’d like to announce the birth of Lucy Rosaline Belham, born this afternoon, mother and baby are doing well. Whoever the child, we rejoice don’t we, we praise God for the news of this new little life and pre Covid we would look forward to holding them and giving them a cuddle, maybe the light is at the end of the tunnel in that respect.
Are you worried about sharing the best news, the good news of Jesus Christ, does it fill you with fear about what others may think or the backlash you may face? Well let’s see the response that these shepherds had to sharing this good news with everyone.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
The people were amazed, praise God for the faithfulness of these lowly shepherds in spreading the good news.
It’s coming up to Christmas and on Christmas morning we know the excitement of the children as they see all their presents under the tree and get ready to unwrap them. The excitement is all around as they chatter and wonder what they have got and then they open their present and it’s an amazing new train track or skateboard or computer game. They want to tell everyone what they got, they tell you, their friends, grandma and grandad. They liberally spread the news of their excitement.
Well the shepherds know that Jesus Christ is the Saviour, the Messiah and the Lord. He is the greatest Christmas gift and as we discover him, our desire to tell others is urgent. But I understand that over time that can wane.
Let me show you Disney’s Christmas advert this year, it is one of those tear jerking ones I’m afraid.
Show DISNEY advert.
That grandma lost the love for that little Micky Mouse teddy that had been with her since she was a child as it got dirty, torn and broken. As her granddaughter repaired it decorated the room, it brought back so many memories from her grandma of her youth, it brought back that joy and amazement that she had when she was just a little girl.
Has your joy and amazement of Jesus waned, it’s time to bring back those memories of when we first responded to the gospel. Let’s rediscover Jesus again in his word, let it go deep in us and bring back that excitement and joy.
In our story the shepherds were filled with great surprise and astonishment about hearing of Jesus and going to visit him. Christian, he can do that with us today, I look out on our congregation and I see people who have been amazed by the good news that was shared with them months, years, decades ago. Let’s share that amazement with others and tell them the good news of the gospel. We can do this without fear, or pressure or stress as we can know that it is not our responsibility to convert someone to Christianity, that is down to the Holy Spirit working in someone’s life but God will use our words, our conversations, to speak into the lives of others.
An Example to follow
Before we see the shepherds returning to the fields after their spontaneous evangelistic mission we hear about Mary’s response which I love in verse 19...
Luke 2:19 - But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
What a brilliant response to God’s word. I want my life to be like these shepherds when I read God’s word I want to be amazed and filled with joy but I also want be like Mary and when I hear about God, I want to treasure his words, really value them and ponder him more in my heart. Mary had already had her angelic encounter and now 9 months on she is hearing again what God has done and continuing to treasure his words and ponder them.
As we draw nearer to Christmas, this year will look very different to previous years but one thing has not changed, is the real reason for this season. On that very first Christmas Jesus Christ was born, the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord of all and we should rejoice in the wonderful news that Jesus Christ can rescue us from sin and ultimately from death.
In Peter’s third ‘Why I want you to follow Jesus video’, he asks the question, are you a good person, are you good enough? Well the answer can be found in Jesus the Saviour, who later in his life declares this...
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
None of us are good enough, we stand condemned in front of God, from the murder to the racist to the liar, it all stem from the same source, sin and we are all guilty. So we all stand before a just God with the same choices, carry on as we are, ignore this kind God who has offered salvation and face judgement for your sin. Or believe in Jesus and follow him because he is good enough and he will take away your sin and give you eternal life.
Jesus says you can come to me now, whatever state you are in. You don’t need to have it all together, you don’t need to be a ruler or someone really important. When Jesus’ birth was announced to the lowly, despised shepherds, it was the announcement that anyone can come into the Kingdom of God. But you need to come, the shepherds came to Jesus, the Magi came to Jesus, and later in his life, Jesus says, come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. When you come to Jesus and ask for forgiveness, God will bring you into his family, you can call him Father and he will see you as perfect because of Jesus.
Wow, what good news, what news of great joy. Because of this news at Christmas, we can be free from the judgement that we rightly deserve and we can have eternal life with God forever because as the angel declared all those years ago, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Let me pray.
Home group questions:
1. How does it make you feel to hear that the lowly, despised shepherd were the first people that the angel announced Jesus’ birth to? (v8-9)
2. The angel announces the birth of Jesus and tells the shepherds who he will be. Why is it so important that Jesus was described as Saviour, Messiah (Christ) and Lord and not just one of these? (v10-11)
3. The shepherds response was immediate in going to find Jesus and one of joy in telling people what they had heard. What holds us back from coming to God’s word and finding out more about Jesus and sharing his good news with others (v15-17)
4. How do you feel about the response of all the people to the news the shepherds shared? How does it compare to today? (v18)
5. Have you lost your joy and amazement for God? How can we rediscover that joy and amazement and help one another to look to the good news of Jesus. (Consider verses 19-20)
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