What Happened to the Shepherds?

What happened to the shepherds who visited the manger the

night Jesus was born? Some would respond, Who cares? This

is an irrelevant question. I agree it is from a historical point of

view. From a Biblical point of view, the question speaks to us

as we live in the after-glow of Christmas.

What an experience those shepherds had. They were uneducated

people who had the boring job of watching their flocks. Nothing

unusual happened to shepherds unless it might be a wild animal

attacking the animals. But one night things were different. The

Bible says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the

glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified.”Ê

The angel told them that the Savior had been born in Bethlehem.

When the excitement quieted, these men decided to go to

Bethlehem and see what had happened. When they arrived at

the manger, they saw Mary, Joseph, and the baby who was

lying in the manger. There they stood in the presence of a

child who was the God incarnate. This was the experience

of a lifetime.

What kind of a lasting impression did it make on these shepherds?

The Christmas story tells us, “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.” Then note

these words, “The shepherds returned (to their work), glorifying

and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen,

which were just as they had been told.”

That’s the story of the shepherds, which is irrelevant unless we

meditate on these words and ask, “We too have heard the story

of Christ’s birth. In one sense we have been to Bethlehem also.

What will happen to us spiritually now that Christmas is over

for another year? Did Christmas have any impact on you? Might

it be that you came to Christ if you were not a Christian on

December 23rd? If you were followers of Jesus, did the message of

Christmas strengthen your faith and commitment to the Savior?

Christmas was a spiritual experience for my wife and me. In helping

us to prepare for Christ, we took a trip to Branson, Missouri to

enjoy some of the Christmas shows. We heard the famous

pianist Dino, who thrilled us with his talent and touched our hearts

as he gave a powerful testimony on how Christ had changed his life.

He stood before this audience of 3,000 people with a bar that had

two large balls at either end. He called our attention to the fact

that the balls were separated by space on the bar. Dino emphasized

that this is a symbol of our relationship with God without a Savior.

He then moved one ball closer to the other ball and pointed out that

this is how God draws close to us. We do not approach Him, He

comes to us. Then Dino came to the point of his illustration.Ê

While God has drawn close to us and offered to live in a personal

relationship with us, nothing happens until we take the next step

and let Christ into our lives.

Words are inadequate to express this marvelous illustration, but

not a sound could be heard in this large audience. At the end of

Dino’s presentation, the people gave him a standing ovation which

testified to me that there is a world out there that is open to this

message. For no matter how sophisticated life can become, it is

empty without Jesus Christ.

So, if you had a spiritual experience with Christ this Christmas,

what is the next step for you in your relationship with God? The

shepherds returned to their work. God had given them the

privilege of seeing the Messiah. It does surprise me that God

did not send them into Jerusalem to be a powerful witness of

what they had seen and experienced. Instead

they went back to their work.

Isn’t this the way that God deals with His children in our age too?

He calls us aside for a while. He nurtures our soul and then sends

us back to where we live and labor to tell the story of what Christ

has done for us. That’s what the shepherds did. The Bible says,”

All who heard the shepherd’s story wondered at what they told them.”Ê

It was a very simple story told by uneducated men who had met

the Savior. That’s what witnessing is all about. Their lives had

been changed, and they praised God for what He had done for

them. We too are called to be witnesses of what God has done

for us. We are sent back to our families and friends to share

with them this glorious Gospel whenever the opportunity presents

itself. Think of the millions of people who have followed the path

of the shepherds. They had pointed people to the Lord Jesus,

and many have come to trust Him. This is how the Church is built.

No matter how powerful the enemies of this Gospel are, the message

once echoed by the shepherds has not been silenced.

I once had a friend who believed that when people met Christ,

they should enroll at a theological seminary and become a pastor.Ê

He talked about the number of people who had become pastors

under his ministry. He chastised me for not talking to my son about

considering the ministry and lamented that none of his children

or grandchildren had become a part of the clergy. When I tried

to comfort him by pointing out what dynamic witnesses his children

were, and how my children were serving the Lord where they lived

and labored, he thanked me but continued to wish that at least

one of them had become an ordained pastor.

God knows that the Church needs faithful pastors who know

the Lord personally. It is important that our youth know that they

should be sensitive to the Lord’s calling, but we should also

affirm their ministry wherever life leads them.

What happened to the shepherds? God sent them back to watch

the sheep, but they had a message to share with those who

came to them. Perhaps that is where He sends us, who have been

called aside in this Christmas season to hear again that God has

come to this world in the person of Jesus Christ.

Eternal God, Convict Us That You Walked on Planet Earth

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made

that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We

have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came

from the Father, full of grace and truth.

For the general public Christmas is fast losing its meaning. Not to

be offensive, we now greet people with the words, Happy Holidays

in place of a Blessed Christmas. There are an abundance of Christmas

parties and programs where the name of Jesus is not mentioned

unless it be profanely. The commercialization of Christmas has

become so strong that the joy of sharing a Christmas gift has made

the season a financial hardship for many.

Certainly a Christmas party and gifts add to the joy of family and

friends being together but to limit our Christmas celebrations to these

activities is depriving ourselves of the message of the season. Let’s

turn from a secular society and its understanding of Christmas to

God’s word. He who had been with the Father from eternity came

to earth in the form of a baby.

John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was

with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory,

the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of

grace and truth.”

Reading these inspired words, John Calvin said, “It is more than

the human mind can take.” Jesus was with God from the beginning

and He came from heaven to walk on the streets of Jerusalem.

Paul put it this way, “When the time had fully come, God sent His

Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under

the law that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

It is Christ’s coming to earth that we celebrate at Christmas. Many

make no connection between Jesus’ birth and Christmas. Others

believe that a child was born and grew up to be a great religious leader.

But others know this child was God who had come to dwell among us.

Don’t you like that statement, “He dwelt among us.” He gathered

people around Him and talked to them about how they should live

with each other. He healed the sick people who were brought to Him.

He went to the home of a tax collector by the name of Zaccheus.

The people hated Zaccheus but Jesus went into his house, had a

heart-to-heart talk with the man and changed his life. He visited late

at night with Nicodemus, a leader in the Jewish community.Ê

Nicodemus wanted to know more about God and Jesus told him

that unless he were born again, he could not enter the Kingdom of

God. This was only the beginning of a friendship with Nicodemus,

because it was none other than Nicodemus who was present to

assist with Jesus’ burial. He had time to visit with a Samaritan

woman who had lived a wretched life. She had been married five

times, and the man she was living with at the time was not herÊ

husband. While society condemned her, Jesus offered the woman

forgiveness and a new life. He continues to dwell among us.

The days went by, and 33 years after His birth Jesus was crucified.

In His death He paid the price for the sins of the world, but three

days later He was raised from the dead to be our Risen Lord.

What is the response to this Christmas story?

His contemporaries rejected Jesus as Savior. John writes, “He

came to his own and his own received him not, but to those who

received him, who believed in his name, he gave them the power

to become the children of God.”

Throughout history the vast majority of people have rejected Him,

but through the witness of those who received Him, some marvelous

things have happened. Millions have lived and died trusting Christ.

Evidence of the believers’ faith is seen in the churches that dot

the landscape and stand in our cities. They have been built to

bear witness to Him. Within their walls the Gospel has been preached,

and people have found peace with God as they live in a personal

relationship with Him. As the souls of people have been captured,

some of the world’s greatest music has been written, which draws

people to hear of the Savior in song. Having experienced Christ’s

love for humanity, some of the world’s greatest hospitals have

been built and Christian institutions of higher learning have become

the renowned centers of the academic world. No person has

touched the lives of people in such a dramatic way as this Christ

child whose birth we celebrate this week.

At times we become depressed as we live with people who refuse

to receive Him. A few months ago I was preaching in a large city.

During the course of my sermon I said, “Sometimes it seems like the

Church is dead.” A theological professor, and a friend of mine, was

in the audience. After the service he thanked me for the sermon, but

assured me that while some congregations and denominations

appeared to be dead, the Church is very much alive. He directed

my attention to the Church in Tanzania where they are experiencing

a great spiritual awakening. I later talked with a Bishop from Tanzania

and was told that in one of his districts a congregation which started

two years ago now has a membership of 4,000 people. Men and

women walk for miles to hear the Gospel and worship Christ. In our

own country, there are pockets of “spiritual awakenings.” The Gospel

is alive.

Having said all of this, we must be realistic. Minds that are bathed

in the popular philosophies of naturalism and humanism reduce Christmas

to a “happy holiday” with little or no reference to Christ. These people,

and many of them could well be our family and friends, would love

to invite us to walk with them leaving Christ behind. Do not be

deceived by anyone who would cheat you out of a real Christmas,

which finds its meaning in worshiping the Christ Child. He came from

heaven and walked the streets of Jerusalem.

Today He is anxious to walk into your mind to erase your fears

and deepen your joys.

Lord, Help Us With Our Emotions that Are So Evident at Christmas

I have mixed feelings regarding the Christmas season. As a Christian I am thrilled to hear the message that God has come to this earth to be our Savior. As a child and later as a husband, father and grandfather, it is a fun time of the year. The memories of many Christmas celebrations are priceless. It is as a pastor that my feelings about Christmas are mixed. On the up side, it is a joy to proclaim the Christmas Gospel, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord…” On the down side, it is the season of the year when emotions run high and people are hurting. So, on this third Sunday in Advent, less than two weeks from Christmas, I center our thoughts on two emotions that are very evident at Christmas, fear and joy.

First, let’s summarize the Christmas story, for that in itself is emotional. Charles Colson in his new book How Now Shall We Live? Reminds us that a large number of people in our country do not know the Christmas story. He writes, “Today many people are completely unfamiliar with basic Biblical teachings and we must find ways to address a pagan culture.” While this is a brief review of Jesus’ birth for some people, others might be hearing it for the first time. Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married when she learned that she was going to have a baby. At about the same time, the young couple had to make a trip to Bethlehem to register. While they were in Bethlehem, Mary delivered her baby in a manger, because they couldn’t get a room at the inn. Doesn’t that stir your emotions? Why didn’t one of those religious people say, She can have my room. After all, a woman delivering a baby needs the room more than I do. But such an offer did not come. It is just one more indication of how self centered we are. It’s a part of our sinful nature. Just reading the story can make us emotional.

As Mary was delivering her baby, there were shepherds in the field tending their sheep. Most nights it was quiet, but not that night. There was a heavenly light that shined so brightly the shepherds were blinded. This frightened them and then there was an angel who appeared and said, “Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy. There is born to you this day of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” That baby was no ordinary child. He was God who had come to earth and taken on the form of a human being to walk among people and to be the world’s Savior.

On that first Christmas we encounter the emotion of fear. Something new was happening in the lives of the shepherds that was threatening. The night was so different. After all, they had never experienced blinding lights and an angel speaking to them. They were in the presence of the divine. God was confronting them. Isn’t that enough to bring the strongest person to his or her knees? There was the fear of the unknown.

Through my years in the ministry, I have visited with many sad, depressed people and their numbers increase at Christmas. I am told that the suicide rate is very high during this time of the year. Why does Christmas bring about this sadness? There are at least two emotions: lonesomeness and concern for the unknown. The person is lonesome for that loved one who is no longer living. He or she was so much a part of the Christmas memories. Now mom, dad, spouse, or a child is not there. That first Christmas is especially tough, I am told, but the hurt is easily revived at Christmas time years later. But it is not all lonesomeness. It is also a fear of the unknown. What does the future have for me? The routine which gave security is now interrupted. The person’s own health is not good and the question is entertained, “Could this be my last Christmas?” Even for those who are assured of a heavenly home, this is an emotional thought.

Then there is the fear which is related to the family. How nice it used to be when the children were small. We watched them unwrap their gifts. They were so excited. They sat beside us in church and sang Away in a Manger. Now they no longer attend church. It is so sad.

If you experience these emotions at Christmas time, how does a world that knows nothing about the Christmas culture comfort you? In their frustration I can hear such a person say, “Come on now. Get a hold on yourself. You don’t have to worry. Everything is going to come out just fine.” Not much comfort, is it? For according to this counsel, you have to fix it and you aren’t up to it.

Listen to God’s Word. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” God’s Word points not to yourself but to Christ. This Savior will forgive your sins and give you the necessary strength, comfort and security to face all of life. This is a promise that has come to you from God. If you want proof that it is real, look to those people who trust Christ and see how He helps them in these very emotional hours. It doesn’t mean that there will not be lonesome hours and perhaps a few tears will be shed, but in your heart the fear of the future has been taken away, for your life is in God’s hands.

In the midst of this fear the angel is talking about joy. We all long for joy in our lives. At Christmas much effort is put forth to make it a joyful holiday. Recently I watched a television program where a celebrity was being interviewed. The woman was asked how she and her family would be spending the Christmas holidays. “I’m taking about forty of them to Las Vegas between Christmas and New Year. We are going to have a great time. We are going to eat, drink, laugh, dance and go to shows.” This woman was going to great effort and expense to experience some joy. Most of us cannot finance such a trip, nor would many of us want to if we did have the money, but we also work hard at finding joy, especially during the holidays. We travel far and wide, go all out on the cooking and shopping and want our loved ones around us.

This is great. It’s the way it should be. However, there is a joy that goes deeper than one we can manufacture for ourselves. It is the joy of which the angel spoke that comes from God. It is a joy found within our souls and not one that comes from the outside which may or may not stay with us for a few days. The joy of which the Bible speaks is not a cliche and you wonder where that joy is to be found. It is found in Christ. It surpasses any other joy that you can experience in life. Let me illustrate from my own life.

We have three children who have brought us great joy. We were joyful when we sat in auditoriums and saw them receive a medical degree, a law degree, and a master’s degree in special education. As we have watched them do well in their chosen professions, we have rejoiced. It has also been a joy to be with them at their wedding ceremonies as they were united in marriage to Christian people. It has been a joy to greet seven grandchildren and watch them growing up and enjoying life. But let me tell you of a deeper joy. Some days ago I was in a group where one of these children presented a devotion. This person led the group in a powerful message centered in the Biblical teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. It was quiet. People were listening. A clear testimony was given to the Savior’s work. Wow! I reached for my handkerchief to wipe away a tear of joy. It wasn’t news for me. I knew this child trusted Christ, but it meant more to me than anything else that this person could present such a clear testimony of God’s love in Christ. That’s the joy the angel spoke about on the first Christmas.

But you say, “My children are still struggling with their faith and show little interest in Christ and His Church. Where is my joy when I think of these children?” I understand. I am sure that our children had their moments of doubt too as they worked through the teachings of the Christian faith. We have a couple of grandchildren now who are having their spiritual struggles, but what a joy it is to know that in the midst of their struggles God walks with them. It is hard to be patient as we await that faith to blossom in a clear Christian expression, but there is hope and therein is their joy even while we wait. If you would like further testimony on children who are away from the Lord, buy a copy of Franklin Graham’s book, Rebel with a Cause. Franklin Graham is the son of Billy and Ruth Graham. It is especially interesting to note how the Grahams dealt with Franklin during his days of rebellion to the Christian faith.

Fear and joy are two emotions that are very evident at Christmas. Let the babe of Bethlehem’s manger erase your fears, deepen your joys, and control your emotions, not only at Christmas, but throughout your life.

Heavenly Father, Direct Our Family to Take a Spiritual Inventory

It’s Sunday morning and your family is off to church. There is not

resistance, but neither is there a great deal of enthusiasm. You know

what is going to happen at church, because that’s the way it happens

every Sunday. You will sing a few hymns. Some of them you will like,

others you will not like. The same is true of the choir anthem. Some

of them are wonderful, others you can’t wait until it is over, but you

use that time counting how many are in the choir. You might have

noticed that one woman has not been singing for several weeks.Ê

You heard that she got irritated when the choir director did not ask

her to sing the solo part in one of the anthems. Now she is taking

off a few weeks to see if they can get along without her.

The minister preaches a good sermon, but he could have said it in

less time. After church we visit with our friends, even though the

pastor has encouraged us to spend time with the visitors and make

them feel welcome. All in all, it has been a nice morning, and we love

our church.

Isn’t it true that routine can lead to apathy and sometimes boredom?

That is also true when it comes to religion. That is one of the reasons

many congregations are now using a contemporary worship service.Ê

It’s different and a bit more entertaining. One woman in her 80’s told

me she comes to the contemporary service because she likes the beat.Ê

“I feel like dancing when the instruments get into the music.”

I wonder if the synagogue service didn’t get a bit routine when Jesus

walked on this earth. The worshiper listened as the rabbi read the

Torah (The Law), and then members of the congregation were

permitted to read from the prophets and make personal commentary

on what the Scriptures meant to them. St. Luke tells that when Jesus

visited His home synagogue in Nazareth, He read from the prophet

Isaiah and announced He was the Messiah. (Luke 4:16-19) That

livened the service that day, for some became so angry with Jesus

that they drove Him out of town. Most Sabbaths were not that

exciting. I believe that the faithful worshiper was looking for

something more than he was getting at the synagogue.

The time was right. The souls of people were spiritually hungry when

John the Baptist came preaching a baptism of repentance for the

forgiveness of sins. The Bible says, “The whole Judean countryside

and the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins,

they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Something was

happening. Lives were being changed.

His sermon consisted of Law and Gospel. When he preached the

Law, John the Baptist missed no words. Here is an excerpt of his

sermon, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the

coming wrath? Produce fruits in keeping with repentance… The man

with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one

who has food should do the same… Tax collectors, don’t collect

any more than you are required to and you soldiers should not

extort money and don’t accuse people falsely be content with your

pay.”

There were no generalities in John’s preaching. Everything was very

specific and God used his preaching so that many were moved out

of an apathetic religion to one that was living and vital, affecting the

way they lived.

But John’s message was not without hope. While some wondered

if he might be the Messiah, John made it clear he was only the one

preparing the way for the Lord who had come. One day when

Jesus passed by, John pointed to Him and said, “Behold the Lamb

of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:36)

When members of the Church live in a daily state of repentance

and faith in Jesus Christ, there is an on-going spiritual awakening

in the congregation. Apathy is replaced with excitement which

reveals itself in a dynamic ministry. Then the people know the

congregation is a spiritual force which is making a valuable

contribution to the community.

What happens in that worship service affects how the members

live during the week. We can be sure that when the service is over,Ê

John the Baptist’s followers did more than visit with their friends.

They carried the message into the family circles. This also is what

needs to happen in our midst. My prayer is that during the Advent

Season the Holy Spirit will be permitted to direct us in taking a

spiritual inventory of our families.

Christmas is when the family is together. Let me suggest a challenge

to you in this advent season as we celebrate Christmas. Why not

take a spiritual inventory? When you are together, you could

have a meaningful conversation discussing some of these questions.

1. Would you describe your relationship with God?

Some might tell how that relationship continues to grow as theirÊ

prayer life gets better and better, and God speaks more directly

to them in His Word. However, there might be someone who

would say, I am struggling with my faith. At the university I am

continually surrounded with the voice of the humanist. These

people are kind and have become friends, but we don’t share

the same convictions regarding faith. They believe that Jesus is

only a good teacher, equal in every way to Mohammed, but not

greater. They do not believe that Jesus saves us. If there is any

saving to be done, we save ourselves. It wasn’t difficult to be a

Christian when I lived at home and had the daily support of my

family, but things are different on the campus and in the classroom.

Hearing this testimony another member could say, I can empathize

with you. I have had those same struggles. If you ever think I

might be able to help you, let me know. It’s pretty tough and those

who have not experienced what you are going through do not have

a clue how great the struggle is.

2. Would someone tell what his or her greatest experience was

with Christ since last Christmas?

3. What was one of your sins which made it necessary for you

to pour out your heart to God in repentance?

One of the group might say, Some of you will be happy to know

that the broken relationship between Wayne and me has been

healed. I finally had to take this matter to God and He directed

me to Wayne. We forgave each other and have even had lunch

together. It’s a good feeling.

4. As our family grows older and our children marry, we have

many denominations represented here today. Let’s not talk about

the differences these denominations have, but identify one thing

we have in common which makes us one. Mary and John, you

belong to the Baptist Church; Bob and Sally, you are Roman

Catholics; Ellen and Dick, you belong to the Lutheran Church.

It’s an ecumenical day.

Each family has the same answer. Our form of worship is different.

A comparison of the doctrines taught in our churches will differ,Ê

but our oneness is in Jesus Christ who is the only Savior of the

world. That confession will make us sing from our hearts,

“In Christ there is not East or West,

In Him no South or North;

But one great fellowship of love

Throughout the whole wide earth.”

Hearing all of this you might respond by saying, This kind of

conversation would not work in our family circle. We do not

visit about our relationship with God. To us this is a personal

matter and besides, we do not want any tension about religion

on Christmas.

Our relationship with God should be personal, but it can never

be private because Jesus Himself said, “You are the light of the

world and the salt of the earth.” Let me assure you that a spiritual

family inventory would make this a unique Christmas in most

homes. Why not try it? Those people who heard John theÊ

Baptist preach talked to their families about their relationship

with God. Shouldn’t we?