0901. Recognizing Shepherds

Have you ever wondered how the Nativity would play out if it were to occur today? How might the story manifest itself given today’s cultural tendencies? For example, let’s take the part of who would recognize the savior first. Could it be a social media influencer attempting to create a viral video? Could it be a budding young journalist trying to write a Pulitzer winning story? Could it even be a corporation looking to score a new sponsorship? Doesn’t have quite the same effect as the original story, does it? In fact, if we were to parallel the story, then by today’s culture, the first ones to recognize the savior would be a housekeeper or a garbage collector. By today’s cultural standards, that is probably the most illogical choice one could make, and no one would believe anything about the story after that. Yet that is exactly how the birth of Jesus played out, as he was first discovered by shepherds. But why shepherds? Let’s dig a little deeper into the story.

Shepherds were a pretty low class of profession in Biblical times. They didn’t make much money and the tending of sheep didn’t make them smell that great, given the hygiene practices of the time. As such, most of society never really paid much attention to them. That being said, they did play one very important role in the Jewish rituals of ancient Israel. Every year, Israeli priests were required to sacrifice an unblemished sheep to God, as atonement for the sins of the nation for the previous year. There was no way the priests were going to get dirty and search flocks of sheep looking for an unblemished one. Therefore, the task fell to the shepherds to supply the temple with a worthy sacrifice each year. When sheep were born, it was the shepherds’ duty to examine each one to see if the lamb was unblemished. Most of the time they were not, so the shepherds would carry on with their normal routine. However, on the rare occasion that a shepherd did discover an unblemished lamb, they took it as a blessing from God that a member of their flock was worthy of being sacrificed for all of Israel. From that point on, the shepherd would do everything in their power to protect and nurture the lamb, preparing it for the day when it would atone for Israel’s sins. The first step was by wrapping the lamb in cloth and putting it in a manger away from the other sheep. Then they would notify the priesthood that a worthy sacrifice had been found.

In the gospel of Luke 2:8-11 (CSB): “In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” After the angels departed from sight, the shepherds went straight to Bethlehem, and discovered Joseph and Mary in a stable, Mary having just given birth to Jesus. They would find a baby wrapped in cloth lying in a manger.

Had a lawyer or priest discovered them, they would have just seen poor people who couldn’t afford enough to find lodging, and would have turned their noses up at them. Had a tax collector or merchant discovered them, they would have wanted to charge Joseph and Mary a resort fee, and an extra fee for needing an extra bed for the baby. Their appearance in this story would just not have made sense. It is only now we come to realize the unfailing logic of why shepherds were chosen to discover Jesus first. For seeing him lying there in the manger, the shepherds immediately recognized his significance. Here was a baby that was cared for exactly like they would care for an unblemished lamb, even though Joseph and Mary knew nothing about shepherding. In their minds, they recognized someone who would one day be worthy to be sacrificed to atone for the sins of not just Israel, but for all of humankind. Their duty following the discovery would be exactly the same as if they found an unblemished lamb, to tell the world that a worthy sacrifice had been found.

During some point in each person’s life, there will come a time where God speaks to us for the very first time. Perhaps it was going to church for the first time and hearing the pastor preach. Perhaps it was the first time you opened the Bible and read scripture. Perhaps it had nothing to do with religion at all, something just stirred in your heart. Sometimes it happens early in life, sometimes it occurs fairly late. But it does occur. The question is: did you hear his voice when he spoke? In other words, did you recognize God, as the shepherds once did so long ago? In a God-omitted culture today, sometimes it is hard for us to hear God with all the distractions our lives provide us. But that doesn’t mean he has stopped pursuing us. Sheep hear the voice of the shepherd and respond accordingly. The voice of the good shepherd Jesus Christ continues to call to us because he wants us, but it is up to us to recognize the voice and come closer. Ponder that this week.

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