When Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe was invited to speak at the graduation ceremony of a well-known seminary, he gave the budding pastors something to think about with this story: A promising college senior at an acclaimed Ivy League university was undergoing a battery of personality and aptitude tests offered by the career placement office at the school. He was from a blue-blood, aristocratic family who expected him to take the high road into the upper strata of society when he graduated.
He was on the edge of his seat as the counselor announced the results of his tests: “I have good news: Your tests are absolutely consistent and conclusive in their findings. Upon graduation, the ideal path for you to pursue is to become . . . a shepherd.”
Lowliest of the Low
A shepherd? Just imagine the astonishment when a future member of the family looks at the family tree and sees among the doctors, lawyers, and judges …“shepherd.”
In Biblical days, shepherds were considered to be the lowliest of the low in society. This is nowhere pictured more graphically than in the story of Jacob’s family migrating from famine-starved Canaan to Egypt where their brother/prime minister, Joseph, ensured their survival by granting them land to live on. Joseph used his knowledge of Egyptian prejudice to secure his brothers and their families a place to live separated from Egyptian culture so that the descendants of Abraham might remain pure. Joseph told Pharaoh that his brothers were shepherds and had arrived in Egypt accompanied by their herds (Genesis 46:31-33).
Egyptians were scholars, not shepherds; they elevated the life of the mind, not the management of animals. And their attitude foreshadowed the upper classes in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth. It was beneath the dignity of the Pharisees and Sadducees to dirty their hands and robes, wrangling sheep day and night. So why do you think God chose shepherds to receive the first announcement of the birth of His Son in Bethlehem?
God began the birth of Jesus on a low road; and that’s why it led to the shepherds in Bethlehem. Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, were humble citizens of Nazareth—a carpenter and his teenage bride. The birth took place in Bethlehem, a lowly suburb of Jerusalem. Mary probably arrived in Bethlehem riding on a donkey, and gave birth to Jesus in the poorest of accommodations—a stable. Is it any surprise, then, that a group of shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth?
Scripture tells us: “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). That makes us ask, What did God see when he looked at the hearts of the Bethlehem shepherds that crisp, clear night two thousand years ago?
Here are four things I think God saw, and I think He is looking to see in our hearts this Christmas season:
1. Humility. When God saw the shepherds’ hearts, He saw hearts that weren’t self-absorbed or puffed-up, but hearts that would be willing to receive a word from heaven.
2. Expectation. Being Jews, these shepherds were well aware of the Old Testament promise of the coming of Messiah. While they didn’t expect the Messiah’s coming to be announced to them in the middle of a field in the middle of the night—they nonetheless knew the message when they heard it.
3. Obedience. Reading the story in Luke 2, we find that the shepherds reacted immediately to the angels’ announcement. They didn’t discuss it . . . they appear not to have even left one of their number with the sheep . . . they didn’t wait until morning. They responded immediately and went to find the Baby.
4. Generosity. They didn’t keep the good news to themselves. Instead, “They made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child” (Luke 2:17). God’s goal with the Gospel of salvation is for every person to hear it and have the opportunity to respond. He found willing conduits of the Good News in a group of lowly shepherds.
This Christmas season, look in your mirror and see if the heart of a shepherd is beating within: humble, expectant, obedient, and generous.
Dr. Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of
Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California.
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