UNCOMFORTABLE OBEDIENCE (2021)
Introduction: Once again, we want to welcome you to our Christmas Eve Service. For the past 3 Christmas Eves, we have been talking about “Uncomfortable Obedience.” There are many things that God commands us to do that we can do with a joyful and a willing heart. For example: studying his word, loving our family and children, and using our gifts in his service. But then, there are things that He commands us to do that are not as fun and exciting. They are uncomfortable. They push us past our limits. Sometimes, they are downright unbearable. How do we obey God even when it is uncomfortable? In 2018, we focused on how Joseph had to practice uncomfortable obedience in taking Mary to be his wife even though she was with a child that wasn’t his own. In 2019, we focused on how Mary had to practice uncomfortable obedience in being willing to carry a baby that had a supernatural origin. In 2020, we focused on how the magi had to practice uncomfortable obedience in following the star in the east and seeking the king of the Jews. Tonight, for the next few moments, we will focus on how the shepherds had to practice uncomfortable obedience in receiving the message from the angels and going into the town of Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus.
Luke 2 8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Context: Typically, the reason given for the shepherds to be included in the Christmas narrative is either “They represented untrustworthy sinners that Jesus came to save” or “They represented poor common folk that Jesus came to lift up.” (See Sarah Harris’s dissertation) When we study ancient history carefully, we find that neither are totally true. In fact, the shepherd imagery was commonly used as a designation for gods and kings among the Sumerians and Mesopotamians. Even the Egyptians depicted their Pharaohs with a flail and a shepherd’s crook. So also, the Greeks.
When we come to the Bible, the Old Testament, God is repeatedly described as a shepherd to his people Israel:
- In Genesis 49:24, listen to how Jacob blesses Joseph – “. . . the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).”
- In Exodus 15:13, Moses describes God as a shepherd setting his people free from Egypt – “You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation.”
- In Isaiah 40:11, listen to Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s future care of his people – “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carrythem in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.
- In Jeremiah 13:17, listen to Jeremiah’s sorrow over the sins of his people – “. . . My eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, Because the LORD’S flock has been taken captive.”
- In Micah 7:14, listen to Micah’s prayer to God – “Shepherd Your people with Your staff, the flock of Your heritage, who dwell solitarily in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel; Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in days of old.”
- Then the psalms are full of the shepherd imageries – Psalm 78:52 “But He made His own people go forth like sheep, And guided them in the wilderness like a flock.” Psalm 80:1 “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock. . .”
By the way, God’s greatest leaders have also been shepherds: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. Of course, who can forget Psalm 23 1 “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
The point is that contrary to what we have assumed, shepherds were not always looked upon as the worst and the lowest of society. Instead, many times, God was depicted as a shepherd who guided, provided, and protected his people.
In fact, 800 years before the coming of Jesus, the prophet Micah gave a word of comfort to the Southern Kingdom of Judah as they were facing enemies from all sides.Listen to Micah’s prophecy to wait for their Shepherd King who would come to rescue them – Micah 5 2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One to be Ruler in Israel, (Meaning: A King is coming from the City of the great king David. He is the rightful King.) whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (A better translation is “whose origins are from of old.” In other words, “although he will be born yet he has no beginning.” He is no ordinary King.) 4 And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the LORD, (Meaning: He will be a Shepherd King to his people unlike the unfaithful King Ahaz of Judah. He will be like his earthly ancestor David, who was the good shepherd king. Wait on Him!) In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; And they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5 And this One shall be peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land. . .” I know what you are thinking. Why would God send someone 800 years later to save them from a problem they are facing right now? The time to put a band aid on their wound was over, it was time to schedule a major surgery.
Why were the local shepherds invited? Listen again to verse 8 “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Some people have claimed that they were temple shepherds. That may be but we don’t have any solid evidence for it. I believe that they were symbolic of the faithful, brave, and good shepherds who were simply under shepherds waiting on the Chief Shepherd to come and take over his flock. Luke tell us that they came with haste and found the baby Jesus. What was their response? 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. . . 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”
Here’s the point:
- The shepherds had to overcome their fear of the angels.
- The shepherds had to overcome their fear of going into the town at night.
- The shepherds had to overcome their fear of the people and share the story with others.
So also, when it comes to following Christ, it’s not easy. There will be uncomfortable obedience. Even coming here this evening may not have been easy for some of you. You were willing to obey God than to fear human beings or anything else.
Not everything God tells us to do will be pleasant. Sometimes, it will be uncomfortable. But if we claim to love him unconditionally, we have to obey him joyfully.
What is God calling you to do? Maybe to make things right with someone. Maybe to give towards his work. Maybe to share the gospel with someone. Maybe to surrender to some calling he has for you. You will have to set aside your comfort, others’ opinions, and personal fears.
Has he called you to be saved? Have you responded?