Something that I have wondered about the Christmas story is this: Why were the shepherds the first to hear about Jesus?
When I was younger, I always felt like the shepherds were the smallest, forgotten parts of the Christmas play. Those of us, like myself, who always played the part of a shepherd only had about three lines and a plastic shepherd hook … and that’s about it.
Recently, the Christmas story has felt different for me: I have learned that, perhaps, the shepherds play a bigger part than I once thought.
What I have always heard and have been told is that the shepherds were the first to hear about the birth of Jesus because they were the lowly, forgotten members of society. Shepherds were often overlooked, although their job was very important. The angels came to the shepherds to demonstrate that Jesus came for the lowly, the meek, and the humble.
I am sure that this is all very true, as it is true that Jesus came to the lowly, the meek, and the humble. I cannot question why God chose to send his cohort of angels to the group of shepherds; we have no real way of knowing. However, in the context of who Jesus is and what he came to do, I find something about the shepherds being the first to hear of Jesus’ birth very interesting…
The primary use of sheep in those days was for sacrifices. They were sometimes used for food and their wool was utilized as well, but for the Jewish people, sheep were important in their sacrifices to atone for their sins.
The shepherds in the fields had the important job of making sure that these precious lambs did not wander off or get hurt. These lambs were important because many of them would be used as sacrifices for God’s people. The shepherds in the field that night of Jesus’ birth were, essentially, keeping watch of a flock of future sacrifices. That was their job, and it was important.
So why did the angels appear to them first? Could it be, I wonder, because the angels were bringing the good news of the last sacrifice?
On that night, the Lamb of God was born.
“Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Jesus, that sweet baby in the manger, came so that not a single animal would have to be sacrificed to atone for the sins of God’s people. Jesus came so that His blood might be shed as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of men.
Those shepherds in the field spent their lives watching over these sheep that would be sacrificed for the sins of men. That night, as the great multitude of angels came streaming through the sky in glory singing praises of the Most High, they came with songs of deliverance.
soon you will no longer need to protect these lambs for sacrifices, for the
lamb of God has come to take away your sins.
Shepherds, your life is changing tonight, for the Last Sacrifice has come for you.
Shepherds, your duties will be relieved as will the weight of sin that you carry on your shoulders, for the Son of God has come to bear your sins, once and for all.
The Good Shepherd = The Lamb of God
I wonder if the shepherds understood what was happening? Did they recall in their hearts the words of the prophet Isaiah? Had these shepherds been waiting for their Messiah? When they heard the words of the angels, did a remembrance of prophecies rush to their minds?
That He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)?
That He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)?
That He would save them from their sins (Isaiah 53:5)?
Their response shows us that they did indeed understand.
They went to Bethlehem and met their Savior that night, in the cold gloom of a dark stable.
Before them laid the Lamb of God.
These shepherds, the ones who cared for and nurtured hundreds of future sacrifices, now beheld the last sacrifice that mankind would ever need. In front of their very eyes was the most perfect, spotless lamb that they would ever behold. Every “perfect” lamb they had ever tended to in their years of work paled in comparison to this One.
Overwhelmed with joy, they set out. Shepherds were the first missionaries of the good news that the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, had come.
The shepherds could have been the first to hear for a multitude of reasons … we may never truly know why. But the fact that the angels brought the good news of the Lamb of God to a field of sheep has spoken volumes to me this Christmas season.
Did they truly understand how life-changing this night was?
I believe they did.
I hope that we, who have God’s Word, would truly understand how life-changing the birth of Christ is. Let it not be washed over in the Christmas season by other traditions and festivities, but let it produce in our hearts the same kind of response that the shepherds had.
They told everyone.
They praised and glorified God
the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins,