Shepherds were some of the most marginalized people group of Biblical times…they were relegated to an unimportant and distasteful position within Jewish society. But yet, God saw fit for them to be the first to hear about the birth of the Messiah. But why? We have only to search Old Testament Scriptures to see the clear correlation between the shepherds on that dark hillside and Jesus Christ. Probably one of the best known Psalms, the 23rd Psalm, starts out, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.” Isaiah 40:11 talks of Jesus like this, “He tends His flock like a Shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart…” And if we look in the New Testament, Jesus Himself says, “I am the good Shepherd.” (John 10:14) And elsewhere we find, in Hebrews 13:20 Jesus is called the Great Shepherd. This scruffy group of men might not have had much notoriety before men…but before God, He chose to honor them in the same way He honored His Son…the Shepherd of all mankind.
Jesus asked Martha a pointed question in John 11:25-26 after telling her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” To know Jesus and believe in Him go hand in hand in both theses Scriptures. To truly understand someone means spending time with them…getting to know them well and developing a deep personal relationship. Kinda like when you met your future spouse…you wanted to know everything about them! And after a while, your trust and assurance grew as you got to know that person better and better…finally resulting in committing and entrusting your life together as a married couple. The same goes for our relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to know Him before we can believe in Him. For our faith can only grow out of our understanding of Him.
This prophecy of the coming Messiah was quoted 700 years later by the Chief Priests and Scribes when King Herod asked where the Christ was to be born. In John 7: 25-44 we see Jesus at the Feast of the Tabernacles proclaiming that He was indeed the Messiah, only to see the skeptics quoting this Scripture again…but then mistakenly assuming He had been born in His home town of Galilee rather than Bethlehem. But God never makes mistakes…His timing is always perfect…His promises always fulfilled. This long-awaited Savior of the world had indeed been born in Bethlehem for us all.
Why did God choose to proclaim the coming Messiah to the shepherds? They were far from the politically elite…and at the other end of the spectrum from the powerful religious circle. So what did God see in that rag-tag group of blue-collar workers in that field outside of Bethlehem to warrant such a grand and glorious display to announce the coming of His Son? In a word, He saw us. He didn’t wish to address the political or religious bigwigs…He chose rather to tell the working class…people like you and me the good news of Jesus Christ. And this holds true today…the Lord Jesus Christ has come for you and me… common, ordinary people who need a Savior.
John the Baptist had been very plain to his followers that he was not the Messiah, but rather sent ahead to proclaim His coming. But his followers could only see Jesus as competition. As the Ministry of Jesus was just starting up…the Ministry of John the Baptist’s was winding down…and John was content with this, but not his followers. For jealousy had reared its ugly head as they watched their crowds dwindle, and the crowds around Jesus grow larger. I’ll be the first to admit there’s been times when I’ve seen the awesome move of God in a person and a twinge of jealousy will resonate deep inside. “Why can’t that be me, Lord?” I whine pathetically . John the Baptist knew the plan and purpose of his life so he didn’t have to view Jesus as a rival, but rather rejoiced with Him in God’s work being accomplished. The Lord’s work shouldn’t be a contest, where all of us are jockeying for attention and resentful when someone else is used by Him. Rather than being jealous, we should be rejoicing for each other.
Other followers had turned away, but the Twelve Disciples knew something they didn’t. They had the certainty and assurance only given to them by the Father above. And this faith that Jesus was truly the Messiah was evident in Peter’s response…”Who else can we follow, for only You have the Words of Life…only You are the long awaited Messiah.”
The Magi came seeking the Messiah, and bringing with them, gifts…but very special gifts. These gifts were expensive luxuries of the day…fit for royal presents. But beyond that, they were also very symbolic in their meanings. The burning of frankincense symbolized prayers rising to heaven like the fragrant smoke it gave off… the prayers of Jesus interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. The myrrh was used for burials and symbolized death…Jesus’s death on the Cross for us. Finally, the gold was given to symbolize His royal status…and also for the very practical reason – His parents would soon need finances as they escaped to Egypt to flee from King Herod.