3. Christmas According to Luke
Luke 2: 8 - 20
2 weeks ago we heard from Matthew and learned that at its heart Christmas is a call to conversion and commitment as Jesus still turns to you and to me and says, “Follow me!” The Gospel of Mark reminded us that even if we’ve failed or folded, the coming of Christ means we can have a fresh start.
Luke’s approach is a bit different. He’s a reputable historian who did some deep research, conducting intensive interviews to put his narrative together. He interviewed eyewitnesses and pulled together other source material. As a physician, he was careful, thoughtful and persuasive. As a scientist, he was accustomed to handling data and details as he crafted it all together in a compelling narrative we know as the Gospel of Luke. By the way, if you have a sceptical and scientific mind with a logical bent, this book is for you.
In the opening verses of his gospel, he uses classical Greek to show that his research was deep and his interviews intensive. He is no doubt a man of culture and high education. Listen to v.1: “…to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us…” That’s a common phrase that was used when recounting history.
Check out v. 3, 4: “…to write to you an orderly account…that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” That helps us know that this is fact, not fable. What’s contained in this book is inspired and inerrant, it’s not legend but the actual life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke’s purpose was to present Jesus in all His fullness, focusing on verifiable facts so his readers could know that His account was absolutely accurate and remarkably reliable.
It’s important to know that the Bible is true but we also want to grow in our understanding of the Scriptures - the only way to do that is to read it every day.
Most of us are pretty comfortable with the Christmas story. Some have sentimentalized it so much that they skim along on a superficial level, counting down the remaining shopping days, stressing about all the things to do, while neglecting the Nativity.
Let’s lock into Luke so we can hear the message from the manger. In his first chapter, Luke introduces us to John the Baptist and we listen in as Gabriel comes to Mary and she responds in praise. In the beginning of chapter 2 he explains how Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem and then we read how God chose to send the birth announcement about His Son to some smelly shepherds in Luke 2: 8: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
Shepherds made up the lowest class of people, coming in just ahead of the lepers. I love that the Lord comes to the lowly, to the most undeserving, to the neglected and marginalized in order to show His power. The Shepherds - help us see that God has a message for sinners just like us.
As we briefly look at 3 responses the shepherds had, we’ll see some lessons that we can apply to our own lives.
1. They were Awed by the Message.
v. 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.”
God’s Shekinah glory lights up the sky and they shake in their sandals. The phrase “stood before” can refer to a sudden assault. Maybe the shepherds were terrified because they didn’t know if this was an angel of judgment or not. Maybe their sins were catching up with them and they were about to be vaporised.
To be “sore afraid” or “greatly afraid” literally means, “to fear with great fear.” Whenever we come face-to-face with God’s holiness, how can we not but fall apart because of our sinfulness? Peter had this response in Luke 5: 8 when he said to Jesus: “Get away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”
I wonder, when’s the last time you and I were in awe? Do you marvel at the Messiah?
2. They Accepted the Message.
v. 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.’” “Christianity’s first call is not ‘Behave!’ but Behold!’”
The angel tells them to chill out because he is bringing good news of “great joy.” The Greek word here is “mega” which means exceedingly, large, loud and mighty. It’s a superlative of greatest degree. Words on a Christmas card - “May your steps jingle with delight and anticipation this time of year!”
And this message “will be to all people.” That’s why we get to know our neighbours and seek ways to share Christ at work and why we reach out to people living on the dumps. This is why we support missionaries positioned strategically around the world.
v. 11 contains the heart of the birth announcement: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” Notice the 3 words used to describe this baby born in Bethlehem:
Saviour. He came to save us from our sins. The name Jesus means the one who saves.
Christ. This means “The anointed one” or “Messiah” in Hebrew.
Lord. This is the Hebrew word Adonai and refers to “Master or Owner.” It speaks of His total possession and my absolute submission.
They’re given an indication of what to look for in v. 12: “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And then suddenly a whole regiment of rejoicing warrior angels fills the sky, praising God in a thunderous voice and saying in v. 14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” The angels were giving glory to God because the message of the manger is that peace and goodwill are now available through Jesus.
Have you accepted the message and allowed the Word of God to work in you? God’s good news is a gift that must be received if you want it to be activated in your life.
3. They Acted on the Message.
v. 15: “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” When they heard the angels on high they were ready to high tail it to Bethlehem.
They Went and Saw.
We see in v.16 that they moved quickly to the manger: “And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” The idea behind “haste” is “come on, hurry up, let’s go!” This is pretty amazing because shepherds normally did nothing quickly. They could have doubted or delayed but instead they decided to act and they departed for Bethlehem.
They Left and Shared.
It’s striking that they don’t pull up a bale of straw and make themselves comfortable. Instead of gathering a group to study the message they headed out to share the message from the manger. And the story they shared had nothing to do with seeing the amazing angels or Mary’s magnificence. They came to see Him and now they head out to herald the good news about Him. v. 17: “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” The phrase, “they made widely known” means to “make known in such a way that people can understand.” We’re here today because they couldn’t keep quiet!
In what area is God calling you to some action? Some of you need to come and see and others of you need to leave and share. The shepherds were changed forever by what they saw and you can be as well if you follow their example:
Be awed by God’s message to you
Accept the message of good news
Act on the message and then share it with others
Christmas is real history but His story must become your story. Luke loved to spell out that Jesus came to save sinners as he quoted Him saying in Luke 19: 10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
“Salvation is not a reward for the righteous, but a gift for the guilty.”Check out Luke 2: 11 again: “Today [that means in the present time] in the town of David [the promised place] a Savior [one who forgives sins] has been born to you; [personal] He is Christ [the long-awaited Anointed One] the Lord [your Master and Leader].
“If Jesus were born one thousand times in Bethlehem and not in me, then I would still be lost.”It’s time today to make sure that Jesus is born in you.
Be in awe. Accept the message from the manger. And then act on the message.
Luke wrote a sequel to his account about Jesus and it’s also included in your Bible. It’s called the Book of Acts. It continues the story of Jesus at work in the world. As you leave today, go with these words from Acts 1:8 as your marching orders, looking for opportunities to speak about the message from the manger: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”