Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Why the Angels Appeared to the Shepherds

By Dennis Polock


When the angel appeared to the shepherds "keeping watch over their flocks by night," neither did the shepherds nor perhaps the angel himself ever guess that this scene would be an iconic event that would be told and dramatized millions of times and would be forever associated with the birth of our Lord Jesus. We could never imagine a dramatization of that first Christmas without an angelic visitation to these anonymous shepherds out in the fields minding their own business. 


No manger scene would be complete without several representations of these shepherds. Wise men, we can take or leave, but it is compulsory that every manger scene, whether the cheap kind you can find in the discount stores for $9.99 or the high-end set which runs over $200, must have its shepherds.


The question we'll consider in this little study is "Why?" Why did God find it necessary to send His divine emissaries to these common shepherds and tell them of the birth of His Son? The deed was done; Jesus had been born. The shepherds could neither add to the fact nor take away from it. These men were not famous theology professors who could immediately begin to teach the masses the importance of this amazing event we call the incarnation. Had the angels never appeared to the Shepherds it would seem to most of us that the birth, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus would have gone right along as planned, shepherds or no shepherds. Again, why the shepherds?


Announcing a "Big Thing"


I asked my wife, Benedicta, about this the other day and she answered thus: "I think when God has a big thing going, He likes to announce it." That was a good response. With the entrance of the Son of God into the world, God truly had a big thing going, and He was determined to announce this "big thing" through multiple means and through multiple sources. There is a scripture that says, "By the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established." God never says a thing one time. Knowing how dull we are and how often we need to hear His news, He repeats Himself – He establishes His plans through many different witnesses.


Mary had heard from the angel Gabriel before Jesus was conceived. And then, shortly after that, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who called her "the mother of my Lord." Joseph had heard from an angel in a dream, who told him that the baby inside of Mary was "of the Holy Spirit." Now, immediately after the birth of Jesus, God was at it again, testifying to shepherds through His angels that His Son had arrived. After hundreds of years of prophetic silence, where God seemed to be saying almost nothing, He was now speaking powerfully that the time had come. His Son had arrived, on schedule, just as He had promised through His servants, the prophets.


You can imagine the scene when the shepherds arrived at the place of Jesus' birth. They would surely have told the couple, "You'll never guess what we just saw and heard," and then went on to describe exactly what the angel had told them. Mary may have told them about her angelic visitation, and Joseph might have shared his dream. Birth mama, adopting daddy, and the nearby shepherds had something in common, the King of the universe, the Creator of heaven and earth, had spoken to them about this little baby lying there in the feeding trough. This was no ordinary baby; this was the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God. This was "good tidings of great joy to all people."


Announcing Jesus for All


But this announcement was for more than Mary, Joseph, and a few shepherds. In the providence of God two of Jesus' disciples, Luke and Matthew wrote these events down in biographical accounts of Jesus, which have been copied and recopied for centuries and millennia, and we know these events today, word for word. God was eager for everyone to hear about the entrance of His Son into the world. Those angels weren't just talking to shepherds – through the gospels, they were telling the whole world "There is born to you… in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."


Do you remember what God spoke to Peter, James, and John, when they were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration: "This is My beloved Son – hear Him!" This is what is happening through the angelic visitations. God is speaking to the whole world: "This is My beloved Son – hear Him." He is saying it to Europe and Africa and Asia, South America, and everywhere else men and women live on this planet: "This is My Son. Hear Him, believe in Him, trust in Him, follow Him, serve Him." This is at the heart of the Biblical revelation, and this is what is going on in the various ways and means God confirmed that this little baby was God's gift to all the world. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16).


God is not done yet. Eight days after Jesus is born, the couple takes Him to the temple to be circumcised, and they run into an old man named Simeon. The elderly man wanted to hold the baby, and taking him up in his arms, he prayed:


Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,

According to Your word; 

For my eyes have seen Your salvation 

Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 

A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,

And the glory of Your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)


God is still speaking. Mary is hearing this; Joseph is hearing this, and we are reading about it. Simeon may have only had an audience of two as he spoke those words, but in the 2,000 years since then, millions of men and women have read his witness, or to be more precise, God's witness of His Son through him.


God Wants Us to "Get It"


So, after hundreds of years of relative silence, why is God speaking so frequently and unmistakably about this little baby? The answer is found in a single word, and that word is love. God loves people and the Bible assures us that He is not willing that anyone should perish. He wants people to live forever with Him, and the Scriptures assure us that the only way this can happen is when we put our faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. 


He wants us to "get it." Your eternal life depends on whether you get this one thing or not. It doesn't depend on whether you've been to college; it doesn't depend on whether you have an impressive career or worked at a lowly job all your life. Whether you live forever in a place called heaven will depend on whether you get it – do you get who this little Jewish baby is, who grew up to become a man who "went around doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil," and who died on the cross for the sins of the world, and who rose from the dead the third day?  


When Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am," Peter responded that He was the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the living God. Jesus told him, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven…" (Matthew 16:17). And this is what the Father is doing in these various early witnesses of Jesus. He is revealing His Son to all who will listen and heed. As He said at the Mount of Transfiguration, He is saying through angels and prophets and the Scriptures to us today: "This is My beloved Son – hear Him," receive Him, follow Him, believe in Him, devote yourself entirely to Him. And if you do, God says, "You will live forever." Jesus declared: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…" (John 6:51).




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