Heroes Of Christmas—The Shepherds


There are a number of heroes involved in the first Christmas, but the shepherds happen to be my favorite. Of course they get a lot of press, but surprisingly, I don’t think most of it is for the right reason.

What seems to be the going point of emphasis regarding the shepherds is how low on the social totem pole they were. Some scholars claim that they were even outcasts, that they were thought to be lazy and untrustworthy.

Not everyone agrees. Several scholars point out that Abraham was a shepherd, Moses was a shepherd, David was a shepherd. A quick glance at Scripture, and it’s clear that all of Israel was tied to shepherding at one time. When Judah, who God named Israel, went to Egypt with his family because of the severe famine, they took with them all their flocks. Pharaoh asked that they care for his animals too since they were shepherds by trade.

It seems highly unlikely that the attitude toward shepherds would have shifted so drastically so that they were now despised. For one thing, God Himself identified with shepherds when David wrote in the Psalms, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Isaiah 40 also portrays God as a shepherd:

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (v. 11)

Jews in the first century would have known these and other passages of Scripture that portray God as a shepherd. The information identifying shepherds as despicable comes from sources that were written later or belonged to a different culture, making them at least questionable.

At any rate, one thing is sure. The Bible does not say the shepherds were despised. One scholar concluded that shepherds were not well respected because often children were given the job to care for the sheep. In other words, it was unskilled work that even a child could do.

Perhaps that was the attitude of the day.

The other going belief about shepherds is that they were poor. I don’t know if they would have been poorer than fishermen, however. Especially near Jerusalem with the priests and Levites buying and selling in the temple. Were shepherds in a kind of black market racket for illegal sheep? Maybe. Maybe not.

All that’s speculation. The Bible doesn’t say any of that.

What it does say makes these particular shepherds real heroes of the faith, I think.

Luke 2 records the angel’s announcement to this group who were staying out in the fields at night to do their job. We can see a level of responsibility and commitment there, and sacrifice too.

As Jesus later said, a good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep.

But those particular shepherds had something else going for them. They had faith.

The angel told them that Messiah was born and gave them the sign: a baby, wrapped in clothes, lying in a manger.

The shepherds’ response? They didn’t stand around debating what the angel meant by “manger” or “wrapped,” or “Savior,” or “born.” They didn’t wonder what they were supposed to do about this announcement or if the Messiah had really come. Instead they simply said, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem, then, and see this thing that has happened.” Yeah, that has happened. They made that declaration before they went, before they found the baby, before they saw with their own eyes that what the angel had said, was true.

In other words, they believed the announcement.

In reality, faith is nothing more than believing a particular source. In this case, the shepherds believed what the angel said. Before they had seen the sign. They didn’t go to Bethlehem to see IF it was true. They went to Bethlehem BECAUSE it was true.

Another thing that makes them heroes in my eyes is that when they found Mary and Joseph and the baby as He lay in the manger, they immediately started telling everyone what the angel had said about the Child.

Maybe they also told everyone about the glory of the Lord that shone around them. Maybe they also mentioned the multitude of the heavenly host that praised God in their presence. Those would be awesome events, worthy of stories that you tell your grandchildren. But Scripture doesn’t tell us they bragged about seeing angels and surviving, or about being singled out for such a special visitation.

No. What they wanted everyone to know about was not what had happened to them, but what they had been told about this Child. Their focus was on Jesus, not on themselves.

Great men, those shepherds. Real heroes of Christmas.

Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 5:49 pm  Comments Off on Heroes Of Christmas—The Shepherds  
Tags: ,