The Compelling Testimony of the Shepherds

Posted by on Dec 24, 2013 in Devotional

Marcus-J.-Serven-252x183“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger’.”  Luke 2:10-12 (ESV)

What are we to think of the shepherds who heard the startling words of the angel on that cold night near Bethlehem? If they had no prior expectation of a coming Messiah, then it seems odd that they would have responded in the way they did—with an immediate visit to Bethlehem, with an energetic report of all the angel had told them, and with exuberant praise for all that they had heard and seen. John Calvin makes the case that they did have a Messianic expectation. He writes,

A further detail is added to show that the angel was not promising something new. His message is, “Christ the Lord is born in the city of David.” If the shepherds had never before heard of the Redeemer, all this would have seemed very strange, and the news of the Savior’s birth too terse and obscure. But because from childhood they had heard that God would restore his people and that a promised Savior would come, the angel declares him to be Christ the Lord. His meaning is clear. Kings were anointed at God’s command to show that they were chosen by him and held office in his name; their task was to gather the people together, to be their sovereign leader and the visible bond uniting them. It is true that they were anointed under the Law, and that this was only a symbol and shadow. Moreover anointing was never something conferred on all the people. With Christ we see something very different. These is no question here of a visible and material anointing with oil: here is the Holy Spirit at work. The Lord Jesus received in full the Spirit’s gifts. To what end? Not for his own use, but so that they might be showered upon us. We are to share in them, each according to the grace we derive from our great Savior. He enriched us all, therefore, with the good things he has been pleased to impart. In that capacity and for that reason he bears the name “Christ.” That also is why we are called Christians: we share in the spiritual anointing conferred on the one who is our Head. (John Calvin, Songs of the Nativity: Sermon on Luke 2:9-14; trans. by Robert White; Banner of Truth, 145)

Calvin explains the logical reason as to why the shepherds responded the way they did. The simple truth is that they had been taught that a Messiah would come (see Genesis 3:15; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalm 2:1-12; Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7; and Isaiah 53:1-12). The Messiah would give purpose and meaning to their lives and provide a means for them to be rightly-related to God. These men were not disappointed—for the little baby who they viewed in the manger that night in Bethlehem proved to be “Christ the Lord.” Let us all give praise to God—just like the shepherds—for the birth of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ!

—Pastor Marcus J. Serven