Sermon Series: Taking the Training Wheels off of our faith
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The first verse in our text opens by informing us that, “There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby.” The writer of the text points out that these shepherds were doing what shepherds do, keeping watch over their flocks by night. As I read this I wondered out loud if it is possible to want more out of life if you have never been exposed to any thing more than what you are doing or have seen? It would appear that these shepherds did not necessarily aspire or have any great ambition to be or do anything else and were probably quite content being night watchmen over sheep. One of the by-products of travel is revelation. They say, “Your world is as far as your eyes can see.” So, if we want to go farther then perhaps we need to see more. Traveling opens us up to information that we previously did not possess it opens our mind and eyes to see other places and possibilities. Since the shepherds were operating under the principle that they were shepherds it is not conceivable that they would have considered being something else or doing anything else unless it was revealed to them that something else existed for them.
The Bible says that, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them.” In the next scene the shepherds receive an angelic visitation. The angel proceeds to reveal the purpose for his visit. He points out that, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” “This will be a sign to you…you will find a baby,” and “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God.” From these verses it seems that the purpose of the angelic visitation was four-fold:
a) To inform the shepherds that God has something in-store for all people – before we can pursue more or something else it needs to be revealed to us
b) To make the shepherds aware that their salvation had come – one of the pitfalls that often thwarts our best efforts is timing, we can accomplish anything when the time is right
c) To tell them what signs to look for – even though timing is critical, doubts will still exist and so we also need to see that things are lining up and are as they should be so that our doubts can be overcome
d) To inspire them to investigate and see if God’s word was true – as we pursue the things that God reveals to us and we see those things becoming a reality it should motivate us to go further in our pursuit of the fulfillment of God’s word
While there is no indication that these shepherds were men of faith, it is clear that a broader application of the angelic visitation in this passage is that faith and life go together. In order for us to grow and develop our faith in God and God’s word we have to live life. In each of the birth narratives in Luke’s gospel, Zechariah, Mary, and now the shepherds, angelic visitations were the chosen method God used to inform them that He was changing their destination and laying out the course God wanted them to pursue. It helps when God reveals the destination and lays out the pathway, because all we have to do is follow God’s word. Whatever changes God proposes are designed to help us maximize our living. God challenges us to believe that God’s pathway will lead us to better than what we have now.
After the angel and the company of heaven left the shepherds they decided to accept God’s challenge. “The shepherds said to one another, let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing…which the Lord has told us about.” My grandmother used to say, “You never give up sure for unsure.” In most cases we need to be prompted or strongly convinced that the proposed change is in our best interest. It is interesting that prior to the angel and the company of heaven’s departure they engaged in praise and worship. Worship that includes praise is inspiring. It was after worship that the shepherds were inspired to go and follow God’s word. Inspiring worship is the fuel that fills and motivates us with a desire to go and find out. Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” It is always easier to follow God’s word when we are motivated or filled with the joy of the Lord. Remember, the shepherd’s initial reaction was fear, but after worship they found the strength to overcome their fears. Behind fear is concern of the unknown. We wonder how things are going to work out and what is going to happen, or how will others see and perceive us. The truth is that all of these things are beyond the scope of our control and if we allow them to exist they will be stumbling blocks in our pursuit of progress. However, the shepherds help us to see that when we embrace the reality that God takes great joy in pointing us in the direction we should go it helps us to overcome our fear of the unknown.
In the final scene of our text, the shepherds learned that pursuit of God’s path and/or purpose leads to new discoveries. The Bible says that did not just go, but they “Hurried off.”
As they followed God’s word they made some startling discoveries. What did they discover? They discovered:
1. The Savior and their salvation – They were introduced to someone who changed their person and the trajectory of their lives. These shepherds were never the same after meeting Jesus. After they had spent time in the presence of Jesus they found out that wherever they were and whatever they were going through would not last forever. They found out that Jesus is a liberator and possesses the power to set us free from whatever has us bound. The shepherds were bound by their mindset. They were bound by their job. They were bound by their location. They were bound by their ignorance. However, while they may not have believed going in, they certainly were changed when they came out. While they may have been bound going in, they emerged from their time with Jesus free men living in the gift of the salvation the savior had given them. Jesus helped them to see that there was more to life than chasing sheep all of their days. Jesus helped them to see that they could do something else, be something else and they could do it now.
2. A New Purpose and New Meaning to Life – Prior to embarking on this journey the shepherds led and were living a rather hum drum existence. They were essentially night watchmen whose lives had reached their ceiling. It is challenging to go farther than you believe you can go when you believe that you have gone as far as you can possibly go. When everything points to the fact that we have reached our ceiling then our ceiling needs to be raised. After the shepherds spent time with Jesus they discovered a new purpose and their lives gained new meaning. The Bible says, “They spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” They became the first evangelists. After spending time with Jesus, Jesus raised the ceiling for the shepherds. They thought they were only shepherds, but the word revealed to them that God had more for them and wanted them to become more than what they were. Whatever you and I think of our lives, God has more for us. However we feel about our lives, God has more. Wherever we are in life, God has more. More is on the other side of the ceiling. To get to the more God has for us, Jesus has to raise our ceiling and we have to be willing to follow God’s word to find it.
3. That God could use them to become people who make an impact – As they operated in their new calling and sense of purpose the Bible says, “All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” The shepherds found out that by following the word they could reach people they had never reached and touch people in a way they had never done before. For every problem that we face there is a solution in the word. For every question that we have there is an answer in the word. For every situation and every circumstance there is a response in the word. Instead of trying to tell people what we think, feel and believe, we just need to follow the word and the word will tell us what to say and how to say it.
4. They found fulfillment – There are many things in life that have the potential to make us happy, but there is nothing like the joy we can experience from the fulfillment of God’s word in our lives. God told them and then God showed them. It is in the telling that we become aware of what God has for us, and it is in the showing that we actually experience what God told us about. However, it is in our going after what God has told us about that we will realize God’s showing. If there is something else that God has for us and God has instructed us on how and where to find it, then unless we go after it we will never obtain it.
Faith is not static. Like all organisms faith needs to be fed, nurtured and nourished. Faith also needs to be challenged to help it grow and develop. Challenges often require that we go to places we have never been, take and assume roles we are not used to, and follow a path filled with unknowns. As far as the shepherds were concerned, they probably did not aspire to be anything more than what they were – shepherds. The problem with training wheels is that they limit where and how far we can actually go. The shepherds found out that when you take the training wheels off by following the word, the potential for where and how far we can go is limitless. If you and I want to go further then where we are lets do what the shepherds did, they followed the word.