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The Truth About Shepherds

Most of us have a positive view of shepherds. King David, Israel’s greatest king, was a shepherd when he was a boy. And he wrote Psalm 23, “the Shepherd Psalm,” which compares God to a shepherd: “The Lord is my Shepherd . . .” Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).

So it seems fitting that the angel of the Lord brought the good news of Christ’s birth to shepherds first.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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 cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2:8-12, ESV

But in the first century world, shepherds were not held in high regard. Religious people despised shepherds. Because of the demands of caring for their flocks, shepherds were not able to keep all the rules of the ceremonial law. They were considered unclean.

To the Jews shepherds were so shiftless and unreliable that they were not allowed to give testimony in court. One Bible scholar said shepherds had the unfortunate habit of confusing “thine” with “mine” as they moved across the country. They had a reputation for being light-fingered and deceitful.

And it was to these people that the angel of the Lord appeared, and “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” For more than 500 years the nation of Israel had been without any visible sign of God’s presence, but now He chose to reveal His glory and His good news to shepherds in a field.

Favoring the shepherds with this announcement was not a sign of their worthiness or spiritual attainment. It was instead a sign of Christ’s choice to come for broken people of all kinds. Jesus came for demoniacs and prostitutes and world-weary tax collectors. He came as a Friend of sinners. Jesus came to announce good news to people just like you and me. Not to fill our stockings with fluff but to change our hearts from stone to flesh.

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