The shepherds’ encounter with angels leads them to the Lord

The Living Word for the week leading up to Sunday, December 31: Part 3 of 5

Wednesday, December 27: Luke 2:15-21

Shepherds, following an encounter with angels, leave their sheep and head for Bethlehem where they find a stable with a newborn baby and tell everyone what it is they have been told

15  When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

  • There is a sense of “Come on!” urgency here which is difficult to translate.
  • The angels had communicated the message, but the shepherds correctly saw the Lord as the source of the revelation.
  • 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
  • The shepherds would have known where all the animal stables were, to check them until they found one with a newborn baby. Bethlehem was quite compact.

17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.

  • The shepherds told everyone “about the thing spoken” (or word – rhema) by the angel.

18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.

  • “All who heard it wondered”, NASB. A thread running through Luke’s gospel is wondering at the mysteries of what Jesus said and did. A faith built on fundamental certainties is healthy, but much cannot be simply understood but is revealed with faith playing a part – in Bible terms, a mystery.
  • “Mary… Thought about them often” – no mention of what Joseph thought, but Matthew tells Joseph’s side of the story. Luke is concerned to tell Mary’s story, most probably a story he had heard from Mary herself.

20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

  • One translation captures the moment with “full of praise for the news they had heard and the sight that had confirmed it.”
  • Glorifying and praising God is a theme of Luke’s gospel in particular.

It was just as the angel had told them.

21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

  • The name Jesus (Greek Iesous) is the equivalent of Yeshua or Yehoshua which means “Yahweh (or the Lord) saves”.


Why did the message of Christ’s birth first come to such unlikely people as shepherds, when there were others well versed in the Scriptures concerning the Messiah? And why was he born in the unlikely place of Bethlehem?

The two are connected. Christ’s birth in Bethlehem – also known by the old name of Ephrathah – was foretold by Micah, Micah 5:2-5. “One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” was to arise from “Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah”. It was where Ruth met Boaz, and the place where David was born and grew up. The prophecy seems clear enough to us; it does not, however, make mention of the Messiah specifically. Micah, like Amos, was from a Judean village and not of the perceived stature of one from a priestly family like Jeremiah or Ezekiel or familiar with the royal court like Isaiah. Bethlehem was in the hill country of Judea, 10 miles south from Jerusalem and a greater distance in terms of the culture gap between Jerusalem and a provincial, unsophisticated village.

The people of the time who were expecting a Messiah were, perhaps proudly, not looking outside Jerusalem. God does ‘unlikely’ things in unlikely places, with unlikely people, and His choices frequently challenge the choices of men, as in His unlikely choice of David, when He sent Samuel to Bethlehem hundreds of years beforehand, 1 Sam. 16:8-13.

Discussion starter

3. Why was the angel’s proclamation made to ordinary shepherds? (Think about how Jesus’ proclamations and teaching were received later by the more educated and supposedly knowledgeable groups.)

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