Dear Radio Friends,
On this day our meditation from the Word of God is found in Luke 2:10, 11, these familiar words: “And the angel said unto them [that is, the shepherds], Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” It is my prayer that these good tidings of great joy may be something that is brought to you today in your souls. It is my prayer that after hearing this word of God, we might possess in our hearts the joy of the sovereign, gracious love of the holy God for unworthy sinners—for you.
There are times when a child of God confesses that his faith is something that he knows. But because of trial and struggle and, worse, complacency, his faith is not something that he experiences as a vibrant reality in his heart.
Then there is a key that the Holy Spirit must use to unlock our hard and indifferent hearts. That key is to show us our need, to show us that we are sinners—hell-deserving, awful sinners—saved by grace alone.
The message of the wonder of great joy is brought to shepherds, only to shepherds, only to those possessing the spiritual attitude (the lowly, humble, knowing their need) shepherds. Our minds can be stuffed with learning, our hands full of things, our hearts merry with entertainment and holiday cheer—but what will that profit us when we die? It is Jesus, both Savior and Lord, whom we must have today. Then we have great joy, abiding, lasting joy and a quietness and calm in our souls.
So, let us go to Bethlehem, to the fields and hills of Bethlehem, in the dark night in which Jesus was born, to hear, truly to hear, the message of great joy that came to shepherds.
You do not have an angel from the realms of glory to wing his flight to give you this message today. You have something much better. You have the Holy Scriptures. If you do not think that is better, that is, the Bible over heavenly angels, then you do not understand what the Bible is. It is the more sure word. It is the living word to which we do well to take heed in the darkness of this present world (II Pet. 1). It is the dynamo of the Holy Spirit to bring the good news of great joy into our hearts, to bring it to us personally, exactly where we are. Afraid? Guilty? Job lay-off? Burdened? Lonely? Possessing a secret you do not want anyone to know about? To you, a sinner, is brought the good news of great joy, of salvation by grace alone.
It had come to this. We were afraid of the Holy God. Our sin had thoroughly alienated us from God. An angel was then sent by God with the greatest news the world could ever hear or would ever hear. A virgin had just given birth on a barn floor to a son. And that son was mighty God in the human flesh. Angels are now sent to shepherds who are in the fields nearby. Shepherds are of the lowliest class. They are poor. They had a hard life. They were looked down upon, and they were avoided because of their smell. They lived with their sheep.
The message of the angel of the birth of Jesus Christ was sent not to King Herod, as he that night walked the marble floors of the palace, insane for power. It was not sent by God to Pharisees, sleeping soundly that night on a pillow of their own good works. It was not sent to the wealthy who were exhausted in their beds that night after pursuing the vanishing gold and silver of this world. But it was sent to shepherds. Shepherds who were young. The virgin Mary was young. She was a teenager. And so were the shepherds. They were older children—junior high children and up. We read in I Samuel 16:11, “Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep.” Shepherds were young, uneducated, inexperienced, not having gained the strength and experience of years. They were boys. They were poor.
Why does God send the message of the birth of Jesus to shepherds? The answer is: because, no matter who you are, your circumstances, job, education, experience—only when you are humbled before God and know your nothingness as a sinner can you embrace Jesus Christ and the marvel of His birth. Shepherds here are a picture of the remnant of God’s grace, those who, along with aged Simeon and Anna, Zachariah and Elisabeth, and Joseph, were looking for the Consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). This is very striking, very comforting. In the dark days when it appeared that hope in God was totally lost, there were not only aged saints, but there were also young boys who hung on the promise made long ago: Your God will come and He will save you. Behold the Lamb of God.
Suddenly, as the shepherds watched in the dark night, the glory of God shone all around them: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid” (v. 9). Note that it was not just the angel that came upon them but the glory of the Lord. Angels themselves are exceedingly glorious. They are always around the throne of God. They come from the presence of God. They reflect God’s glory and heavenly brilliance. And whenever an angel appears, this is what is felt. But in addition, there was a Shekinah, an aura of the glory of Jehovah. “My glory,” says God, “which I give to no other.” The glory that Jesus had with the Father—God’s glory, something of divine glory—came down that night upon those hills.
And the shepherds were sore afraid. No wonder. Afraid means phobia, sore afraid—mega phobia. They trembled. All of a sudden, in the dark night, the God who was always there revealed part (just a little part) of His light and brilliance. He sent an angel (just one of those created beings) as God’s worshiper. The son of the morning. The eyes of the shepherds popped out, and they shook in fear. But that fear was and is Adam’s fear. It is our fear. It is a sinner’s fear. It is the fear of the sinner before the holy God. It was the glory that exposed them. The light of the angel and the glory of God not only exposed the blades of grass on the hill, but it exposed also what was hidden within their hearts. “Adam, where art thou?” “I was afraid and I hid myself, for I am naked.” The light of God exposes us. It shines into the cracks and crevices. It exposes everything—the secrets within. You cannot cover them up.
The light around the shepherds brought to their sight what they wanted hidden, and it not only exposed but threatened them with destruction. For it is a holy light. And when it gets near to us it burns. The shepherds had great fear. What fear? The fear of the sinner before the holy God, when one is exposed for what he is, and threatened with what he deserves—God’s judgments.
There is good news of great joy brought to such sinners who are so shown their sin by the glory of God. The good news is: “Mary’s babe, Immanuel, is come.” To the shepherds was the message: “Fear not. You’re being exposed. You’re being destroyed in judgment. Don’t fear. Be strong, be not afraid.”
The purpose of the angel was not to frighten but to encourage. It was to announce and to interpret the marvel of marvels that had just taken place in Bethlehem—something that was promised for four thousand years—something that had never happened before and will never happen again. A virgin gave birth to a son. The Messiah had come. The One who will crush Satan and open the prison to those who are bound and give sight to the blind. Hear the good news! He who created all things and for whom they were created; He without whom nothing was made that ever was made; the eternal, glorious, mighty Son of God is now born in the flesh as a little babe. He is now bundled in torn strips of rags. He is laid in a feed-trough. The One who turned Egypt’s rivers to blood, the One who turned out the light in Egypt for three days, and sent the angel of death, and parted the Red Sea. The One who fed three-four-five million people for forty years with manna in the desert. The One who held the earth still for Joshua. The almighty God of God is now in our flesh.
A lowly babe in a manger. Why such poverty, you ask? Why the stench of a barn-floor? Why not a palace? Why not a soft-knit blanket? Why not a warm room with a cradle at least? Because God’s Son is come to save us. Because the shame of our sin and its awful judgment is come upon Him. He came to take it from us, who are His children. He became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God.
Do you understand this? This is the joy, this is the good news of grace, sovereign grace, particular grace, saving grace.
But there is more. “Fear not,” said the angel, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Fear not…but behold! Behold! I will give you a word, says the angel. Hear the word that I am about to speak to you: a Savior is born—God in the flesh.
The more we meditate on the doctrine of the incarnation (God born in flesh), the happier we become. Oh, bring your fear, your sorrow, your worry to this manger. Do you see Him there? See Him soon upon a cross. See Him risen. See Him ascended to the right hand of God. Who is He? He is the eternal Son of God, you say? Yes. But with us, and for us. He is God’s amazing grace. This is good news! He is the Savior which is Christ the Lord.
What kind of a Savior? Well, He’s not the kind of Savior who will make your wife, husband, brother, or newborn child come out of the grave today. Oh, He will one day. He will take them out of the grave to Himself, for He will save body and soul. But He is not one who will today take away all of these things. He will not take away recurrence of cancer. He will not today make you walk as once you walked as a young man or remember as once you did when you were in your prime. He will not lower your blood-pressure. He is not one who is going to take away all diseases and birth defects. He is not, necessarily, going to change the circumstances of your life. That Christmas joy, namely the joy that Jesus is come supposedly to free us from all the problems and troubles of this present time, is a joy that wakes up the next day and discovers, “I’m still the same. I’m still a lonely, selfish, hell-deserving sinner.” A policeman will tell you that this time of the year (Christmas) is the time that is worse for suicide, drinking, loneliness, depression. He will tell you that it is the worst time. For if you depend for your joy upon the externals, you will wake up tomorrow in despair.
Jesus is not that kind of a Savior. He does not do what alcohol does, or suicide, or money, or popularity, or clothes. Jesus is my Savior. He is my Lord. When I stand before the holy light of God and I am exposed and I see the destruction that I deserve, then I understand that Jesus came to take that all on Himself—the shame, the penalty, and the loss. He did not just bear a mask of human problems to make our life manageable on earth. But He bore my sin. And by bearing away my sin, He has borne me to the Lord.
That is the good news today. That is the mega-joy. What is joy? Joy is to know the sovereign love of a holy God. Do you have that joy today? What is your joy today? Will it stand and will it endure when God’s glory shines around you, when you close your eyes in death? Is this your joy in every sorrow, tear, and trial? Do you say, “I have no joy today. Life is bitter, and I’m angry with what has happened. I’m angry at others. I’ll never forget…and I’ll never forgive.” Do you know, personally, what it is to be exposed and naked before God? Do you know yourself as the sinner?
To you, to you who do not deserve it, to you who cannot save yourself, to you is born great joy—the joy of God’s saving, particular, and irresistible grace.
I have been sent by Jesus Christ to announce the glad tidings of great joy. As surely as the angels were sent to the shepherds, so surely does God send His word to His children—this message today, to all people—not just to Jews, not just to high and mighty, not just to certain classes or races or nations, but to all people, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. To you, personally, to you. The gospel always comes personally, by God’s grace, to each child of God, known of God from eternity, in whom the Holy Spirit brings a word of conviction. This word is now spoken: “Fear not. Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. Unto you is born this day a Savior.” The message comes not through an angel, but through the word of Christ preached to you: A Savior is born.
There are, then, only two things that you need to answer. Why? Why would God do this? Why would He give His Son for my shame? The answer is: because of sovereign, eternal, gracious love. Because He first loved us. Hear that message. The devil wants the circumstances of your life to be more important to you than this message. But the circumstances of your life are not more important than this message. This word is the only thing that matters today and every day and always. My Savior is born of God’s free grace and love. That is my joy.
And the second question is this: Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? The answer: Honor Him, serve Him, obey Him, love Him, thank Him, praise Him, rejoice before Him.
It is very striking that the shepherds did not need to ask, “What are we supposed to do?” They knew. “Let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.” And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told them. That is what your life must be all about.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word, so beautiful, so rich, so personal, and so satisfying. Bless us as we celebrate the birth, the wonder of Thy love, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. We pray in His precious name, Amen.