I was privileged to teach adult Sunday school at Eastside Presbyterian Church on Sunday, December 15, 2019. If you would like to read my notes from this Christmas series, “Shepherds Have Heard on High!” please read on. . . .
“Shepherds Have Heard on High!”
By Bob Stouffer
Adult Sunday School
Eastside Presbyterian Church
Sunday, December 15, 2019
Sunday school will not meet for the next two Sundays — December 22 and December 29.
On January 5th, we will begin a new adult Sunday school study — Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need, by David Platt, the author of Radical.
Each week will feature a short video by David Platt and study questions in response to that material. [We played the trailer of this video series.]
INTRODUCTION TO TODAY’S LESSON
But, today, we again consider the Christmas narrative.
On December 1st and December 8th, Jeremy presented the narrative from the perspectives of Mary and Joseph.
Today, we consider another unique set of characters from the Christmas narrative —
In what esteem were shepherds considered in Jesus’ time?
Unclean, ignorant, inarticulate, POOR
What do shepherds herd?
Sheep, of course!
What do you know about the intelligence of sheep?
Dumb, dumb, dumb! Hold that thought!
Have you ever heard of the severe discipline imposed by shepherds on extremely disobedient sheep?
Shepherds broke a leg of the sheep, carried that sheep everywhere until the leg was healed, and by then the sheep had become dependent upon the shepherd, following him everywhere.
In spite of the low reputation of shepherds and sheep, shepherds did have an important responsibility near Jerusalem.
They herded the sheep which would be used as sacrifices for sin. Hold that thought.
(the Christmas narrative involving shepherds)
Would someone please read Luke 2:8-20.
In my Bible, this section is entitled. . .
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 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. 10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[a]
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
[a] Luke 2:14 Some manuscripts peace, good will among men
Why in the world would God make lowly shepherds such prominent participants in the Christmas story?
Jesus came TO ALL, including the poor, disenfranchised, unclean. It makes perfect sense that God would direct angels to announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds. Christ was born UNTO THEM!
Jesus came to ALL. ALL — not just shepherds — we are ALL poor in spirit” due to sin.
Jesus was rich in heaven, but, for their sake, He became poor, so that, by His poverty, they might become rich. [Russ Ramsey]
How would you react to angels visiting you and making this pronouncement?
Same fear, confusion, bewilderment, disorientation
I might have thought I was delusional!
What would you have been thinking and feeling, if you had approached the manger in that stable?
Fear, humility, awe, joy
One devotional author calls shepherds “the first evangelists.” How so?
They went out from the stable to share the testimonies of their experience. And their genuine worship must have impacted others around them.
The Scriptures are replete with shepherding metaphors.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want (Psalm 23).
Jesus said, “I am the Great Shepherd.”
Why or how is Jesus “the Great Shepherd”?
He never leaves nor forsakes us. His Spirit indwells us. He leads us when we are willing to follow. We know His “voice.”
In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, he leaves the 99 to go after the ONE lost sheep!
How is the physical breaking and chastening of the actual sheep a good metaphor for us as sheep and Jesus as The Great Shepherd?
We must depend upon Him, His strength, His Power — following His will!
As His sheep, how should we respond to the Great Shepherd?
Obediently following where He leads us, no matter how mysterious
CONCLUSION — THE GOSPEL
Jesus is the Great Shepherd. AMAZINGLY, also, John the Baptist declared Jesus to be “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
God’s original Creation was perfect —>
Adam and Eve committed Original Sin —>
The sin problem demanded thousands of animal, grain, and oil sacrifices —>
The ultimate sacrifice became JESUS born as a baby —>
JESUS, living a sinless life —>
JESUS, suffering the wrath of God and separation from God on the cross —>
JESUS, dying a substitutionary death for you and me —>
JESUS, CONQUERING DEATH, so we might know everlasting life WITH HIM!!!
JESUS, the sacrificial lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
The Great Shepherd who will one day lead us to still waters!
Rhetorical question: How will you — like the shepherds — approach and walk away from “his manger” during your Christmas celebration this year?
Andrew Peterson sings a song featuring shepherds in a 2019 Christmas collection. (3:08)
“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”
But, to close, let’s sing two other familiar Christmas songs featuring shepherds.
Before we do, let’s “meditate” on the words of these familiar songs.
A week ago, my boss confessed his inconsistency in meditating on biblical truth.
Meditation can take a bad rap.
Believe it or not, my home state, Iowa, is a center for Transcendental Meditation (Maharishi International University).
Some think meditation is mystical. Yes, meditation can become too mystically centered on meditation itself, rather than God, but meditation is a good practice when focused on God and His truth.
Before singing each of these songs, let’s not take these familiar phrases for granted. Let’s be silent and meditate on the impactful phrases of “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
In “Angels We Have Heard on High,” what phrases stand out for you?
[Take quick responses.]
Let’s sing “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Let’s meditate on key phrases from “Joy to the World!”
What phrases stand out for you in “Joy to the World!”
[Take quick responses.]
Let’s sing “Joy to the World!”
“Please grant me the grace, fairest Lord Jesus, that someday. I might experience a spilling of heaven’s glory on the fields over which I watch. Grant me an echo of some angelic song amid the monotones of my day-to-day work. And grant me a heart to behold heavenly things in the humblest of places. . . .” [Ken Gire]