December 20, 2015
We’ve been looking at Christmas story passages in which angels say FEAR NOT. Two weeks ago, the angel, Gabriel appeared to Mary. Last week, an angel appeared to Joseph. And this week, we’re going to look at the angel appearing to shepherds.
The fear I want to talk about today is a fear many people have, Where do I stand with God? In other words – Am I good enough? There are times we wonder . . . where we stand with God!
I believe many people grew up thinking they weren’t good enough for God. When you don’t know if you’re good enough, and you think you’re supposed to be good enough, that can be very scary. You know there’s no way you could ever measure up to God’s standards.
And think about this – – – Parents taught this little prayer ~ “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Then comes the freaky part . . . “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Then the parents say, “Good night, little Johnny. Sweet dreams. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.” And why do we remind them about bedbugs? So we leave our kids with thoughts about death and bedbugs!
I wonder if it freaks them out? They’re minds are so active and they think about things we never consider. And I wonder if they ever think . . . “God, if I die — wait! I don’t want to die! Why would I die! And if I do, I want to go to heaven — not that other place I can’t say out loud, you know – h-e- double hockey sticks.” Because the image of a child dying doesn’t compute.
So, with that in mind – – – let’s look in Luke 2:8-11 ~
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.
Verse 10 is our key verse . . .the angel said I bring you good news of great joy . . . So, what’s the good news and why do we need a Savior?
First off, it’s interesting who the angel appeared to, because remember the angel didn’t appear to the wise men, that was just a star for them to follow.
Also know – – in that time, when a child was born, if the family had the financial means, they hired a herald. The herald would announce the birth of their child.
Well, that’s what God does. God sent an angel to announce the Good News. But what’s really interesting is who God sends the angel to.
Think about it. If the Son of God is being born on earth, who do you think God would choose to announce that to? I’d think God would go to royalty – “Let’s announce it to the kings. Or, at the very least, let’s go to the religious leaders, to the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees.”
But instead, God sends the angel to some shepherds. And you may think, Well, of course, because my nativity scene has shepherds!
But you need to understand shepherds were one of the most disrespected groups of people. The job of a shepherd was so low that a father, if he had to have it in the family, would give it to the youngest son. And it was more often reserved for slaves, because shepherds were uneducated.
According to the religious system, shepherds were rejected. Shepherds weren’t good enough for God, because they couldn’t be made right with God. Shepherds couldn’t live up to the religious rules of the day. And they lived in fear of where they stood with God. They felt distant from God.
They felt distant because they felt unworthy. Many of us would feel this way . . . if you were told and taught and everyone else knew — “You’re not good for God.”
They were nomads, wanderers. Their job took them on the road, like a trucker might go on the road for 10 days before coming home. But a shepherd might be on the road for weeks or months. Because of that, they couldn’t come back to the Temple, and since they couldn’t perform the religious duties, they were declared ceremonially unclean.
And they hung out with sheep — and sheep smell. And . . . shepherds smelled. And in those days there weren’t truck stops to take a shower and get cleaned up.
They were physically dirty, but even worse – religious people considered them spiritually dirty. They weren’t to be touched, because if you touched a shepherd, who was ceremonially unclean, then you would be spiritually unclean. And so, you can only imagine how unworthy they felt.
And the reality is, that’s the way many of us can be. We come into church and put on the happy church face, but we know the bad things we’ve done. And we think, Man, if I know what I’ve done wrong – and I know the good things I should do, but don’t do, and I know the bad things I shouldn’t do, but I do. How could God love someone who’s done what I’ve done? And if anyone else knew this, they would stay away from me!
And then, you look around at everybody else – and they look so Christmassy and holy and righteous. And you feel so unworthy.
And it’s amazing, when we compare ourselves to others, how inadequate we can feel. You go to your friend’s home, and the house is perfect, smells like fresh baked cookies, the floor is spotless, toys aren’t all over the floor, and the kids’ hair is brushed. You walk into your house, it smells like last nights burnt dinner. You don’t even know what kind of floors you have because you can’t see them; and you can’t find the hair brush. You begin to feel worthless and inadequate.
You pick the example and it works! Don’t compare yourself to anyone, because you really don’t know what’s going on inside of them.
Now the shepherds felt inadequate. A major religious law was to keep the Sabbath. You had to take a day of total rest – and do no work! But the shepherds couldn’t do that, because 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the sheep needed protection and care. So, physically and spiritually — they couldn’t do everything they were supposed to do. They were religious failures.
Sometimes we’re like that. We look around at other people, and believe — They seem so close to God. They’ve got a Bible verse for everything, and they’re quoting books of the Bible you didn’t know were books of the Bible. And their prayers are powerful. And they have great testimonies. And you’re thinking, The last time I prayed, it was – “God, help me to not kill this person because they took my parking space.” I’m so unspiritual!
The shepherds felt unworthy and inadequate. And they also felt unloved.
Shepherds weren’t trusted. People stayed away from them. They were so distrusted that a shepherd wasn’t allowed to give a testimony in a court case, because no one trusted them. They wanted to get married, but no father wanted to bless their daughter to marry a shepherd, because they were low, filthy, and uneducated. They felt incredibly unloved.
And the reality is — there are so many people who feel the same way. You wonder why did my mom or dad leave us? Why couldn’t I be loved? Why was my parents love conditional? Why did my spouse leave me? Was I that bad a person? What did I do to my kids that they won’t talk to me? Why don’t I have friends who care? What’s wrong with me?
Then we turn to God and wonder where God is in the midst of our lives.
Some of you, you may look in a mirror, and you don’t like the person looking back at you. You don’t love yourself — — I can’t believe that’s who I am! And you think, If they don’t love me, and I don’t love me, how could God love me? And there’s a huge, huge difference between perception, and reality!
Perception is looking around this church and thinking — Well, he’s got it together, and she’s got it together, and he’s more successful than I am, and they look like they’ve got a good family. And ME – I’m so messed up. If they knew the way I was . . . they would stay away from me, too. But you have no idea the pain of the people sitting right around you.
There are people all around us who are feeling inadequate. People struggling in all aspects of life . . . being a parent, being a spouse, being a child, being in the workforce, being a student, financial struggles, family issues, self esteem issues and that list goes on.
The bottom line is, religion didn’t work for the shepherds. It made them feel even more distant from God. Religion did not work for the shepherds, and religion doesn’t work for us.
You may say, “Wait! Hold on! I thought you were a pastor! What are you saying?” That’s exactly what I’m saying. You see — — God did not send Jesus to bring religion in the world, but He came to set us free from religion, and to give us something better.
The problem with religion is that religion reduces Christianity to rules – dos and don’ts. If I do the right thing, I feel better about myself. If I don’t do the wrong thing, I feel better about myself. I must be a good person, because I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and I don’t run with girls who do. So, I must be okay. And if I follow the rules, then I can look down on you because I’m holier, I’m more religious — — because I obey more rules than you.
And Jesus looked at that kind of behavior and said, “It makes Me want to puke!” He said to the Pharisees, “You’re so focused on the outside, and the outside is nice and clean, but woe! The inside – – where it matters – is filthy!” He said, “You missed the entire point.”
You see, religion didn’t work for the shepherds, and it doesn’t work for us, because Christianity was never meant to be a religion, it was meant to be a relationship with God. That’s why God sent a Person. That’s why God sent Jesus, His Son. That’s the Good News of Great Joy!!
You say, “Well, okay, if this is good news, if there’s a Savior, what does that mean to me today? How does that apply to my life today?” And I want to show you what the apostle Paul wrote.
You see, before Paul was a follower of Jesus, he hated Christians. He helped kill them and supported killing more. He was a leader against Christians.
After accepting Christ, Paul became a leader in the church, and in the book of Romans 3, here’s what he said —
20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Here’s the good news! You cannot earn God’s acceptance and grace by observing the law. You cannot be good enough for God by trying to obey the Law. The law reminds us of our sinfulness! And we’ve all broken the law! Not one of us is innocent. We are all guilty. Which leads to our need for a Savior!
And this was great news for the shepherds, because they lived in a society where the Pharisees tried to obey all 613 Jewish laws. We had the Ten Commandments. Then, God said, “Let’s make it easy. I’ll give you two: Love God, love people.” They were trying to obey 613 laws, 365 thou shall nots. And nobody could do it.
The Good News is, even if you tried, you can’t do it. We have 2 commandments, love God and love people — and we really mess those up too, don’t we? So, verse 20 tells us – nobody can be saved by the law.
So, the Good News is, you cannot be good enough for God by observing the law. So, what’s the purpose of the law? One the one hand the law shows us our sinfulness, but it should lead us to realize we have a deep need for a Savior. So, how can we ever be made right with God? Paul tells us ~
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
Again, Paul points out we’ve all sinned and we all fall short of the glory of God. God knew that, and that’s why He sent Jesus. Because as verse 24 tells us — we are justified —– we are forgiven —- we are made right in God’s eyes —- not because of anything we did, but because of what Jesus did for us. Our grace, our redemption – comes as a result of what Christ did for us.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul said ~ 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Understand this folks because it is so important to know and understand what Jesus did for us. This is the Great News of Great joy the angel shared with the shepherds!
For whose sake? For our sake, God sent Jesus into the world to become sin for us — — while He was on the cross — — even though He was sinless — — so that in Christ, through Christ, because of Christ — — God could view us as righteous. It’s nothing we did . . . It’s all about what Christ did for us!
Righteousness with God comes by faith in Christ alone. It’s not Christ plus religion. It’s not Christ plus church membership. It’s not Christ plus giving money. It’s not Christ plus good works.
It’s Christ plus nothing. It’s putting our faith in Christ alone. Paul adds ~
22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
We are made righteous with God – through faith in Jesus Christ!
This is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. And the angel appeared to the shepherds, the people that religion rejected, and said, “Fear not. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.” How are you made right with God? By faith in Christ alone.
On your own – Are you good enough for God? No! But because of what the Son of God did for you on the cross – becoming sin for you, dying in your place, and being raised to new life — — because of that, when you place your faith in Him, God no longer sees your sin, but He sees His righteousness, the righteousness of Christ. That’s why religion didn’t work for the shepherds, but a relationship did.
And that’s the Good News ~ 10 And the angel tells us ~ “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.
No matter who you are, a Savior has been born. And He came for you!