What is your Dream Job? For Rob LeBlanc, it was managing a restaurant. At 35, he was a successful manager with hopes for a good career. But then the Recession hit and his restaurant closed. With his family facing financial ruin, Ron took the only job he could find – delivering pizzas for Dominos. He said during an interview, “I had to swallow my pride and take whatever I could get,” Rob LeBlanc says. “I kept telling myself one of these days something better will come along.” http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/personal/01/22/family.economic.survival/index.html?eref=rss_us
Perhaps you have worked as a Pizza Delivery driver, or collecting trash, pumping gas or washing dishes. We don’t aspire to these professions. Most of us find ourselves there at one time or another. These jobs are important, necessary, but not desired.
Being a Shepherd was the FIRST CENTURY equivalent to these careers. Shepherds were social outcasts in Israel – Certainly not on anybody’s VIP list.
Why Did God Choose Shepherds to announce the Saviors Birth?
A Little Bit about First Century Shepherds
They were outcasts. “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8)
The Bible is filled with powerful examples of sheep and Shepherds, – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David. But this is FIRST CENTURY Israel – they had become so sophisticated that they now looked down on the profession once held by their greatest patriarchs.
Dr. Ralph Wilson gives us insight into the view of Shepherds in the First Century Israel. “Jeremias cites Rabbinic sources to the effect that “most of the time they were dishonest and thieving; they led their herds onto other people’s land and pilfered the produce of the land.” Because they were often months at a time without supervision, they were often accused of stealing some of the increase of the flock. Consequently, the pious were warned not to buy wool, milk, or kids from shepherds on the assumption that it was stolen property. Shepherds were not allowed to fulfill a judicial office or be admitted in court as witnesses. A midrash on Psalm 23:2 reads, “There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd.” (Ralph Wilson, http://www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/2_8-20.htm)
God sent his Son to the outcasts. These Shepherds were likely the ones in charge of the LAMBS that would be used in Temple Sacrifice. Special men, but still outcasts.
They were eager. “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.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15–16, ESV)
Their inability magnified God’s Message. “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:18, ESV)
When people heard their story they knew it was from God. God did something for them that they could not have taken credit for themselves.
They are an example of people who are transformed.
They gave God Glory. “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20, ESV)
Shepherds show us a picture of God’s love and care for us. Of All professions on earth at that time, Shepherds are the ones that most exemplified God’s relationship with us.
Ezekiel 34:11-16. “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1, ESV)
Shepherds Show us a picture of Christ’s Sacrifice for us.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, ESV)
“the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8, NIV84)
How did these Outcasts find Jesus? “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”” (Luke 2:12)
What were Swaddling cloths? These were strips of linen that Jewish babies were wrapped in at birth to keep them warm.
This was part of the birth tradition. There are two references that inform us that babies were wrapped in swaddling cloths.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band,” (Job 38:4–9, ESV)
The “birth” of Jerusalem did not enjoy the common blessings that should have been there. God provided for Jerusalem through his special blessing. Jerusalem was nothing special on her own. “Again the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.” (Ezekiel 16:1–4)
So, being wrapped in swaddling cloths was not unusual. All Jewish babies received this care and tradition at birth. But the second part of the announcement to the shepherds was extremely rare. They would find the baby lying in a manger.
So how did the shepherds know exactly where to find Jesus based on these two bits of information, only one of which was unusual?
The answer comes to use from an Old Testament prophesy about the coming of Messiah.
Micah 5:2 informs us that Messiah would come out of “Bethlehem”
But an equally important, although much less familiar prophecy is found in Micah 4:8
“As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.”” (Micah 4:8, NIV)
If you read the first seven verses of Micah 4, you will recognize immediately that this is a Messianic prophesy. It tells us that Messiah would come from the Shepherds Tower of Bethlehem!
The Shepherd’s Tower (Migdal Eder). This is where the shepherds watched over their flocks. Most shepherd’s fields had a shepherd’s tower. It usually was at the top of the hill, overlooking the valley where the sheep were kept. It normally would have a simple roof for shade by day and to keep the rain off. But it was not a fancy place, certainly nothing like a typical “fire tower” that you might find in the Jersey Pine barrens. But this shepherds tower was in Bethlehem where the priestly shepherds kept the sheep that were used in the Temple. I imagine that the shepherds tower may have had a lower level where the sheep were kept, and an upper level where the shepherds stayed. So the shepherds knew exactly where to go!
Luke 2:7 = “no room for them in the INN”
The word Inn is the Greek word kataluma. Literally it means “guest House.” This was not an “inn’ in the sense a hotel or place to rent a room. Luke uses a DIFFERENT WORD to refer to a hotel. “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34, NIV84)
Luke DOES USE kataluma again – “and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” (Luke 22:11)
Is it possible that Mary and Joseph sought refuge in the Shepherd’s Tower but the upper room of the tower had no room? This would be just one of the many similarities of his BIRTH and his DEATH.
He was LAID in a MANGER. Whether the lower floor of the shepherds tower or of a home, the MANGER was likely made of STONE. Just like the tomb cut out of stone where they laid Jesus. “And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.” (Matthew 27:59–60, ESV)
He was wrapped in cloths – at BIRTH and at DEATH
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7, ESV)
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”” (Luke 2:12, ESV)
“And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:16, ESV)
Journey from Nazareth likely through the Jordan River Valley. Final stop = JERICHO. Just like Jesus’ final stop before going to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Another striking similarity connecting Christ’s birth and his death.
The important thing to recognize is that Christ as born to die! Not just to give us fine moral teachings like the sermon on the mount or the golden rule. God could have sent an ordinary prophet to deliver such a message. But he sent his Son to be a sacrifice for sin, and only his Son and not a prophet could provide that sacrifice.
If you want to Find Jesus, you must recognize that you are an outcast. We must see our need and humble ourselves before God.
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,” (Luke 2:16–17, NIV84)….. What was that message………….?
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11, NIV84)
There is a story of a Christian couple traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco with their toddler on Christmas Day. Christmas was on Sunday they needed to get back home so they could go to work on Monday.
“We stopped at a small diner in King City for lunch, road weary and saddle sore.
As I sat Erik, our one-year-old in a high chair, I looked around the room and wondered, “Who would be in here on Christmas Day? What am I doing in this place the day of my Savior’s birth?
The restaurant was nearly empty, we were the only “family.” Ours were the only children. As much as I felt out of place, those feelings magnified when I heard Erik squeal with glee: “Hithere.” “Hithere.” His face was alive with excitement-eyes wide, gums bared in a toothless grin. He wiggled and chirped and giggled. Then I saw the source of his merriment. A man wearing a tattered rag of a coat-dirty, greasy and worn, baggy pants-at half mast over a spindly body, toes that poked out of would-be shoes, a crumpled and dirty shirt. His hair was uncombed and unwashed, his nose deformed and dirty. I was too far away to smell him but I knew he smelled. And his hands were waving in the air, flapping about on loose wrists. “Hi there baby! Hi big boy. I see ya, buster.” My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between, “What do we do?” and “Poor devil.”
Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hi. Hithere.” Every call was echoed. I began to notice waitresses’ eyebrows shoot to their foreheads. Several people near us “ahemed.” This old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby. Our meal came but he continued. Now the old bum was shouting across the room: “Do ya know patty cake? Atta boy. Do ya know peek-a-boo? Hey look, he knows peek-a-boo.” Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance.
As my husband went to pay the check, he told me to meet him in the parking lot. I trundled Erik out of the high chair and looked toward the exit. I thought, “Lord just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik.” But the old man sat waiting, his chair directly between me and the door. As I drew closer to him, I turned my back, walking to sidestep him- and any air he might be breathing. As I did so, Erik, with his eyes riveted to his friend, leaned out from my grasp and reached with both arms in a baby’s “pick me up” position. In a split second I came eye-to eye with the old man. “Would you let me hold your baby?” his eyes implored. But there was no need for me to answer, as Erik propelled himself from my arms into the man’s. Erik in an act of total trust, laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder.
As the man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands were marked with grime and hard labor, yet he cradled our little son like a familiar grandpa would his grandson.
I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. “You take care of this baby,” he said in a firm, commanding voice. Somehow I managed “I will” from a throat that contained a stone.
“God bless you ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.” I said nothing more than a muttered thanks. With the baby back in my arms I ran for the car. Dennis wondered why I was holding Erik so tightly and saying, “Lord, please forgive me.”
If you recognize yourself as an outcast, there is good news! God will receive you. Come to Him now.