Tag Archives: signs

The Shepherds and the Sign

The following is a sermon.

Literally, I wrote out my entire sermon in preparation for a service in which I would be preaching to a congregation in Pakistan. I had to preach my first Sunday morning message at 1 a.m.! My interpreter said it would be easier to translate for me if I had my sermon, or at least my outline, printed out.

However, once I started preaching, it became obvious that what I wrote was both too much in length and too much in detail for a translator. Especially doing it over Facebook Live with a lag in the signal.

So, what I wanted to do was post the originally written sermon so that you, when you have the time, can read through it and be blessed this Christmas season.

We will be looking at Luke 2:8-20.

  1. The Typical Shepherd Story
    • There were poor shepherds watching their flocks at night when suddenly, without any warning, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them… looking like a young child dressed in a white sheet with a shiny belt, wings, and a halo.
    • The angel gave these poor, unwanted, unloved, outcasts – because people thought of shepherds as the lowest of society, except for those with disease or Gentiles – the announcement of the birth of the Savior of the world.
    • Then they were told to go to Bethlehem and knock on doors, ask all the people “have you seen a special baby anywhere? He’s supposed to be wrapped in swaddling cloth,” and look wherever they could until they found a baby in a manger.
    • When they did find him (and, of course, they brought sheep with them), they worshipped Him. …along with the Wise men. Except the wise men didn’t show up for at least another 2 years.

  2. The Non-Typical Story
    • Unlike what most people assume, it is very likely that the shepherds watching over their sheep at night were not normal shepherds, but Temple shepherds, priestly shepherds, Levitical shepherds.
    • Unlike what most people assume, these were not unlearned men, but men who had been taught in the Law of Moses and were very aware of the requirements for sacrificial lambs.
    • Unlike normal shepherds and normal sheep, these shepherds and these sheep were special. These sheep were meant to be sold to Jews who didn’t have their own spotless lambs for a sin sacrifice. These sheep were very, very valuable and had to be watched day and night. They were considered “the royal stock of David” (Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon). They were even guarded and watched over from towers made of stone.
    • Unlike what most people assume, it is very likely the sheep these shepherds watched over were the ones who would be born in special birthing rooms, almost like a baby sheep maternity ward, that were clean and stocked with all the things required to aid in the birth of the lamb and to protect it from being hurt as it took its first steps.
    • Unlike what most people think, these shepherds would have been looking forward to the angel’s appearance. No, they may not have thought it would be an angel and the heavenly host, but they would most likely be aware of the prophecy found in Micah 4:8. It reads: And thou, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.
      • What is so special about this prophecy? To begin, the “tower of the flock” is migdal `eder in the Hebrew language.
      • Migdal-`Eder is the name of a small village near Bethlehem (See Genesis 35:21) and hence associated with Bethlehem itself.
      • Therefore, these special shepherds watching over very special sheep must have dreamed, they must have hoped, that they would live to hear that announcement. However, I am sure they still would have been shocked and terrified by the angel of the Lord.
      • In case you miss it, the Bible says the shepherds were “sore afraid,” which means they were absolutely terrified beyond words! This was no child in a white robe; it was an angel who had come directly from the presence of God! His brightness would have been indescribable and unbearable. Also, angels are fearful beings, warriors, like the one who killed 185,000 Assyrians in ONE NIGHT!
    • Unlike what most people think, these shepherds knew exactly where to go find this baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, and in all likelihood, it wasn’t a dirty stable in someone’s basement or a dark and dreary cave. IT WAS BACK AT Migdal-`Eder!!
    • Notice, the first verse in our text reads, “And there were in the SAME COUNTRY shepherds abiding in the field…” The words translated as “the same country” mean in the general area, in the outer expanse around an area. In other words, the shepherds were out in the wide-open area around the protective towers called Migdal-`Eder.
    • The shepherds did not need to follow the star, nor ask directions; they said, “Let us now go unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass…” They knew exactly where to go and what to look for, and they went back to the birthing room where sacrificial lambs were born and wrapped – the Tower of the Flock!

  3. The Sign
    • When Luke says that the shepherds went to Bethlehem to “see this thing,” what did they go to see? The “sign.” The angel said, “This shall be a sign unto you, You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
    • Stop and think about what is happening here.
      • You have priestly shepherds, those who are very familiar with the sacrificial system and how a spotless lamb must be used for a sin offering.
      • Next, you have shepherds who have been expecting, generation after generation, hundreds of years, the announcement of the coming of their Messiah, the Son of David, the Lamb of God.
      • Then you have a message from an angel that the Savior of the world has come. How could they know it’s true? What would be the evidence that this babe born in Bethlehem was worthy to bring joy to the entire world? The evidence would be the “sign,” and that was:
        • You’d find the babe – which is the first confirmation that the word from the angel could be trusted.
        • The babe would be wrapped in swaddling cloth. It’s one thing to wrap up a newborn, but a specific kind of cloth strips (some say were made from the used garments of the priests) would have been very unusual.
        • Then, the babe would be lying in a manger (In the exact place you would expect the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world to be born – Migdal Edar!)
          • Languages are funny things. Sometimes I have to speak through an interpreter so that I can be understood. And sometimes the words in one language are very hard to translate into another language.
          • But the word the angel of the Lord used to tell of Jesus “lying” in the bed was critically important. And it was not an accident, nor was it a coincidence, the WAY the word used.
          • The word we translate as “lying” in English is the Greek word keimenon. But what makes this word so special is the case it is in. To be specific (and I know this may sound complicated – and it can be) this one word, a verb, “lying,” is in Present Middle or Passive Deponent Participle – Accusative Singular Neuter. Are you totally confused? Are you wondering what’s so exciting?
          • What I am going to tell you next should make you want to truly shout with Joy! That’s what the angel said, correct? Joy to the world, correct? A Savior is born, correct? This shall be a sign, correct?

            The accusative case refers to the case used for a noun or pronoun that is a direct object. In this case, Jesus – the babe – is the noun or the subject of the action in this verb.

            The Middle voice, however, is what’s so exciting. We don’t have a part of speech like this in the English language. That’s why it’s so hard to understand the full impact of the angel’s message. But what the Middle voice tells us is that the object… and who is that? Jesus, the babe… is the one lying in the manger, but … and here is the part you’ve been waiting for… in this case the object or subject of the verb is the one performing the action! Did you understand what I just said?

            What does Isaiah 7:14 say? It says, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

            What did the angel Gabriel say to Joseph in Matthew 1:21-23? And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

            Dear Church, what the shepherds found in the Tower of the Flock, Migdal Edar, there in the birthing stall where sacrificial sheep were born and wrapped so they would not be marred so that they could be sacrificed as a sin offering, was a baby – Jesus – who wasn’t just a baby placed in a manger by his mother, but GOD WITH US! EMMANUEL!

            HE was the “subject performing the action!”

            HE was responsible for being in the manger!

            HE was responsible for being wrapped in swaddling clothes!

            HE – Jesus Christ – God in flesh – God with us – Emmanuel – “…thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant – the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 – and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

  4. The Shepherd’s Joy, Joy to the World!

    My dear brothers and sisters, it doesn’t matter if we live in America or England, India or Pakistan, Israel or Egypt, Russia or China… the TRUE meaning of Christmas is still the same – the Savior of the world has come!

    The shepherds had a sad job. They were responsible for raising precious, beautiful little lambs, making sure they were healthy. They protected those sheep with their very lives! They devoted their whole lives to the care and nurturing of those helpless, harmless lambs – all so they could be slaughtered, so their blood could be a temporary measure of forgiveness. How heartbreaking! How sad!

    Don’t you know that somewhere in the shepherd’s heart he longed for the day when the reality of what the sacrifice of lambs symbolized would finally take place? Did he ever think, “One day we will not have to do this ever again”?

    Well, over 2,000 years ago, in the little town of Bethlehem, or maybe just outside the town in a stone tower, the Promise of the ages was fulfilled! God took on humanity and dwelt among us! And where the shepherds found Him was the sign…and HOW the shepherds found Him was the sign…and when they saw it – when they met Him – they were never the same!

    Luke says that they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen…” And, oh, they had a lot to praise God for, don’t you think? How privileged they were to be the ones who got to hear the announcement that finally came! How thrilled they must have been to see the angel of the Lord and the heavenly host! No church choir would ever compare to that, I’m sure! But most of all, they got to see Jesus, God in flesh, the Great I Am, Messiah, the Savior of the world.

    And don’t miss that last little part of Luke 2:20…”as it was told unto them.”

    Aren’t you glad the promises of God and His Word are true? If so, you can rejoice! You can glorify God! You can praise Him for all the things that you have heard and seen! And you can tell others what Christmas means to you. You celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world, the Savior of your soul, and that God’s Word is true!

    And may this Christmas remind you that if the promise of the coming of the Messiah was true, then the promise of the coming again of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is also true. We may not have been able to see him with our own eyes in a manger, walking the shores of Galilee, feeding the 5,000, dying on the cruel cross, or after He rose from the grave and ate with the disciples. Today we rejoice in faith! We glorify God for the Spirit in our lives! We praise Him for saving us from our sin and delivering us from death unto life!

    But one day, maybe soon, we will hear a trumpet, be changed, and see Him face-to-face as He is! That is worth telling people about! But should that glorious day not come in our lifetimes, we still have this promise that to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord! Amen? Hallelujah!

Remember the shepherds this Christmas, and give God the glory, for great things he has done!

Amen.



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Filed under Apologetics, Bible Study, Christmas

Don’t Ask for a Sign

Just a little while ago, feeling a little down and discouraged – it’s been a rough few days, spiritually speaking – I thought out loud to God, saying:

“Lord, is there anything I wouldn’t give to see something tangible with my own eyes? Something to encourage me. Something to increase my faith.”

Almost immediately I heard a still, small Voice speak to my conscience, “Then it wouldn’t be faith, would it?”

Yeah, it was convicting. Are His promises not enough? Should I be any less obedient to His revealed Word if I never have an epiphany? Is the illumination of the Spirit of any less value than a beam of light?

We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).

What I should be praying is, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” Then, following faith, God can use a “sign” as confirmation.

If the sign comes before the faith, then the product will not be true faith, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Depression, Faith

Which Way Do We Go?

How often do you argue with your phone?

Maybe a better question would be, “How often do you disagree with Siri or Google over directions?”

Last week I was invited to be the guest speaker at a church I’d never been to before. I knew the general direction I was supposed to go, and I had a general idea where to make some turns, but even though I had the address I wasn’t sure how to get there.

As we were getting close to where I knew we were supposed to turn off of the main highway, I asked my wife to use her iPhone to look up the address and get directions. You’ve done that before, right? And most of the time things go just fine and I get to where I need to go.

On a side note, I do miss those days long ago when I’d sit down with an atlas and local maps in order to plan a trip out of town. Planning trips that way always made it seem like I was heading out on an adventure. GPS has taken all the fun out of road trips.

Well, my wife entered the address of the church, pressed the “go” button, and down the road we went until we found the first turn.

I don’t know about you, but despite the amazing technology, even though Siri and Google rarely lead me astray (I did say “rarely”), there’s always this uneasy tension which keeps me from totally trusting the little gadget in my hand.

Anyway, we drove for only a couple of miles until we came to a split in the road. Right there in the middle of the road was a big white sign with a big black arrow painted on it. Above the arrow was the name of the church I was trying to find.

As I slowed down, my wife repeated the words of the digitized direction-giver, “Keep right.” I said, “But the sign says that we should go left.” Then Valerie replied, “All I know is that the phone says we should go right.”

Risking my own embarrassment and a potential “I told you so,” I followed the instruction of the big, black arrow and went left.

In just a short while we came to an intersection where we would have to make another choice, either left or right. Once again Steve Job’s creation sweetly advised me to “Make a left, and proceed blah blah blah blah.” However, right in front of me, as plain as black paint on a white sign could be, there was a big hand-painted arrow pointing left, and right above the arrow was the name of the church we were trying to find.

“You know,” I said to my wife, “this is one of those times when a good, biblical lesson about the spiritual life could apply.” I continued, “Instead of trusting the phone, why not trust the sign that was obviously placed by someone who’s been down this road before?”

We made the left – despite Siri’s protests – and found the church no more than a quarter mile down the road.

Here’s the thing. The world is full of all kinds of information and advice, and much of it is spot on. However, when it comes to the road that leads to a peace that passes understanding, to a relationship with my Creator, to Heaven… I’d rather trust the One who has already gone this way before.

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV

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Relative Recompense

Starving Blogger

Today I went out to lunch. The person I was to meet was a man I had only spoken with on the phone and by email (sorta scary, huh?). He had no idea what I looked like, nor I he (that just sounds weird – is that grammatically correct? – “I he”?).

That’s when I had a brilliant idea – make a sign.  I needed one like people use when they stand on the side of the road asking for money (rarely work). So, I got a piece of cardboard, a marker, and made myself look like a beggar. Of course, that’s not too hard to do.

He knew who I was!

Food, Money, Whatever

Blogging is not a something one does to earn a living, at least not normally. I do it in order to give me an excuse to write. I do it because some people would rather read this than trip over dirty laundry while searching for a dust-covered journal. I do it because I love it.

There’s also another reason for blogging – the Message. My hope is that people all over the world will learn a little bit more about what it means to be a real Christian, not one of the fake, stereotypical hypocrites so many use as an excuse to run from Christ.

If I could get paid for doing this I would jump up and down like a circus clown on Meth. On the other hand, if writing would just put food on the table I would be as thrilled as a chocoholic getting a job transfer to Hershey, PA.

But if writing never pays the bills, cures my ills, or feeds me krill (it rhymed, what can I say), I will keep doing it. Every once in a while someone, somewhere, gets a blessing.

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