First things, first. Let me wish all of you (and I have no idea how many of you there are, would be good to know one day) a wonderful Christmas. I’m writing this sitting in our living room at the end of a great Christmas Day. It started early this morning with an early internet-video thing with my parents in the UK, then we went off to church to help with the morning family service. The place was packed out and we had a great time, I’ll blog later on the details.
After that, we went to the great PJ’s place for lunch. PJ is a retired judge here in Sydney who attends a number of classes at Moore College with me. His four children and their families were there and they graciously allowed us to join in their Christmas Day celebrations. Jacqui and I were stunned that he’d bought presents for us so that we wouldn’t be left out in the family distribution. PJ, you’re a star and we love you.
Late in the afternoon we returned home and shared in the last hour of an outdoor Christmas party that some of our friends were having in the gardens of the compound where we live.
With that done let me turn to blog on something that I noticed last year and have waited until now to write about. I want to encourage you, this year, when you’re telling other people about Jesus to do it “shepherd-style”. Now, what do I mean? Well, first a nice story…
Luke 2:8 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 fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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!” 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.
I think I’ve heard a number of sermons on this Christmas passage and they all end up with the same application; “we must tell other people about Jesus we have met, just like the shepherds did”. At first sight this seems a fairly obvious application but is it the right one? Is that exactly what the shepherds do or do they in fact do something slightly different?
I want to suggest that evangelism shepherd-style is actually subtlely different. Evangelism shepherd-style is about telling people that the birth of Jesus is just as it has been told to us. Let me put that another way, what the shepherds did when they went away from the stable is not tell people about their personal encounter with Jesus but that the reality of the incarnation was just as had been foretold. In other words, the message from God was reliable and was what should be listened to.
Let’s see how that works out in the text.
After the annunciation (and how stunning must that have been? After all, the term used by Luke is “a heavenly host” i.e. an intimidating army, not a bunch of chorus-girls) Luke tells us this:
Luke 2:15 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.”
Note the important addition “which the Lord has made known to us”. The shepherds go to check out if God’s message is true.
See how it continues:
Luke 2:16-18 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.
See! The same thing again! Having seen the family they don’t make known what they’ve seen but, rather, the saying that had been told them concerning this child. Once again, it is the message from God about Jesus that is what is paramount here.
Just so we’re in no doubts, Luke reminds us one more time:
Luke 2:20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
What the shepherds saw was as it had been told them. Again, Luke’s stress is not the actual nativity scene itself but the divine revelation about the child. Luke’s focus is not on the manger but on the message.
So, can I encourage you this Christmas to do some evangelism shepherd-style? Point people not just to Jesus but to what God has told us about Jesus, to His revelation to us in the scriptures of not just the fact of Jesus’ existence but the depth of what was accomplished in the Incarnation. Of course, that will mean a bit more work but it will also mean that the people who listen may just, like the original hearers of the shepherds’ message, wonder about what they were told and chew on it for longer than the week that it takes to eat up all the turkey.
Shepherd-style, my friends. Shepherd-style.