Sermon preached on Luke 2:8-14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/24/2017 in Novato, CA.
As a congregation we’ve been working the last several weeks on memorizing this passage. One of the benefits of memorizing and meditating on a passage is you start to notice little details that you hadn’t before. When you only read over a passage once every long while, you tend to only notice the larger themes of the passage. But when you really spend some concentrated time going over and over a passage, you begin to see little details that can also have great significance. It’s like the difference between seeing the forest versus the trees. Well, this year as I was working on memorizing this passage, a word caught my attention that hadn’t before. It was a word that appeared three times in the text. It’s the word “to you”. “To you.” Yes, I know that sounds like two words. But actually, in the original Greek text, it’s actually a single word that means “to you.” For those who know grammar, it is the dative plural of the second person personal pronoun (which means I could even translate it with three words: “to you all”, since its in the plural). And so, this text has this word “to you” three times, verses 10, 11, and 12. So, three verses in a row uses this word “to you”. And in all three cases, the group of people being referenced is same. It’s a reference to the shepherds. The angel of the Lord says to the shepherds three things that are for them. In verse 10, he says to the shepherds that he brings them good tidings of great joy. In verse 11, he says to them that a savior has been born to them. In verse 12, he says there is a sign for them of all this. And so, though the glorious announcement of Christ birth has global proportions, it was also a message delivered specifically to these shepherds by the angel of the Lord.
And so, I thought this would be a good way to organize our Christmas sermon this morning. I want us to consider these three occurrences of the word “to you”: the three things that the angel brings to these shepherds. So then, let’s begin first with verse 10. I’ll read it again. “Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Right away in this first point we see the contrast of the “you” with “all people.” The good tidings mentioned here are for all people, yet the angel still brings these good tidings particularly here to the shepherds. By the way, the “all people” reference here probably made the shepherds think of Israel. The Greek actually has the definite article, so its actually to “all the people”. Surely, the shepherds would have thought all the people of God, namely, the Israelites. Surely, that was the most immediate reference. And yet we can see from the rest of Scripture, that God sent Jesus not only to redeem Jews, but also Gentiles. So, in the grand scheme, “all the people” would include people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Of course, to point that out, only makes it all the more amazing that the angel addresses the shepherds here like he does; “I bring to you – you shepherds – these good tidings. Lowly shepherds of all people! Surely poor, lowly shepherds. But as we think of our recent sermon series through Amos, we are not surprised to find God bringing this message to the poor and lowly in order to lift them up. These good tidings coming first to lowly shepherds signal the beginning of that promised reversal that the first would be last and the last would be first.
So then, what is a “tiding” here and why are they good? Well, the word tiding is just an old word for news. It makes sense for an angel to bring news, because that’s what the word “angel” literally means. It means “messenger.” Angels are spiritual messengers from God. And so, this messenger tells the shepherds that he has news for them. And not only news, good news. The word in the Greek is literally a single word for preaching good news, and it’s the word from which we get the English word “gospel”. So, the angel is literally telling these shepherds, I bring, to you, gospel. I bring you good news.
It’s so important that this is “good” news. Think for ourselves; surely we all have known bad news. Someone calls you up and says “we need to talk” and you know its going to be bad news. Maybe a doctor has given you bad news before about some problem with your health. Maybe your employer has given you bad news that they have to lay you off. We can turn on the TV or go online and see lots of bad news in society on a regular basis. Sometimes that bad news in society can be things like our nation going to war. No one wants to hear bad news. But we welcome good news. Well, surely these shepherds were glad to hear that the angel had good news for them. Because we see that in the previous verse, verse 9, they had become deathly afraid. Think about it. Here, some glorious and powerful angel shows up. The glory of God shines all around them. And of course, the shepherds become “sore afraid.” It’s in that context that the angel offers them words of comfort. Don’t be afraid, I have gospel. I have good news to give to you!
Just to really drive home the point, the angel then adds that it is good news “of great joy.” This good news is going to bring them and the world great joy. Imagine when you’ve received “good news”. Maybe you find out you are having a baby, and it lights up your heart. Maybe you learn that you’ve won some drawing or contest, and you want to shout for joy. That’s the kind of news that we want to hear. Well, that’s the sort of news that the angels have brought these shepherds. The angel tells them, I bring to you this great and joyous news!
So what was the news? Well, we have to move on to the next verse and our next point to find out. Verse 11, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Here we have the good news spelled out. This is the gospel of great joy that the angel gives the shepherds. It is nothing short of an announcement of the coming of the kingdom. It is announcement of the coming kingdom of God. Years before either Jesus or John the Baptist would begin to preach the gospel that that kingdom of God was at hand, the angels already announce it here; to these shepherds!
You might ask, how is this an announcement of the kingdom? Well, verse 11 is all about the coming of a king. Just notice the words “this day”. That’s key in the angel’s announcement here. That was the day the king had come. And the coming of a king means there is a coming of a kingdom! Kings and kingdoms go together! And so, that’s what was special about that day. That’s why they made this announcement. That very day held great significance. It is why it is fitting to still commemorate that day so many years later. They sang a song then to celebrate the redemptive work of God when he had sent a king to his people. God’s messiah, his anointed one, had been born into this world that day. And we still sing of God’s great work in doing that.
So, look at the details of this gospel announcement of the king and kingdom. Several related items here. First, there’s the reference to the city of David, i.e. Bethlehem. God had promised long ago to King David, in 2 Samuel 7, that he would bring from his line a king that would rule over a kingdom that would have no end. Ever since then Israel had been waiting for this promised Messiah to come from David’s line. And so, by mentioning that this birth is coming from David’s city implies what we know from elsewhere to be true: that this baby being born is of the lineage of David. The angel goes on to mention that specifically. He says that the one born in this city of David is the Christ. Christ is simply the Greek word for Messiah, meaning “anointed one”. To be the promised anointed one born in the line of David could only mean one thing. It means that the promised king had finally come. Verse 11 confirms this, that this is a king, a ruler, when it also calls the Christ “Lord”. And so, the long-awaited Messiah and King from David’s line has finally arrived. Micah 5:2 even had predicted the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Surely, this is another reason why the God would bring this message especially to shepherds. Remember, David was called from being a shepherd to be the Lord’s anointed king. Ironically Jesus would be born a king yet would also be a shepherd; a shepherd of souls. So, it seems fitting that the angel would choose to first reveal the coming of this king from the line of David to shepherds.
So, there are several important titles here given in the glad tidings of verse 11. But arguably the best title given here is the title of Savior. The angel tells the shepherd that this one who was just born, he would be a savior! When I hear this, I think back to the time of the judges and the time of the early monarchy with King Saul and King David. Back then a repeated problem was that Israel was constantly afflicted by enemy nations. They kept finding themselves enslaved to one of the neighboring nations. During the time of the judges, God would periodically raise up a deliverer – a savior – for them. This would be someone who would liberate the people from the oppressing nation and restore them to freedom and autonomy. But then that judge would die and eventually the people found themselves again enslaved, and again needing a savior. So, that motivated the people to institute a monarchy, hoping that would mean that they would always have such a deliverer, a savior, in their king. So, the judges, and later the kings, were to be saviors for the people. At that time, Israel had been without any sort of king and savior for a long time. But now, the angel announces to the shepherds that a savior had just been born.
Yet, looking back at those former times, it’s clear in the Bible that the people back then had a bigger enemy than just the nations around them. The reason why those nations had been able to conquer them was that God handed them over to those nations as a form of chastening because of their many sins. And so, the real enemy of the people was their sin. Their sin repeatedly got them in trouble with God. It was the ultimate cause for their problems. So, this is what is so wonderful about this savior that had been born that night in Bethlehem. Jesus was born a savior, but not foremost to deliver the people from the tyranny of foreign nations. As it’s said elsewhere in Matthew 1:21, Jesus would be born to save people from their sins. Finally, there would be a savior for God’s people to address their greatest need of salvation. Finally, it all makes sense. That’s the kind of savior people had needed all along! Now, in the fullness of times, God sent such a savior in Jesus. This of course looks to the cross, where Jesus would die in the place of sinners to pay for the guilt of their sins. As Jesus dealt with the fundamental issue of sin, it would make the way for him to be able to establish a permanent and everlasting kingdom for his people whom he has redeemed from their sin.
Surely the shepherds hadn’t yet understood all of that yet. They surely didn’t appreciate yet what this Messiah’s mission would be. Yet, the angel brings this message to them. This salvation from sin would be for many, yet the angel tells this to the shepherds and specifically says it is something for them. “There is born to you,” he says. Born to you in the city of David, this savior. It’s amazing to see the angel speak so personally to the shepherds. This is to be their Savior, their Lord, their Messiah, that has just been born.
If you were a shepherd right then and there, you might be thinking this all sounds too wonderful! This long-awaited Messiah had finally come! Well, to further attest to this amazing claim, the angel them gives these shepherds a sign. This is now verse 12, and our third point for today. Verse 12, “And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” When, I hear that, I immediately think of Isaiah 7:14 where another Christmas sign was given. In Isaiah, it was foretold that the Messiah would be born to a virgin, and that would be a sign that he had come. But here, the angel speaks of a different sign. This sign is that the newborn Christ would be found in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths. Surely, that would not have been a normal thing. It would not have been normal to have a baby in a manger, let alone such a glorious king from the line of David. And yet, that’s what makes this a sign. That’s how they will be able to recognize who is this Messiah, and it will testify that the angel’s tidings are legitimate. If it had been something normal, then it wouldn’t be much of a sign.
Hopefully, such a sign would make the shepherds rethink their expectations for the Messiah. If they thought the Messiah’s immediate coming would be in earthly glory and in much earthly pomp and circumstance, then they would be mistaken. Hopefully, the surprising and unexpected birth in a manger would challenge such expectations. It’s like what Jesus would later teach about the nature of the kingdom when he gave the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus taught in that parable that the kingdom would come at first small and seemingly insignificant, yet it would ultimately grow into something grand and glorious. Well, Jesus, on that day, came lowly in a manger. And in his first coming, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. And of course, in that, in the cross, another sign would be given to the world. That’s how Jesus described the cross in Matthew 12. He spoke of giving them the sign of Jonah, that like how Jonah was for three days in the belly of the great fish, so Jesus would be in the grave for three days. This is similar to what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, that like how Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so he must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. What a fitting “sign” the cross would be. Like with this sign at his birth with the manger, they both challenged the expectations of what the Christ’s ministry would at first be about. Who would think a glorious king would be born in a manger? And who would think a powerful savior would die on a cross? But these two “signs” bracket Jesus’ time on earth, while displaying the wonderful truth of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus came lowly and humble to lift up and exalt those weak and heavy laden by their sin.
We can today remember these signs. The sign of the baby in the manger and the sign of Jesus hanging on the cross for our sins. The Bible tells us that these are signs of our salvation. Jesus came to save his people from their sins. Yet again, in this point, we see how the angel makes this message personal to the shepherds. Verse 12 said that this was a sign “to you”. These shepherds were very personally given this sign. And they obviously took that seriously, because in verse 15, after the angels go away, they decide to go into Bethlehem and find this sign. Verse 15, they say to each other, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” They acknowledge the special revelation from God that had been given specially and personally to them. So, they respond with haste, according to verse 16. They personally go and see this sign. They find the Christ child and then make widely known what they heard from the angel, verse 17. I love that. They get this personal message, a sort of intimate message in how it’s delivered so exclusively to them. Yet, they realize that it’s a message for the world to know. And so, they made it widely known. Again, I love the contrast here between how Christ’s birth on the one hand is something for the world to hear, on the other hand it is so specifically given to these shepherds.
And so, in conclusion, my friends, that’s my exhortation to you all today. Yes, here we are on the day before Christmas again talking about the birth of Jesus. We again proclaim to the world these good tidings, that there was born that day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. We again make this widely known that this a gospel of great joy. We again declare the kind of savior Jesus came to be; one to save us from sin and eternal damnation that we can have eternal blessed life. We proclaim and announce again today this king and this kingdom to all. Yes, we are here today with this Christmas story which continues to be declared to all the people. So, on the one hand this story is for all to hear. But on the other hand, this story comes again to you today. I, as a messenger of the LORD, bring this message to you. This message is for the world to hear, but that it means it is also for you personally to hear. Don’t let this message pass you by this year. I bring it to you, personally; individually.
I bring you these good tidings of great joy. I announce to you the coming of the kingdom and its king. I bring you the testimony that Jesus is the Christ who was born into this world some two thousand years ago in Bethlehem as the long-awaited Messiah and Savior and Lord. I testify to you that his birth was accompanied with these signs and wonders. And I declare to you that he died on the cross to pay for the sins of his people, that if you believe on him, you shall not perish, but have eternal life. This message of Christ’s birth and mission is a message for you personally to receive today. I give it to you.
How then will you personally respond? That’s why I emphasize this message coming specifically to you today. Because that means you specifically need to respond. One way or another, you will respond to it. The question is how you will respond. Will you join the shepherds in seeking the Christ child? They didn’t need to be told to go look for him. They connected the dots; they read between the lines; they figured it out. The message that had been given to them meant that surely they needed to go and see that Jesus. Well, what was implied to them, I explicitly invite you to today. Go and seek Jesus. Become his disciple. Trust in his grace. Learn his ways. Find in him the eternal life that he holds out to all who put their trust in him. The gospel is a message that is widely distributed, but it is also one that comes to people personally, and individually. God calls you personally into an intimate, saving relationship with him, through his Son, Jesus Christ.
For us here today who have already come into this personal relationship, may you then do what the shepherds did after they saw Jesus. May you too help widely spread these glad tidings of great joy again this Christmas season. May we continue this until our king himself descends from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, to announce that the kingdom has come with glory in the highest and peace forevermore. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.