A shepherd tells his story
What a night! What a night that was! I saw things that night that I never imagined I’d ever see!
I’m a shepherd. Always have been. Always will be. Shepherding is in my blood. I’ve seen a lot of things out there in the wilderness, in the pastures. Mostly good things. One of the best things is when one of my ewes give birth. What a sight to see a little bitty lamb come fresh into the world.
But I’d never seen anything like that night. It started out like any other night. My father and I brought our flock to the field and so did the other shepherds. We built a fire and fixed our supper. After we ate, we were sitting on the side of a hill looking down at the town – Bethlehem. That place was full of people. Every man ever born in Bethlehem had to come and register in the Roman census. So it was a busy, crowded place that night. I wanted to go down and just look around – see all those strangers and hear some of their stories and, well who knows what I might’ve seen. But my father wouldn’t let me go. He said there was nothing down there that I needed to see.
And then it happened. All of a sudden, up in the sky – an angel! A real, live angel! Big as three men! And shining as bright as the sun – nearly blinded us! We were scared, real scared – scared as a lamb being chased by a wolf.
And then that angel spoke to us. His voice was powerful, forceful, but at the same time, real gentle. I can’t talk like him, but he said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ve got good news for you. It’s going to make you happy, real happy. Earlier today, down there in David’s town, Bethlehem, a Savior has been born. He’s the Messiah. He’s the Lord. Here’s how you can find him: he’s a newborn baby wrapped in cloth and he’s lying in a manger.”
The angel had no more than gotten the words out of his mouth when the whole sky was filled with angels. All of them were praising God for sending the Savior to bring peace on earth. After awhile, they left. Just disappeared.
We looked at each other. Then my father said, “Son, I think there is something down there you need to see. Let’s go.”
We went down to Bethlehem. It took awhile but we finally found them. They were in a barn. And there that baby was – like a little bitty lamb come fresh into the world. But it seemed awful strange. The Savior of the world lying in a manger! The Messiah in a trough! The Lord using a feed box for a bed! It was strange to see that, but there he was, just like the angel had told us.
We got so excited. When we left, we told everybody we met what had happened. We went back to the pastures – singing and dancing and laughing. We were so happy – God had sent our Savior. We were going to be saved!
After several weeks, we went back to Bethlehem to see them again. But they were gone. We found out that they were from Nazareth and must have gone back there. Nazareth – way up north. I wondered if I’d ever see that baby again.
Many years went by – I’d say 25 or 30. I began hearing about a man who was traveling around up north and teaching and preaching and healing people. People said that he was different than any of our regular religion teachers. Some people were saying that he was the Messiah. His name was Jesus. He was from Nazareth. The more I heard about him, the more I believed he must have been the baby we had seen in Bethlehem.
He was traveling all over the country, so I waited for him to come to Bethlehem. A couple of times I heard he was in Jerusalem, which is just a few miles away. Once I went up there, but he had already left. He never did come to Bethlehem.
Two or three years went by, and it seemed nobody talked about anything but Jesus. Finally, I heard he was in Jerusalem again. I decided that I was going to go see him this time. There was a lot of expectation and tension among the people. It felt like something big was about to happen. If Jesus was that Savior the angel told us about, maybe he was about ready to make his move. I was determined to be there and see it if he did.
I got to Jerusalem on Thursday during Passover Week. People said Jesus had been teaching in the Temple every other day that week, but he didn’t show up that day. Just my luck. So, I decided to stay on through Passover and the Sabbath. Maybe Jesus would come back.
Friday morning, I heard that Jesus had been arrested and put on trial and convicted. They said he had been taken outside the city. I went to see him. So many years before when I went to Bethlehem to see the baby, I felt excited. As I made my way through the streets of Jerusalem, I felt scared. Real scared. There was a big crowd – some people were laughing and making jokes, some were weeping. I pushed through the crowd to see him. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was the baby, the baby I had seen lying in a manger. That was strange. This was shocking – the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord – nailed to a cross.
But see, that’s how he saved us. He died as a sacrifice – like a lamb freshly killed in the Temple. And then he rose from the dead. Beat everything that was against us – the ultimate predator and the law and our own rebellion. Gave us life.
I’m a shepherd. Always have been. Always will be. But I’m a different kind of shepherd now. Different on the inside. Freed up. Forgiven. Made right with God. And now I’m a shepherd for people: teaching, preaching, helping them to know and follow Jesus. Now I see things I never would have imagined. All because the Savior came and went from the manger to the cross.
(Please read part 1 below)
What was God going to do with them? The detective investigated, examined evidence and clues, consulted experts, theorized, followed leads – but he was stumped. He couldn’t solve the mystery. So, finally, he just watched. He set up a stake out and watched. He watched what God did.
God sent his Son. Christ came into the world of the woman and the teenager and the man. He became like them, a human being. But he lived a different kind of life. Not a self-centered religious life. Not a self-centered everything-is-okay life. Not a self-centered violent and immoral life. Jesus lived a God-centered life in the flesh, and he promised that anyone could live that way if they would follow him. Then he died – died as if he was that woman, that teenager, and that man. As he died, he took on their problem, their self-centeredness, their separation from God as his own. It was as if Jesus was pridefully religious without knowing God. It was as if he accepted everything as okay and not faithful to the truth. It was as if he was violent, immoral, and God-and-people-hating. The detective watched the Son of God offer his life for all people. He was astounded. Then he was absolutely stunned when God raised his Son back to life. He saw God’s grace attack and shatter the barrier between him and the woman, and the barrier between him and the teenager, and the barrier between him and the man.
The detective tailed Jesus and again he was astonished by what he saw. Jesus reached out to all three people. He relentlessly pursued each one. He confronted each with powerful grace.
Jesus’ grace broke the woman. He sent his grace to her in the form of pain. People disappointed her and turned against her. Bad circumstances took away her happiness and comfort. She struggled. She ached. She agonized. Her pain became too much for her religion. Commandments and ceremonies and doctrines and prophecies didn’t give any peace. She needed God, not God-stuff. Her religion crumbled at her feet and she looked up, and there was Jesus.
Jesus’ grace shocked the teenager. He sent his grace to her in the form of failure. She had some tough decisions to make. Her choices were based on what seemed okay to her. They failed. Her life filled with problems and a big load of regret. She was startled that it didn’t work out the way she planned. She didn’t need a great-guy God. She needed a rock-solid-truth God. Her everything-is-okay-fun crumbled at her feet and she looked up, and there was Jesus.
Jesus’ grace enlightened the man. He sent his grace to him in the form of loneliness. When the man had violated and run over everyone, he was alone. At first he felt like a winner – the solitary conqueror. Then he realized all he had was himself. He looked around at what he had done and saw destruction. He looked within at what he had done to himself and saw destruction. He was isolated and forlorn, deserted and dejected. His self-sufficiency crumbled at his feet and he looked up, and there was Jesus.
The detective watched in wonder as each of the three individuals reached out to Jesus. He pulled them close to himself, embraced them, and they became pure and clean. He put his Spirit in them, and the Spirit pierced into their souls, changed them, reprogrammed them with the “boundless riches of Christ” – love, joy, mercy, power, wisdom, on and on – endless resources, a superabundant life from Jesus, and they started to actually resemble Jesus. And he brought the three together – they learned how to love, how to accept and care for each other, how to share equally as God’s heirs. He invited them to join him on a new adventure: changing the world. And Jesus brought them to his Father and theirs. And they stood in God’s presence – free and confident and alive.
Stunned, the detective reported his findings to the angels. They gasped in amazement and fell to their knees. Overwhelmed, astonished and trembling, the detective joined them and worshipped God: “To the Father, to the Son, and to the Spirit be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!”
No one, not even angels, could imagine what it would take to bring self-centered humans of every kind back to God. It’s beyond our understanding. Only God could do it. And God did it. “Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan! Oh, the grace that brought it down to man! Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary!” (AT CALVARY, Wm. R. Newell) The mystery of Christ.
This story is a picture of Ephesians 3:2-12. Verse 12: “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” The way to get to God has been made by Christ. You don’t need anything else. You don’t have to have a system of right beliefs. You don’t have to have a special building. You don’t need to say the right words. You don’t need to get rid of bad behavior. You don’t need to be acceptable to everyone else. You don’t even need the best attitude. All that is required is in Christ. You need to have faith – belief, trust, heart-surrender – in Jesus Christ. So every day of your life you can approach God – you can meet God, you can get with God, you can walk with God, you can live in relationship with God – freely and confidently.
If the life you’ve built is starting to come apart, crumbling at your feet, look up.