The Angels Visit the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)
Prepared and preach by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, December 26
Christmas is over, I pray that you all had a very delightful Christmas.
Our Lord came down from life to suffer death;
the Bread came down, to hunger;
the Way came down, on the way to weariness;
the Fount came down, to thirst.
—Augustine, Sermon 78
He so loved us that, for our sake,
He was made man in time,
although through him all times were made.
He was made man, who made man.
He was created of a mother whom he created.
He was carried by hands that he formed.
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word,
without whom all human eloquence is mute.
—Augustine, Sermon 188, 2
In 1224, inspired by the sight of shepherds tending their flocks in the moonlight, St. Francis of Assisi asked a wealthy friend from Greccio, Italy, to help him construct a live manger scene (the first ever). The idea caught on. By the 15th century, nativity scenes proliferated in monasteries and churches throughout southern Europe. Today, perhaps the finest collection of miniature nativity scenes in the world is found in Munich’s National Museum of Bavaria where more than 200 are displayed.
We have been preaching about the accounts of angels in the narratives of Jesus’ birth. Today, we will look at the angels visiting the shepherds. Recall the definition of angel: The meaning of the word angel: Angel. The Hebrew word malak simply means “messenger”; it may refer to a human messenger (1 Kings 19:2) or a divine messenger (Gen. 28:12). The basic meaning of the word is “one who is sent.” As a divine messenger an angel is a “heavenly being charged by God with some commission.”1 The word is found 103 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word angelos occurs 175 times in the New Testament; however, of men it is used only 6 times. The word angelos is similar to the Hebrew malak; it also means “messenger … who speaks and acts in the place of the one who has sent him.”
- Angels visit the shepherds and they worship God (verses 8-14).
- Jesus has now been born and this passage is picking up right after His birth in Bethlehem.
- Luke 2:8-14 reads: 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 great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of 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!”
- The shepherds were in the same region.
- They were out in their fields.
- They were out there for the purpose of watching their flocks by night.
- A lot of study could be done about shepherds and the humility of that job. We often hear shepherds were the lowest class. They always go back to Genesis where Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph to shepherds but those were Egyptian shepherds, or Egyptian views of Shepherds. There is some Rabbinic literature negative of shepherds but that is from the 4th century AD. Dr. Rydelnic does not think they were the lowest class. Dr Rydelnic agrees with the Life Application study Bible that these might have been the shepherds supplying the lambs for temple sacrifices that were used for forgiveness of sins. This would be true regardless of the season.
- They [the shepherds] were literally guarding their flocks for the night.
- Verse 8 tells the place. Verse 9 is about to tell what happens.
- This is all happening simultaneously to the previous verses. Jesus has been born and it seems that at the same time as His birth, or right after His birth, this happens.
- An angel of the Lord “appeared” or “stood.” The NASB says “suddenly.”
- The Greek verb for “stood” carries the idea of “suddenly.”
- What is it like to have something appear suddenly?
- The shepherds didn’t see the Angel coming over the hill.
- The shepherds didn’t hear the angel of the Lord be given clearance for landing.
- There is also Theological debate about what “Angel of the Lord” means. Sometimes that can mean an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament, Christophany. Or, a bodily appearance of God the Father, which could be Christ, Theophany. In this case I think this is a high-ranking angel.
- The “glory of the Lord shone around them”
- What does this look like? Ezekiel chapter 1 is similar.
- We do know they were scared.
- R.C. Sproul makes the case that this is the Shekinah glory of the Old Testament. The angel of the Lord is bathed in the Shekinah glory.
- The word shekinah does not appear in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined this extra-biblical expression, a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell,” signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of the Lord God on this earth. The Shekinah was first evident when the Israelites set out from Succoth in their escape from Egypt. There the Lord appeared in a cloudy pillar in the day and a fiery pillar by night: “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:20–22).
- The shepherds were terribly frightened.
- The Greek uses the verb for “frightened” once and then a noun describing them as frightened along with an adjective to describe them as “greatly frightened.”
- Verse 10: The angel now speaks.
- The news the angel brings has three parts:
- 1. Good news;
- 2. Great joy;
- 3. For all people: that is deep;
- Jesus blesses all people.
- Verse 11 explains this even more:
- The city of David, that is Jerusalem
- A Savior has been born today.
- So, how long did it take the shepherds to get to Him?
- He is Christ: this is not Jesus’ last name but a title meaning “the anointed one.”
- Verse 12: The angel is about to give them a sign of who Jesus is. Jesus will be found in swaddling cloths (strips of cloth), lying in a manger (a feeding trough).
- I heard Swindoll say that the shepherds wouldn’t be surprised because they did the same thing when their wives delivered. They would lay the baby in a feeding trough.
- Verse 13: Suddenly (adverb, unexpectantly): A great multitude of Heavenly Hosts (angels) appeared.
- This really happened. I wonder what it was like. What is it like to see Angels appear from thin air???
- “Hosts” carries the idea of an army.
- These angels were praising God and saying:
- Verse 14: Glory to God in the highest!!
- There is no greater glory to God.
- I can’t describe a way to worship God high enough.
- they may not have had words to describe how the Angels were worshipping God.
- The shepherds hear the angels praising God and this might be among the words they heard.
- and peace among those with whom He is pleased with: Jesus will bring peace in eternity.
- In verses 15-20: the shepherds go to Jesus and worship Jesus.
- We are not going to read those verses today, but allow me to make a few comments.
- Verse 15 shares that the angels went away from them and they went away into “the Heavens.”
- This must have been a sight to see. A visual picture of this would be awesome.
- The shepherds spoke to one another about what to do.
- They want to go to Bethlehem right away.
- They want to see what the Lord has done.
- Verse 16: so they go in haste.
- They didn’t linger, they didn’t waste time.
- They found their way.
- They had to search for the stable to find Mary and Joseph and the baby.
- Jesus was still in a feeding trough.
- They must have gotten there quickly.
- This shows that this event happened likely the same night as His birth.
- Verse 17: Once they saw this they explained what the angel had said.
- This must have happened so that the incident could be written down.
- Verse 18: They wondered about what was told to them. It seems that this mesmerized them.
- They were amazed.
- Verse 19 is key and it seems to be a key verse for the Gospel according to Luke. Mary remembered these things. This may be how Luke received the material.
- Later on in verse 51 this is repeated.
- Verse 20: the Shepherds went back but they were glorifying and praising God.
Some final applications:
- This was not a silent night.
- All was not calm and bright.
- It was hard a very difficult night.
- He was born not in a hospital, or in a guest room, but in a stable.
- We all have journeys that are difficult:
- Jacob’s son, Joseph, was sold into slavery (Gen. 37).
- David fled Saul and fled to the Philistines for a few years (1 Samuel 19ff and chapter 27) and he wrote Psalms asking, “Why do You allow my enemies to prosper?” “When are You going to save me?” That was not the end of the story.
- Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego were told to bow down and worship the king’s image, but they didn’t (Daniel 3). That was not the end of the story.
- The people of Israel were exiled for 50 years but that was not the end.
- Now, the child born in a stable would walk to Calvary, but that was not the end of the story.
All of us take difficult journeys but God walks with us on the journeys. God redeems the journeys and that is not the end of the story.
Mary could not see that the angels would be rejoicing. She could not see that we would be reading the story two thousand years later. However, we are.
 Source: Nan Bauroth in Christmas: An Annual Treasury (Vol. 66, Augsburg). Christian Reader, Vol. 34.
1 Gerhard von Rad, “Mal’āk in the Old Testament,” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:76–77.
 Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 286–287.
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Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament library, 183 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000).
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Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament library, 358 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000).