A Surprising Rescue (Luke 2:8-20)

A Surprising Rescue

Christmas Shepherds, 2022–Luke 2.8-20

Private Desmond Doss walked into the bloodiest battle of World War II’s Pacific theater with nothing to protect himself except for his Bible and his faith in God. A devout Seventh Day Adventist and a conscientious objector, Doss enlisted as a medic and refused to carry a rifle. This put him at odds with his entire platoon and with his commanding officer. They tried to drum him out, they beat him, and they made being in the military miserable for him.

Those of you who saw the graphic movie Hacksaw Ridge know what happened. The same soldiers who abused him, beat him up, and made fun of him for his beliefs–almost 100 of them were rescued by Doss after they were wounded in a savage battle on Hacksaw Ridge. After every marine retreated off the battlefield on a bluff—unarmed, Doss refused to leave his wounded brothers behind after the American force was wiped out by the Japanese. In the midst of machine gun fire, enemy patrols, artillery fire, Doss unceasingly rescued man after man, praying the entire time, “Lord, please help me get one more.”

He even saved the life of his commanding officer, who had worked so hard to get him kicked out of the armed services. Doss’s heroics earned him a medal of honor, but his behavior boggles the mind. Amazingly, Doss rescued the very men who beat him, rejected him, and tormented him. That doesn’t make sense, until you realize that’s what happened to every Christian in this room. God created each person here, He gave you a perfect life–but each one of us rebelled from God’s authority, God’s design, God’s gifts and God’s direction.

You might not express hatred for God–but by ignoring Him, rejecting Him, or inventing your own religion, you are rebelling from Him. It’s your independence from Him that results in your messy relationships, your marital strain, your difficulties with your children, your coldness of heart, your battle with fear, anger, resentments, and your indifference to God–all called sin. Yet in spite of your rejection of Him, He still desires to rescue you. Even though you ignore Him, He still continues to collect the wounded of this world like you, and bring them safely home to Him (just like Desmond). And that is the true meaning of Christmas.

Christ came to Earth to rescue sinful humanity. When you’re drowning in the ocean, you can’t rescue yourself. When you’re shot in battle, you can’t recover yourself. And as a part of fallen, sinful humanity, you can’t save yourself–God has to do it. And God did it! That’s what Christmas is all about. God was born a baby in order to take the eternal beating you deserve. God became a man in order to suffer the punishment of Hell for your sinful rejection of Him.

Christmas is God being born as a baby, in order to rescue unwilling human beings from their sin and save them from certain coming judgment. Galatians 4, “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” And it all began with an announcement to an unlikely crew, found in Luke 2:8-20. Open your Bibles to Luke 2 for history’s most famous birth–this birth happened under the most obscure circumstances imaginable. Jesus was born in the place where the animals of those staying in a public shelter were kept. Mary laid Jesus in a manger–a feeding trough. Thankfully, Mary and Joseph had a stable relationship.

While you’re thinking about Christmas gifts, by the way, I recommend giving a broken drum–you just can’t beat it. Well, things were different in Bethlehem. No one in the little village of Bethlehem realized the significance of what had happened. But all that was about to change. The silence over God becoming a man now ends. If the announcement of Jesus’ birth had been a part of a humanly planned public relations campaign, it would’ve been handled differently. The announcement would have targeted the power brokers of Rome–Caesar, the governor of Judah, and of course it would include the influential of Israel, the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin.

Instead, God chose to reveal this glorious truth first to the members of a lowly, despised, forgotten group–the keepers of sheep, the shepherds watching the flocks in the hills between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. You and I can learn from these shepherds. How? People today think they’re Christians because they prayed a prayer, or believed Christ, or served in ministry, or attend a good church–but those don’t make you a Christian. Only God makes you a Christian–and when God does make anyone a true child of God, you’re dramatically transformed.

The change is more than external, it is internal. It’s not putting on a Jesus sticker or carrying a Bible. God is holy and must judge sin, so God sent Christ to be punished in your place. But when you’re truly rescued that way, you are also transformed internally into a new person who wants to follow Christ and obey His Word.

The shepherds will show us that all God’s true children will follow Christ, love Christ as their first love and demonstrate they’re His children by wanting to obey His Word. This was God’s plan. And this plan of God was not a random act. No, Christ’s birth then death on the cross for sin, His resurrection from the dead, and ascension to Heaven were not an accident, but the carefully pre-determined plan from the beginning of time. We know this by over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament predicting the details of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and return.

Look at this one in Isaiah, 700 years before Christ, obviously about Christ. Isaiah 53:4 to 6, “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

And here in this gospel, with this angelic announcement to shepherds of Christ’s birth on Christmas morning, Luke explains why Christ came. Christ was not merely a Jewish sage, a teacher of morality, nor a first-century Gandhi. The Bible says Christ was and is “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42), who came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) by “sav[ing] His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

This Luke 2 announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ will expose seven truths about the good news of God’s underserved rescue of those who didn’t want Him. Why is it good news? Because every religion on Earth says you must do something to get right with God. But only Christianity says God did the work for you, now you embrace it. Christ is the one who rescues those drowning in sin.

ONE  HEAR about God’s Rescue and don’t be afraid

Verses 8 to 10a, “In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.’” The good news of the Savior’s birth first came to these unlikely people.

Shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder. They were uneducated, unskilled, increasingly viewed as dishonest, unreliable, and unsavory characters–so much so, they were literally not allowed to testify in court. And because sheep required care seven days a week, shepherds were unable to fully comply with the (man-made) Sabbath regulations developed by the Pharisees. As a result, the shepherds were viewed as being in continual violation of the religious laws, and therefore were considered by all to be ceremonially unclean.

That is not to say every shepherd was disgraceful. Two of the greatest leaders in Israel’s history, Moses (Exodus 3) and David (1 Samuel 16), were both shepherds. But these particular shepherds were watching their sheep in the region around Bethlehem, about six miles south of Jerusalem. They were (verse 8) “staying out in the fields with their flocks,” something typically done in Israel from April to November.

Sheep were kept outside in the fields during the day. In the evening, they were moved into sheepfolds, where the shepherds could take turns (verse 8) “keeping watch over their flock during the night.” Inside this fenced area, the sheepfold, the sheep could more easily be guarded from predators and thieves. But this tranquil scene was shattered in a dramatic way–like waking up your roomie with an airhorn.

While they were watching their flock like they always did, during the long hours of the evening (verse 9) “an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them.” It was dark, then noonday bright, as (verse 9) “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” God’s glory is usually manifested in a brilliant light. Throughout the Old Testament, in Eden, in the wilderness, at the Temple dedication, on the Mount of Transfiguration–even in Heaven later. All were lit by the glory of God. The shepherds understandably (verse 9) “were terribly frightened” by a magnificent angel and God’s glory.

Fear is the normal response whenever anyone in Scripture encounters the glory of God. God’s glory has a way of x-Raying your soul and exposing you for who you really are. If right now I could plug in my iPad to your brain, and project on this screen for all to see, what you were thinking every moment of this last week–would you let me? That’s what the glory of God does. It shows you reality–what you really are. Not the pretend you others see, but the real you–all your desires, fears, doubt, lust, anger. God’s glory exposes your sin.

When faced with the perfect character of God, we look pretty bad. Those who experience the presence of the holy God are acutely aware of their sinfulness. When the prophet actually saw God in some measure, Isaiah cried out in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Peter cried out after seeing a miracle performed by the Lord, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” in Luke 5:8.

Seeing the shepherds’ obvious terror (verse 10), the angel commands them (with the only command of these verses), “Do not be afraid.” Yes, fear God–but no need to stay terrified, because Christ can rescue you from your sin. So instead of being justly judged by God and punished forever, you can be forgiven by God and blessed forever.

TWO  ADMIT who needs God’s Rescue

Verse 10b, “for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” You saw it–the good news the angel proclaims is (verse 10) for all the people. The Greek word “people” refers to Israel and to every person in the world–Jew and Gentile. Remember what old man Simeon said in the Temple, after seeing the baby Jesus? Simeon said (Luke 2:30 to 32), “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

All means you. If you’re religious, if you’re sincere, if you’re a criminal, even if you call yourself a Christian, you need to be rescued. Admit it–even if you are massively sinful right now, you can be rescued by the only Savior. He will do the work to rescue you, because sinners are like the drowning–they cannot rescue themselves.

THREE  ACCEPT God’s invitation to your only hope of Rescue

Verses 11 to 12, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Go find your Messiah–go find the only Savior. Having reassured the frightened shepherds that He came bearing good news, the angel then gave them the details of the good news. That very day, history’s most significant birth took place. It had happened in the most unlikely of places (verse 11) “in the city of David” (which is the tiny hamlet of Bethlehem). Who was born? Verses 11 and12 give you two dramatic titles–see them?

SAVIOR–Christ is the one who has come to rescue people from their sins. Instead of being justly punished in Hell because we have gone our own way–each of us have lied, cheated, stolen, been angry, selfish, and proud, so we belong in Hell. But instead, Christ took the punishment of Hell for your sin upon the cross in your place. Christ is the Savior. Christ is the rescuer, medic, lifeguard. And the angel calls Christ the . . .

LORD–Jesus is the ruler of the universe, the controller of all your circumstances, and the ruler of your life now and forever. Lord means we submit to Him, follow Him and worship Him–because Lord means He is God. Jesus was and is God in a bod–God incarnate, God in the flesh. That’s what incarnation means. Incarnate–in carne, chili con carne, chili with meat. Incarnate, God with meat on–God in the flesh.

Again–to call this child Lord is to say He is God. Anyone who does not affirm Christ’s full deity and equality with God the Father can be saved. Jesus even warned the Jews in John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am [God], you will die in your sins.” Jesus is God, who came to live among humankind, to die in our place, and provide the only means of rescue from God’s wrath.

The angel then gave the shepherds (verse 12), “a sign” so they’d be able to identify this remarkable Child. They would (verse 12) “find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Wait a minute–every Jewish baby was wrapped in cloths. True, but Jewish mothers did not put their newborns in mangers (feeding troughs)–so that sign would narrow the shepherds’ search for this remarkable God/baby, the Savior now born.

FOUR  Give God Glory for His HEART to rescue

Verses 13 to 14, “And suddenly there appeared 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 men with whom He is pleased.’” While the angel was speaking to the shepherds, something even more amazing took place. Suddenly/shockingly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host.

The term multitude here signifies a massively large group. Get this–the appearance of so many angels, all at once, is unprecedented in Scripture. This is quite a showing–a big deal. They fill the sky–can you see it? This is jaw-dropping awesome. And these angels start doing what angels always do–praise God. All Heaven broke out with rejoicing at the birth of God the Son–as a baby! The angels knew Christ as the second person of the Trinity before His incarnation, where they saw His inexpressible glory. They understood that mankind’s fall into sin, which began with Adam and Eve, had transformed the human race into sinful rebels against God.

But these angels also knew God had provided the only way of salvation for men and women.  Their deep concern for the salvation of sinners causes there to be (Luke 15:10) “joy in the presence of [the angels of God] over one sinner who repents.” This angelic chorus of praise reflects the highest of all truths–which is what? The supreme reason for all that exists is the glory of God. The ultimate purpose of the good news of salvation is to rescue sinners, so they can join the angels in glorifying God.

Look at verse 14, the angels declare, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Now this peace is not what beauty queens wish for, “Peace on earth.” No–the peace the angels want is the peace with God which only comes from salvation through Christ. Only through faith in Jesus Christ, the “Prince of Peace”, can God and sinners be reconciled. Through Christ, instead of being God’s enemy, you can become God’s family and friend. So . . .

FIVE  DESIRE to embrace God’s Rescue

Verse 15, “When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’” Clearly, the shepherds wanted to get to Bethlehem as soon as possible. But since they were responsible for the sheep under their care, they couldn’t abandon them and leave. Some stayed, or they found others to watch the flock–then they left for Bethlehem.

Their reaction is a good example of what it means to come to Christ. STEP ONE) They heard the revelation from God (God’s Word) that the Savior had come. STEP TWO) They believed that revelation. These shepherds might have been devout worshipers of the one true God and also might have been looking for God’s promised redemption. Their hearts might have been prepared, so when they heard about the Saviors birth, they believed it. Is that you? If so, then . . .

SIX  PURSUE the process of being Rescued

Verses 16 to 17, “So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” The shepherds didn’t do a search and rescue, but a search for rescue. They were in a hurry–no doubt excited, with the anticipation of salvation flooding their hearts.

Luke does not describe how the shepherds traveled 1 to 2 miles to find Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. But there would not have been many babies born in a small village like Bethlehem on any given night. And certainly, the news of any birth would have spread rapidly by word of mouth, especially since Mary gave birth in a semipublic place. When the shepherds finally saw the child (verse 16), “as He lay in the manger,” the angel’s prophecy was confirmed and their faith verified.

These shepherds seeking out Mary, Joseph, and Jesus show you the next step in the salvation process. Those who truly believe in the Word of God about Christ will come to Him. Maybe you too will accept Christ’s gracious invitation, Matthew 11:28 to 30. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Verse 17, the shepherds told Joseph and Mary what happened. Don’t you wish you’d been there to hear them talk? The young couple had to be overwhelmed by the shepherds sharing the amazing events they just witnessed.

SEVEN  CHOOSE the saving the reaction to being Rescued

As I read verses 18 to 20, see if you can discover the different reactions people had to the birth of Christ, and ask which one is most like you? Verse 18, “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” Verse 19, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Verse 20 “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” Which reaction is most like yours–wonder, treasure, or glorify God?

First  WONDERED  Verse 18

Because they had heard the angel, seen the angels and talked to Joseph and Mary, the shepherds went everywhere proclaiming the good news that the Savior, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, had been born. Christ would take your punishment for sin (the final sacrifice). You can be made righteous so you can stand in God’s presence.

The shepherds were the first New Testament evangelists. But the reaction of those who heard the shepherds was verse 18, “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” Once the shepherds heard they believed–and they acted on the truth. They could not help but tell others about Christ. Their witness to the good news reveals what happens in the life of a newborn Christian.

The response of those who come to Christ is to tell others about Him. You know, the most bold and passionate Gospel proclaimers usually are the newest Christians. The longer people are saved, the less excited they seem about their salvation, and the less eager they are to share their faith. But true spiritual commitment is determined by the tenacity of a believer’s continual joy over their salvation. One measure of that joy is how eagerly they share the Gospel. Lack of passion to tell others about Christ betrays a heart of indifference and a heart of ingratitude.

The shepherds did not suffer from that problem. But the message of the Messiah’s birth, coupled with the enthusiasm of their witness, caused (verse 18) “all who heard it to wonder.” Luke uses “wonder” a lot in his gospel, because people marveled at Jesus’ ministry and were amazed at his life. Marvel and amaze means they wondered. Sadly, that kind of amazement produces a curiosity, but not a commitment. The people who heard the shepherds wondered, but after the initial amazement wore off, it seems as if they just went on with their lives as if nothing happened.

The same thing happens every Christmas in our area–people react to Christ, some wonder, others are amazed–then they return to their lives as if God was not born to rescue them from certain eternal judgement for their sins. Friends, any kind of faith without works is dead. Christ without commitment is not salvation. Once you have Christ, you’ll never live the same. You will live for Christ in all of life, or you are not His.

There is no such thing as a non-serving, non-giving, non-church attending, non-praying, non-obeying Christian. That professor is not a true believer, but a make-believer. Are you “wondering” about, but not following Christ? This Christmas, don’t merely be a wonderer.

Second  TREASURED  Verse 19

In contrast to the superficial reaction of many who heard the news, verse 19 says, “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Mary reflected deeply on the significance of the birth of God’s Son, and on what that birth meant for her and Joseph as Christ’s earthly parents. In addition to the normal thoughts that go through the mind of any new mother, Mary had many profound truths to think through and treasure. She considered God’s redemptive purpose–how, just as He had promised, God had sent a Savior to redeem His people. But that redemption would come at a fearful cost.

As old man Simeon soon warned Mary in Luke 2:34 to 35 “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Years later, in John 19, Mary would watch her Son die on the cross, bearing God’s wrath against sin. Mary was a sinner–she admits it in her own prayer. But as a mother here, she pondered the purpose of this child–and I believe she knew He would have to die as the final perfect sacrifice for sin.

Are you treasuring Christ in this manner? Is Christ your only hope to be made right before God now and forever in Heaven? Are you treasuring Christ? This is such a funny season, isn’t it? Think about it–we sit around dead trees, eating candy and snacks out of our socks. If your cat eats the Christmas decorations, they will get tinselitis. Society is getting so bad, half the windows on your advent calendar are boarded up. But with all you’re doing this season, are you thinking about that which is the most important, the eternal–your future after you die when you stand before God? Will you be . . .

Third  GLORIFYING and PRAISING  Verse 20

Life is demanding, and eventually the shepherds had to return to their obligations, but verse 20 states they were “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” All their hopes and longings that the Redeemer would come had been realized, and their lives were marked by a newfound attitude of praise and worship. That same attitude characterizes all who truly know and truly love Jesus Christ.

This is what Christians do, Hebrews 13:15, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” True Christians don’t sing because they have to, but because they want to. True believers obey Christ, not because they have to, but because they want to. Far too many people who claim to be Christians are self-deceived–don’t be one of them.

The Bible states a fact–Christ will say to many, “Depart from me I never knew you.” They claim they’re a Christian, they’ve tasted of His fellowship, and they truly expressed a heart of wonder about Christ–but they lack a new, born again heart . . . which is always seen by a new desire which wants to obey, a willingness to do anything for Christ, and a pursuit to worship Him by offering their entire life to Him. No Christian lives perfectly, but they live progressively.

When you are drowning, you can’t rescue yourself. When you’re shot in a battle, you can’t recover yourself. When you are blinded by sin, you can’t give yourself sight. When you are dead to God, only God can make you alive. Christ must receive you. There are some of you here now who need to be rescued. There are many who claim to be Christians, yet Jesus will say to you, “I never knew you.” You must cry out to Christ in prayer, asking Him to save you, forgive you, make you into a brand new person.

There are obvious signs if you are a pretend Christian–a fake follower, or a make-believer. If Christ is not in you, you see it when you acknowledge your Christianity, but you don’t live your out your faith in everyday life. Your faith is personal, but not public. Your lifestyle is good, but not for His glory. Your obedience is convenient, but not a commitment. Your involvement is sporadic, not faithful.

You date Christ, but you are not married to Christ. Christ is not your first love, but merely A love. You say you have faith, but your faith doesn’t work. You say Christ is your Lord, but you don’t obey Him. You say you are faithful, but you don’t follow Him. You say you are His slave, but Christ is not your Master. Your Christianity is on your terms, but not by God’s Word.

If that is you, then right now, without delay, repent of your fake Christianity–cry out to Christ to cause you to be born again, to forgive your sin, to transform you from within. Talk to those who invited you. Talk to those who are a part of our church. Talk to those at the door before you leave. Talk to someone–but do not delay. All of us need to be rescued, and the only one who can is Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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