Here is Pastor Davis’ sermon from December 23. OK, so it’s not Christmas. But even though the message is about the Shepherds, it’s not exactly a Christmas message.  But even if it is, it’s still a message from the Scriptures. And that makes it relevant any time of year.

[audio http://ia601609.us.archive.org/21/items/Sermon12-23-12_731/Sermon12-23-12.mp3]

Here is the transcript.

The Shepherds Returned

Luke 2:1-20 – In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. [2] This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. [3] And all went to be registered, each to his own town. [4] And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, [5] to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. [6] And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. [7] And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

[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 Introduction

1. The shepherds of Bethlehem. The shepherds who went to work one morning expecting the day to be like any other day and had a day that would be recorded in holy Scripture and talked about for the rest of the history of the world. They would become the most mimicked and acted out group of men in history. Is there a man in this room who went to church as a child who has not played a shepherd in a Christmas play? They are some of the most famous people in all the Bible, yet there is not a person in the history of the church who can name one of them. Interesting isn’t it that tradition has told us the names of the wise men and most of us have at least heard of Balthasar, Melqon, Gaspar, or is that Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar, or maybe Basanater, Hor, and Karsudan, or even Larvandad, Hormisdas, and Gushnasaph. Many traditional names given for these “kings”, or wise men, or magi who travelled so far to see the prophesied Messiah.

2. But not the shepherds. The “Book of the Bee” written in the 13th century by the Bishop of Basrah in Iraq, gave the shepherds the names of Asher, Zebulun, Justus, Nicodemus, Joseph, Barshabba, and Jose – but we neither know their names or how many there were.

3. The shepherds may be among my favourite Bible characters because they are unnamed, unknown, unwelcomed in polite company, unpopular. And yet they are the first people to receive news about the baby being born. This is an important factor for us this morning as we consider what happened to these shepherds and how they responded to the great news they were given and the great sight they were allowed to see.

II Visited by God

1. The first thing to note about these shepherds on the day that Jesus was born is that they were not looking for Jesus to be born. They are not asking for angels to come and change their lives forever. They are not expecting the announcement of the birth of the Messiah to them – least of all to them. This is just an ordinary day with ordinary duties.

2. This is not an incidental point. In fact, it is a crucial point. It is the story of the Gospel. The Gospel is not the story of people finding God. It is the story of God finding people. This visit that the shepherds received from God through the angels is an example of how anyone, who has ever had a genuine encounter with God, has that encounter. It is an illustration of salvation. It is one of the most predominant themes in all of Scripture, and at the same time, one of the most denied, ignored and misunderstood themes of the Scriptures. Oh we do not get a visit from a host of angels announcing that the Son of God has come for us. But it is how anyone who really knows Jesus, comes to know Jesus. This is the consistent testimony of how people become servants of God.

3. See this throughout all of the Bible. There is not a single hero of the faith who we find before their call who is searching for God. God comes to them – uninvited, uncalled for and most of the time quite unwanted.

a. Abraham

b. Moses – in fact look at what Stephen says about him in Acts 7:25.

Acts 7:23-25 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. [24] And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. [25] He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.

“God is going to save Israel through me”, so he slays an Egyptian and finds out that he has a few things to learn yet. And it is not until God comes to Him and now in humility he admits that he cannot do what God is asking him to do so God says “I will be with you”.

Lydia – Acts 16:13-14 – And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. [14] One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

This account of the shepherds is God telling us yet again, that we do not meet Christ because we are searching for Him. We meet Christ because He was/is searching for us.

4. This needs to be understood in relation to what we see the shepherds doing the last time they are ever mentioned in Scripture again. They left the manger and told everyone what they had seen and they returned glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard. When God comes to us He changes us. He puts a new song in our hearts. He brings a change of desire, of behaviour, of thinking, of acting. When God comes to a person He changes them – Romans 8:1-8. These shepherds were visited by God. And there is all the difference in the world between that and people who can only claim that they have visited Him. Make no mistake. Jesus invites us to come. God commands all men everywhere to repent. He graciously and lovingly pleads with people to turn from their wicked ways. But dear ones, do not confuse that with the belief that you can be saved without God coming to you and bringing you to Christ.

a. Consider this episode that the Apostle John tells us about in John 2 :

John 2:23-25 – Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Now dear ones, here is the question that we need to ask ourselves: Is the faith that I profess the response to a visit from God to me or am I relying on something that I did? Can you talk about God finding you or is that foreign to you? Can you say from the depths of your heart that God found you? Did He find you when you were religious and doing great religious things in your church, for the community, and for other people? People talked about how busy you were, how willing you were to do whatever was asked of you. They were amazed at your service to the community, to your church, to the souls of the lost.

But could they ever talk of you as a person who is godly, who gives the aura of having been with Jesus, who knows the mind of God because that is where he spends his time? Has God found you or is all your faith the false faith of someone who thinks that he has found God?

Maybe you have no stories about your service to church and community. Maybe your life was the opposite of such grand looking things. Maybe your story is not one of being envied by people, but being avoided by people. Perhaps you were living a profligate life of immorality and debauchery. Maybe you were like these shepherds – avoided, ignored, unwanted, unwelcome. And is your testimony that you just decided one day to get yourself out of the mess you were in and go searching for God? If that is what happened know that it happened because God came to you and put that desire for something better in your heart.

Maybe your story used to be that God found you, but you have been a believer so long that you have forgotten what it was like before God found you. You have been serving Christ for so long that all you can say is how you have been serving and giving and going and accomplishing … . Dear saint, I plead with you – do not allow a life of service to God cause you to forget that it is all a response to Him coming to you. These shepherds left the manger rejoicing that God had visited them. I doubt very much if forty years later they had forgotten what happened that first night they saw Jesus. But we do don’t we? We talk about our sacrifice, our faithfulness, our loyalty … . It is a serious temptation and it is a serious forsaking of the Gospel.

People who think they started their journey to God do not live in dependence upon God. They do not live a life of praise and glory to God. Why? Because they found God. And until they realize that God found them, they will not live out the purpose of their salvation – worship. They cannot worship properly – they have too much to offer.

Dear ones – our salvation is not God responding to us because we came. It is us being won over to Him because He comes to us. He comes, not just to the world, but to every single individual who is ever saved. He comes to the dead and raises them to life – Ephesians 2:4-5. He comes to the blind and says “Let there be light” – II Corinthians 4:6. He comes to slaves and sets them free – Romans 6:18. And every person who has had that done in him, to him, for him – will return to his place praising and glorifying God.

Now then – has God come to you? Is your life a response to Him or is it a constant futile attempt of you trying to get to him? Which is it? Coming to Christ is not about you banging on His door and asking to be let in. It is Him coming to you and saying

These shepherds are praising and glorifying God because God came to them and brought them to the Saviour. Will all who have truly encountered God leap and jump and shout hallelujah? Not necessarily. But they will praise and glorify Him. Their hearts will burst at the privilege of being called children of God. They will return to their places of work where they encounter dirty sheep and wolves and loneliness and pain – and still have a song in their hearts. Life will not be easier. In fact the life they now have may be more difficult. But no matter what they will be marked by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Hear Paul in II Corinthians 1:8. Hear Acts 14:21-22. Hear Romans 8:17. …But hear also Romans 14:17. Hear Galatians 5:22.

Now dear one – is that what you have? Do you have a faith that was stirred into life by God the Holy Spirit coming to you and bringing you to Christ? Do you have a faith that can rejoice in God even when there are people and events and situations that make you weep? That is what God brings.

II They Left there Worshipping

1. Look at verse 20. They returned. The returned. Returned to what? They returned to their sheep. They returned to being social outcasts. They returned to low paying jobs and loneliness and not being invited to the parties and not having much of what the world has to offer. They returned to being avoided and spurned and gossiped about. They returned to the bigotry and hatred of others. They returned – if we can put it into our context – to mental problems and social problems and money problems. They returned to dysfunctional families and being single parents. They returned to chemotherapy and not knowing if it was going to work. They returned to grown adult children who spurned the faith that they were taught as children. They returned to hateful neighbours and knots in the stomach from the worry and anxieties of life. They returned to not very much. And dear ones listen – they returned praising and glorifying God – because they had an encounter with Jesus Christ. They saw the Messiah.

2. Some of you here get this so well. Your worship is genuine and your lives are hard. Allow me to encourage you with this – that is a more powerful testimony than you know. Do not think it is nothing. It is something great – a true gift from God. And I thank you for it. For others of you, this is not true – but it can be.

3. To what has God called you? When I went into the ministry, I knew that God was going to use me for the conversion of thousands. I knew that I would be on everyone’s invitation list to preach in their churches and give them the secrets of my wisdom. I knew that I would be a great success. And none of it happened. (And God has blessed me through the years to have people tell me that it is all my fault). And if I had had more of the attitude of these shepherds in me then I wouldn’t have cared so much. They returned praising and glorifying God. How we need to understand this and absorb this and have this as the testimony of our hearts. He returned to his minimum wage job glorifying God. She returned to a difficult home life glorifying God. He returned to a small insignificant church where great artists were unaffordable. She returned to her wayward children and low income housing and … … glorifying and praising God – because they had had an encounter with Jesus Christ that would change them for eternity.

4. Dear one, do you give God ultimatums? Do you bargain with God? If He will do this for you then you will do something for Him? Do you know deep in your heart that if only things were better you could have joy in your heart just like they did? That is no Christian attitude. It comes from not realizing what Jesus has already done. The shepherds didn’t leave the manger that night griping about what they had to return to. Because when God came to them He did something in their hearts, in their souls. And it gave them great joy that showed in worship. things did not get better. They returned from whence they had come. Same sheep, same low status. Same miserable life – glorifying and praising God.

5. Make no mistake dear ones – if we have a real encounter with Christ we will return from it glorifying and praising God. We may not be dancing. We may not be exuberant. … But we will be worshipping. (Romans 12 comes after Romans 1-11.)

6. Someone may say, “Well, if that happened to me then I would respond like they did too”. But dear one, He chose to do that for those shepherds that night. We do not have the option of dictating to God how He will find us. He chooses to have you here this morning with an open Bible set before you. And it is no less earth shattering than what those shepherds had that night.

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