Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Shepherd and the Good News

   "8      In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
          9      And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
          10      But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
          11      for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
          12      “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
          13      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.”
          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.”
          16      So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.
          17      When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.
          18      And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.
          19      But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.
          20      The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them."

This time of year studies on the nativity can be heard all throughout the Christmas season. While preparing for a teaching on the nativity myself I observed something I had never noticed before and would like to share it.

 The text listed above surrounds shepherds keeping watch over the flock that encounter a visitation from an angel proclaiming the arrival of the long awaited messiah. This is followed by their visit to Jesus in a manger to behold what the angel had told them.

As we read through the passages we easily see the role of the shepherds shift to ministers of the good news, "gospel". In the koine greek the word for "good news" is synonymous with the word "gospel". I began to reflect on if this passage held any significant parallels following the ascension of our Lord Jesus. While studying I remembered something important prior to Jesus' ascension.

 These shepherds represented the first who went out to share the good news. Just as other shepherds will spread the good news, the Gospel after Jesus’ ascension. Peter is told by Jesus to do the work of a shepherd with the Lord's people three times in John 21:15-17: “tend my lambs”, "shepherd my sheep”, “tend my sheep”. We have established the Peter and shepherd connection but let's see if we can make a connection with sharing the good news / Gospel and shepherd.

 We find Peter (shepherd) used on the day of Pentecost to preach the Gospel to a great crowd in the beginning of Acts 2. Paul shares that Peter was sent to share the Gospel with those of the circumcision in Galatians 2:7-8. These are just a couple of important ways listed where Peter was used to share the Gospel. Now that the shepherd and good news motif seemed to fit following the ascension I continued further on how it might be applied today.
 We now turn to The book of  2nd Timothy which is part of what is commonly known as the pastoral epistles (in addition to Titus and 1 Timothy but here we are concerned with 2 Timothy). We read that Timothy was prepared for pastoral care specifically to Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and was mentored through Paul (Rom 16:21, Acts 20:4, 1 Corinthians 4:17, etc.). This would warrant Timothy as a shepherd establishing an interesting connection to a shepherd and sharing the Gospel. You see it is in Paul's second letter to Timothy that the Holy Spirit through Paul speaks these words: "But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." - 2 Timothy 4:5. An exhortation for a shepherd to do the work of an evangelist. This text is the glue that brings the "shepherd" and "good news" together. Sadly I've met many pastors who based on their responses would lead me to believe they have never seriously considered this text.

 While I was out in Orange County the Lord had opened up some great fellowship with other brothers and sisters who loved to share the Gospel, yet there were many I had met who had no interest in evangelism. What was worse is I had met people who believed they were called to be pastors who refused to share the Gospel because they said that was not their gift. It is true that the Lord can gift someone as an "evangelist" as we read in Eph. 4:11 and that might not be someones gifting. But what we understand from scripture is that the 11 (at the time, until Matthias completed the 12 replacing Judas Iscariot in Acts 1) were instructed to go out and share the Gospel (Matt 28:19-20, Mark 16:15). So even though, as mentioned earlier, Paul instructs Timothy (shepherd) to "
do the work of an evangelist" (sharing the good news) we unfortunately have many modern day pastors (shepherds) that ignore this passage. I'm always amazed how someone can shepherd a flock who is not interested in sharing the good news. Let's take a look back at our text in Luke chapter 2.

We see the setting was at "night" that the shepherds were both visited and had shared the good news at Jesus' first coming. As some readers my be familiar that "night" can be associated with the last days (John 9:4 "night is coming when no one can work."). These shepherds were "guarding" the flock to protect them from wolves and other beast throughout the night. It's also important to notice that the shepherds that go and share the "good news" still returned back to their duty of tending/ guarding the flock ("glorifying and praising God"). This is what a true shepherd in these last days will look like, guarding their sheep from wolves (false teachers) (Acts 20:17-31, 1 Tim 4:1-3, 2 Tim 4:1-4) and as we noted earlier the sharing of the good news (Gospel). This description is also contrasted to John 10:12-13 which describes a hireling / hired hand who will flee and abandon the sheep at the sight of a wolf. These will be the two traits of the type of shepherds that will be prepared for the return of Christ. I wonder if this describes your pastor of where you fellowship at? I know personally only a couple of pastors who are willing to share the Gospel out of quite a few I have met over the years. Where are the shepherds who are willing to share the good news and guard the flock? This is not only addressed to pastors but also applies to us.
 Notice the shepherds back in Luke 2:15 they were eager to share the "good news" (granted the fact that the long awaited messiah had arrived can not be dismissed from the equation.) I've always said the Gospel is the one thing a new believer should know. They should at least be able to explain:

- repentance of sins (Luke 24:47)

- asking for forgiveness of our sins (Luke 24:47, 1 Cor 15:3)
- trusting solely in the finished work of Jesus on the cross (John 14:6, Col 2:14)
- His resurrection after three days proving deity (Rom 1:4, 1  Cor 15:4)
- His return (in the simplest form He is coming back) (Heb 9:28)

The shepherds who received the "good news" were able to share what they had heard/ believed with Mary, Joseph and all those who were present in Luke 2:17-19. They were excited to share the "good news". I wonder if the same can be said of most believers, especially of those older in the faith. It's true most believers are not called to be "shepherds", but all believers are still called to share the Gospel as we mentioned earlier (Matt 28:19-20, Mark 16:15). I again ask both pastor and laymen how can we know of such great a salvation and remain silent to a fallen world around us? This Christmas I challenge every believer with this question: when was the last time you shared the "good news"?

- Michael -Anthony Rene Chavez

New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.