Friday, December 16, 2016

FAITH LESSONS FROM THE BETHLEHEM SHEPHERDS @ CHRISTMAS TIME


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....Luke 2:15-20.

The Bethlehem Shepherds are an amazing case study for anyone who believes not just in God’s justice, but His favor towards those who are not welcome what the world deems “proper circles”.  They were more than outcasts in people terms even though the sheep they tended over were so crucial to Old Testament worship in the Jerusalem temple. 

In the case of the Bethlehem Shepherds, their flocks were six to eight miles south of Jerusalem, and as far as they could be from the religious people who ran the temple and the crooked side businesses. Yet they were close enough when they needed 1000’s of sheep to sacrifice, according to the Law of Moses. In addition, like most Judean shepherds, they were considered worse than used car salesmen and a lot of them may have been….but not all. The greatest men of the Bible were shepherds – King David, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham and others. No one in their right mind would dare call these men dishonest and corrupt. Yet religious and other authorities looked down their noses at ALL shepherds.

This is the background against which God sent the Good News of Jesus’ birth as a human in a small, cold, dirty Bethlehem stable to men such as these.  It is also telling that He not only choose the outcast, the least likely and the rejected. He chose men who were to become the model of the upcoming church leadership. Another word for congregation is the “Flock” of the faithful and sometimes church people BEHAVE like stray sheep.

We sheep DO need a shepherd. In fact, we need the Good Shepherd because
“All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way...(Isaiah 53:6)”.  Jesus is that Good Shepherd.  He came to earth to set up the Church Age, after He had paid for all sin for all time at the Cross, which is the Foundation of the Faith. Strangely enough, the Bethlehem Shepherds instinctively knew this truth!

Look at their conduct after God was revealed DIRECTLY to them: 
Luke 2:16  THEY OBEYED "So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.". Their obedience most likely involved a lot of work as they had to look in every stable in the entire town of Jerusalem.  They responded to God’s calling and there is a lesson here for the faithful and available among us. When God calls – don’t wait. Go straightway and do what He says, or lose the blessing or even worse. I am telling you from experience, do not despise humble beginnings.
Luke 2:17 -  THEY CAME, THEY SAW, THEY ACTED: "When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child." The Bethlehem Shepherds arrived at the right stable at the right time, as appointed by God. When we obey, we come face to Face with the King and our lives are never, ever the same! The proof if this is that we act just like these shepherds – WE GO AND SPREAD THE GOSPEL….and plunge headlong into working for the Father, then we are doing what the Father commanded us to do....to our eternal reward in Heaven!
Luke 2:18 - THEY WERE BELIEVED: "And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds." After coming face to Face with the Living God of Heaven, and experiencing an incredible life changing conversion, people notice. There is no hiding the change in visage, lifestyle and speech of a man or woman who has encountered Christ and has had a real conversion. These shepherds saw first hand. Those of us who have experienced His Grace, Love and Forgiveness, believe without seeing Him. This is true Faith. Faith also explains why a Christian can enter a bible teaching church, in any part of this world, hear the same Bible passage read and taught on by a true pastor, and immediately testify to its authenticity and truthfulness. There is one common denominator - the Holy Spirit. He- the very Spirit of God, Who raised Christ from the dead - lives in all saved believers, EVERYWHERE. This truth explains the reason the message can be believed no matter where we are at any given time.
Luke 2:20 - THEY PRAISED:  "The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen". There is no way a believer can ever stop thanking God for His Love, Grace, Mercy, Compassion and the Life He has given us. Even the most ungrateful Christian knows from whence cometh his strength. Throughout human and Judeo-Christian history, men and women have been completely open about their worship, amazement and awe when they come to a full realization as to what has happened. Look at Isaiah in chapter 6 when he realized he was in the Throne room of God and in the sheer presence of pure holiness. He said " Then I said, “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.”  King David praised Him in the Psalms, the very prayer book of the Bible. 

One day, Jesus healed the man blind from birth at the Pool of Siloam. As is recorded fully in John chapter 9, the Pharisees not only kicked this man out, who had his sight given to him, but blasphemed God in the process. Jesus heard all about the incident and went looking for the man, whose sight He had given. The Gospel of John picks it up here in verses 35-38 "35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” 36 He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” 38 Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.

The Bethlehem Shepherds saw the King, as a baby. They worshiped and praised and proclaimed Him. The word "Shepherd" here - Poimenes in the original Greek - is the same word used for pastor these days. These men had no seminary training, no etiquette training and were outcasts. In the world today, we are now the outcasts of society. We are the minority. Most of us will never have close to any kind of formal bible training. But if we follow what these humble shepherds did: OBEY, SEE, BELIEVE, ACT, PRAISE AND WORSHIP, there is no telling how many we can influence for the Kingdom of Heaven. There is no limit either. There is also no boundary when it comes to being grateful to God, for His Love for us, so we can celebrate the Greatest Gift of all - Jesus - at Christmas time!

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