Posted in christmas, encouragement, jesus, shepherds

The Shepherds were watching their flocks by night…

EPrata photo

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And 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!”

15When 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.” 16And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. (Luke 2:8-17)

Shepherds. Shepherds? Why them?

watch … by night—or, night watches, taking their turn of watching. From about passover time in April until autumn, the flocks pastured constantly in the open fields, the shepherds lodging there all that time. (From this it seems plain that the period of the year usually assigned to our Lord’s birth is too late). Were these shepherds chosen to have the first sight of the blessed Babe without any respect of their own state of mind? That, at least, is not God’s way.

“No doubt, like Simeon (Lu 2:25), they were among the waiters for the Consolation of Israel” [OLSHAUSEN];

and, if the simplicity of their rustic minds, their quiet occupation, the stillness of the midnight hours, and the amplitude of the deep blue vault above them for the heavenly music which was to fill their ear, pointed them out as fit recipients for the first tidings of an Infant Saviour, the congenial meditations and conversations by which, we may suppose, they would beguile the tedious hours would perfect their preparation for the unexpected visit. [Source: Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible]

Let us go, &c.—lovely simplicity of devoutness and faith this! They are not taken up with the angels, the glory that invested them, and the lofty strains with which they filled the air. Nor do they say, Let us go and see if this be true—they have no misgivings. But “Let us go and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” Does not this confirm the view given on Lu 2:8 of the spirit of these humble men? [Source: Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible]

Humble men, guiding and caring for the sheep of Israel. This is a well-known metaphor laced throughout the bible, starting with the first shepherd, Abel. (Genesis 4:4). The first human blood shed in the Bible was shepherd’s blood, performed by an angry, jealous one who rejected God.

Who were shepherds in the Bible? Abel, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Laban, Jacob’s twelve sons, Moses, David, Mesha– King of Moab (Jordan), Doeg, Amos, the shepherds who came to honor Jesus (source).

Source(s): Genesis 4:2
Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.

Genesis 21:28
Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock,

Genesis 13:5
Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents.

Genesis 26:12
Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. 13 The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. 14 He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. 15 So all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth.

Genesis 30:32
Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages.

Genesis 29:9
While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.

Genesis 47:3
Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?” “Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.”

Exodus 2:17
Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.

1 Samuel 21:7
Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the LORD; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd.

2 Kings 3:4
Now Mesha king of Moab raised sheep, and he had to supply the king of Israel with a hundred thousand lambs and with the wool of a hundred thousand rams.

Amos 1:1
The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.

Luke 2:15
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Luke 2:20
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Last Shepherd, the Best Shepherd

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

The shepherds in the field made “haste” to go. They did not hesitate to go and worship. Let us make haste to worship the Good Shepherd on this eve of His birth, He is deserving of all praise, glory and worship.

What Child Is This?

Posted in angels, christmas, shepherds, sing

Do Angels Sing?

At school last week, I wandered down the hall and enjoyed looking at all the kids’ projects hung up for display. I noticed one where the child had innocently renamed the famous Christmas song “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to “Heart the Herald Angels Sing.” I thought that was cute.

Many Christmas songs refer to angels singing. Not just Hark the Herald Angels sing, but also in the song, “Angels we have Heard on High”, the first lyric goes,

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plain

And the chorus is,

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;

Also, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”, where we read the lyrics,

The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing

Lots and lots of songs state that the angels sing. But does the bible say the same? No. Angels (probably) don’t sing. Or maybe they do. Here is Tim Chaffey from Answers in Genesis on the facts of the matter and why they matter:

The idea of angels singing on the night of Christ’s birth has become so common that many are surprised to learn that the Bible does not unequivocally state this. This example provides a good opportunity to discuss traditions. In and of themselves, traditions are not wrong, but they must be based on and consistent with Scripture. If they contradict Scripture, then they must be rejected. 

At the same time, we don’t want to be guilty of going too far in the other direction. Just because the Bible doesn’t explicitly state that they did sing does not necessarily mean that they did not. Some have even argued that angels do not or cannot sing at all, but those who make this claim must adequately address Job 38:7 and other passages that seem to support the idea that they can and have sung. Furthermore, there is no biblical or logical reason why they could not sing. Angels are highly intelligent beings who are capable of speaking. Why would they be incapable of putting those words into song, especially since other beings in heaven sing (Revelation 5:9–14)? 

One of the points of this series on misconceptions is to lead us all to look closely at what the Bible teaches. Far too often traditions have been the basis of our thinking, and we end up believing things that are not found in Scripture. We have heard and sung about angels singing on that night so often that many do not bother to look closely at the text.

EPrata collage

I agree. It’s one of those concepts that has embedded itself into culture so deeply we tend to stop looking at scripture to see if it is so.

Singing and praising are closely connected but not necessarily the same. God could have endowed his humans with an innate tendency to praise in song, and perhaps did not give that same tendency to angels, who mostly are declared in the bible to proclaim and to praise and to shout but not to sing.

On the one hand, J. Vernon McGee did not believe angels sing:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying [not singing], Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased. (Luke 2:9-14). They should have been singing. And the only place they seem to be singing is on the Christmas cards that I get. But they don’t sing in the Word of God. If there ever was a time when angels should have been singing, it was here in the Gospel of Luke when that angel made the announcement of the birth of Christ.

McGee says that he believes angels do not sing because they were never lost sinners and were never redeemed. “It is to the redeemed that God has given a song,” McGee wrote. And for the record, as Chaffey mentioned, McGee did adequately address Job 38:7 in his sermon. I tend to agree with McGee on the concept of angels not singing and also his interpretation of Job 38:7.

However, Charles Spurgeon did believe angels sang. In his sermon, “The First Christmas Carol“, Spurgeon preached,

And mark how well they told the story, and surely you will love them! Not with the stammering tongue of him that tells a tale in which he hath no interest; nor even with the feigned interest of a man that would move the passions of others, when he feeleth no emotion himself; but with joy and gladness, such as angels only can know. They sang the story out, for they could not stay to tell it in heavy prose. They sang, “Glory to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” Methinks they sang it with gladness in their eyes; with their hearts burning with love, and with breasts as full of joy as if the good news to man had been good news to themselves.

EPrata photo & collage

Whether you believe angels sing or do not sing isn’t the point. It is that we should always examine our traditions (including Christmas carols) to remind us that ultimate truth comes from the bible. Always examine these things to see if they are so.

I’ll end with Spurgeon’s joyous sermon closing he delivered on December 20, 1857 at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens-

May God give you peace with yourselves; may he give you good will towards all your friends, your enemies, and your neighbors; and may he give you grace to give glory to God in the highest. I will say no more, except at the close of this sermon to wish every one of you, when the day shall come, the happiest Christmas you ever had in your lives.

Posted in angels, christmas, glory, night, shepherds

The shepherds were watching their flocks by night

I mentioned yesterday that one of my favorite Christmas passages is Simeon’s Song. Another favorite of mine is the moment when the myriad of angels appear to the shepherds who were watching their flocks by night. First, here is the passage:

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
(Luke 2:8-14)

I’m focusing on “night.”

NIGHT: The period of darkness between evening and morning. It is generally a time for the cessation of daily activity and for sleep, but, because darkness also gives an opportunity for evil, there is need to be watchful. The term may also be used figuratively to refer to evil or to a period of distress. Night-time also provides opportunity for contemplation and for prayer.

(Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.)

The ancient Jerusalemites did not have the advantage of electric lights, street-lamps, flashlights, or any sort of man-made illumination, save candles or fire. Normally, work began at dawn and ended at sunset, for the obvious reason is that it was too hard to perform tasks when the natural illumination of the bright sun was absent. When the sun went down, it got dark.

Without light, people turned in for the day, eating a last meal, resting, and then going to sleep. Except the shepherds. Their work was not finished when the sun went down. As a matter of fact, night-time required extra attention. Nocturnal predators came out to hunt. Robbers stole in the dark. Mischief was done. Night is a time for evil, so the shepherds had to stay awake, or take turns in shifts for the night watch in order to protect the sheep. But it was dark.

Lamps of clay, bronze, or other metal were indispensable in every home. With oil, wax, or pitch as fuel and flax, papyrus, or other fiber as wick, they often burned all night. To show how desolate the land would be after Nebuchadnezzar laid Judea waste, God said through Jeremiah that no one would see lamp light in the land.

Even though their eyes adjusted to the dark and they could perceive this or that, dimly, it was dark. The darkness would have been near-total, save for any starlight or moonlight.

So on this momentous evening, the shepherds had settled into their night watch routine. Suddenly the night gloom was split by LIGHT. The instant change would have been overwhelming, searing their eyes blinding them momentarily. Imagine their terror! It was not as if a bonfire had been lit or a prankster shepherd has snuck up with a torch. This light was BRIGHT. It was from heaven, no ordinary light.

It was HOLY light. It was GLORY light. Not only was it bright, but it was Light from God, the heavenly realm touching the earthly realm.

You know that each time an angel appears to a person, the first thing the angel says is “Fear not!” Why? Angels are terrifying. They are not chubby, flying babies. They are holy messengers of God, with power and strength beyond our comprehension.

Matthew 28:3-4
Luke 1:11-12
Luke 1:30
Luke 2:11
Daniel 8:17
Daniel 10:7-8

Angels appearing in glory light, in an innumerable company, praising God so loudly the ground must have shook, must have been absolutely terrifying. It must have been bright.

How fitting, that in darkest night, the Light had come. Practically, the night was dark. At night, people were blind. Spiritually, Jerusalem was apostate, with barely any faith in the nation at all. But suddenly the shepherds could see! The Light would lead the way.

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46)

The Light illuminates our sins, so that they are exposed, and then we can be cleansed. Do not hide in the darkness, but seek the Light.

LIGHT: The brightness that enables sight in the darkness. Scripture often uses light as a symbol of the saving presence of God in a fallen world, with darkness being used as a symbol of sin or the absence of God.
Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.

Light has come into the world, born of a virgin, proclaimed by angels, seen by shepherds, witnessed to by God’s people: us. Hallelujah, the Light has come, darkness is no more.

Posted in christmas, malachi, shepherds, spurgeon, three kings, worship

Christmas, Malachi 1, and the nature of true worship

In Malachi 1:6-14, the LORD our God rebukes the priests and the people for offering polluted worship. Let’s take a look at what proper worship is by first looking at what proper worship isn’t, from the mouth of the LORD. Here is His rebuke in full:

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts.

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.”

He said that the priests bring the people’s sick and the lame animals for the altar, not even the Governor would accept these blemished offerings. Yet they bring them to Him, the Holy God of Israel. They sneer at the weight of having to sacrifice, saying it’s a burden. They give no thought to the Lord’s table nor revere Him as King. They don’t even honor Him as Father.

In this day and age, we have come to believe the lie that just because we show up to church, mumble a few prayers, half-heartedly sing a few theology-less songs, and sit through a sermon that’s interfering with the timing of the crock pot, that we have blessed God.

God has standards for everything, including worship. He calls those who bring less than their best a “cheat”. He says that they “pollute” his temple. He refuses to accept their sacrifices. And He says they still expect Him to show them favor. And it shouldn’t be a duty nor a burden, because as He says, “I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.”

What if God were to expose our worship today? What if He spoke a word from through a person as He did Malachi, saying that we are evil, polluters of His sanctuary, and are not worthy of favor? That we might as well all just leave and close the church doors behind us? That He has no pleasure in us? (Reminiscent of the condemnations in the letters in Revelation 2-3). The church as it is today would probably reject Him! They’d say He is being too mean, not being tolerant or inclusive, and after all, they are doing the best they can and He should just be happy with that. (Revelation 3:20)

Worship is important, but it doesn’t stop at the church doors when we enter in. Showing up isn’t worship. We need to worship in the right way.

Superficial worship, shallow worship, wrong worship cripples, debilitates, robs God of what is rightfully His, limits your usefulness, denigrates your whole Christian experience. We need to worship in the right way, to give God what He is due and to put ourselves in a position of being most useful to God. (source)

I am thinking about true worship on the almost eve of the celebration we offer to God for sending His Son into the world, in flesh. Jesus’ birth is a monumental moment in history, one that culminated with His death and resurrection. Man and God reconciled. Do we offer pure, and good worship to Him? This week of all weeks is a week to worship! What are a few of the positive templates of worship we see in the New Testament?

Adoration of the Shepherds (The Holy Night)
Correggio 1530

I think of the Shepherds to whom the angels appeared with the glad tidings on that night in Bethlehem so long ago.

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.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:15-18)

The shepherds truly worshiped! First, they listened to the angels. They did not run away and they did not sneer or mock or say “what weariness is this?” They listened with all their heart and souls. We know this from Luke 2:9 when the shepherds feared the glory of the Lord.

Then, they obeyed. They were instructed to get up and go, seek the babe, and they did. “In haste”!! They heard the message and they obeyed it as fast as their feet could carry them. Inertia didn’t keep them on their bedrolls. Weariness from a long day shepherding didn’t stop them. Fear didn’t paralyze them. Resentment at being marginalized from the worship structure of the day didn’t hinder them. They got up, gathered together and they searched for the babe, in haste. This shows us that nothing else was as important to them at that moment. The shepherds worshiped by obeying the word they had heard from on high.

Third, when they saw the sign of the babe in swaddling clothed confirmed, the shepherds went out and told the news. “They made known.” They must have told a lot of people if the angels’ message had become known. They didn’t stop at one or two people, they made it known. This also is worship- to proclaim Him.

Byzantine art usually depicts the Magi in Persian
clothing which includes breeches, capes, and Phrygian caps.
Mosaic, ca. 565. Ravenna, Italy

How about the Kings from the East? “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. … ” And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:1-2; 11).

These kings had come from a distance of what was probably at least 800-900 miles away. In any case, distance was of no matter to them, they set their eyes on the west and walked until they found Him. Would you walk the distance from Atlanta to Oklahoma City because you had heard Jesus was there?

They brought Him their best, best offering. They did not bring a blind lamb and a broken-winged dove! Their worship was that they had known He was coming, and had watched for His appearing. Then they put action to their worship by seeking Him. And do you see the manner of their worship? Unlike those in Malachi, the kings brought best offerings they had. And they fell down.

“Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him“. (Psalm 72:11)

As the Christian Courier delves into the discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well, the article discusses true worship:

In drawing the contrast between Samaritan worship and Hebrew worship, Christ emphasized that true worship is more than emotion; it is grounded in knowledge. … Away goes the contention that the format of worship is immaterial, so long as one is sincere.” (John 4:22-23, source)

To properly worship, we must know Who we are worshiping and we must do it in the proper mode. I’m not talking about a list of legalistic rules, but only referring to the templates of worthless worship and proper worship presented to us in His word. It is a heart condition. We no longer have sacrifices to bring, but do we worship sacrificially, with all our heart, mind, and soul? Or do we vow a large tithe but switch it for lesser at the last minute?

Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished… (Malachi 1:14)

Do we acknowledge not only the babe in the manger, but the glorious risen KING of Kings and LORD of Lords who is to come?

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering…(Malachi 1:11)

Do we know who we are worshiping and why? Do we love Him?

Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you– majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)

Spurgeon speaks of true spiritual worship.

Christ comes to tell us that now his worship is to be wholly spiritual, even the altar which belongs to antediluvian times is gone, for we have an altar of another kind; even the sacrifice which belonged to the early period has departed like a shadow, because we have the sacrifice of Christ in which to trust. … At any rate, my dear hearers, if you have not with your whole hearts loved and worshipped God, repent over it, and pray the Holy Ghost to make you spiritual. Go to Christ’s cross, and trust in him; then, and not till then, will you be capable of adoring the most High God in a style in which he can accept your worship. God grant that this may be impressed upon the hearts of all of us, that we may worship God in spirit and in truth.