Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Humble Flocks, Strong Shepherd

Marshal your troops now, city of troops,
    for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler
    on the cheek with a rod.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.

 He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the LORD,
    in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

(Micah 5:1-4)
I used to wonder at God’s choice to first vocally announce Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds. But the longer I return to the Christmas story, the more I see the deep theology in His choosing lowly sheepherders.

Micah’s prophecy helps us unwrap these truths. Up until now, Micah’s message has been about the future and promised restoration of Israel. Now, in chapter five, he speaks of the One who will do the restoring.

When our strength fails, when we are humbled and humiliated, brought low and ashamed. That is when the Redeemer will come. He sees us in our weaknesses. And that is when He acts. That is where He meets us.

All of this is describing Israel, waiting for the Messiah, weak and dejected.

But is also a picture of the shepherds, living out in the Bethlehem fields.

Being a shepherd was not an esteemed career. It was dirty, smelly, and exhausting. The hours are non-stop. A warm, clean home with loved ones was but a distant memory. And all for what? A few sheep that will die of cold, be eaten by a wild animals, be killed for food, or be sacrificed at the temple. Job security wasn’t implied. A humiliating existence, really.

And it is for these that Jesus came.
It is to these that Jesus’ birth was first revealed.

As John Piper has said, “God is not constrained by human worth, achievement, or dignity.” Though He came as a baby, weak by anatomical standards, verse four says, the One to come will “stand and shepherd His flocks in the strength of the LORD.” Later in the Gospels, we hear Jesus called the Good Shepherd. He does not leave us to our own devices, unprotected from peril or death. These were terms they, and any rural dweller, would understand. In addition to being humiliating work, shepherds had to be quick, and strong, brave, and compassionate towards their sheep.

“And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.”

I no longer wonder at God’s choice to use the shepherds. It could have been no one else. A Shepherd announced to shepherds.

Like the shepherds, we all live humble and humiliated. Yet, as God chose them to be messengers that night, He chooses us to spread this Good News.

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.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

(Luke 2:15-18)


(Inspired by Edgewater Baptist Church sermon, March 1, 2020)


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