In yesterday’s post we took an initial look at the passage below from the second chapter of the gospel of Luke and landed on the theme of joy. We then concluded the post with a list of a few questions that we wanted to consider today.
Before we dive into these questions, allow me to share something with you. Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed sharing faith and life with several good friends. i connect with one of them in particular by discussing and asking questions about Scripture and other theological books that we’re reading. I took a few moments yesterday to ask him about his thoughts in regard to the questions below. I’m so thankful for his insights and have included them as part of what I share.
Let’s read the passage again and then take a look at the questions to see what we can discover together.
“Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.‘” – Luke 2:8-11 (NET)
With that fresh in our minds, let’s take a look at the questions below:
1. What did it really mean to the shepherds and the people of Israel? What did it mean to them that their savior, the Christ, the anointed one, had been born?
There are numerous passages found in the Scriptures, especially among the prophets, where God communicates hope and deliverance and salvation despite the continuous rebellious behavior of the people of Israel.
Consider the Isaiah 52:7-10 (ESV):
7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8 The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
If you’re looking for more, here are two other passages (among many) that speak specifically of how God’s Messiah will be God’s agent of deliverance and salvation: Isaiah 9:1-7, and Isaiah 42:1-9.
So, for the shepherds to be told by the angel that their savior, the anointed one, the Messiah, had been born meant that the long-awaited deliverance from the consequences of their sins was finally becoming reality. And the main consequence that the majority of the people of Israel would have been eager to be delivered from was Roman rule. Freedom from the Roman oppression was paramount for all Jews.
Not only were the people of Israel longing to be set free from the rule of the Romans, but they were expecting the Messiah to establish the Kingdom of God as a government at that time that would bring peace to all the nations.
2. And what about what the angel said that this would be good news of great joy for all people? Did they really mean all people, or was that just another way of saying the people of God, Israel?
The establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, God’s government, would bring peace to the nations, which is good news for the entire world. Peace, as you recall, has been missing since Adam and Eve experienced the consequences of their sin and were banished from the Garden of Eden. God’s desire since then has always been that His creation be at peace again with Himself and with each other.
Another way to think about how the announcement about the savior being born was good news of great joy for all people is in regard to what Paul declares in his writings to the churches in Ephesus and the surrounding areas. I encourage you to read the letter to the Ephesians, or at least chapter 3.
The good news, the mystery revealed, that Paul shares with the Gentiles is that they are no longer considered to be outsiders, but rather co-heirs of the promises of God. This revelation takes the good news beyond the people of Israel and stirs up joy worldwide.
3. Was there any significance that it was actually taking place at that exact time in history?
I asked this question because of the word “today” in the declaration of the angel. “Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.” I was curious if God’s specific timing at that point in history had any specific meaning. Why did he choose that day?
And I’m sure there are many ways to speculate regarding that exact time, but I’m not certain that we’ll find much explanation in the Scriptures regarding this. However, we do read in the letter Paul wrote to the Galatians one way to describe God’s timing…
“But when the proper time came God sent his son, born of a human mother and born under the jurisdiction of the Law, that he might redeem those who were under the authority of the Law and lead us into becoming, by adoption, true sons of God.” – Galatians 4:4-5 (PHILLIPS)
4. Is the City of David important to the story?
The City of David, or Bethlehem, seems to certainly have some importance to the story. It’s called the City of David because Bethlehem is where King David was born and raised (1 Samuel 16).
Earlier in the story of God we find the town of Bethlehem mentioned as the place where Rachel, the wife of Jacob died (Genesis 35:19-20).
Probably the most popular verse in the Scriptures that mentions the little town of Bethlehem is found in the writings about the prophet Micah. This is a specific reference to the Messiah.
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.” – Micah 5:2 (ESV)
And we can then see this prophecy come to fruition as we read a little further in the gospel of Luke to see what the shepherds did and where they went once the angel left them.
“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.” – Luke 2:15-16 (ESV)
One last interesting nugget about the town of Bethlehem is that it means House of Bread. And it’s hard to not consider the words that Jesus spoke as found in the gospel of John…
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 (ESV)
My hope is that considering these types of questions has not only been good for your mind, but has continued to stir within you great joy during this season of advent.