Mary, the Shepherds, Jesus, and Us — Luke 2:8-20

The Bible Lessons below are from the former International Bible Lesson Commentary and International Bible Lesson by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr., which can be used for December 29, 2019. The Commentaries for these Bible Lessons can be found at: Luke Bible Lesson Commentaries and Lessons.

Angels Appeared to the Prepared

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:8-9).

In all of the accounts surrounding Jesus’ birth, those who saw Him as a baby were the most prepared to meet Him. The angels did not appear to the shepherds who lived in their fields just because they were poor; rather, this especially chosen group of shepherds probably thought in ways similar to the shepherd boy David, who became Israel’s greatest king and an ancestor of the Messiah. These shepherds had learned about God from the beauties of God’s creation. They may have known and identified with these words of David, “The heavens are telling the glory of God … Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). But the heavens did not speak words they could hear until the angel of the Lord appeared to them. The glory of God showed around them in a new way, and they heard an angel of the Lord speak their language. The angel put into words what they had learned from the sun and the stars, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:14). Moreover, they learned about God’s glory in a new way, because the angel proclaimed, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). No wonder they left their field with haste to find the baby Jesus in a manger, and then returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).

What Were Mary’s Expectations?

 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

The Bible does not reveal many of Mary’s thoughts after the angel told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Because God had shown her favor as the mother of the one and only Son of God, she might have expected that her life would become easier; however, many events made her life more difficult, especially as the time of Jesus’ birth drew near. Instead of relaxing at home and preparing for Jesus’ miraculous birth, an emperor decreed that she had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Instead of God leading her to a comfortable palace where He could give His Son the best of everything, Joseph found no place for them in an inn. Instead of a bed of luxury fit for the mother of a newborn king, Mary had to rest on a bed of hay. The nearest thing available for Jesus’ bed was a manger in a stable. Instead of rejoicing with their family at Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary probably celebrated alone in the company of curious animals. Reality may have contradicted all of Mary’s expectations, and she may have wondered with Joseph, “What has gone wrong!” Unexpectedly, God reassured them with the arrival of some shepherds. They told Jesus’ parents what the angel of the Lord had told them about their child, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Those who commit themselves to serving God sometimes find their life more difficult, but God always finds ways to reassure them with His peace, power, and presence.

Some Blessings from Believing God’s Words

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

The priest Zechariah met an angel in the temple, but Zechariah did not believe his words. When an angel met the shepherds, and announced that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem and they could find Him as a baby in a manger, they believed him and hurried off to see Jesus. From the Bible, we learn about some of the disappointments that can come from disbelief: Zechariah could not speak for at least nine months. From the Bible, we also learn about the thoughts of astonishment and feelings of awe that can come from believing God and His words. Because they believe in Jesus, believers ponder with wonder when they think about God sending His only begotten Son into the world to save them from their sins, cleanse their conscience, fill them with love, restore their peace with God and peace of mind, and give them eternal life. Some of the shepherds might not have lived long enough to hear Jesus teach, but some of them probably did. After they saw Him as a baby, some who believed in His coming might have died and joined the great cloud of witnesses who watched Jesus’ ministry from heaven as in a giant stadium (see Hebrews 12:1). Today, when people hear and believe the good news about Jesus Christ, they respond as the shepherds did after they saw the baby Jesus. They glorify and praise God. They tell others what they experienced after they trusted in Jesus as their Savior. Eventually, they will join the great cloud of witnesses in heaven and continue watching God’s saving work.

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