December 25, 2005

Luke 2:15-20 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - NT - Luke :: Permalink

Luke 2:15-20
(December 25, 2005, Sermon Notes)

A Saviour has been born in David’s city, and He is the anointed Lord! That was the angel’s message to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. The glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified but the angel comforted the shepherd. The Lord had heard Israel’s prayers and kept His promises. The king who would deliver His people was lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

The good news of Jesus’ birth demands a response, a response of faith-filled celebration. Luke wants us, like the shepherds, to hear the good news and let it move us to respond in joyful faith. And so he shows us here how Israel reacts to the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth.


The glory of the Lord didn’t continue to shine around the shepherd. The angels didn’t stick around to fight on the side of the newborn king. The glory and the angels disappear and Luke focuses on the men (literally, verse 15 reads: “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the men, the shepherds, said….”).

The angels didn’t praise God because of what the Saviour’s birth means for them. Rather, they rejoice because there is joy for men, for “all the people,” that is, the whole nation of Israel, and peace to men on earth. The focus isn’t on the angels here; it’s on the men.

The shepherds respond to the angel’s announcement the right way. They go to Bethlehem, not to see if anything had really happened but to see what the angel had said had happened. The angel announced a sign and the meaning of the sign and the shepherds want to see it, not to interpret it for themselves but to let it confirm for them what the angel had announced.

They come to see the Christ, the anointed king, the saviour, the Lord who would be a rival to Caesar and all other would-be lords. But what do they find? Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (v. 16). Mary and Joseph don’t look like a royal family. Joseph works in construction in a hick town in Galilee. And the baby is lying in an animal’s feedbox in a stable behind a house. The house probably belonged to a relative, but with the census, the guest room (a better translation than “inn”) was too full to give Mary the privacy she needed to have the baby and this was the only private place Mary and Joseph could find.

Christmas cards make that stable glow with a warm light so that it looks cosy. But in reality, everything in that scene points to poverty, the poverty of Mary and Joseph, the poverty of the newborn king. But that was no disappointment to the shepherds. Rather, everything they saw was a confirmation of what the angel had said.

There is a contrast between the glory that surrounded the shepherds in the fields and the poverty they see here, but that contrast is not a contradiction. It’s a sign of salvation. Jesus will save His people, not in spite of but by means of His humble birth. He is Israel’s king, Israel’s representative, and He shares here in Israel’s poverty, the poverty that came through sin. He is our representative, and He shares in the poverty of man ever since the Fall.

This manger is the first step on the path to the cross. Jesus came to suffer because He came to save. He takes this poverty and suffering on Himself to deal with sin, the sin that separates you from God, so that the glory the shepherds saw, which once filled the Temple, would shine on all His people.

And what the shepherds see, then, doesn’t put a damper on their joy. It doesn’t need sentimentalizing in order for it to give us joy. This is the sign the angel gave and it confirms that this child, lying here in poverty, is the Saviour, the anointed Lord. And therefore there is joy for you, even in the midst of your suffering, and there is joy to the world.


The shepherds see the sign and they become evangelists. The angel preached the good news to them and they now pass it on (v. 17). They report how they stood in God’s glory without being consumed, what the angel told them about a Saviour born in David’s house who would be the anointed king to rescue His people, and how they found the child swaddled in a manger.

But whom do they tell? Mary and Joseph, obviously, but also others (“all those who heard”). They report it all over Bethlehem. After all, this is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The shepherds want all the people, all Israel, to enter into this joy, to rejoice in what God has done in the birth of that baby lying in the manger.

But the people are hesitant. They marvelled at what the shepherds say (v. 18), which in itself is not a bad reaction. All through Luke’s Gospel, people will marvel at Jesus. Amazement is an appropriate response. But it is only the beginning of the right response. As will happen again and again in Jesus’ ministry, Bethlehem marvels but doesn’t move on to praise. The story holds people’s attention for a time and then they move on to think about other things. They don’t even “keep these things in their hearts,” as everyone had done at the birth of John.

Only Mary does. She keeps thinking about what the shepherds had said and what the angel had said. She remembers what Gabriel had told her about how her son would be God’s son, ruling on David’s throne over the house of Jacob. She remembers that Elizabeth called her “mother of my Lord.” She herself had sung about how the Lord would overthrow Israel’s enemies and fulfil His promises. And now that fulfilment is starting. Mary is amazed, but she goes further. She treasures the shepherds’ words in her heart. Her response is a response of faith.

But the shepherds go further still. They return to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” Their praise is grounded on the angel’s word (“heard”) and confirmed by the angel’s sign (“seen”). Apart from that word, they wouldn’t have seen anything special — and certainly no cause for joy — in the baby lying in the manger. But the word taught them to interpret that sight correctly.

And though they don’t yet have the full salvation that baby will bring, they start to celebrate it. The victory is certain! The angels celebrated in advance, before the battle was fought, and now the shepherds join in. And that’s the goal toward which God was working all along. In spite of the opposition the world will offer, in spite of the amazement and then indifference with which many hear the story, God’s Word accomplishes its purpose. The angels spoke to move men to sing and these shepherds do.

And we do too. We don’t see our full salvation yet. There’s still opposition and persecution, war instead of peace, suffering and death. But we sing in faith, grounded on what we have heard — not just the announcement of Jesus’ birth but the better news of His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His enthronement as the anointed Lord, who has won the victory and has saved us.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:27 am | Discuss (0)

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