The word gospel itself means good news; yet, today there doesn't seem to be much good news in the world. It seems we would rather focus on the bad news. So I have been asking myself, "When did the gospel stop being good news, or even no news?"
We are going to look closely at the beginning of the story of the gospel. Most Christians and even many atheists and agnostics are familiar with the story, because it is told every Christmas. If this is you, you may be tempted to stop reading right here, "because I already know that story." But I am going to implore you to read it as if you are reading it for the very first time. Ask the Holy Spirit to breathe life into the story. Put yourself in the story. Be there.
The Old Testament ends with the writings of the prophet Malachi, and for the next 400 years God does not speak. He sends no prophets. For 400 years the people hear nothing from God, until one night God breaks that silence; He has something to say to His people, something major, something important, something fantastic! So He sends the angel of the Lord to make this announcement that will change everything for His people, the Jewish people. We might expect that God told the angel to rush this important news to Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest. But He didn’t. Well then, perhaps God thought it was news that should more properly be first announced to the Sanhedrin, the supreme council and court of ancient Israel. Presided over by the High Priest and composed of 70 men drawn from the chief priests, scribes and elders, the Sanhedrin was the crème de le crème, the final arbiter of all things Jewish. Certainly we can understand why God would speak to this group first. But He didn’t. Now we are a bit baffled. He didn’t tell the angel to go to the High Priest or to the Sanhedrin. So who’s left? Of course! The king! That must be it! God told the angel to go tell King Herod. No, wrong again.
This earth shattering news was to be delivered to shepherds who were looking after their sheep in the fields near Bethlehem. God passed over the High Priest, the Sanhedrin and the king, telling the angel to make the announcement that would change the world to a group of shepherds. Shepherds were very low on the list of those who were important. They had no social standing or respect. And yet, after 400 years of silence, God chose to speak to the shepherds rather than the "high and mighty."
Can you imagine their shock when the angel of the Lord appeared to them that night? It’s just another night in the somewhat boring life of a shepherd. They are just ordinary men doing their very ordinary jobs, watching their sheep, talking among themselves about ordinary, mundane things. Then suddenly the sky lights up with God’s glory and the angel of the Lord is standing there right there in front of them! Luke 2:9 tells us they responded as we most likely would – with sheer terror!
Seeing that they were terrified, the angel quickly reassured them, saying,
"Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” Luke 2:10-14 (NIV).
After the angel and the heavenly host left as suddenly as they had come, the shepherds looked at each other with astonishment. Having overcome their initial terror at this miraculous display (they were still alive, after all), they excitedly compared notes about what they had just seen and heard. Remember, God had been silent for 400 years, and now His angel came to talk to them? About the Messiah? Mere shepherds? Was it real? Did it really happen? The angel said this baby was “a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord!” Could it be true? Luke tells us they left “hurriedly," "with haste,” to find this baby the angels had told them about. I like the way The Message expresses it: “They left, running…!” Luke 2:15-16.
The angel of the Lord said that the arrival of this baby, Jesus, was good news, great news, even joyous news, and it was for "all the people," not just the Jews! A Savior is born! The Messiah is come! The Lord is here! And He's here for everyone! After the shepherds found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, they just had to share this good news with everyone they met. Scripture says,
“… they 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, NIV).
These very ordinary men were chosen to be the first to hear the good news, and they were the first to begin to spread the good news. Each Christmas we remember their encounter with the angel and the angel’s proclamation of good news. We read about it in the book of Luke, we tell it to our children, sermons are preached, and songs are sung. Our hearts soar with “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and many, many other wonderful hymns that speak of this miraculous intervention of God. For a few weeks we immerse ourselves in this good news, and we feel its excitement, joy, love, and power. Christmas is such a wonderful time of year because, if we are celebrating it properly, our focus is on Jesus, the most wonderful gift of all!
The Old Testament is complete. The New Testament is being birthed.
This is the beginning of the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ – the Good News!
I sometimes wonder about those shepherds. I wonder if any of them were among the thousands who came to hear Jesus teach in later years? I wonder if Jesus healed any of them? I wonder if any of them became His disciples, or if they were in the mob crying, "Crucify him!" I wonder if they were at the Cross or in the Upper Room? I wonder.
Some of us start out "running" to the Lord. We hear the Good News, and we are excited. The Savior has come for me! Insignificant me! This is wonderful news, indeed! The most wonderful, astounding news there could possibly be! Jesus came to save me! He rescued me from the kingdom of darkness and placed me in GOD's kingdom, the Kingdom of Light! He made the way for me to be re-born as God's child, free from the law of sin and death! He has made a place for me in Heaven, and destined me to rule and reign with Him for eternity!
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" Luke 2:14.
My prayer for us this Christmas is that we are still excited about the Angel's Announcement:
"For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" Isaiah 9:6.
I pray that we know Him as Wonderful, as Counselor, as Mighty God, as Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and that we are still in awe that He has come to us and for us. I pray that our hearts are still stirred with love and we continue to rejoice in this wonderful experience of Emmanuel, God with us!
I pray that if you do not yet know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, that you will receive Him now, for the angels and Holy Spirit are still announcing the Good News: The Savior, the Messiah, is here, come to Him now." Accept that you need a savior, and He is that Savior; ask Him to forgive you and receive the truth that He does; and make the decision to let Him be the Lord of your life. Offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Him, purposing to choose His will, rather than your own. It's the best decision you will ever make, and you can make it without fear, because He loves you more than any earthly being possible could, and He wants only the very best for you. He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within you, to be your teacher, guide, and comforter. You are entering into the most wonderful life you could possibly imagine, and not just for this lifetime--but for all of eternity. If you make this decision, please let me know. We would love to celebrate with you, and welcome you into the family of God!
May the blessings of the Lord surround you!
Merry Christmas and much love to all!