In two weeks we will return to our exploration of the good news told in Acts. As Christmas approaches, however, I want to call attention to what the shepherds have to teach us about responding to the birth of Christ. Then, next week, we will notice consider some helpful truths about (New Year’s) resolutions.
It is important to notice how the announcement of the birth of Jesus is described (Luke 2:10). An angel (Greek angelos, “messenger”) was bringing good news (Greek eu-angelizomai, “to announce or proclaim good news”). This was not an announcement of a new philosophy or teaching. It was the announcement and proclamation of news. We are so familiar with the terms gospel and good news that we sometimes forget these words indicate news—something noteworthy and positive has happened.
The angel reveals the content of the news as well: a Savior has been born (v. 11). Most of the Jews in the first century seemed to have understood that they were in trouble and needed deliverance, so the announcement of a Savior would have indeed been good news of great joy. At the same time, however, most of them did not understand precisely what the problem was from which they needed to be saved. To oversimplify, they thought they needed to be saved from the dominating power of the Romans, but actually they needed to be saved from their own sins. Their primary problem was not political but spiritual. But initially, God sent his messenger simply to announce the birth of a Savior. Later, the Savior himself would explain it more completely.
Many of us, too, fail to fully understand what we need to be saved from. Today a lot of people still seem to think our primary problem is political instead of spiritual. Closer to the mark are those who see sin as our real problem, but even these do not often grasp the problem completely. For many years I wanted to be saved from the guilt of sin and the consequent judgment but was oblivious to the need to be saved from the power and practice of sin.
Don’t misunderstand. Forgiveness is paramount. I need to be saved from the guilt and judgment of sin. And I know we will struggle with the power and practice of sin until the Lord returns. Still, Scripture is clear that there’s more to salvation than forgiveness. If a prostitute or drug dealer is charged with crime and is acquitted at their trial, they would think that is good news. They would have been saved from jail time. But if they are back on the street again the next day, plying their trade, would anyone say they have been saved completely? Their trouble is not just legal. It’s not just guilt. It’s also the power and practice of wrongdoing in their lives. Until they can get that under control they are in danger of destroying themselves and even of being arrested and charged again.
Salvation is something that we are not only to receive but also to “work out” (Phil 2:12-13), “grow up in” (1 Peter 2:2), and be instructed by (Titus 2:11-14). The problem with sin is not limited to guilt. It is also a deadly, destructive power. We must be careful not to be so naïve as to focus only on the aspects of salvation that we feel are of most personal benefit to us (forgiveness, acquittal at judgment). Please do not hear me saying these are unimportant. And please do not hear me saying we can save ourselves or become perfect in our words and deeds. I’m just saying the problem we have and the salvation we need are much more comprehensive than we often assume.
The angels do not announce the full nature of salvation in Luke 2, but there is a hint of it in their identification of the Savior as “the Messiah, the Lord” (v. 11). The word “Messiah,” like its Greek equivalent “Christ,” means anointed one and refers to a King. “Lord” can refer to God the Father, the master of a slave, or the emperor of the Roman empire (Acts 25:26, ESV, NASB). Thus the angels identify our Savior as a divine King with unparalleled authority. This indicates he has the power to deliver us from the leader of the kingdom of darkness (Luke 11:20-23; John 12:31; 1 John 5:18-19) and free us not only from the guilt of sin but also (increasingly) from its power (Romans 6:14; 8:4). This is good news of great joy, and it is for us all (Luke 2:11).
There are many appropriate responses to the good news of God’s action of sending a Savior to be born. The three responses of the shepherds described in this passage are worthy of imitation.
First, the shepherds decided to go “see this thing that has happened” that the Lord had told them about through his messenger (Luke 2:15). For them this meant going to Bethlehem and seeing Mary, Joseph, and the new born King (v. 16). For us it means exploring Jesus, our Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. We know something about him, but there is always more. Do we truly grasp who is he? What did he come to save us from? How did he do so? What does it mean for him to be The Anointed One (Messiah, Christ)? What does it mean for him to be Lord? How does this affect my life today? How will this affect my Christmas?
Second, once they had seen him, they “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17). We, too, are called to make known the good news of the Savior. One of the keys to this is for us to first see it ourselves (notice “saw” v. 17 and “heard and seen” v. 20). A compelling motivation to tell the good news begins with seeing and hearing it for yourself (Acts 4:20). Once we have seen him, we, too, need to tell about him. The good news is to be enjoyed but not merely enjoyed. It is also to be told.
Third, they returned “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (v. 20). We, too, should glorify and praise him. If we recognize that salvation is about something God himself has done, and if we see and hear it for ourselves, it will make a deep impression on us. Then, not only will we have motivation to tell others about it, we will also praise God for it. We should do that constantly, of course, but what better time to praise and glorify God for his sending the Savior than right now! There are dozens of Christmas carols that can help us do this! Sing about Santa and Rudolph if you want to, but by all means join the angels on high and the shepherds below in glorifying and praising God for his sending the Savior to deliver us from the guilt and power of sin.
Both praise and telling of the good news, however, begin with seeing and hearing it for yourself. I encourage you to make time regularly to prayerfully ponder what God has done in Christ. Perhaps we could set aside some time for this while we are off this Christmas.