When the angel announced the good news that a Savior had been born—Christ, the Lord—the immediate response was worship. The announcement had another important effect as well, namely, the shepherds words, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15). Their response is instructive for us.
They did indeed go to Bethlehem and saw Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Jesus was lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths, just as the angel had said (vv. 12, 16, 20). The shepherds told Mary, Joseph, and others what the angel had told them, and they were all amazed and marveled at what was said (v. 18). Mary treasured and pondered these things in her heart (cf. Luke 1:26-38). After seeing the child, the shepherds glorified and praised God just as the army of angels had done (Luke 2:20, 13-14).
It is certainly not surprising that the angel’s appearance to the shepherds had a profound effect on them. Their going to Bethlehem to see it for themselves heightened the effect. Notice that they praised God for all they had “heard and seen.” They heard it from the angel and then saw it for themselves in Bethlehem.
The important words “heard and seen” are repeated elsewhere in Scripture to emphasize the truth and effect that God’s deeds have on people. Usually the order is reversed—”seen and heard.” Jesus himself bore witness to what he had seen and heard from God (John 3:32). He also told the messengers John had sent to him to go back and tell John what they had seen and heard in Jesus (Luke 7:22). The apostles said they couldn’t help but talk about what they had seen and heard in Jesus (Acts 4:20). Paul was told he would be a witness for Jesus of what he had seen and heard (Acts 22:15). John and the other apostles proclaimed to others what they had seen and heard in Jesus so that they could have fellowship with them and with God (1 John 1:1-3).
Notice that in every one of these references the reality that people saw and heard led them to tell others about it. I am especially impressed by the case of the apostles. What they saw and heard in Jesus had such a powerful effect on them that they couldn’t help but tell about it. The text literally says “we cannot not speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Not telling about Jesus was not an option for them. They couldn’t help but do so.
As you know, most believers today can easily help themselves. They feel no compelling desire to tell others about Jesus. I get it. I’ve been there too. One of the reasons for this is that we have seen and experienced so many inappropriate or even downright wrong ways of reaching out to others. We’ve been misled into thinking those are the only options available for telling about Jesus. It’s extremely sad that a commission to tell good news (cf. Luke 2:10) frequently feels like bad news.
Clearly part of the solution is to clarify just what is the good news we are supposed to be telling. The angel helps us here. The good news is that God has sent a Savior, Christ, the Lord. (Luke 2:10; see the second post in this series here). That is the heart of the message. Jesus equipped and sent out his followers to tell this same message, and they did so frequently in Acts (2:36; 4:12, 33; 5:31, 42; 8:5, 12; 9:22; 10:36; 11:20; 13:23; 16:31; 17:3; 18:5; 28:31). Most always they did it by telling the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and explaining that those events showed him to be Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-36; 3:11-26; 5:29-32). Sometimes they told other parts of the story too.
This leads to something else the angel helps us with. He reminds us that our calling is to tell good news. The essence of telling others about Jesus is not giving rules, arguing, or offering a deal. Rather, it is announcing good news about something God has done. Yes, God’s deed is so profound and important that it calls people to respond to it wholeheartedly, and we do need to tell people God’s chosen ways for them to respond. But the essential and primary “form” of the gospel is not lecturing, selling, scolding, nor even teaching. Rather, it is telling good news. And the good news is not about some abstract, cosmic transaction. It is a story. It is something God has done.
I have a friend whose joy in life is telling people things they don’t know. He doesn’t do it in an annoying or superior way. He just delights to share things people don’t know. The news he tells may be that someone had their baby or someone got a new job. Whatever it may be, telling it gives him great joy. This suggests a worthwhile exercise for us. What are some examples of telling news about things in our everyday lives that can give us some insights about how to tell THE good news.
Telling the news leads us back to the shepherds. The shepherds show us the importance of “seeing and hearing” the good news about Jesus for ourselves. Their statement is profound:
“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”Luke 2:15
If we want to praise God and tell others about Jesus as they did, the best way to get to the point that we cannot help but do so is not by telling ourselves that we ought to tell it or shaming ourselves for our frequent failures. Rather, it is by seeing and hearing about Jesus for ourselves. All the above examples of how seeing and hearing affected people support this (see fourth paragraph of this article, and for more on this kind of motivation and how we can get it, see here.)
This Christmas, may the angel’s good news bring us great joy, remind us of the need to tell others the story of what God has done, and point us toward the motivation for doing so.
For more on how Empowering Subjects is equipping people to tell the good news about the King, see here.