The Glory and the Peace

December 24, 2022

Book: Luke

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Scripture: Luke 2:8-20

Come and see three scenes unfold as they tell the story of the coming of God’s glory and our peace in the birth of Jesus.

We’re going to look today at a story that’s so well known that I would say that you probably have it memorized, even if you’ve never tried to memorize it. You never thought to go ahead and go into Scripture and read it as much as you could in order to get it down. I’ll bet you have it just sitting there in your head. And I’m not talking just about those of you who’ve been Christians for a long time. I’m talking about, I’m talking about everybody. I’m talking about all the folks at least in our culture. This might be the most well-known account in the Bible to everyone everywhere. And that’s because words from this story, particularly the words of the angels, are so often found in greeting cards and in songs and in TV and in movies. A hallmark would not exist without this story. Glory to God in the highest, peace on Earth. These are words and phrases that we find everywhere. And there’s a reason for that. These are the words that the angels use to greet the shepherds and to announce the birth of Jesus, glory, and peace. These two words: glory and peace, summarize the good news of Scripture, the Gospel. And it’s a shorthand way of describing everything that Jesus came to accomplish. Now, if you think of our passage today as a three-act play, you’ll see that there are three primary actors each doing something with this good news, this glory and this peace message.  We do not have a Christmas pageant to perform for you here this evening. I will not be acting out this, so you can kill that dream right now. But I do want you to picture in your mind three scenes, each centering on a particular set of characters. The angels are there to announce the message. The shepherds are there to deliver to others, and those who heard from the shepherds were there to stand in wonder. I invite you to come and see these three scenes unfold as they tell the story of the coming of God’s glory and our peace in the birth of Jesus.

We begin in the fields just outside of Bethlehem. “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!'” So, a group of shepherds are watching their flocks of sheep, protecting them from thieves and predators.  And they receive the third announcement from an angel, in this Gospel of Luke. Angels first appeared to Zechariah, and then to Mary, and now to shepherds. What we need to know, and what Luke is making very clear to us, is that the identity and the importance of Jesus is something that God reveals to us. Ok? That’s something that God shows us. In other words, glory and honor and divinity are not something people decide to give to Jesus. God tells us who Jesus is. It is a legitimate question to ask a person “who do you say Jesus is?”. That’s a legitimate question. Jesus himself asked his own disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”. You could even ask it like this. You could even say something like, “what does Jesus mean to you?”. Or “how do you feel about him?”. But when we ask these questions, we’re not assigning Jesus’s importance. We’re not giving him an identity. All we’re saying is how we have decided to respond to the revelation of Scripture. All we’re saying is whether we personally acknowledge his glory and his honor and his divinity. These shepherds got a pretty amazing revelation of Jesus. It says, “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them”. This is probably some kind of a blinding light in the darkness.  Because usually the glory of God is described in Scripture as conveyed with lights, think of Moses’s face when he came away from being with the Lord on the mountain, his face shone. The reason for the light comes from the definition of glory. See, glory is visual greatness. Glory is visual greatness. It’s the importance and power and magnificence of something but on display so that you can see it.

The shepherds are surrounded by a nighttime light display that visually depicts the greatness of God. So, they’re sort of bathed in His glory. And there’s an angel from the Lord within this light, angels are messengers. In fact, that’s what the word angel means. It means messenger. And so, with the combination of the angel and the light and the fact that it’s nighttime, and they’re just shepherds in the region doing their job like they’re supposed to do, this is terrifying. This would be a terrifying thing. And so, what does the angel have to say to them? He says, “fear not”. This is a running theme with angels. They constantly have to tell you not to fear them. Zechariah and Mary were both told not to fear. If you’ve been with us here for the past weeks, as we’ve been working through the Book of Luke, you know I’ve kind of joked about this being a problem for angels; how they might need to tweak their game just a little bit so that they’re not throwing people off so much. But this repetition of telling people not to fear tells us two pretty important things about what it means to encounter God. And here they are. There’s reason to fear. But there’s no need to fear. There’s reason to fear. But there’s no need to fear. There’s reason to fear because when you stand in the presence of the glory of God, you see that his greatness is far greater than yours. But there’s no need to fear because the message of the gospel is that he has come to show us mercy, and to bring us peace. See, some people don’t fear God, and they should. Other people know there’s reason to fear God, and they do. Christians know that there’s reason to fear God, but they don’t because they have Jesus. And the perfect love of Christ casts out all fear. That’s what the angel’s explaining here. The shepherds don’t need to fear because the angel has come with good news of great joy that is going to be for all people.

First of all, it is good news. That’s the word that we translate as gospel in other places. Good news. God has done something wonderful for us in the coming of Christ. He has sent the antidote for the sickness of our sins. He has sent the hero who will win the battle of evil for us. He has sent the sacrifice necessary to turn God’s righteous wrath against our sin away from us. If you have Jesus, you have all the goodness of God that you need to have eternal life with Him. Those truths aren’t all unpacked right here in this story, but they are all included in the good news. And so, this good news that is come, what’s it going to do? It’s going to cause great joy. And how could it not? Imagine this afternoon a truck pulls up in your driveway, three guys from UPS jump out, and you’re like, “oh, great, that crockpot arrived on Christmas Eve”, right?  No, this time three guys jump out of the truck, and they’re all holding a certified envelope. The first guy gives you a cashier’s check that’ll cover every debt you have.  Every debt you can think of that you have right now. He hands you an envelope, it’s got the cashier’s check, it’ll cover every debt you have. It’s written to pay every penny, completely covering, and setting you free. The second guy hands you an envelope that’s a package of handwritten letters. And these letters are all from people that you have wronged throughout your entire lifetime. And every one of these letters is a letter of forgiveness to you saying that they forgive you.  And the last driver steps forward with an invitation from a long lost relative to come and to live on his estate, where you will be protected and cared for, for the rest of your life with all the burdens of the world left behind. That would be quite an afternoon, wouldn’t you say? That would be quite a delivery. How would you feel if this afternoon’s delivery wiped out your debt, it righted all of your relationships, and it secured your future? You would feel joy, unspeakable joy. If all of that took place, you’d be filled with deep, abiding joy. And this is what the good news of Jesus delivers for you and me. That’s what it is. For those who receive Jesus, He completely wipes out your sin debt. He completely restores your relationship with the Lord. And He completely secures your eternal life forever from the moment that you receive the gift of His grace. And this good news that causes great joy is going to be for all the people. Now, Luke here means all the people of Israel. That’s what the word would mean. The scope of this word here is to say that everyone who is among God’s people, who have been waiting for the Messiah, will be recipients of this message. But later on, we learn in Luke’s second volume, in the Book of Acts, that the message even extends beyond Israel to everyone and every nation who hears this gospel and receives it. That includes all of us here today in Rochester, Minnesota. This message, this good news of great joy, is for all the people who will come to receive it in Christ. And the angel goes on to say that this good news, that causes great joy for all people, it’s going to come in the form of a baby. He’s in the city of David. He’s the savior. He is Christ the Lord. That’s where he is. That’s what he will do because that’s who he is.

Notice, the angel doesn’t say his name, Jesus. He just says Christ the Lord, because at this point the name Jesus wouldn’t mean anything to these guys. But every Jewish person has been waiting for the Christ, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means Anointed One. And who has this Jesus come for? Unto you is born this day. Unto you, shepherds. Unto you, rural night workers. Don’t you find it fascinating that Jesus wasn’t born just near the shepherds? He was born for the shepherds. I think this is some of the language that gets lost in the reading because we’ve heard it so many times. We just sort of gloss over. It’s a classic. Handel’s Messiah says it so many times in a row, you just sort of sing it in your head. You don’t really think too much about it. But unto you means for your benefit, on your behalf, to your credit.  Christ the Savior, the Lord, has been born. You can almost see the shepherds at this moment turn to each other and go, unto us? Unto us, the Messiah has come? Who are we that Christ would be for us? And the answer, of course, is that we’re no one in particular. None of us are really. We’re nobody in particular. Certainly, we’re not worthy of such a tremendous gift from God. And yet the proof that the Lord has given us the Savior is the same for us as it was for those shepherds. There’s a baby, that’s been wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and he’s a few miles away in Bethlehem.

See, when we celebrate Christmas, we’re celebrating that Jesus was born unto us. A Christmas celebration is, or it should be, the acknowledgment that salvation has come not just into the world, but for our benefit. He’s come for us. When we celebrate Christmas, we’re celebrating that Jesus was born unto us. Before the shepherds could go see what the angel was talking about, suddenly there was a great glory of God that became even more apparent in the sky around them. An enormous choir of angels declare this two-line poem, that of praise, that summarizes what the coming of Jesus will accomplish. They say glory to God in the highest. Jesus’s birth causes the heavens to magnify the glory of God. The first primary aim of Jesus’s coming is the magnification of God’s greatness. We don’t think of it like that usually, because usually that’s not the way the story is presented to us. We don’t really think about, the main purpose of Christ’s coming would be to bring glory to God. But the main reason for His coming was to show how great God is. God’s glory is the purpose of the Gospel. When the question comes as to why God has chosen to redeem His people in this way, the primary answer is that this is the way that God decided would bring the most glory to Himself. Now, if in bringing himself glory, God caused people to suffer unjust cruelty, then He would be a cruel God. If those who glorify him were worse off for doing so, he wouldn’t be a glorious God at all. But look what happens on earth. On earth, peace with those with whom he is pleased. The result on Earth of Jesus’s incarnation is that there’s peace. If you have the Gospel, if Jesus is your Savior, you have a peace that no one and no circumstance can ever take from you. Now, those who get this peace are those with whom God is pleased. That’s the lesser-known part of this declaration.  Sometimes you’ll hear it said something like goodwill toward men, but that is not the right translation at all. This is talking about God’s pleasure in his people. Basically, it’s saying that God’s peace will go to whomever God is pleased to give it. This is not some general peace on Earth Christmas card from God. This is a declaration that those who are His people will now have peace when God opens their blind eyes, and their hearts, and they turn and put their faith in Jesus. The result of Jesus’s coming is that the heavens declare the glory of God, and God’s people on earth will now have a Savior who will bring Him peace.

Now let’s turn to the second scene. The scene shifts. Let’s turn to the shepherds. “When the angels went away from them into the heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” Have you ever wondered why the Lord would choose shepherds as the first people to deliver the gospel message to the rest of Bethlehem? Some people have argued it’s because God wanted to show that he cares about sinners, and shepherds were considered the riff raff of the day, and so he was showing that he cares even about shepherds. But here’s the thing, that really isn’t the reputation of shepherds necessarily, in the 1st century. They were humble. Yeah, they were blue collar workers. If you were going to make up a story about a coming king, you certainly wouldn’t have shepherds play a big role in that story. But they weren’t necessarily bad guys. There’s another reason for it. When you think about the rest of the Bible, and what the Lord did in the past with kings, and what kings were called to be. It makes sense that God would choose shepherds. Do you remember when David was anointed King? Samuel goes to his house, and he’s going to anoint him King, and they don’t find him there though. He’s not there with the rest of the brothers. They have to go out into the fields and get him because he’s out there caring for the flock. They had to go bring him to be anointed by Samuel.  David, that same King would later pen, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. Jesus would famously describe himself as the Good Shepherd who would care for his sheep. Leaders of God’s church would later be referred to as shepherds of the flock of God. That’s what pastor means, by the way.  It means Shepherd.

Undoubtedly, God chose to give this good news to shepherds because, he is a God who lovingly cares for his sheep and would continue to give his gospel to people with shepherd hearts who would guide others to his good news. And by the way, that’s what these shepherds did. That’s what they did. They hopped up. They went to see the sign that the angels had promised. Let’s go see this thing that has happened that the Lord has made known to us. So, they were the first pastors of the good news.  And it says they went with haste. I’ll bet they did. Can you imagine that night? Can you imagine if it was you? How fast would you go? It wouldn’t be slow. You’d be going very, very quickly. And they find Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. Again, we’re very used to this scene. But I want you to think with me for just a second. If let’s say Mary and Joseph actually were staying indoors in a guest room and the baby was in a bed. Could the shepherds have found them? No. That’s why the angels mentioned the swaddling clothes and the manger in their instructions. And it’s why the manger is mentioned here again when the shepherds find Jesus. The swaddling clothes in the manger were the GPS of the day. That’s how they knew they’d found what they were looking for. And so, when they know that without a doubt that they have seen the sign that confirms what the angels have said about this baby is true, that’s when they deliver their message. They made known the saying concerning the child. They then became the messengers to the rest of the people. God revealed to them the party that is raging in heaven over this boy and the peace that this boy will bring on the earth. And now they then reveal it to others.

Let’s look at how everyone responds here. And I would say to you tonight, or this afternoon, that your Christmas celebration should probably include a bit of each of what we see in scene 3. “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” It says that those who heard it wondered at the shepherds, at what the shepherds told them. Now, this is not like wondering what you’re going to have for for Christmas Eve dinner. This is the wonder of awe. This is awe and wonder. This is an awe-struck wonder from the other people. Now, you might be thinking, Kyle, what other people? What other people are there? My nativity set only has Mary and Joseph and shepherds and wise men. Is it the wise men? No. The wise men don’t come around for like two more years. They probably shouldn’t even be in there. All right? But do you see that there in verse 18? You see it in verse 18. “All who heard it wondered.” The all isn’t Mary because she’s in the next verse. So that just leaves Joseph. Could all be Joseph? Probably not. So clearly there are more people there. It’s probably referring to Joseph’s extended family, who they were probably staying with, and maybe some of the onlookers that happened around that night. We don’t know. But there were more people at the Nativity. So, when you get home, you need to put some dolls or some Lego Ninjago guys in there. Right? And just fill it out, and get that elf off the shelf, and put him down in there. Shouldn’t be up there judging people anyway, right? He needs Jesus. Yeah? Get him down in there. It’ll make it more accurate. God sent these shepherds not just so that they could go enjoy the evening. They went there to preach good news about Jesus to a group of people. This was the first Christmas Eve service. And the people who were there were in awe and wonder. Could this baby be the Messiah that they’d all been waiting for? Could this be? Why else would all of these shepherds have left their flocks to come here and to celebrate?

One person who was not in wonder was Mary. For her, this message was confirmation of what she already knew. She knew that she was carrying the Lord. God had told her. She knew her baby was born of the Holy Spirit. She knew that God made his way to the earth. That’s why that Mary did you know song is so dumb. Yes, she knew. She knew all of that stuff. I feel the guy needs to read more, I think, who wrote that. She doesn’t wonder. What does she do? She treasures. She treasures. She treasures everything she’s experiencing that night in her heart. All moms do this instinctively. She’s gathering up all of this information about her son, and she’s pondering it in her heart. And when the shepherds head back to the field, they go praising God for everything that they’ve heard and seen in this good news. So, the result of this whole miraculous night is worship. You see that? That’s the result of Christmas. The result of Christmas is worship. These guys just can’t help but be part of the overflow of praise because of what has been revealed to them and what they have seen. In other words, God’s revelation leads to his glorification. Or put more simply, the reason God shows us His glory is so that we can join in it. That’s why he shows it to us.

Friends, as you celebrate Jesus this Christmas Eve, I invite you to celebrate the way they did on that 1st Christmas. I invite you to stand in awe of what the Lord has done. See, the Creator God has revealed that the coming of Christ is being glorified in Heaven. There is glory. There’s a party raging in heaven over Jesus. And it is bringing peace to everyone on earth who is privileged to receive the grace of God. The intersection of heaven and earth came in the form of a baby in a manger. This one child will save all of God’s people for from their sins. I invite you to treasure and to ponder these truths in your heart. Don’t let this good news simply pass from one ear to the other. Don’t forget it on your walk out to the car. Don’t let it get lost in the anxiety of life. Think on these things. Let the implications of the incarnation expand in your mind as you think about all the Lord has done for you in Jesus. And I invite you to glorify God with praise for what He’s shown you. Turn your reception of God’s good news into praise for what He’s done. Tell others what the Lord has done for you. Let these truths be the song and the substance of your life this day and every day. Would you pray with me?

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