Three Christmas Surprises

December 19, 2021

Book: Luke

Audio Download

Scripture: Luke 2:7-20

Three Christmas Surprises (Lk 2:7-20) 
  1. The angelic announcement comes to ordinary people (vv. 7-9) 
  1. The supreme King comes in abject humility (vv. 10-14) 
  1. God’s favor comes by grace through faith (vv. 15-20) 

The message of Christmas is that God came to earth that we might go to heaven. 

This is the 4th in our Angels of Christmas series. The previous three angelic announcements lead us to today’s climax: the birth of God’s Son Jesus Christ. 

Growing up with 11 siblings, Christmas at the Orth home was a pretty organized whirlwind. Big living room half of the floor covered with gifts. I don’t know how my parents did it. Each of us 11 kids got 3 or 4 gifts, some practical like a shirt or belt, but I especially loved the surprises! Things I wasn’t expecting. Familiarity is the enemy of the Christmas story. We can tune out new things that God would teach us or old things we need to remember or apply in fresh ways. 

When our kids were growing up, sometimes we would read a familiar Bible story and one would say, “I already know that,” to which I would reply, “there’s probably a lot more you don’t know than what you do know, so listen up.” This morning we’re looking at Three Christmas Surprises from Luke 2:7-20. So listen up! 

Most know the familiar story, Joseph and pregnant Mary travel a grueling 90 miles, likely walking over a week, from Nazareth south via the Jordan flatlands to Bethlehem which means, “house of bread.” Jesus born in obscurity in a tiny village of a few hundred people just south of Jerusalem. Predicted 7 centuries prior, Micah 5:2, here the Bread of Life himself came down from heaven giving life to the world (Jn 6:33-35). Lk 2:7 says simply, “She gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” No party, no fanfare, to the locals, just another couple, just another baby. 

Then the spectacular. 

  1. Our first surprise: the angelic announcement comes to ordinary people (shepherds) going about their ordinary tasks. We think this is normal because we’ve heard the story so many times: God always reveals super important things to lowly shepherds. Not. [8-9] “In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock at night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.” Lit. “they feared a great fear,” a typical response when people see angels. First one angel appears, then fear is compounded by God’s glory, His manifest presence unveiled. God’s glory is infinitely awesome, perfect, and grand because it emanates from Himself, His flawless, supreme Person. That’s why sinners cringe or die when faced with it. Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Why shepherds? Why not Roman Emperor Augustus or Judean King Herod? Why not Simon, the high priest that year? Shepherds are sometimes unfairly depicted as dishonest, unclean, societal outcasts. But the sources that posit these things come from centuries earlier or later than this account. John 10 gives us the best insight into their work. Kings like Cyrus were called “shepherd.” Abraham, Moses, King David, the prophet Amos were shepherds. Sure, there were bad ones who would steal a sheep and blame the loss on predators or bandits, but one couldn’t do that for long and sustain his resume. Shepherding was important work, sheep were valuable assets, and these perhaps would be used in Israel’s temple sacrifice. A shepherd’s job was to care for, feed, lead, protect the sheep. But the work was tedious, dirty, boring, sometimes dangerous. So, the vocation was considered ordinary, working-class, 3rd shift, maybe lower-class. 

I wonder if God sent angels to the shepherds because Jesus, the newborn sinless Lamb who will die for the sins of His people will also be the perfect Shepherd (Jn 10)? Ezekiel 34 predicts that God the Shepherd of Ps 23 will Himself search for and deliver His sheep (11-12). Maybe God said to the angels, “Go to some honest, working-class people and give them the best news ever.” There are many surprises in this story, one is that He doesn’t appear first to the rich, famous, or powerful religious or secular elites, Hollywood or NFL stars. But God appears to ordinary people—like us—in the routine grind of life. Don’t underestimate what God will do through your humble life on your ordinary work or school day. 

How about those angels? Far superior to humans in strength, mobility, and intellect, Heb 1:14 says they are ministering spirits sent to serve us who inherit salvation. They model perfect obedience doing God’s will. He commands, they obey (just like us, right?). Angels have a mind, emotions, and a will to choose. When they appear to people, they speak the language of the people and often appear as men. There are good holy angels and there are bad deceiving angels who can appear in various forms or indwell creatures like a snake or pigs. Here’s the tricky part: evil can appear good, a visitation telling you good things. Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). This is important because many who toy with the occult, maybe some here this morning, are playing with demons. When you play with the occult you play with demons. When they appear in their heavenly bodies, holy angels are unspeakably beautiful and majestic, while evil ones are hideous and grotesque, even smelling of sulfur. Ask me about that afterwards. 

No wonder the shepherds were terrified. Can you imagine? An angel of the Lord piercing the night sky suddenly stood near you and Almighty God’s bright glory, the blazing light of His personal presence, brighter than the sun envelops you? Ezekiel 11 records that this glory had left the temple and Mt of Olives six centuries prior. Here it is! 

All Heaven breaks loose! The child lay in a feeding trough in anonymity until this heavenly announcement. The angel proclaimed, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people [you!]; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Jesus came for you; no matter what your name, worldly status, or background. The message of Christmas is that God came to earth that you might go to heaven. There’s a catch. He’s looking for spiritually bankrupt people. Jesus said, “Blessed are the humble in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). Our first surprise: the angelic announcement comes to ordinary people (shepherds) going about their mundane life tasks! 


  1. Here’s our second big surprise: the supreme King comes in abject humility. Every good grandpa must show you at least one grandchild photo. Cedar gets to play Jesus this morning. Jesus would have been darker than this little Norwegian, but you get the idea; He comes in total helplessness. The eternal Word who spoke the cosmos into being, the Author of words, comes a speechless, crying baby (I think He cried, right moms?). Jesus matured in wisdom and in body (v. 52), and John says He lived among us and we saw His glory…full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14).

The sweet Christmas song, Mary Did You Know? asks, “Mary, did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod, and when you kiss your little baby you’ve kissed the face of God?” Jesus’ anonymous birth to anonymous parents! Pastor-author John MacArthur ponders, “Who is this child whose birth established the world’s calendars? Who is this child more widely known than any other child ever born? Who is this child whose life and work has impacted more souls than all other influential people in history combined? Who is this child who determines the eternal destiny of every human who has ever or will ever be born?” (John MacArthur, The Announcement of Jesus’ Birth, Part 2) 

Who is this child? The angel identifies the child as “Savior, Christ the Lord.” These three titles, Savior, Christ, and Lord appear in this combination only here in the Bible. They highlight His mission as rescuer, His royalty as chosen King, and His sovereign authority as God. If someone is drowning in a lake, a lifeguard rescues him, pulling him from the water—a savior! Our Children’s Heart Project kids from Mongolia, come with terminal heart problems. A cardiac surgical team sends them home with a new heart. A desperate need, impending disaster, even death, no human hope, then the life-giving rescue. That’s Jesus for us, dear church! 

From what does Jesus save us? Disappointment, unfulfillment, purposelessness? I thought for sure this job or relationship or house or this life would have turned out so much better, have been much more satisfying! Do you ever feel that way? I do, or I get an email from someone to that effect about once a week. We all get caught thinking these things. I thought for sure by now I would have broken that bad habit, I just can’t shake it, no matter how much I pray or try. Our life or career or marriage didn’t follow the path we dreamed. Yes, Jesus can help us with these things, but there is no guarantee in this life you will be saved from any of them. And there are those who are content with their life (maybe retired); things aren’t bad, could be worse. No need for rescue; you need nothing and no one. From what does Jesus save us? 

God is perfect and to be with Him in heaven we must be perfect. We are alienated from God on life support because we have a serious problem, at the root of all our issues. We wrestle conceptually with the problem of evil. Right? Why does God allow evil? He doesn’t know, care or is too weak to deal with it. Look at what happened in the news this week! It’s not just “out there,” but “in here!” Jesus said, “From within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness….they are hat defile you” (Mk 7:21-23). What we see in the news is a manifestation of our collective heart problem, our sin and its consequent guilt. God’s dilemma: you want to get rid of evil? He’s got to get rid of us all! Sin is our universal terminal heart problem. When we sin against ourselves and each other, we sin against the God who made and owns us. And the consequence is death. God’s options: annihilate all of us or come rescue us, at least those willing to be rescued. 

The angel told Joseph this child will save/deliver “people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). “Jesus,” Heb. Yeshua from “Ya” (abbreviation of God’s name “Yahweh”) and the verb “yasha,” “to rescue, deliver, save.” “Jesus” means, “God saves” or “God is salvation!” You greet Jesus on the street, “Hi, God saves! How are You today?” He’s always good! 

How does Jesus save? That’s the Christmas story: the infant Rescuer came! Lived His perfect life and at Easter, His death and resurrection for us. He came to give believing sinners a new righteous heart! Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This Child you delivered will soon deliver you? The message of Christmas is that God came to earth that we might go to heaven. 

But what about “Christ the Lord?” “Christ” is a title, Hebrew “Messiah,” meaning “Anointed One,” not His last name. What is anointing? Anointing set one apart, made him distinct for a role or office. The word first appears in Dan 9:25-26 which predicts 6 centuries prior the exact day of Jesus’ arrival as God’s chosen King when He rode into Jerusalem the week before His death (Lk 19:44). Kings were anointed, high priests were anointed; prophets were anointed or set apart as God’s spokesman. Usually, those three offices were separate. Why? Check and balance, because we are sinful at heart. Jesus holds all three: prophet, priest, and king: Christos Kurios, He is both the Christ and Lord.  

“The Lord,” can mean “leader or master,” but here unmistakably conveys that He is God; Yeshua is Yahweh (I AM) the supreme Leader and final Authority over our universe. Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24). That’s a bad ending! Mary, did you know that your baby boy was heaven’s perfect Lamb, and the sleeping Child you’re holding is the great I AM? Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? The angels must have marveled as the Creator was born a creature; they saw His glory before He came to Bethlehem. In his famous Pentecost sermon, Peter’s punchline is, “Let everyone know for sure that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (A 2:36).  

Jesus is God’s chosen, ultimate, eternal King who we will one day soon see reigning over the universe. Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations— King of kings and Lord of lords? 

It would have been difficult to convince the neighborhood that this baby born in such humble circumstances lying in a feeding trough is Savior, Christ the Lord. Right? No one put their baby in a manger. That’s the shocking surprise: the condescending humility of God—the Maker & King of all lying helpless in a manger. He didn’t have a golden halo on His head emanating beams of radiant light, affirming His lordship or messiahship. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” I find road signs helpful, especially when I’m on my motorcycle. I like to see how fast I can take those curves. No! A sign shows you what to look for. The distinguishing notes are He will be wrapped in cloths, common practice to protect the baby, make Him feel secure, also thought to strengthen and straighten their limbs. The big, odd sign is that He will be lying in a stone feeding trough. This was not normal! We picture a wooden stable or tradition says a cave. 

The first-century common Israelite home was one big room with compartments. The word for “inn” in v. 7 is a main floor hospitality guestroom; Luke later uses this word where Jesus ate His last Passover meal (22:11). On left, you see food storage behind which is the guestroom, and photo on the right, the lower-level section, is for animals mostly at night (think of an attached garage for animals). Even today many places around the world house farm animals in their home. For their safety—a heater in winter! Jesus was born in a commoner’s home, likely a relative’s, the guestroom already full, because of the census with many relatives visiting. Many people buzzing around like a bus station, little privacy, and He lay in a hay-filled manger where animals were fed. Shocking humility and condescension. Luke the writer wants you to know that this Savior will surprise you! He will do and say things we don’t expect.  

Can you imagine this awesome scene? “Suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army of angels praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.’” “Suddenly,” in its various forms often describes God’s surprising or unexpected new twist in how He works, like the Lord suddenly coming into His temple, Mal 3:1, or the Spirit’s sudden coming at Pentecost, A 2:2, or the sudden coming destruction as the world says, “peace & safety,” 1 Thes 5:3. “Multitude” means a large group: hundreds, thousands? God’s glory is seen in v. 9, that’s why they are terrified. The announcement of Jesus’ birth by one angel, then the backup chorus, perhaps thousands, chanting or singing, “Glory to God in the highest!” The supreme King comes in abject humility. 

What’s your reaction to this scene? After picking ourselves up off the ground, our first question is, “I wonder with whom is God pleased? Who does He favor? The angels announce that Messiah brings peace to those on whom God’s sovereign favor rests, those He is pleased to save. This angelic revelation ramps up their urgency! Which leads to our third Christmas surprise, vv.15-20. 

“When the angels departed into heaven (we don’t know how long they were there), the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let’s go straight to Bethlehem, then, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.” Picture yourself. You’ve had an unprecedented, terrifying and glorious experience, fear and joy comingled, the angels leave, and as soon as they could pull themselves together, the shepherds apparently get someone to care for their sheep and they split…fast! No one needs to push or pull them or convince them. No dawdling or delaying. Picture them looking at each other on the run and saying in unison, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing the Lord has made known. The word for “thing” here is actually “rhema” which means “a word” or “a reality.” The Savior has been born, that’s an earth-shocking new reality! The signs are that He will be wrapped in cloths (that’s normal) but lying in a feed trough (not normal). 

They are jogging along perhaps a few miles, upward, to higher elevation. The word “found” indicates after a search. We’re not told how they found Jesus. Maybe they went door-to-door. It’s a small town, not many births, word of mouth travels fast. Can you imagine when they found Him? There He lay exactly as the Lord revealed through the angelic host. The biblical precedent rooted in God’s character is that He always does what He says He will do. Bank on it. No matter what you face today you can trust God! He says what He means and means what He says; God always keeps His promises. 

 “When they had seen Him, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it were amazed about the things which were told them by the shepherds.” Maybe it’s the middle of the night and these smelly, unkept shepherds, pumped, overwhelmed with what they had just experienced, they meet Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, recounting their story. Perhaps Mary shared how Gabriel came to her 9 months ago, the young virgin saying, “You’re going to have a baby, call Him Jesus (God Saves!). He will be Son of the Most High God who will rule over a kingdom that will last forever.” And Joseph chimes in, “An angel came to me in a dream as I was pondering quietly divorcing Mary. He told me that my engaged bride was pregnant with a baby formed inside her by the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine? No disrespect, Mary, but I wouldn’t buy that story from anyone except an angel! The child will be called, Immanuel, God with us!” Let’s say this together, church. God came to earth that we might go to heaven. That’s our Christmas theme. 

“But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” We don’t know what she was thinking, maybe recounting the humiliation, the gossip, a godly woman being pregnant in that culture outside of marriage made her worthy of death by stoning (Lev 20:10). God’s promises now fulfilled. We get so worked up. Later, we see all the pieces fit perfectly together (Ro 8:28). For Mary, God had chosen to enter and save humanity through her! 

“And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” 

Our third surprise is that 

  1. God’s favor comes by grace through faith (illustrated in vv. 15-20)

What’s the big surprise about this? What makes this shocking is that all the world’s religions seek salvation through good works and rituals. They say, “Do, do, do!” Yet there is no assurance of salvation or peace with God. Nothing we are, nothing we can do can change the fact that we have a terminal heart problem that separates us from God. However, salvation through THIS good news—Jesus—comes by grace (undeserved favor) through faith alone in God’s Son Jesus alone and all He has done to rescue us. He says, “Trust Me; it’s done, done, done!” That’s why we say Christianity is not a religion, rather a relationship with God through faith in Christ. 1 John 5:20 says, “We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” Romans 5:1 says, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God’s favor is found only in Jesus. All we can do is come to Him with our empty hands ready to receive what He has done. 

The shepherds illustrate real faith. How so? They believe the message from God about Christ (v 15). Their belief compels them to run “straight to Bethlehem” in pursuit of Christ. Immediate response like the angels! Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life” (Jn 10:27-28). What do we do when we hear His voice? Get busy? Think of reasons not to obey? Turn up the white noise, check your device? Verse 20 says, their new lives impelled by new hearts will never be the same. They go back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, “Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!” 

Please watch the screen as Bonnie shares how Jesus rescued her. 

I pray you never get tired of the familiar, but surprising, good news: “Today in the city of David is born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11). God came to earth that we might go to heaven 

The Rescuer came as an infant! Lived His perfect life and died the Lamb of God to take away your sin, and He rose from death to give you a new, clean heart and to be your Shepherd. 

[Pray] Have you by faith in Christ received your new heart? How does knowing Jesus influence your daily life, your choices and actions? Do you pursue Him and tell others about Him, like the shepherds? If not, what’s holding you back? Jesus, help us to know You, love/trust/follow/tell others about You like the shepherds. Thank You Jesus that You came to earth that we might go to heaven! We pray in Your awesome humble name. Amen. 

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