The Shepherds and The Angels—Luke 2:8-20

Series: Luke—The Infancy Of Jesus (1:1-2:52) 


Levi Durfey




Most people think of New Years Day as a new beginning, even though it’s really just another day on the calendar.


The truth is, our lives are full of beginnings. Things happen to us that change the way we believe forever. 


Something bad, like a tragic accident, or some other near-brush with death, may finally get us thinking about what’s most important in life.


Positive events can also change people. Getting married, having a baby, and such events have been new beginnings for people.


Two thousand years ago, a group of shepherds also experienced a positive event that changed them—that gave them a new beginning.




The Shepherds 


Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country [region] shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.


Of all the people that the birth of Christ could have been announced to—kings, religious leaders, etc.—why are shepherds chosen?


Sometimes preachers have made shepherds out to be vile and despised by Jewish society, but that characterization is a bit overdone. They weren’t society elite, to be sure, but they were villains either. 


The Bible paints a flattering picture of shepherds. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd. In Psalm 23, the Lord is called a shepherd (Psalm 23). Jesus would call Himself the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11).


If anything, shepherds in Bible times were the ordinary people of society. They had one of the common jobs. They lived hand to mouth. They weren’t educated, but they weren’t dumb either. They probably used the word, “ain’t.” They were who we are: ordinary.


God picked shepherds to be the first to hear of the birth of Jesus for a reason: to show that Jesus was for everyone. After all, if shepherds could come to Him—anyone could. 


So these shepherds were out in the fields at night, watching their flocks, perhaps cooking supper, when, all of a sudden…


Luke 2:9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 


The angel is not identified, but we could assume that it was Gabriel, since he had been involved so far in the narrative.


The shepherds, like most humans who encounter an angel in the Bible, are “sore afraid.” 


Their fear was the result of the fact that “the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” They were in the presence of holiness, of purity, of sinlessness. The human response to that sort of glory is to recognize our own sinfulness. As Isaiah cried out,


5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5)


This is one reason why we should read the Bible daily. We need to see God as He is described in the Bible and let His holiness drive us to a holy fear. 


We are sinners, but we tend to forget that. We think that God merely overlooks our faults. But He wants to forgive us and to make us holy.


How can that happen? We need to admit that we need a Savior. We need what the angel announced to the shepherds that night.


The Angels


Luke 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 


The angel says that there is no need to be afraid because he is bringing, “good tidings of great joy.” The gospel is good news for “all people,” even lowly shepherds.


Why is the good news such good news? The angel explains:


Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 


This “Saviour” is “Christ the Lord.” The title, “Christ,” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word, “Messiah.” “Christ” and “Messiah” both mean “anointed one.” 


But what does it mean to be the “anointed one”? It means that God had chosen Him and set Him apart for a purpose, much like God had chosen or anointed kings like Saul or David.


The term “Lord” is often used as a term of respect given to someone in power and authority. But it also points to the deity of Jesus Christ. Of these three titles, “Lord,” will be the one that Luke uses the most to refer to Jesus.


The emphasis in this verse, however, is on the “Saviour.” The “good tidings of great joy,” or good news, is that there is born a “Saviour.” 


What kind of savior would He be? He would be a Savior from our sins. When the angel visited Joseph, he said:


21 And [Mary] shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)


And Jesus described His mission:


10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)


Someone wrote:


Some of the Jews were waiting for a savior to deliver them from Roman rule; others hoped that the Christ (Messiah) would deliver them from physical ailments. But Jesus, while healing their illnesses and establishing a spiritual kingdom, delivered them from sin. 


His work is more far-reaching than anyone could imagine. Christ paid the price for sin and opened the way to peace with God. 


He offers us more than temporary political or physical changes—he offers us new hearts that will last for eternity. (Bruce B. Barton et al., Luke, Life Application Bible Commentary [Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997], 43)


Finally, the angel gives the shepherds a sign:


Luke 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 


The sign isn’t so much that they will find a “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes” (of which there could have been several in Bethlehem at the time). 


The sign is really focused that they would find “the babe…lying in a manger.” A “manger” was a crude feeding trough for animals. You didn’t put babies in mangers. 


But to show that “Christ” would be a “Saviour” for “all people,” He was laid in a “manger.”


Then, as if one angel shining with the glory of God to announce the birth of Jesus wasn’t enough, the whole sky suddenly lights up.


Luke 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 

Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will toward men. 


All this praise over a little baby—a Savior. As Christians, we know why it is so great a thing and we praise God for the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior. 


But the world just yawns and asks, “Why do we need a Savior?”


I read a letter from an unbeliever named Matt to a Christian in which he was asking how God could possibly condemn him to Hell.


I am a [person] who lives to be happy and to enjoy his life. I have no desire whatsoever to live for anyone or to serve anybody. That would include God himself. 


My own personal moral standard would say that there is nothing wrong about this and there shouldn’t be any punishment. Even my own kind family and other kind people in my life agree…


True love would be those like my family and those other kind people in my life. They would never punish me for my way of life in which I don’t even harm anybody anyway.


Again, do not try to justify how I am wrong; it is not going to work…I view my own moral standards as righteous and the moral standards of God to be unrighteous and insane.… (


This is why people need a Savior! All unbelievers believe that they are right and God is wrong, even if they don’t come out and say it.


The reason that God views sinners as worthy of Hell is not because they made mistakes like sassing their mother, or yelling at their wife, or stealing a candy bar from the store. 


God views sinners as worthy of Hell because, in doing those things, they have rejected Him, their Creator. That’s simply the biblical truth: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).


It doesn’t matter what Matt or any unbeliever may say to make the situation less grim for them—you can’t change reality. As one politician said, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.” 


We are sinners, and when we admit that we can’t save ourselves, we will rejoice in the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. We will have a new beginning.  In fact, we’ll do what the shepherds did that night.




Go And See


Luke 2:15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Beth-lehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 

Luke 2:16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.


Some commentators slow the shepherds down a bit, for example, one insists that the shepherds spent time figuring out what to do with the sheep before they departed.


But Luke’s emphasis is that there is little discussion, only a determination to go and see the baby in the manger. 


The shepherds illustrate for us an important step in salvation: when you realize that you are a sinner worthy of condemnation, you don’t want to delay in going to the Savior.


In John Bunyan’s allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character reads the Bible and is convicted of his sin. Bunyan writes:


“I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back,” (Isa. 64:6; Luke 14:33; Psa. 38:4; Hab. 2:2; Acts 16:31). I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do?” (Acts 2:37). (John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, vol. 3 [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006], 89)


Then the man meets a man named Evangelist who tells him how to get rid of his burden—


Then said Evangelist, If this be thy condition, why standest thou still? He answered, Because I know not whither to go. Then he gave him a parchment roll, and there was written within, “Fly from the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7).


The man therefore, read it, and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, Whither must I fly?…


Then said Evangelist, Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do. 


So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now, he had not ran far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return (Luke 14:26); but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! life! Eternal life! (John Bunyan, 90)


Notice how he, his name is Christian, but he isn’t a Christian yet, lets none of his family delay him in his quest to have the burden of his sin removed. Salvation is more important. He runs to the light.


Christian has some missteps along the way, but eventually he reaches the place where his burden of sin can be taken alway. 


Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.


He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. 


So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.


Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by His sorrow, and life by His death.” (John Bunyan, 102)


Everyone has a burden of sin, but only those who recognize it is a burden and run to the cross will find forgiveness and freedom from sin. 


The shepherds, with their run to the manger, show us what we all need to do to find salvation: run to Christ.


After they go and see, the shepherds…


Go And Tell


Luke 2:17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 

Luke 2:18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 

Luke 2:19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 

Luke 2:20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.


The shepherds “made known abroad the saying” Good news is hard to keep to yourself, just ask any expectant mother and father. 


The shepherds did not, could not, keep the news of Jesus to themselves. They made it known to everyone they met. They loved to tell the story of Jesus. 


And don’t miss what they talked about: “the saying which was told them concerning this child.” 


While I am sure that they mentioned the angels, their focus was on the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the good news. That’s what the shepherds shared; that’s what we should share. 


Something that I’ve always been curious about is this: what happened to all this testimony about the baby Jesus? It seems that Jesus disappears for the next 30 years and no one seems to care. 


No one flocks to the baby Jesus to touch Him and be healed. Except for one encounter in the Temple with the priests when He was 12, Jesus remains obscure and out of sight. 


Did the shepherds stop sharing? I don’t know, but it does often happen to Christians over time. The wonder of it all fades to the background. Life sneaks in and dulls our enthusiasm.


Don’t assume that if you remain quiet about Jesus that someone else will speak for you. No one can speak for you about Jesus. You must be your own witness to the Savior. 


Don’t let the wonder of your new beginning fade.

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