The Message of the Incarnation
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men. 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 Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” (Luke 2:8-20)
The incarnation and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is an undeniable fact of history. Let carping scoffers say and do what they will, it is a fact that cannot be denied. Yet, it is a fact the meaning of which very, very few understand. The meaning of the incarnation can be understood only by those who are taught of God. All spiritual knowledge comes by divine revelation. Those who are taught of God are well taught. But until a person is taught of God, he cannot know, discern, or understand anything spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:12-14). With that fact in mind, let us ever pray, as we open the Book of God, that God the Holy Spirit will teach us the wondrous things revealed in the Book.
The Men Chosen
First, in verse 8 we see the men chosen by God to whom the glad tidings of Christ’s birth first came and by whom the message of his birth was first proclaimed. — “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” The first announcement of Christ’s birth did not come to the princes, priests and educated men at Jerusalem. God passed by the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, and made himself and his word known to a few weak, uneducated, insignificant, poor, despised shepherds.
Here we see something of God’s method of grace. God is no respecter of persons. It is his common method of operation to pass by the high and mighty, and choose the poor and lowly. He normally passes by the wise and prudent, leaving them in the confusion of their imaginary brilliance, and reveals his grace and glory in Christ unto babes.
This is God’s common method of operation in all things. He chooses the most unlikely vessels to be vessels of mercy, and the most unlikely instruments to be the tools with which he performs his wondrous works in this world. Poverty is no barrier against grace. Lack of education, or even natural ability, is no barrier against usefulness. God has mercy on whom he will; and he uses whom he will (James 2:5; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
These men were shepherds, hardworking, laboring men, and worshippers of God. Honest labor is no barrier to divine worship. Really, there should be no need for that statement; but there are some who seem to think that piety is sitting at home, reading their Bibles, studying theology and letting other people assume their responsibilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our Lord teaches us plainly that men and women who neglect their families and responsibilities in the name of worshipping and serving God are liars and hypocrites who have denied the faith.
He who worships God best does so as he serves him in this world. Honest labor is no barrier to holiness. Diligent work is no hindrance to divine instruction. Moses was keeping sheep when God appeared to him in the bush, and called him to be a prophet. Gideon was threshing wheat when the Lord called him to deliver Israel. And Elisha was plowing the field when the Lord God made him a prophet. In fact, I cannot find any place in the Book of God where any man ever volunteered to be a prophet, except a false prophet.
The Angelic Messengers
In verses 9-14 Luke tells that the angel of the Lord was sent of God to announce our Savior’s birth. Then, suddenly, a great multitude of angels appeared, praising God. The language used by the Spirit of God in this passage seems to suggest that all the hosts of heaven, all the angels of God, suddenly flew like a bolt of lightening to join in the praise of the incarnate God. It is written, “When he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him” (Hebrews 1:6).
The first worshippers of the incarnate God were not the sinners he had come to save, but the angels of God who had never sinned. No doubt, there is much more here than I am able to grasp; but when I think of the entire hosts of heaven rushing to the earth to worship our Savior, as he came into the world, two things are obvious: (1.) What great interest the angels of God have in the person and work of Christ! And (2.) how greatly the angels of heaven must love God’s elect!
Š They protect God’s chosen, preserving the elect unto salvation (Hebrews 1:14)
Š They rejoice in the conversion of redeemed sinners (Luke 15:10)
Š The angels meet with the assemblies of God’s saints, that they might learn from us the wonders of redemption (Ephesians 3:10)
Š And they shall be gathered with us in the general assembly of elect men and elect angels in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-24)
Third, I want us to see and understand the message of the incarnation set before us in verses 10-14. In verse 10 we read, “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 message of the incarnation is a message of “good tidings.” The gospel of the grace of God is not good advice. It is good news, “good tidings.” The coming of Christ to save his people reveals the good will and amazing love of God to his elect. The good tidings of grace declare that all the law and prophets are fulfilled in Christ. These are “good tidings of great joy,” of joy unspeakable and full of glory, the everlasting joy and peace of God’s salvation.
The good tidings of grace proclaimed in the gospel are “to all the people.” The words, “which shall be to all the people,” do not suggest that the gospel brings joy to all without exception. The gospel does not bring joy to all men. It brought no joy to Herod, the Scribes, the Pharisees, or the Sadducees. To some it brings greater condemnation. To the reprobate and unbelieving, it is a savor of death unto death. But it does bring this great joy to all nations, to all God’s elect, scattered among the nations, and to all needy sinners everywhere.
The message of the incarnation is the proclamation of the sovereign Lord who has come to save his people from their sins. — “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (v. 11). The “you” unto whom Christ was born, whom he came to save, is God’s elect, his people, the seed of Abraham (Isaiah 9:6; Hebrews 2:14-16). This One of whom the angel spoke is “a Savior.” A Savior is one who saves, not one who merely tries to save, or merely offers salvation. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior!
He is the Christ, God’s anointed. The man who is our Savior, anointed of God, is himself the Lord. He is the Lord our God, the Lord our Righteousness, and the Lord of all. He is the Lord and the Savior of whom Isaiah spoke. Luke, writing by divine inspiration in verse 12, tells us pointedly that the virgin and her child, of whom Isaiah spoke (Isaiah 7:14), is Mary and the Lord Jesus, her virgin born child. — “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
The message of the incarnation, the message of the gospel is the revelation and declaration of the glory of God in Christ. — “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, good will toward men” (vv. 13-14). The psalmist declared that his glory would be great in God’s salvation (Psalm 21:5); and it is! The gospel is called “the gospel of the glory of God.” We see the wisdom and power of God in creation. We see the justice and truth of God in the law. We know something about the holiness and righteousness of God by nature. But the glory of God is nowhere seen as it is revealed in the coming, obedience and death of the Lord Jesus Christ as the sinner’s Substitute.
Only in Christ crucified do we see how God can be both a just God and a Savior (Isaiah 45:20; Romans 3:24-26). Only at Calvary do we see all the infinite perfections of God’s glorious, holy Being in complete and perfect harmony. We see his wisdom and prudence in the scheme of redemption. His mercy, love and grace are made manifest in giving his Son to be our sin-atoning sacrifice. We behold his justice and truth in the execution of our blessed Redeemer, when he was made sin for us. And we see and know his immutable faithfulness in forgiving sin for Christ’s sake. The Lord God has saved us for his name’s sake (Psalm 106:8; Ephesians 1:3-14); and he shall show forth the greatness of his glory in us in the last day (Ephesians 2:7).
The gospel, the message of the incarnation, is the proclamation on earth of peace — “on earth peace.” The gospel nowhere promises political peace, civil peace, domestic peace, or carnal peace of any kind. Just the opposite. Our Lord said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The peace which has come to the earth is Christ himself, who is our Peace (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus Christ our Lord, our Daysman, our Mediator, our Substitute has made peace between the holy Lord God and fallen, guilty sinners, by the blood of his cross. He has made a legal and a lasting peace for us; and Christ, who is our peace, gives us peace, “peace which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). He gives us the peace of his pardon, the peace of his providence and the peace of his presence. And our blessed savior establishes and maintains peace between men (Colossians 3:10-11).
The message of the incarnation is God’s “good will towards man.” The Holy Spirit does not leave us to guess what that good will of God toward man is. This is not a book in which we must fill in the blanks. God the Holy Spirit tells us exactly what the good will of God is. God’s good will is the salvation of his elect by Christ Jesus, for the everlasting praise and glory of his own great name (John 6:37-40; Ephesians 1:3-12).
We must not overlook the obedience of faith exemplified in these shepherds in verses 15-19.
“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 Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
They had God’s Word. Their duty was plain. No doubt, the messengers were unusual. The message of God was given in an unusual way. Yet, without a moment’s hesitation, without the least hint of doubt or question, they did exactly what God told them to do.
When our path of duty is clear, when we know what the will of the Lord is, when we know what he would have us to do, we must not confer with flesh and blood. Obedience is always right.
These shepherds did not stop and say to themselves or one another, “Who will take care of our sheep? Someone must keep them from the wolves.” They left their sheep in the care of him who told them to go to Bethlehem. Let us do the same.
God has called me to preach the gospel. That is my responsibility. I am his servant. If I would serve him faithfully, I must leave the care of my family in his hands. Anything less on my part would be disobedience. In fact, the Lord God has specifically promised that none shall ever suffer loss by obeying him (Exodus 34:23-24).
As with these shepherds, our journey’s end will be glorious. Our pilgrimage through this world, begun in faith, will end in praise. — “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them” (v. 20). So it shall be with us (Revelation 19:1-6).
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