Verses 15-20 were written by Luke to show the varied responses to the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Reaction to the Birth (vv. 15-20).
An eager visit (vv. 15-16).
Considering the fact that Jesus’ birth was a miracle with great spiritual significance, it is interesting to consider that Luke’s account of the shepherds’ visit was astoundingly brief.
Verse 15 tells us that: “the angels had gone away from them into heaven.” Following the angels’ departure, the shepherds determined to explore the fantastic event of which they had been told: “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” They determined to travel to Bethlehem (they were obviously close). They believed the angelic message and wanted to see what had “come to pass.” And, they were overjoyed: the “Lord has made known to us.” The angels could have announced the news to the “movers and shakers” of society, but often the “elite” are not interested in what God has to say. The angels could have announced this news to the entire nation simultaneously – that would have been efficient – but God doesn’t work like that. God the Father, through the angelic witness, communicated the truth of the Messiah’s birth to these shepherds. God selected specific individuals, the humble ones, like the shepherds. Likewise, God intended those whom He selected (the receptive humble ones) to share the information they received.
Verse 16 describes their visit. It says, “And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” They quickly made their way to the place where Mary and Joseph were – how they found the place is not mentioned. They found “Mary and Joseph” and they also saw “the Babe lying in a manger” as the angel had told them. Because they found the child in the unusual spot as they were told, they believed the angel who said that the one who had been born was the Saviour. We would assume that there was some discussion with the parents, but we are not told.
However, we are told about their faith-filled excitement…
An excited announcement (v. 17).
When the shepherds “had seen” the infant Jesus, they departed and “made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” Their faith was demonstrated in the fact that they went and told others.We don’t know the extent of their travels or their declarations, but we do know that they declared the news to others.
However, what the shepherds knew and believed was limited – they did not have a Christian understanding of the events. They would have believed and declared that which they were told: God was keeping His promise to Israel; God had sent the One who was to be the Messiah of Israel; He was born in Bethlehem (as the Old Testament predicted); and those who responded in faith to God’s gracious gift to the nation would experience peace with God and eventually peace in the land.
The shepherds’ message resulted in astonishment and wonder…
The bewildered citizens (v. 18).
Verse 18 says that, “all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” Those who heard wondered, or marvelled. Those words don’t suggest belief, but merely amazement and curiosity.
Earlier, Mary and Joseph marvelled at the news. However, their marveling was mixed with a measure of faith. The marvelling of Mary was mixed with contemplation – Mary stored these events in her heart and meditated upon them.
However, these people were amazed but did not attempt to delve deeper into the significance of the events. The report was circulated and caused a stir, but it is not certain that the city responded concretely to the birth. The report seems to have tickled their ears, but it probably missed their hearts. This response is different than Mary and Joseph’s and also different than the response of the shepherds (v. 20).
The contrast between the common people’s response and the contemplative response prompted by faith is demonstrated in the last two verses.
A contemplative mother (v. 19).
Verse 19 says, “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” She engaged in deep reflection – she did not understand everything, but she was willing to reflect upon what she heard and knew. When we compare this passage with Mark 3:20-35 it is likely that Mary did not have everything figured out.
Mary believed, but the content of her faith was small (we should not import a Christian understanding into Mary’s brain). Mary believed what she heard, but she had a hard time correlating all the new revelation she was receiving. Further in our study of Luke we will read about other prophecies made of Jesus which will cause her further reflection. She would hear those prophesies, grow in her understanding as well as in her faith.
Finally, we see the faith-filled response of the shepherds.
The excited shepherds (v. 20).
Verse 20 says, “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” They believed that which “was told them.” They “returned, glorifying and praising God” for the things which they were able to witness. They believed first, went to see because of their faith, and having seen, their faith had been strengthened. Therefore, they gave God the glory for what He was accomplishing for the nation of Israel as a result of His promises made many, many, years earlier. The shepherds had witnessed the start of God’s saving work through Jesus and felt honored to be a witness of the beginning of this great event.
Remember that Luke wrote for the edification and encouragement of Theophilus. Luke wanted to emphasize the coming of Jesus in accordance with God’s promises. Luke wanted to show the testimony of the angels to underscore the importance of Jesus’ arrival. Luke wanted to contrast the lack of genuine response of the populace with the response of those who had faith.
Those who had faith were:
Curious – eager to search out.
Contemplative and meditative – they considered the events of Christ’s birth and the significance of His coming for the benefit of the nation of Israel – that God was fulfilling His promises.
Those who had faith will enjoy peace and joy in eternity.
Those who exercise faith in God according to His promise receive eternal life and respond by proclaiming God’s gracious work through Christ to others.
Have you trusted Christ as Saviour?
You will enjoy the benefits and blessings on the earth when He establishes His kingdom. You will be filled with wonder and amazement and curiosity – you will not know everything about the Lord, but you will want to learn and meditate upon that which you learn so that you can grow. You will be filled with the desire to proclaim God’s saving plan through Jesus Christ to those who need to hear.
If you have not been born again, you need to be born again.
You need to recognize your sin and need of a Saviour. You need to believe in Jesus as the Saviour and Lord. You need to repent of your sin. You need to place your faith in God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ. You will be filled with peace now, and enjoy peace with God for all eternity.