The events corresponding to the Savior’s birth are momentous.

The Son of God entered humanity to reign over a kingdom he would die to liberate. Shepherds “flocked” to him and so should we. Shepherds proclaimed the news of his birth and so should we.

The Way in the Manger
Finding the way through doubt, despair, and darkness

New Life Bible Fellowship

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr. “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.” -Luke 2:8-12 ESV INTRODUCTION Everyone wants to hear good news. When circumstances are especially difficult, we want to know that a way out is nearby. The time surrounding our Savior’s birth was characteristically difficult for the Jews. Their prophets foretold the spiritual condition of the nation at the time of the Messiah. For example, the prophet Isaiah seven centuries before the birth of Jesus spoke of his people sitting “in darkness” and having “the shadow of death” upon them (see Isa 9:1-2 and Matt. 4:15-16). These are metaphorical expressions which describe bondage to sin; a hopelessly irreversible human condition. At the time of Jesus’ birth (4 BC) 1 the Jews were dominated politically by Rome and by 6 AD the Roman province of Judea was established. Yet, it is not the political woes of the Jewish people that concerned the ancient prophet. The Jews had lost their way spiritually. Judaism at the time of Jesus2 was an admixture of sectarian beliefs (e.g. Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes). Jesus summed up the spiritual condition of the people as heartless praise, referring also to Isaiah (see Isa 29:13; Matt 15:8-9). It was in such spiritual darkness and spiritual death that Jesus entered humanity as a “great light” that “dawned” upon the hopeless masses (Matt. 4:16). Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, is the self-proclaimed ‘Light of the world” and those who follow him are promised never to “walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). This news of hope was expressed by Jesus in terms of kingdom which had arrived (Mark 1:14-15). A kingdom demands allegiance. The politically oppressed Jews desired independence and freedom from Roman allegiance. This, however, was not the pathway to true freedom. Jesus offered true liberation; freedom from the oppression of sin (John 8:31-32). Luke described the first Jews to hear the good news of hope. They were lowly shepherds, men who were isolated from society and despised by their own people, but the recipients of an angelic visitation from God. It is interesting that God was not interested in accommodating to the religious and cultural sensitivities of the Jews. He did not commission an army of angels to appear to the ruling religious authorities (who would have explained the phenomenon away by their sectarian prejudices), but to shepherds held in low esteem by the religious authorities and their fellow countrymen.3


It seems strange to say that Jesus was born in 4BC, but a mathematical error in dating the death of Herod relative to the founding of the city of Rome threw our modern calendars off by 4-7 years. Herod the Great’s reign coincides with the birth of Jesus (Matt 2:1). Herod died in 4 BC. Why is there a gap of this much time in our modern calendar? The Roman monk-mathematician-astronomer, Dionysius Exiguus (i.e. Dennis the Small, 470-544 AD), in the 6th century AD committed a numerical error as it relates to the calendar. Endeavoring to reform the calendar from anno mundi (creation of the world) to anno domini (Jesus’ birth), he dated Jesus’ birth in the year 753 from the founding of Rome (i.e. ab urbe condita) even though Herod died only 749 years after the founding of the city of Rome. Exiguus was attempting to forestall fears of an impending end of the world to occur in 6000 AM or 500 AD. The cumulative error (existing in our present Gregorian-Western-Christian calendars) gives the correct traditional date for the founding of Rome, but the date of Jesus’ birth is at least 4 to 7 years off.
2 3

See Dr. James E. Tabor, “The Jewish World of Jesus” at

Jeremias cites Rabbinic sources to the effect that "most of the time they [shepherds] were dishonest and thieving; they led their herds onto other people's land and pilfered the produce of the land." Because they were often months at a time without supervision, they were often accused of stealing some of the increase of the flock. Consequently, the pious were warned not to buy wool, milk, or kids from shepherds on the assumption that it was stolen property. Shepherds were not allowed to fulfill a judicial office or be admitted in court as witnesses. A Midrash [i.e. interpretation] on Psalm 23:2 reads, "There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a


The pathway to true freedom was announced to the shepherds as a person, a Savior, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). Readers of the New Testament are not surprised the metaphorical association of a pathway with Jesus who referred to himself with such imagery (John 14:6). This Pathway of hope was of eternal origin and descended to humanity through Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; John 1:1-3; Phil 2:5-11; Gal 4:4). It is worth noting here that Luke, who recorded the advent of the good news heralded by angels to the shepherds, also thematically mentioned the ensuing Christian movement in terms of the Way (see Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; see also Matt 22:16 and Mark’s repeated use to way in Mark 8:2710:52). The early followers of Jesus chose the Way as a designation for their Jesus-centered movement, not the term Christian so commonly in use today. In fact, it was their opposition who maligned them as Christfollowers (or Christians), Acts 11:26. The term Christian is used only twice more in the entire NT (Acts 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16). Use of the Way has deep OT roots. Again, the prophet Isaiah refers to a second Exodus experience for the people of God, an exodus from the wilderness of sin requiring a cleared path for the arrival of God (Isa 40:3; 42:16; 43:16-19; 49:11-12). This theme featured heavily into Mark’s Gospel which gives prominent position to John the Baptist heralding the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus (Mark 1:1-8).4 The liberating truth announced by the angel to the shepherds (and later proclaimed by them, see Luke 2:17) is considered in the following two parts: PART 1: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE GOSPEL What the Gospel Is The consolation to the shepherds startled by the sudden and radiant appearance of the angel (vv. 8-9) was, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news” (v. 10). It’s almost certain that the pulsating hearts of the shepherds found it difficult to heed the angel’s almost dismissive appeal to “stop being afraid.” The reason given is an announcement of good news. Many announcements are received as mere information. So we can discover here that the Gospel received as mere information is insufficient without a corresponding motivation on the part of the recipient. An announcement intended as good news may not be correspondingly received. There must be an earnest sense of need on the part of the recipient. That the announcement came at “night” (v. 8) is not to be overlooked. That the announcement came to men reputed for their thievery is emblematic of the spiritual darkness permeating the age. Only those who come to terms with the “darkness” and “death” of their spiritual condition (Jer 17:9; Isa 59:2; Rom 3:23; 5:12; 6:23) can receive the Gospel as “good news” (Mark 4:20; Luke 8:16; 1 Thess 1:6). The invasive and sudden appearance of the angel (the verb appeared [ESV, NIV, NET] is better rendered came upon suddenly) is much like the convincing role of the Holy Spirit who intersects the sinner mid-stride in life and cuts him/her to the heart (John 16:8; [Acts 9:1-6]; Acts 2:37). The Gospel is proclaimed, but the Spirit must ignite the (explosive) fire in the sinner’s heart (Rom 1:16). What the Gospel Produces The fear subsides to the extent that the announcement is received as good news, filling the heart broken by conviction with great joy at the prospect of deliverance (v. 10). Sin is like a great weight upon the soul; like an anvil tied to a balloon filled with helium. The filled balloon was intended to fly upward, even as the soul was created for communion with God. Sin has ruined mankind’s ability to know his Maker, but Jesus made it possible to have the burden of sin removed once-and-for-all. Forgiveness extended and experienced is the soul’s release from its captivity and penalty to live again in the light of redemption. What is it like to have a heavy burdened removed?

shepherd." Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of Alexandria (25 BC - 45 AD), wrote about looking after sheep and goats, "Such pursuits are held mean and inglorious." Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (SCM/Fortress Press, 1969), 304-11. Joachim Jeremias, ποιμήν, TDNT 6:489.

Kayle De Waal, “The Way of the Cross in Mark’s Gospel” in Ministry (June 2011), 6-8. “The Motif of way in Luke and Acts” in Ministry (August 2011), 21-24. See also, Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992).

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr. The angel tells us that it is “great joy.” Luke commonly associates joy with salvation in his Gospel (Luke 10:17; 15:7, 10; 24:52; see also joy at the announcement of the John the Baptist’s birth in Luke 1:14).5 The theme of Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi is “joy” (Phil 4:4). James called the suffering Jews of diaspora to joy (Jas 1:2). Nehemiah comforted the grieving children of Israel by calling them to God-based joy (Neh 8:10). It is noteworthy that the angel included the word great to describe joy. This joy was of great moment and significance. The Gospel is transformative and life-changing news that is of great moment and significance. It is not to be taken lightly or neglected. To the burdened soul longing for rest, the Gospel is a penetrating light to the deepest recesses of our being and brings a soothing balm and a sweet release. Nothing of this world or in this world can provide such solace for the soul (Jer 8:22). Joyless Christianity is a misnomer, yet for some it exists. Many Christians weigh themselves down with burdens they were not intended to bear (Ps 42:5; 55:22; 1 Pet 5:7). Jesus came to liberate captive souls (Luke 4:18-19; John 8:36)! A man was lame from his birth. His friends brought him day to the Temple so he could sit pitifully by the entrance and beg for money to buy food. When the disciples of Jesus entered the Temple the man petitioned them for money. “Silver or gold I do not have,” said Peter, “but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6 TNIV). Suddenly, the weight of lifetime fell from the man; he obeyed the command of Peter and rising to his feet, entered the Temple “walking and jumping, and praising God” (Acts 3:8 TNIV). We wonder sometimes at the dispassionate way some Christians speak of their salvation experience. The witnesses in the book of Acts we emboldened in their insistence on the momentous nature of Gospel proclamation (Acts 4:12, 20; 8:4). The apostle Paul agonized for his own people, the Jews and desired to cursed by God for them (Rom 10:1). Paul agonized over the privilege and awesome responsibility of preaching the Gospel (1 Cor 9:16). Who the Gospel is for Perhaps the greatest joy-inducing consolation in the angel’s announcement was found in the words, for all people (v. 10). The universality of the Gospel is a powerful truth (John 3:16; Rom 10:13; Rev 22:17). Truly, anyone who wants to be saved can be saved. For the shepherds, having been marginalized in their own society (much like the tax-collectors), now were included under the comprehensive terms of the Gospel’s invitation. Forgiveness like grace is not partial to the quantity of sins or the quality of the sinner. Since all have sinned, all are equally in need of grace and forgiveness (Rom 3:20). A man drove through a small town one night. He didn’t see the speed limit sign and was stopped by a police officer. That night he appeared in the village court before the judge. The man pled guilty to the charge and waited for the judge to give him a fine. Instead, the judge reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, took out a $50 dollar bill and paid the fine. Was the man forgiven? Yes, of course! Was there an expense involved? Yes, of course! Was there a condition? Yes, of course! The man was required to plead guilty, but someone else had covered the expense and paid the fine. So Jesus was offered by the Judge as payment for our crimes. The acquittal is not automatically applied. We must plead guilty to be released (see Acts 16:31-34; notes especially the joy of the forgiven jailer, v. 34). PART 2: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE SAVIOR The angel’s announcement of good news contains the promise of deliverance centered on a unrivaled figure with a three-fold description (Savior, Christ-Messiah, the Lord, v. 11). This combination of titles is unique and appears only here in the NT.6 All three titles are of OT origin and contribute to the momentous import of the message of good news. Before examining the titles individually, it is necessary to consider the angel’s remarks
5 6

Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50 BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 215. Ibid., 216.


directed to the shepherds and introducing the one who is born in Bethlehem (“the city of David”). The angel is not generalizing a vague message for the shepherds to proclaim. Far from being mere reporters of what others may experience, the shepherds themselves are benefactors of the message which they will ultimately bear. The angel’s declaration included the phrase “was born to you today,” that is, to the shepherds. The momentous import of the announced good news is represented in the word “today.” What was earlier anticipated (Luke 1:31-35) as a future event has now arrived. The force of “today” stresses urgency of action and availability. What has been eagerly anticipated is now available, to them! For Luke’s use of “today” see also 4:21; 5:26; 13:32-33; 19:5, 9; 23:43.7 This use of “today” recalls the apostle Paul’s motivational use of the term “now” (see 2 Cor 6:2). The writer of the book of Hebrews also employed this term (Heb 3:7, 15). Jesus similarly mentioned “day” as an impetus to action (John 9:4). The titles employed by the angel have OT moorings familiar in Jesus’ time and describe the one born as follows: His Purpose There are many opinions about Jesus today. Some people would say that Jesus was a great teacher. Others would focus on his miracles. Still others would speak of his prophetic words. Many would speak of him as a moral leader and a profound example to be followed. This has not changed since Jesus himself posed the question to his disciples (see Luke 9:18-20). The angel’s declaration to the shepherds is heaven’s designation of the true identity of Jesus. The angel used the title “Savior.” This title has the connotation of deliverance. In spite of his great teachings, his miraculous works and his prophetic predictions, Jesus came into this world for the exclusive purpose of bringing deliverance. As we have stated, though the Jews may have longed for release from Roman oppression, Jesus did not come to offer political deliverance. He came to deliver his people from their spiritual oppression; their bondage to sin. In the OT “Savior” was used to describe one who delivered from an enemy (e.g. a judge, see Judg 3:9, 15; 12:3; Neh 9:27). Its primary OT use refers to God who delivers from a variety of perils (e.g. destructive enemies and diseases, see Deut 20:4; Jos 22:22; Ps 24:5; 25:5; Isa 25:9). Jesus is God’s deliverer who seeks to rescue his people from imminent destruction (John 3:17). Jesus himself personally identified with this title and its purpose (Luke 4:18-19; 19:10). An angel of the Lord informed Joseph to name the Child born to Mary, “…Jesus, because he will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21 TNIV). Only through Jesus can mankind be delivered from the guilt of sin and its punishment, death. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 TNIV). Thus the import of the announcement of good news. Thus the import of today. This is not a message to be ignored. A surgeon met with a group of former patients who had been cured through his surgical efforts. One by one, each patient rose to their feet and spoke of how sick they had been, how they put their lives in the hands of the surgeon, and of their present healed condition. The Bible calls sin a terminal disease of the soul (Jer 17:9). No amount of church-going or good deed doing can cure us. There’s only One who can help us, but we must place our lives in his hands in order to be delivered-healed (Acts 16:31). His Work The angel also used the title “Christ-Messiah/Lord.” In the original Greek language of the NT, “Christ” and “Lord” appear as a single expression (there is no definite article attached to “Lord”). A single concept is represented in “Christ-Lord.” In the OT “Christ” or “Messiah” had regal overtones and referred to the anointing-choosing of a ruler. In Luke’s infancy narratives, he identified Jesus as heir to the Davidic office of regal deliverer (Luke 1:27, 31-35, 68-72; 2:4, 11). The one piercing this temporal realm of man from eternity is to be a ruler (Micah 5:2; Isa 9:6-7). Of the 9,000 occasions where the Greek kurios-κύριος (“Lord”) appears in the LXX (the notation is for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT), around 6,150 represent the divine name YHWH (Yahweh-Jehovah-LORD).8

7 8

E. Schweizer, The Good News according to Luke (Atlanta: John Knox, 1984), 50-51. Bock, Luke, 218.

© 2012 Dr. Douglas A. Blanc, Sr. Luke will use ‘Lord” as the key expression to define the character and function of Jesus (see Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:33-36). In other words, the one who brings deliverance, the one who came to rescue his people is none other than God. This is an amazing detail when it is discovered that the deliverance provided is a gift to mankind (John 3:16). Gifts are free to the recipient, but are given at the expense of the giver. So it is with deliverance from sin. God gave his Son at the greatest expense of all, his life (2 Cor 8:9). God overcame the humanly insurmountable gulf of time and space to rescue and not to repair mankind. His deliverance is not to restore peace on earth, but to provide peace between the offenders and the one offended (Luke 2:14; Rom 5:1). The world has seldom, if ever, known a time of protracted peace. Jesus could have been a gifted diplomat. He could have driven Roman occupation from Jerusalem and its surrounding towns. He could have declared a kingdom on earth. How would that have benefitted corrupt human hearts? These subjects would have soon rebelled against their king. God is most concerned with the status of our souls. So concerned, that he paid the greatest price to freely redeem us (Rom 3:24). CONCLUSION What is most startling perhaps is that the shepherds are given “a sign” in order to find the Savior/MessiahKing/God (v. 12). Signs were not uncommon in the OT (e.g. Exod 3:12; 1 Sam 2:34; 14:10; Isa 37:30; 38:7). The startling nature of this sign, however, is not that the shepherds were to seek a wrapped up newly born child (v. 7), but that this babe, the Savior/Messiah-King/God would not be found in a palace. This child would be found in animal housing and resting in a feeding trough! Such humble accommodations for such a regal personality! Such modest accoutrements for one whose arrival had altered the course of history (and not just by altering the calendar)! We must once again hear the words of the angel, “to you” as echoing Isaiah’s words seven-centuries past (see Isa 9:6). There is joy-inspiring blessing in an offer of such extreme import! Yet, there is also a cautionary tone. What if the offer goes unheeded? What then? Humanity runs its course and destruction is imminent. We may either continue on in sin, experience its consequence, death, or we may accept the invitation to be rescued and experience complete release. The grace of God is the means by which our deliverance has been provided, no cost for us to pay and no good works performed to qualify (Eph 2:8-9). God demands faith. We must take him at his word. We are to believe in Jesus in the sense that he is who the angel declared him to be, Savior/Messiah-King/God. Our belief is not in general and abstract theoretical concepts, but by earnestly admitting our own sin-caused darkness and death we turn to the only one who can rescue and cling (Acts 16:31).


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