I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Angels, God's Heavenly Messengers
Every year we hear the Christmas story and every Christmas season we listen to the words of Scripture read to us. Some families even read the story of Jesus' birth to their children on Christmas morning. So, to many Christians the words of Luke 2:8-15, talking about the heavenly visitation to shepherds has become rather mundane. But, in reality, what the angels announced that night was anything but mundane. Let us listen again with fresh ears as Luke tells us:
"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. And so, the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And 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.”
When the angels had departed from them into heaven, 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.”
I love the writings of pastor Max Lucado. And I recently read one quote by him that stood out to me. It was about the Christmas angels. He said:
“Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him–and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.”
Sadly, because most of us know the story of Jesus' birth by heart and have celebrated it all of our lives, we just take for granted these heavenly beings that seem to come out of nowhere to make the announcement of our Lord's entrance on earth that night. But just who are these beings and from where do they come? They played a very important role on that night when God became man in order to take away the sins of the world. However, what do we really know about these celestial personalities?
Let's begin by finding out just who they are.
I. Who Are the Angels?
We must start by saying that contrary to some popular belief, humans do not become angels when they die. The angels are a separate creation from the human race. They are superhuman or heavenly beings who serve as God's messengers.
Also, as spirit beings, angels do not have true physical bodies. The Psalmist tells us of them:
"Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire." (Psalm 104:4, NKJV)
Both the Hebrew word 'malak' and the Greek 'angelos' indicate that these beings also act decisively in fulfilling God's will in the world. But these two terms also apply, in some cases, to human beings as messengers as well (1 Kings 19:2; Hag 1:13; Luke 7:24). However, in most cases, they are referring to the supernatural beings that we see in the Christmas story of Luke.
They are created and fashioned by the Triune God of the universe. We can see our Lord Jesus' role in this in the book of Colossians where Paul tells us about Him:
"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him." (1:16).
The gospel writer, John, also says something similar about Christ when he tells us in John 1:3 that:
"All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being."
And just when were they created? Though we cannot be certain, Scripture seems to indicate that it was before the earth was created. In Job 38:4,7 God asks the patriarch Job:
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. . . when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
The term "sons of God" is one of the many designations for angels. For example, the Book of Job earlier says that:
"One day the "sons of God" came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them." (Job 1:6).
In the Job 38 passage we get a picture of the angels singing and worshipping God as He created the earth.
The Bible also indicates that the number of angels is too numerous to count. For instance, the writer of Hebrews tells us:
"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly ..." (Hebrews 12:22, NIV).
Out of the myriads of angels, only three were given names in the canonical Scriptures. They are Gabriel, Michael and the fallen angel, Lucifer (Daniel 8:16; Luke 1:19; Luke 1:26). Michael is the only angel to be called an archangel in the Bible. He is described as "one of the chief princes," so it is possible that there are other archangels, but we cannot be sure.
The word "archangel" comes from the Greek word "archangelos" meaning "a chief angel." It refers to an angel ranked highest or in charge of other angels. We can see from this that the angelic world is very organized in the way that they do their job as servants of the living God.
The Bible also indicates that part of their job as God's servants is to help the Christian as well. Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as "ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation." In the Greek language, the word for "ministering" is referring to serving others. This verse references angels serving those who "inherit salvation," meaning believers in Jesus Christ as Savior.
The Scriptures also say that angels have desired to look into the glorious things of salvation. Referring to the prophetic writings, Peter tells us in his book that:
"It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels have desired to look into these" things (1 Peter 1:12).
With all of this in mind, let us look a little closer at the job of God's special messengers during the time of Jesus' entrance into the world to save humanity.
II. What Did the Angels Do At Christmas?
I imagine it was hard for these beings, who knew and served our Lord in all of His glory, to see him become a helpless baby in a manger. They probably wanted to protect Him from the things that could happen to a human being in a sin-cursed world. I'm wondering if they fully understood all that our Lord would have to go through in his more than 30 years upon this planet?
But before all of this took place, they were given the task of announcing our Lord's arrival. The truth is that, if Jesus was who He later claimed to be, then God the Father would want to make sure that everyone knew who His Son was. He would want them to know that Jesus' is God in the flesh coming to bring salvation to a lost humanity. God wanted to verify these things by many witnesses. So, the Lord announced His Son's birth by at least 4 supernatural signs in the form of angelic visitors to 4 different people or groups of people. Ron James from the Titus Institute has this to say about these angelic visits:
"They were seen by Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist, by Mary, the mother of Jesus, by Joseph the husband of Mary, and by a group of shepherds on a field in Bethlehem of Judea.
They were four angelic appearances to four separate individuals or groups proclaiming the coming of God’s Son.
In these announcements, the angels make clear exactly who this child is so that there would be no confusion or mistake as to the true identity of this child born in such humble circumstances."
Today we are, of course, focusing on the announcement made to the shepherds. Why did he come to these men and not to kings and princes? He came to these lowly shepherds who were looked down upon by other members of society because they were humble men and the Lord wanted to make it clear that He was coming for all of society whether they be rich or poor, educated or uneducated and whether male or female. Or as Billy Graham once said:
By announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, God was demonstrating His love for every one of us, no matter who we are. The Bible says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are." (I John 3:1).
On top of all of this, it is interesting that the field that these particular shepherds were in was the field where the lambs for sacrifice in the temple were kept. The shepherds were those who tended the sacrificial lambs. And the angel who spoke to them told these men that the true lamb of God had arrived who would take away the sins of the world.
The angel at the announcement to the shepherds revealed 3 titles that were given to Jesus. The first of these titles is 'Savior.' This title, in the Old Testament, is one that God claimed for Himself alone. In Isaiah 43:11 God tells His people:
"Even I, am the Lord and there is no Savior besides Me.”
So, by calling Jesus Savior, the angel was also proclaiming His deity. Jesus Himself reinforced this claim when He said:
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10).
The second title given to Jesus by the angel is 'Christ.' This is the Greek equivalent of the Jewish term 'Messiah.' This title means 'Annointed One.' It is given to prophets, priests and kings and Jesus was all three.
The Christ is the one that the Israelites had been waiting for. He is the anointed one by God to deliver them from sin and set up His kingdom. So, Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah.
The third and final title that the angel announced is 'Lord.' There are two major words that are used of God in the Old Testament. One is 'Elohim' which is usually translated as God. The other is 'Jehovah' or 'Yahweh'. This is God's covenant name which the Hebrew people felt to be too sacred to pronounce. So, instead, the word 'Adonai' or 'Lord' was put in its place. By using this term in the announcement, the angel was calling Jesus Lord, Yahweh. That would have been blasphemous for anyone other than the God-man Jesus Christ.
The angel goes on to say to the shepherds that there would be a sign given in order for them to tell if it was truly the Christ whom they found when they sought after him. He said:
"This will be a sign for you. You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (2:12).
There are some who say that Jesus was actually wrapped in burial cloths as a symbol of his later death for sin. However, this doesn't appear to be the case. The Greek term is 'sparganoo' which is used of baby clothes. The word sparganoo means “long strips of cloth for infant care” or to wrap in baby clothes.” It was a word that appeared in ancient medical writings. So, what is the significance of the swaddling clothes in which Jesus was wrapped? Here is what the website Neverthirsty.org has to say about it:
"Luke 2:12 tells us that when the angels appeared to the shepherds at night, the sign identifying the infant Jesus as the Messiah was that He would be wrapped in baby clothes – sparganoo. Historical records reveal what was significant about these clothes. It was common in ancient times to not put what we would call diapers on the baby. Often very young children would be allowed to walk about without under garments. Most often it was the more affluent who had the resources to afford undergarments for their children. Since Mary and Joseph were on travel journeying the town of Joseph’s ancestors at the time of Jesus’ birth, it is possible that people of means gave Mary some clothes for Jesus. What is really significant is that Jesus was also in a manger – an animal feeding trough. The baby Jesus lying in an animal trough and ironically wrapped in clothes fitting for the wealthy would be an incredible sign to the shepherds."
To make a miraculous announcement even more miraculous and memorable, the angel is, at last, joined by a 'multitude' or 'host' of angels praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom His favor rests." (2:14).
The term for 'multitude' or 'host' is also used to describe an army encampment. Jesus Himself later used military imagery to describe the angels in Matthew 26:53. It is interesting that Revelation 5:11 suggests that the number of the angelic host is too large for the human mind to fathom. But this enormous heavenly army brought to the world a message of peace!
While the rest of the world ignored it, God made a major announcement by His heavenly host that will one day change the face of the globe and destroy sin and death forever. An announcement made by the innumerable angels of God- to a small group of shepherds.
The message that the Christmas angels gave is still echoing today over 2000 years later. And it will reverberate into eternity! A Savior is born who is Christ the Lord!! This is a true story that will never grow old. May we, like the Shepherds back then who heard it for the first time, be excited enough not to keep it to ourselves.
If we look further in the text, we see that they decided to go to Bethlehem and see for themselves what the Lord had made known to them (2:15,16).
They then relayed to others what the angel had told them about the child which made all that heard them wonder about the things which had been told them by the shepherds (18).
And, while Mary pondered these things in her heart (19), the shepherds went back to their fields, no longer the same. They glorified and praised God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them (20).
We may not have seen the multitude of angels like the shepherds did then, but we have all, who have accepted Christ as Savior, also experienced the new life that has been offered to us as a result of that night in Bethlehem and the life, death and resurrection that followed.
The shepherds and all that were on earth that night are now gone. But we are here to tell the story of the baby born in a manger who will one day come back to earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
May we, like those lowly shepherds, report to the world that the Savior has come! And Jesus' life can eternally change for the better, anyone who comes to Him by faith. Let us praise God for the message of the angels. A message of hope and good news to all that accept that once tiny baby, who grew up to take His place as the Lord and Savior of our lives. Glory to God in the highest!
© 2021 Jeff Shirley