The first people chosen to spread the Gospel, the good news about the birth of Jesus, were the Shepherds. You are probably familiar with Luke 2:8-20 which records the Angelic visit paid to those Shepherds, living in the fields outside of Bethlehem with their flocks. The Shepherd's listened to every word and then quickly and carefully followed the Angel's instructions to go and find the newborn Jesus lying in a manger. Afterwards, they faithfully and excitedly reported all that they had seen and heard, making the Good News widely known. Years later, Jesus would ask Peter to feed His sheep, His people. In fact, poimen, the word for Pastor comes from the Greek word for a Shepherd. I believe that the Shepherd's were chosen for a reason and there are some things we can learn from the diligent life of a Shepherd.
Bethlehem is just 6 miles from Jerusalem. The fields in between them would have been home to the flocks from which the passover lambs came. With the entire nation celebrating passover in Jerusalem, they would have needed tremendous numbers of lambs, these flocks must have been huge. Exodus 12:5 lists the requirements for the Passover lambs:
Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
Deuteronomy 15:21 further explains that an animal offered to the Lord could not have any blemish, defect or flaw, that they could not be lame or blind. Leviticus 22:20 reads:
Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be accepted for you.
Bethlehem shepherds had a very important job. The text tells us that they were WATCHING over their flocks by night. They were awake and watching. They lived out in the fields with their flocks. Some people might have brought their own sacrifices, but many would have needed to aquire a lamb when they got to Jerusalem. If an animal got injured, or blinded, hurt its leg or had any flaw, it could not be offered. They had to protect the animals, watch over them, prevent unauthorized breeding so that bad blood lines could not be proliferated and they had to make sure that no sheep wandered away.
For years, I have watched my Dad care for his cattle. He counts them morning and night, faithfully observes and treats any injuries, gives them medication when necessary, takes them to the veterinarian if needed. He observes each cow to know when she has been with the bull so that he knows when to expect a calf and then keeps an eye on them when they go into labor to make sure it goes smoothly. He keeps accurate records to have fall and spring calves, to avoid births during freezing winters and hot summers. He and Mom carefully choose and measure their feed, even watching them eat to make sure everyone gets some. He is a diligent grass farmer. Not only has he limed and seeded the land, but he has been seeking and choosing good hay sources for years, carefully moving the hay feeders to spread the good seed (and the naturally fertilizing manure) around. He wisely chooses good bulls and painstakingly selects the best cows to keep to improve the herd, breeding to promote the best characteristics.
In the same way, Shepherds had to be diligent about their business. This is, perhaps, why they were considered trustworthy to be diligent in sharing the Gospel. 1 Peter 5:2 tells us:
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.
Here are some lessons we can learn from the Shepherds.
1. Feed The Sheep
In the same way that Shepherds carefully feed the sheep, taking them to green pastures and leading them beside still waters, Pastors must carefully feed their people the word of God and discern what they need for growth. Dad always says that cattlemen are grass farmers. The "pasture," is a good metaphor for the atmosphere of a church. A faithful Shepherd of God's people must cultivate the ground, providing a healthy, thriving environment for them to learn, grow and teach in. In the same way that a cattleman seeds the land, Paul taught us that Christians sow the seeds of the Gospel, water them (bringing them to the Living Water) and patiently wait for God to give the growth.
2. Keep Watch
In the same way that Shepherds diligently keep watch over their flocks to protect them from harm, injury and predators, Pastors must diligently keep watch over their flocks to protect them from false teachers and temptations. Pastors watch over their flock to guide them away from temptation and to protect them from those who would expoit them, lead them astray or feed them poison, as the Bible calls them wolves in sheeps clothing.
3. Nurse them to Health
In the same way that a Shepherd tends a sick or injured sheep, a Pastor tends to both the physical and spiritual needs of people. As a church, we show people how much we care for their soul by taking care of physical needs such as food, clothing, medical help and offering various types of assistance and work when needed. In the same way that a cattleman takes a sick animal to the veterinarian, we take people who are physically sick, and much more importantly, those who are spiritually sick to the Great Physician, Jesus who heals.
4. Remember Whose Sheep These Are
Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. When Peter replied "Yes." Jesus said Feed my lambs....Shepherd my sheep...Feed my sheep. While the tasks of a Shepherd symbolically show us the tasks of a Pastor, what happened in this story is very literal. The Shepherds faithfully and enthusiastically shared the Good News, the Whole story, with everyone they encountered. The whole story is all about Jesus. The Angel told the Shepherds that JESUS was the promised Messiah. He was the one the one that had been prophesied. He was the saviour. A multitude of angels praised God and declared what an incredible act of peace and goodwill this was on His part. The Shepherds immediately went to see Jesus and then told everyone about Him.
The Cycle of Faith
Ultimately, Jesus was sacrificed as our perfect Passover lamb, without spot and with blemish. He is also referred to as The Good Shepherd. All of these symbols point to one reality. We are Jesus' flock and He cares for us. There is a beautiful picture of the Great Commission given to the Shepherds and fulfilled by the Shepherds. In the same way that the Shepherds Heard the Good News, came to meet Jesus and then told others about him, we too are to share the good news so that others can meet Jesus and go on to tell even more people. I attend a service sometimes where the theme is "Hear, Believe and Obey." While the term is used to describe the life of a Believer, this is actually a great way to describe the 3 step process of the cycle of faith:
1. HEAR: We tell the good news of Jesus, just like someone told us
2. BELIEVE: They believe the word and accept Jesus as their Christ, their Messiah, their Savior
3. OBEY: They obey Jesus instructions at the Great Commission by going on to tell others and the cycle repeats.
The plan for spreading the Gospel is introduced in this passage from Luke 2. The good news of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world and the Gospel is the only way for a person to become a member of God's flock. The word SCRUPULOUS means to be diligent, meticulous and careful. We should all be as Scrupulous as Shepherds when it comes to the things of God.