Today in my quiet time, I was reading Luke chapter 2. I got to the part where the shepherds that were tending their flocks by night and an angel of the LORD appeared in God’s tremendous glory and they were afraid. The angel appeased the shepherds and announced that a saviour had been born. It was the birth of Jesus. The angel tells them how to find this newly born saviour. He will be wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger, a feeding trough for farm animals. The Bible then says a large host of angels appeared praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” Luke 2:14 (NIV, 1984). The Bible says that the shepherds hurried into Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and with baby Jesus as the angels had said, wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger. The shepherds the spread the news of the activities they witnessed that night and many were amazed.
I have read this passage many times and I have often not taken time to ask questions about it. Is there more to it than the nativity narrative? Why does the Gospel of Luke mention this account yet the other Gospels leave it out? Why shepherds? Why so many angels appearing as BGVS to back up an announcement that one junior angel could handle by himself. So the shepherds witnessed the birth? Nothing really special about that. But then I researched on the shepherds at Bethlehem and found out something that warmed my heart.
The shepherds at that time grazed their sheep a couple of miles outside the town of Bethlehem at a place called Migdal Eder. Migdal Eder means the tower of the flock. Migdal Eder was a very famous place in that area for a certain reason. It was here at Migdal Eder that the lambs for sacrifice at the temple would be reared. The shepherds were also believed to be religious people who lived a set apart life of holiness. They were responsible for not only grazing their flock but also selecting lambs for sacrifice. When the sheep would give birth to the lambs, the shepherds would inspect each one. This inspection would be to distinguish ordinary lambs from special lambs. Ordinary lambs would be released into the flock. Special lambs would be retained at the tower of the rock. In the Old Testament we are told the special lambs for sacrifice had to be perfect- without blemish, without injuries and without sickness. These were the ones the shepherds would look out for. They would be reserved for the temple sacrifice.
The shepherds at Migdal Eder would take care of the special lambs with extra caution. The newly born, blameless, special lambs would be examined for any defect and if found in good condition and perfect health, they would be wrapped in clothes and put in a manger. They were to be protected from any potential blemish because they were the lambs of sacrifice for the sins of the people. When the angel in Luke 2:12 gives the shepherds the news of Jesus’ birth, you can imagine how difficult that would be. Countless babies must have been born on that day. How in the world would they find the particular baby referred to by the angel? However in verse 12, the angels gives them a sign that distinguishes Jesus from the other babies. He says, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12 (NIV). Mangers were for cows, oxen and farm animals to eat from. They were not for laying children. We know from the other gospel accounts that it is not because Mary and Joseph were bad parents. They simply could not find any room in any inn for the night, so they chose a decent stable and laid Jesus in the fodder box instead of a baby cot, wrapped in clothes. This sign must have triggered something in the shepherds’ hearts! Wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger? Just like our sheep? It was a very personal sign to the shepherds because they did this with their special lambs.
The shepherds went into town and found exactly what the angel said. They saw a baby whom the angel called Christ Saviour the Messiah in verse 11. This baby is wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger, just like their special sheep. This picture to the shepherds must have told them that this baby was a special baby just like some of their new-born sheep are special lambs. But it must also have been disturbing. Why? The new-born lambs that were wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger end up being the sacrifice for sins at the altar. They are killed. They bleed. They die in their purity. Little did they know (or did they) that what they were seeing was not far from the truth. Jesus was the lamb of God wrapped in clothes, lying in a manger and would soon be the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world on the altar of the cross.
“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29b (NKJV)
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” Revelation 5:12 (NKJV)