And the Shepherds Returned

Bible Book: Luke  2 : 20
Subject: Christmas, Rigth After; Christmas; Shepherds; Jesus, Birth of

The great historical, redemptive drama of Christmas, which we just celebrated, included a significant supporting cast--and I want to call attention this morning to one specific group that was a part of that cast. Those I’m referring to are often pictured on Christmas cards, and any Christmas pageant always includes them. Reference is made to them in many of the songs we sing at Christmas time. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many there were of them, but apparently there were several. You probably realize that I’m talking about the shepherds.

The beginning point of my message this morning is the first four words of Luke 2:20: “And the shepherds returned....” Whenever I read them, those four words leap off the page, stir my imagination, and remind me afresh of two compelling truths. To point up those truths, I want to raise two questions about the shepherds returning, and then show how the Bible answers those questions.

First of all, the shepherds returned...




Following the account of Jesus being born in a stable and Mary laying him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn, the scene then shifts to the shepherds. They were at work, when suddenly they were startled by what they saw and heard. We read about it in Luke 2:8-14:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”


We have no record of these particular shepherds prior to that holy night, but we can logically assume that they were familiar with the Old Testament prophecies and had been looking for the promised Messiah. Why do I say that? Because the Bible teaches that in order for a person to have a life-changing encounter with the living God, two elements must be present: (1) A person must seek after God, and (2) there must be a divine revelation.

Isaiah 55:6-7 says: “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Some people hear the gospel week after week, but are never saved because they are not personally seeking God. They may have a mild interest, but that isn’t sufficient.

In Jeremiah 29:13 God said, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” In Matthew 5:6 Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”

But while man’s earnest seeking is required, his seeking will not, by itself, bring about that life-changing encounter. There must, then, be a divine revelation. We see that truth pointed up in Simon Peter’s experience. In Matthew 16:16-17 we read: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

We read here in Luke 2 about the divine revelation, given through the angelic choir; thus, we can safely assume that the shepherds had been seeking; they had been looking forward to the coming of the promised Redeemer--and now, finally, what they had been longing for had come to pass. Look with me at verses 15-16:

“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”

Look with me now at the...


In verses 17-18 we read, “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered [NIV: “were amazed”] at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”

These shepherds were so excited about their great discovery that they couldn’t keep it to themselves--they had to share the good news. That is one of the first evidences of a genuine, soul-stirring, life-changing encounter with the living God. The author of Psalm 116:10 said, “...I believed, therefore have I spoken....” In Acts 4 Peter and John, even under the threat of death, refused to be quiet about what they had experienced; according to verse 20 they said, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

A lot of folks who claim to be Christians rarely, if ever, say anything about their faith to others--which is evidence that either they don’t really possess what they profess, or else if they really are saved they are in a woefully backslidden condition. In either case, they are on shaky ground.

But these shepherds were “for real.” They had had a powerful, life-changing encounter with the living God, and were so thrilled about it that they apparently were telling everyone who would listen. As they had knelt with reverence beside that manger, they had realized with awe that that precious little baby lying in that manger was none other than the Messiah, the Redeemer, whose coming had been prophesied throughout the long centuries.

I love that song, “Mary, did you know?” At one point in the song the question is asked, “Mary, did you know that when you kissed your baby boy, you kissed the face of God?” Someone has said that every Jewish mother thought that her baby boy hung the moon--but in Mary’s case, he actually did! Colossians 1:16-17 speaks of Jesus as follows:

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”

What happened to those shepherds is wonderful to read about--but also wonderful is the fact that...


No, Jesus is no longer here in a body of flesh and blood, but he is here in the person of the Holy Spirit, and still offers to all people the wondrous privilege of having a personal encounter with him.

According to John 20:28, when Thomas encountered the risen Christ he said, “My Lord and my God.” In verse 29 we read: “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

If any person will repent of his sins, and in faith surrender his life to the crucified, risen, living, coming again Son of God, he will have that same life-changing experience that the shepherds had. Regardless of how steeped in sin your life might be; regardless of how long and wearisome may have been your night of defeat; regardless of how far down you may be--Christ can still turn your life around, if you’ll turn it all over to him. One poet expressed it like this:

“Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer

Thought it scarcely worth his while

To waste much time on the old violin,

But held it up with a smile.

‘What am I bidden, good folks,’ he cried,

‘Who’ll start the bidding for me?

A dollar, a dollar,’ then ‘Two; Only two?

Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?

Three dollars once; three dollars, twice;

Going for three--’ But no,

From the room, far back, a gray-haired man

Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,

And tightening the loose strings,

He played a melody pure and sweet

As a caroling angel sings.


“The music ceased, and the auctioneer,

With a voice that was quiet and low,

Said: ‘What am I bid for the old violin?’

And he held it up with the bow.

‘A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?

Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?

Three thousand once, three thousand twice,

And going, and gone,’ said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,

‘We do not quite understand

What changed its worth.’ Swift came the reply:

‘The touch of a master’s hand.’


“And many a man with life out of tune,

And battered and scarred with sin,

Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

Much like the old violin.

A ‘mess of pottage,’ a glass of wine,

A game--and he travels on.

He is ‘going’ once, and ‘going’ twice,

He’s ‘going’ and almost ‘gone.’

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd

Never can quite understand

The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought

By the touch of the Master’s hand.”

Can you say, from your heart, what the song-writer said?

“He touched me; yes, he touched me;

And, oh, the joy that floods my soul!

Something happened, and now I know--

Jesus touched me, and made me whole!”

So, we’ve looked at the question, The shepherds returned FROM WHAT? Now let’s consider the second question: The shepherds returned...


The answer is clear from Luke 2:8, which we read earlier: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” They were returning TO THEIR EVERY DAY RESPONSIBILITIES.


Now that they had had their great encounter with the promised Messiah, and had begun sharing their faith with others, it was time to get back to their daily work. That meant back to keeping careful watch to be sure that beasts of prey didn’t maim or kill the sheep. It was back to the constant task of finding adequate pasture for the flock, and finding still waters so that they could drink.

It meant back to the demanding chore of looking after the ewes and the delicate, fragile newborns during lambing season--back to the time-consuming, tedious labor of shearing the sheep and trying to get a reasonable price for the wool--back to the challenge of finding a market for those sheep that needed to be culled from the flock--back to the daily struggle of stretching their meagre resources so as to make ends meet, and raising a family--back to the reality of working with fellow shepherds, some of whom probably weren’t easy to get along with. They returned to whatever family problems any of them might have had.

These men were real people. We’re prone to think of them as they are depicted on Christmas cards. But they were real men, with real jobs, real struggles, real temptations, real burdens, and real responsibilities. But, having had that life-changing encounter with the living Christ, the shepherds returned to their work-a-day routine with a new glow, a new determination, a new, positive spirit. Luke 2:20, in its entirety, says, “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”


And that same thing should be true for you and me. I hope that you know the Lord in a personal relationship. I hope that at some time in the past you repented of your sins and by faith committed your life to Christ--and if that is not the case, I encourage you to make that great surrender even now.

But regardless of how long you’ve been saved, I hope that during this Christmas season just ended you’ve had a fresh encounter with the living Lord. That certainly is what should have happened to all of us, as we sang the great old Christmas songs, as we heard the Christmas story read, and as we again considered how merciful God has been to all of us, and of how wonderfully he has blessed us--especially in sending his Son to die for us on the cross of Calvary, and then in being our daily guide,strength, and comforter.

But now that the Christmas season is past, it’s time for you and me to go back to our everyday responsibilities, just as it was for those shepherds.

In Matthew 5:13 Jesus said to all born-again people, “Ye are the salt of the earth....” In the first century salt was widely used as a preservative. But in order to perform that function, the salt had to be applied to whatever substance was being preserved, so that it could penetrate into that substance. In like manner, if you and I who are Christians are to be God’s preservative agents in this morally and spiritually deteriorating society, we must penetrate the life around us. The real test of our devotion to Christ is not what we do within this church building. What we do here is important, because this is certainly one vital part of our total witness, and this is where we get our spiritual batteries charged.

But the ultimate test of our devotion to Christ is what happens after we leave this building. A man arrived late for church one day. The people were coming out, and the pastor was standing out front greeting people. The latecomer asked, “Is the service over?” The pastor replied, “No; the preaching and singing are over, but the service is just beginning.”

The acid test as to the depth and genuineness of our relationship with the Lord is what kind of example we set, and what kind of testimony we give, out there in the rough-and-tumble arena of everyday life--out there in the workplace, as we relate to those over us and under us--in our neighborhood, and where we do business, and in the social setting--and in our own home.

A man was applying for a job, and as references he put down the names of his pastor and Sunday School teacher. As the interviewer looked over the names of his references, he said to the applicant, “These are good, but we would also like the names of some people who know you on weekdays.” Good point. Do the people who know you and me on weekdays see the marks of spiritual authenticity in our lives?

Bruce Larson said that when he was a little boy he attended a big church in Chicago. He said that the preaching was powerful and the music was outstanding, but that for him, the most awesome time in the service was when the ushers passed down the aisles taking the morning offering--and here was why: One of those ushers was a man named Frank Loesch. He was not a very imposing looking man, but in Chicago he was a living legend, for he was the man who had stood up to Al Capone, the head of the crime syndicate. In the prohibition years, Al Capone’s rule was absolute. Even the police and other law enforcement agencies were afraid to cross him. But Frank Loesch, an attorney, a Christian layman, without any government support, “bucked the tide.” He organized the Chicago Crime Commission, a group of citizens who were determined to take Capone to court and put him away. During the many months that the Crime Commission met, Frank Loesch’s life was in constant danger. There were threats not only to him, but also to the lives of his family and friends. But he never wavered. Ultimately he won the case against Capone and was the instrument for removing that blight from the city of Chicago. Frank Loesch had risked his life to live out his faith.

In telling that story, Bruce Larson said, “Each Sunday at this point of the service, my father, a Chicago businessman himself, never failed to poke me and silently point to Frank Loesch with pride. Sometime I’d catch a tear in my father’s eye. For my dad and for all of us this was and is what authentic living is all about.”

“You are writing a gospel, a page each day,

By the things you do, and the things you say;

Men are reading that gospel, whether faultless or true;

Say, what is the gospel according to you?”

Colossians 1:27 speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The only hope for some people repenting of their sins and surrendering in faith to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and thereby glorifying God, is for them first to see Christ in those of us who profess to be his followers.

In Acts 4 we read of how Peter and John boldly witnessed for Christ in spite of enormous pressure exerted on them by the unbelieving Jewish religious leaders. Acts 4:13 (NIV): “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

I hope that the people you and I work with, and our neighbors, and those we interact with socially, can see that you and I have been with Jesus.

If you have not been with Jesus, you can change that situation right now if you’re willing to repent of your sins and in faith commit your life to him. If you’ll reach out to him by meeting those two conditions, you’ll receive his matchless gift of eternal life. In John 6:37 Jesus said, “...him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”