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A Wonderful Night

God sent his son Jesus Christ as Savior even for unclean people like shepherds.

W. Would you look at those stars! There's Orion and the Pleiades, a shooting star ... and another one! Aah, I will never get tired of looking at the night sky. There's so much to see. Have you ever tried counting the stars? You can't do it. I've tried. It's impossible. There are too many. Nights like this I know how David felt. You know David, David the king? He was a shepherd once, you know, like me. He wrote all kinds of songs. I won't sing it for you, but one goes like this: Lord, when I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you should visit him?

I think I know what David was getting at. When you look at these stars, you know there's a God out he created and he holds all these things in place. But could it be that that same God who created all this, could he know and care about us too, about human beings, about shepherds? I wonder about that sometimes.

Whew, it's cold out here. Come on over. Take a seat by the fire here. The sheep are all down for the night. They won't be getting up when it's this cold out. It's my turn to keep watch, and I could use some company to help me stay awake.

You're up from the city, I take it. It's nice out here, isn't it? You're not used to it, though. I can tell. You look kind of uncomfortable, kind of nervous. You're not scared, are you, of lions or wolves? I've got my rod here, my staff. I've even got a slingshot with five smooth stones just like David. You only need one if you use it right.

Maybe you're nervous about being with a bunch of shepherds. You've been listening to those townsfolk? You can't believe everything they say about us. Well, some of it you can believe but not all of it. We're not so bad really. People say we're kind of strange, living out here in the open all year long, in all kinds of weather, wandering from place to place but never really getting anywhere. No home. No family. No roots. Just sheep all day, all night, all year, sheep. Maybe they're right. Maybe we are kind of strange.

I don't know. I kind of like it, though. This is the life for me. Out here in the open, nobody bothering you, no one telling you what to do or where to go; just these critters here. And they don't tell you nothing.

The thing about sheep is they need a shepherd, and people are a lot like sheep.

You probably don't know much about sheep either. Well, they're not the most noble of beasts, not like those Arabian stallions you see out on the road sometimes. They can't pull their own weight like oxen. They're not the smartest of creatures either. Always wandering off, getting lost and in trouble. I once saw a whole flock of sheep follow each other right off the edge of a cliff. Well, I didn't see it exactly. Someone told me about it. I bet it happens. They're not too smart, sheep. They'll eat themselves sick if you let them stay in one place too long. They can be ornery creatures too when they don't want to do something. And sheep, in case you haven't picked it up by now, they put off quite an odor.

The thing about sheep is they need a shepherd. As long as they've got a shepherd to watch over them, to lead them and to help them out of trouble, to show them where to go, they're okay. And that's what I do. Seems kind of strange, but I really care about these sheep. And every night I count them to make sure not one of them is missing. I know them by name, every one of them.

Isaiah, he's always saying the real Isaiah, I mean our Isaiah. He's snoring over there. That guy Isaiah. He says he's a descendant of Isaiah the prophet. I think that's a lot of... you know. But, anyway, it could be. But he's kind of a spiritual guy. And he says that he thinks people are a lot like know, always wandering off, following each other, getting into trouble. Sometimes I feel like a sheep. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have someone watching over me the way I watch over these sheep.

The townsfolk say we shepherds are unclean, unacceptable.

You see, I do all right with sheep. It's people I don't get on so well with. Aw, not these guys out get along just regular folk, like down in the village. We have to go into town once in a while to pick up some supplies and deliver some sheep, and we don't stay down there too long. It's so noisy and crowded. We don't fit in down there. And the townsfolk, they stay clear of us too. I think maybe I know why. If you live with sheep all year, you carry them on your shoulder, you walk alongside them, and pretty soon you start smelling like sheep. The townsfolk, they don't appreciate that.

They say we're thieves, too, always accusing us of stealing something from their barns or their fields. I know how it works. A farmer goes out to the shed one morning, finds a couple of tools missing, and right away he blames it on us. "Shepherds came through town last night. Stole my tools." If you ask me, his kids have probably got them.

I've never stolen anything. A few sacks of grain once in a while, maybe, if I need them, or some pieces of leather to fix my sandals. But I'm no thief, am I? Well, they got to blame someone. It might as well be us. I don't know. It doesn't bother me.

I tell you what does bother me, though. They say we're unclean. I don't mean in a regular way. I mean kind of in the religious way, like we're unacceptable. You see, my people, being Jewish, have all kinds of laws. Too many laws if you ask me. Laws about what you can wear and what you can eat and how you can kill it or how you can cook it, and laws about special days and the Sabbath and the holy day and washing your hands three times a day.

How do they expect shepherds to keep those kinds of laws? I mean, we eat whatever we can get our hands on. We can't be too particular about how we killed it or how we cook it. Our hands, well, they got dirt and blood and manure on them all day long. The Sabbath and holy days are all the same out here. Now what are we supposed to do? Leave our sheep so we can go down to the temple? We wouldn't be welcome even if we did.

I remember what happened once. It was my turn to deliver the sheep to the temple. You see, these sheep we watch, they're for the temple. They use them for offering sacrifices. That's why we have to take such good care of them, make sure they stay healthy, no cuts or bruises. It was my turn to deliver the sheep, and I don't like going to town too much, but I was kind of looking forward to going to the temple. I hadn't been there since I was a boy. I kind of wanted to see what was inside there. But one of the priests, he met me outside the temple. He didn't even really look at me and didn't say a word to me, just counted up the sheep, checked them all over, made sure they were okay, and then gave me a pouch with some money and turned to go. I said, "Pardon me, sir. Would it be all right if I accompanied those sheep into the temple?" Then he turned and looked at me. I'll never forget. Up and down, my clothes and my hands, this look of disgust on his face. He didn't say anything, just shook his head and walked away. See, I wasn't good enough. I wasn't acceptable to him. My animals could go into the temple, but I wasn't welcome.

"Hey, what about David?" I said to him. "He was a shepherd, you know." That's what we always say when people make fun of us or insult us. "Remember David. He was a shepherd." Of course, he didn't stay a shepherd. He became king, the man after God's own heart.

Maybe they're right. Maybe I am unclean. Maybe shepherds have no business being in God's house. Aw, who cares. I mean, this is the life for me, out here in the open. Me and the stars, me and the boys, me and the sheep. I like it.

My favorite time is in the evening. We find a little hollow among the hills. We get the sheep all settled down for the night. Then we build a fire and roast some game. Then we pass the wineskin around, and the boys start telling stories. Shepherds, they know how to tell a story. Then the stars come out. We stretch out on our backs and just watch them. Just so much to see up there. Sometimes they seem so close it feels like you could grab one and put it in your sack. Then one of the boys, he takes out a flute and he starts to play it, and that music just echoes down the hills.

But townsfolk, they don't know nothing about that kind of life. You know, I feel closer to God out here in the open than I ever do down in Jerusalem. I mean, who needs a temple when you got this? I'd like to get a few of those priests and have them out here for a few days. They'd stop worrying about how dirty their hands were and what everyone was wearing. Maybe they'd look up in the sky and think about God. You can't help but think about God out here.

You know what Isaiah says? Not our Isaiah, the real Isaiah. He says God numbers the stars and calls each one by name. Think about that. God knows how many stars there are, and he's got a name for every one of them. That kind of makes me wonder. If God could care that much about all those stars, could God care about us like that? Could it be that God knows my name? I always wondered about that kind of stuff, especially since that night, that amazing night a couple of months ago.

One night there was this glow in the air, like a shaft of light coming out of the sky.

It was my turn to keep watch. It was the second watch of the night. It was a census time. Caesar or somebody in Rome decided he wanted to count everybody in the empire, something about getting more tax money. So everybody had to go to their hometown to register to be except shepherds, of course, because no one cares about shepherds. Just fine with us when it comes to tax time. So everybody had to go to their hometown. People were traveling. Roads were full and crowded. We went way back into the hills because we didn't want to run into anybody.

So, like I said, it was my turn to keep watch. It was the second watch of the night. It was a night kind of like this, clear, still, kind of cold. I found a real uncomfortable rock to sit on to keep myself awake. That far out, there could be animals around, and I was ready for them. But I was hoping for a quiet night, and that's how it started out, nice and quiet. Then I noticed something. I can't say exactly what it was I noticed, but it was something in the air. It was moving. I thought I was just drifting off, so I got up and started stomping around. But it was still there. The air was moving like it was alive. Oh, it felt like a storm was brewing, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

I picked up my staff and moved a little closer to where the other guys were sleeping. Right about that time the sheep woke up, and they got kind of spooked at something, and that woke up the guys. And they knew right away something was going on. They're rubbing their eyes trying to see what it was, but there was nothing to see, just the air moving around us, kind of a whirlwind now, picking up dust, and our cloaks were blowing up around our faces. But you still couldn't see anything.

Then there was this glow in the air, like a shaft of light coming out of the sky and falling on a patch of ground right in front of us. You looked right at it. You couldn't see it, but you knew that light was there. Then this rushing sound got louder, and the light got brighter, and the dirt was flying around. I got shaky on my feet. The next thing I know I'm down on my knees in front of this swirling shaft of light. And then right before our eyes it begins to take shape, and it takes the shape of a man, more perfect than any man I'd ever seen before. We were terrified.

But then he spoke, and with a voice like a song he said, "Don't be afraid." That was easy for him to say. "Don't be afraid," he said. "I bring you good news of great joy for all people. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." He told us we would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. We didn't know what to do or say. We were just frozen.

Then suddenly with that angel there was a crowd of them filling the whole sky, too many to count. They began to sing quietly at first and then louder. "Glory to God. Glory to God. Glory to God in the highest heavens." It was the sweetest, strongest music I've ever heard. I've tried to sing it again to get it back, but it's like music from another place, not for this earth. We didn't want it to end. We just wanted it to go on and on.

"Unto you is born this day a Savior." Now I may just be a shepherd, and maybe I'm unclean, but I'm still a Jew. And every Jew knows about the Messiah. Messiah, the Deliverer that God would send, who would set our people free from our oppressors, who would make us a great nation again and lead us back to God. We've been waiting hundreds of years for the Messiah. Were these angels telling us that the time had come, that the Messiah had come?

And did you hear what he said about the city of David? The shepherd king. We knew it would have something to do with David.

Well, suddenly it appeared that the angels were gone. The air was quiet. The night was dark, and the sheep were going crazy, critters running all over the place. It took us an hour to herd them all up again, but then we knew what we had to do. We had to go down to Bethlehem and see if these things had really happened.

Well, after all that no one wanted to stay in the hills by themselves that night. We had to take the sheep with us, so we kicked their little fuzzy tails all the way down to Bethlehem. It was the middle of the night, but the town was still bustling. People trying to find food to eat, trying to find places to stay. People were sleeping in the streets. We started asking around if anyone knew anything about these things, and no one seemed to know anything. Like they had never heard of anything we were talking about. How could that be? Were we the only ones who knew?

When we found them, the baby's father said, "His name is Jesus, the one who saves.

Eventually, out on the edge of town we found a little stall. It was kind of a cave cut into the rock, straw on the ground, and some animals off in the shadows. Sure enough, there was a man and a woman and a little baby wrapped up in cloths. They had laid him in a feed trough because they had no bed for him. I just stopped and wondered. Was this the right place? God's Messiah born in a place like this? Where was everybody? Where were the angels and the priests?

We told the couple our story, and it sounded kind of crazy as I was telling it, but they believed it, almost as if they took comfort in our story. And then the father, he invited us to come on in and see the child for ourselves. He told us the child's name. He said, "His name is Jesus, Jeshua, the one who saves." That's what the angel had said: "a Savior who is Messiah God."

Now, I don't know much about babies. All I know is he looked like an ordinary child to me. But kneeling down next to that manger, I felt closer to God than I've ever felt before, even out here under the stars. You see, when I'm out here, I know God is out there somewhere. But by the manger it was like God was near, like God was with us, like God was in that child.

We didn't stay long. We figured that couple needed some time to themselves, and we needed to get these sheep out of town and back up to the hills. But on our way out of town we tried to tell everybody all the stuff we had seen and heard. They were all pretty amazed about it, but I don't think any of them went to see for themselves. Like I said, people, they don't think too highly of shepherds.

Walking back up into the hills we were singing and talking and carrying on. One of the guys said, "I bet those priests in the temple were never visited by angels." I said, "Yeah, if they were, they wouldn't let the angels in 'cause they wasn't dressed properly." Man, we laughed. That was some wonderful night.

Like I said, that was a couple of months ago. The census is over. Everybody's gone home. We're chasing these sheep around again, and it's like everything is back the way it was, but not exactly, at least not with me. What happened that night makes me wonder. Like, why when that baby was born we were the first ones to know about it, except his parents, of course? God sent angels to us, a bunch of shepherds, to announce that Messiah had come. It seems like maybe God doesn't care what you're wearing or if you smell kind of funny, if you're willing to listen and believe.

There's something else, too, something the angels said. "Unto you is born a Savior." Unto you. I know he meant it for everybody, for all of Israel, but somehow it seemed as though he meant it for me, as if he could see that I needed a Savior. Sometimes I feel like that. Sometimes I feel like a lost an ornery one, like I need someone to watch over me, someone to save me from the evil all around me and even inside of me, someone to show me how to live and where to go.

I wonder. David said that the Lord was his Shepherd. God, would you be my shepherd? Would you save me? And would you lead me? If you do, I'll follow you. I will.

Like I said, David, he wrote all kinds of songs. One of them I used to sing when I was a kid. I really loved it. As I got older, I got to wonder if it was really true. Now I know it is.

O Lord, you have searched me, and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise.

You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down.

You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, 0 God.

You hem me in behind and before.

Your hand is always upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

Too lofty to attain.

For you created me in the inmost place.

You knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Your works are wonderful, God.

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

When I was formed in the secret place.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, 0 God.

How vast is the sum of them.

Were I to count them,

They would outnumber the grains of sand.

They would outnumber even the stars in the sky [I bet].

And that's why I will never get tired of looking at the night sky, because every time I do, when I look up into the sky and think about God, I'll know that he's up there in heaven thinking about me. And I'll always remember that night when God, who made the stars, came down to visit me.

Bryan Wilkerson is senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Bryan Wilkerson

Preaching Today Tape # 220


A resource of Christianity Today International

Bryan Wilkerson is pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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Sermon Outline:


Could the same God who created the stars I see and all things know and care about us shepherds?

People say we shepherds are strange, but I like living in the open.

I. The thing about sheep is they need a shepherd, and people are a lot like sheep.

They are always wandering off or getting in trouble.

I care about them—I know every sheep by name.

II. The townsfolk say we shepherds are unclean, unacceptable.

They say we're thieves, blaming us for anything they are missing.

Living out in the hills, we can't follow the Jewish laws about food, washing, and clothing.

Illustration: Once, when delivering sheep to the temple, I was not allowed to go in.

III. One night on my watch I saw a glow in the air that took the shape of a man.

He said, "Don't be afraid. Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

We had to go down to Bethlehem and see if there was really a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.

IV. When we found them, the baby's father said, "His name is Jesus, the one who saves."

Kneeling down next to the manger, I felt closer to God than I've ever felt before.

The angel had said, "Unto you is born a Savior," as if he could see that I needed a savior.


I used to sing a song written by David, that started, "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me," and as I got older, I wondered if it was true—now I know it is.

I'll never get tired of looking at the night sky, because I'll know that God is up there thinking about me.