Shepherds

Some of the most interesting questions are raised during Bible study. Like this one, that came about while reading Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them… And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:8-11).

“Why,” the question was raised, “did the angels visit shepherds?”

Why not kings? Why not the village watchmen? Why not dispatch angels to every corner of the earth with this astounding news?

Isn’t it interesting that apart from angelic visits to Jesus’ earthly parents, the only recorded angelic herald surrounding Jesus’ birth was to shepherds?

Think about that.

The first recorded use of sheep as a sacrificial offering dates all the way back to Cain and Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep…and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering (Genesis 4:2,4). Sheep were also likely part of Noah’s offering after the flood (Genesis 8:20), and when God tested Abraham during the binding of Isaac, it was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns, that God gave to Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son (Genesis 22:13).

Generations later, God’s law dictated the use of sheep as burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:10-13), peace offerings (Leviticus 3:6-11), sin offerings (Leviticus 4:27-35; 5:1-6), and guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:14-19; 6-1-7). And it was lamb that served as the first Passover feast on the night the Israelites fled from Egypt. Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire…you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you… (Exodus 12:6-13).

It was the commemoration of this very Passover feast that Jesus celebrated with His disciples on the night before He was crucified. During that meal, Jesus set before all people a new covenant. No more would continual sacrifices be necessary to abide by God’s law; all of God’s law was being fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).

The next day, Jesus would sacrifice Himself on a cross and then rise again three days later, defeating once and for all the sin, death, and devil that plague this world.

So why, on the night of Jesus’ birth, was His entry into the world heralded to shepherds? Perhaps it was to let them know that some of their services would no longer be needed. And to introduce them to a Lamb more perfect than any they would ever find within an earthly flock.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29). For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7).

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Today’s Quote

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” ~Edward Abbey

Who among us would choose difficult over easy?  And yet sometimes, isn’t that the point?

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;  and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint… (Romans 5:3-5)

Pursued

Earlier this week as I was passing through the student union, a lady suddenly came running toward a student walking just ahead of me.

“Ma’am, ma’am!” She cried.

I stepped to the side, as startled as the student who looked up from her cell phone. As I walked by, I heard the lady say:

“I will buy you your coffee.”

Apparently the student had forgotten her wallet and was unable to purchase the coffee from the little store we were walking by. This lady had noticed, and had not just offered to help, but had literally chased the student down the hall to do so.

Several days later, I keep replaying the incident in my mind. When was the last time I chased someone down in order to be kind to them?

Do good, seek peace, and pursue it, the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 34:14). Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:22). Do not be overcome by evil, Paul wrote to the Romans. But overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

On this day 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ pursued us. He did not just casually intervene. He purposely chased us down so that He could lay down His life in our place. On this Good Friday day of remembrance, I wish you the peace and contemplation that comes with knowing that God never gives up in his pursuit of you. He has pursued you; He has overtaken you; He has laid down His life for you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends… I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:13,15).

An Epilogue to the Soup Story

Later that night, after the great soup escapade, I was sharing my story with a friend. “You know how my church has these Lenten suppers,” I began.

“Uh-huh.”

“And each week two people volunteer to bring soup.”

“Oh no,” she interjected. “You didn’t volunteer to take soup did you?” (Ah, she knows me so well.)

“Well… I really thought it was going to work this year.”

“Please tell me you followed a recipe,” she said.

Silence.

“Why?” She cried. “Why do you keep doing this to these nice people? I thought you liked these people.”

“I do!” I said.

“Then stop subjecting them to your cooking! Just stop volunteering. Believe me, they will understand.”

“But I want to volunteer,” I said. “I’m determined that one of these times I’m going to make something good.”

“Then follow a recipe! That’s what recipes are for!”

“Yeah,” I said, not convincingly.

“Or at least try making it ahead of time so you know it actually works.”

“Yeah,” I repeated. Meaning: not likely.

“Look,” she said. “That’s three good options for you. Stop volunteering, follow a recipe, or make it ahead of time.”

“I’m trying to figure out what to do with the leftovers,” I said, changing the subject.

“Really. You’re wondering what to do with the leftovers?”

“I’m not going to throw it out! I’ll doctor it up somehow to get it edible.”

“I’m sure you will,” she said. Meaning: just so long as you don’t feed it to me.

The next day I had a soup recipe in my inbox. Of course, I haven’t actually looked at it yet. But I may. I am determined that next year I will get it right. Last year my soup was flavorless, but soup-like. This year my soup actually had flavor, it just happened to be the consistency of slime. So if I can just combine this year’s flavor with last year’s texture…

Of course, the alternative is that I could wind up with the negative combination of flavorless slime, but we won’t talk about that.

Maybe I should look at a recipe.

Stay tuned for next year’s blog post on how I redeemed myself with the most delicious soup ever. Or else on the foolishness of stubbornly trying to redeem oneself in one’s own way. We know, after all, that we are saved not by the works of our own hands, but by faith in the One who redeems us. We, like sheep (or stubborn recipe-less cooks) have gone astray. Fortunately for me, even when I stubbornly fail and fail again, God patiently gives grace not only to me, but to those who endure my cooking as well.

For now, I’m just glad that someone else is bringing the soup tonight.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Cooking Tip #6: The Secret Ingredient

I recently discovered a secret ingredient even more important than cheese.

I know, I didn’t think this was possible either. But it’s true. And this secret ingredient is so unique, it is added not by the chef during cooking, but by the consumer right before eating. Here is the story of how I discovered it.

During Lent, my church hosts Lenten soup and sandwich suppers on Wednesday evenings before service. Each week, two people bring soup and the fellowship committee provides sandwiches. Last week, I volunteered to bring soup. I was determined to improve on my previous year’s contribution that tasted like soggy vegetables in water. This year, I had a plan.

That morning I swung by the church on my way to work. I dumped some rice in my crockpot along with cooked and seasoned chicken, vegetables, diced tomatoes, and chicken broth. It smelled amazing. I was so excited. For once, I was going to make something good. I fired up the crockpot and went to work.

That evening I bounced into the fellowship hall carrying visions of simmering soup. One of the other ladies was bringing my crockpot out of the kitchen, and the sight stopped me dead in my tracks.

There, in her hands, was an erupting mound of primordial goo. It was expanding even as I watched, bubbling and clawing as though trying to escape from the pot.

“I wasn’t… sure what to do…” she began, pot held at armslength. And then seeing the look on my face, “But it will be okay. Here.” She added the tiny can of leftover broth I had left on the counter and tried unsuccessfully to stir it. “There. See. That’s better…”

I stared at my masterpiece in horror. “I must have put in too much rice,” I said. And worse – the rice had cooked down to the consistency of paste.

Enter the rest of the evenings attendees.

“What kind of soup do we have tonight?” Pastor asked

“Um,” I said. “I was going to call it Italian Chicken, but it’s really more like a casserole.”

“Let’s pray,” Pastor said.

So we prayed, and then I bravely dug into my crock pot. If I was going to make these people eat my soup, then I was going to eat it too. I pried a spoonful from the pot with an audible “thwuck.”

And this, my friends, is where the secret ingredient gets added.

Glob of soup on a spoon.

My “Soup”

 

The first bite almost made me gag, and I’ve had years of practice with my cooking. But those people ate my soup without wincing, and even made nice comments.

“We appreciate you bringing the soup tonight,” they said.

“Your soup has a nice flavor,” they said.

“My father always said soup was good if you could stand your spoon up in it,” they said.

And I sat there thinking: Only the power of God could equip someone to say nice things about this soup.

I could learn a thing or two from these people. About humility. About gratefulness. About kindness. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23a).

“Be kinder than you have to be,” I read once. “Because you never know what the other person is facing.” I saw this demonstrated first-hand that night. They didn’t have to eat my soup. There were sandwiches; there was another pot of soup that someone else had brought. They could have ignored mine entirely. But they did not. They added a secret ingredient that made even my soup palatable.

Kindness.

Be kind to one another, Paul admonished (Ephesians 4:32).

We all have opportunities a dozen times a day where we could choose to be kind. It’s far easier to be busy, harsh, self-centered, negative, stressed… But whatever we’re facing right now, we are called to make a conscience effort toward kindness.

Take time today to be kind. And when your initial reaction is something other than kindness, please pause and remember that your situation could be worse.

You could be sitting down to a bowl of my soup.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another (Zechariah 7:9).