Christmas and the Shepherd King

In our culture, the greatest celebration of the year is Christmas.  While much of the focus is on family celebrations and the giving of gifts, it is also a time when people are reminded about the birth of the Lord Jesus.  Today, the story is retold about the birth of a child in a stable in Bethlehem.  We remember the shepherds who came to see him and the wise men from the east who gave him gifts.  People flock to hear the majestic sound of Handel’s Messiah and are carried along by the traditional songs of the season.  For many, the birth of this child long ago has become a romantic notion that provides good cheer for the season.  What has been lost is the understanding that this child has become the king of all the earth to whom all mankind must give homage.

The King in a Hostile World

Wise men came to Jerusalem from the east talking about seeing the star of the one who was to be the king of the Jews.  After inquiring where he was to be born they were told that according to the prophet Micah he would be born in Bethlehem.  The Jewish leaders did not only give the name of the place but they also quoted from 2 Samuel 5:2 saying, from Judah “will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”  In 2 Samuel the leaders of Israel came to make David their king for the Lord had previously said to David, “you will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.”  The Lord took David from a humble shepherd to becoming king over Israel.

God prepared the people of Israel to accept David as their king by giving him a great victory over Goliath.  The confrontation between David and Goliath will have great implications for the Christmas story.  At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines and the people were terrified because of the giant Goliath.  David’s father, Jesse, sent David from taking care of the sheep to go and see how his brothers were doing in the army.  After David arrives in the war camp, Goliath came out to taunt the army of Israel.  He mocked the men of Israel and challenged them to come out to fight him.  He boasted about his great power and that he would destroy Israel.  Goliath represents the evil and wicked powers who oppose the Lord God and his people.

The reality is that the world is hostile to God and in their arrogance mankind believes that they can destroy God’s work on earth.  David came into the war camp and he heard the boastful and arrogant words of Goliath.  David became angry at his mocking and says to the men in the camp, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”  This young shepherd boy comes from looking after his father’s sheep and he comes face to face with the hostile powers of this world.  Many years later the Christmas story tells the birth of David’s great son, who entered into a hostile world.  It does not take long for the hostility of this cruel world to become apparent, for Herod soon commands the death of all the children in Bethlehem in the hope of destroying this child.  That is only the beginning of the cruel oppression against the son of David.  During Christ’s ministry, opposition quickly grew until finally the one sent by God was crucified on the cross.

Since the days of Jesus Christ, opposition against him and his church has not ceased.  The powers of darkness continued to oppress the believers throughout the history of Christ’s church.  The powers of the evil one are clearly present in our society today as many espouse the wicked agenda of the evil one.  Opposition against the moral authority of the Lord Jesus is great.  Christ’s rule is challenged and people promote values that are evil in the eyes of Christ.  They mock and ridicule the one who was born in Bethlehem, believing that they can oppose the one God has made ruler over all the earth.

A shepherd is raised as King.

When King Saul hears that there is a young man who is asking why the soldiers are afraid of Goliath who is defying the living God of the armies of Israel, he summons David.  Immediately David says to the king, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine, your servant will go and fight him.”  Saul replies, “you can’t go out to fight Goliath, you are just a young boy, Goliath is a grown man who has been fighting from his youth.”  From a human perspective David is much too small and weak to fight against this hostile power.

David says, “I have been a shepherd, taking care of my father’s sheep”.  That seems rather ridiculous! How can a lowly shepherd ever hope to defeat a giant warrior?  Is David deluded to think that he can defeat such a great enemy?  Not at all, for he is a man of faith who knows that the living God of Israel is on his side.  He believes with his whole heart that the living God will not be mocked and ridiculed by this uncircumcised Philistine.  God will raise up this shepherd in Israel to be the Saviour of his people.  When David goes out to fight, he goes out as a shepherd boy, carrying his shepherd’s staff in one hand and his slingshot in the other.  When Goliath sees him approach, he becomes angry, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” he says.

David replies that he comes against him in the Name of the LORD Almighty, the God whom he has defied.  The dark powers of this world always underestimate the power of God, for the Lord uses the weak in order to display his great power in this world.  God raised up this shepherd boy to be the great ruler of Israel.  He gave this shepherd the great victory over his great enemy.  From this shepherd the Lord God will raise a greater shepherd in Jesus Christ.  Jesus himself spoke of that in John 10 when he proclaims himself to be the good shepherd.

The child born of David’s line in Bethlehem did not come in great glory with great fanfare.  His birth had to be announced in Jerusalem by foreign Magi.  His own people did not recognize him for he came in humble appearance.  He was ridiculed, despised and rejected by his own people.  And yet the Lord raised up this shepherd to be the King of the whole earth.  The powers of darkness attempted to defeat him, but Jesus Christ prevailed.  Death itself could not defeat him for he rose from the dead on the third day.  Today he is seated in victory at the right hand of God where he rules over all things.

The Christmas story does not end with his birth in Bethlehem, but it is a story that continues to be relevant today.  The powers of darkness may scoff at the idea of Christ’s victory, but this story gives great hope and joy.  God has raised up a shepherd to be our King.  He now has all power and authority to rule over all things for his people.  My life now rests securely in the hands of my Lord and my King.

A King with a Shepherd’s heart.

What a king we have!  He rules with a shepherd’s heart.  When king Saul said to David, “But you are just a young boy!” and questioned his ability to defeat Goliath, David responded by telling him that he took care of his father’s sheep and he had experience in defending the sheep from predators.  He says, “When a sheep was carried off by a lion or a bear, I would go and strike the animal and rescue the sheep.  If the lion or bear would turn on me, I would grab it by its hair and kill it with my own hands.”

On the one hand David described how the Lord gave him power to destroy these fearsome animals, but it says so much more about David.  It shows that David cared about the sheep so much that he did not worry about his own life to defend them.  David was not concerned about his own life, but he cared about the life of the sheep for which his father had given him responsibility.  That shepherd’s attitude is also what causes David to tell Saul that he will fight Goliath.  Here God’s people are being threatened, their lives are in danger and David with a shepherd’s heart immediately wants to go and defend God’s people.

David’s attitude is only a shadow of the attitude in the heart of his son, Jesus Christ.  The Christmas story reveals the great King who came with a shepherd’s heart.  Jesus himself says, “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  The great king did not come for his own honour and glory, but he came to care for his sheep.  In his love and compassion, he laid down his life on the cross.  He came to deliver us from the hands of the cruel oppressors and give us the glorious hope of the life everlasting.  At Christmas we rejoice not just because a famous baby was born, but we look to him in faith, trusting that he will protect our life in the face of this hostile world.  Christmas is a time that gives great joy to our hearts, for the Lord has given to us a great King with a shepherd’s heart.  Christmas is not an empty celebration, but a celebration in which we give glory and praise to our gracious King.  “He shall reign forever and ever.  Hallelujah.”

Written by Rev. M. VanLuik, pastor of Grace Canadian Reformed Church of Brampton as the editorial for the Clarion 2016

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