At the birth of him who is called the “good shepherd” (John 10:14), shepherds were the first to receive the announcement of his holy birth (Luke 2:8-16). These were not ordinary shepherds, for it had been prophesied among the Nephites that angels would declare the glad tidings of the Messiah’s birth to “just and holy men” (Alma 13:26). These were probably priesthood holders acting as shepherds in the temple fields.
Their job that spring night was to witness the birth of the lambs. Many gave birth to two lambs and they need to know the first born so it could be marked as a sacrificial lamb.
Rebecca Stay has this to say about the shepherds out at night:
Did you ever wonder why shepherds were given the great opportunity to be the first to go see the baby, Jesus?
Why not the bakers in town? This was Bethlehem (Hebrew for “house of bread”). [I once had a rabbi tell me there must have been a famous bakery there.] I say/go read John 6, esp. 35.
Or maybe blacksmiths: there would be one or two around the local stables, surely.
But instead, God sent the angelic message and choir to the shepherds. They were out on the hills, watching the sheep by night because this was spring, the lambing season, and they would need to witness the births of the lambs in order to separate out and mark – perhaps with a scarlet cord tied around the neck – all the firstborn lambs, which would then all belong to the Lord and His temple (Ex. 13:2).
So, this was their job: to witness the birth of the Lamb of God, His Firstborn who was slain before the foundation of the earth.
Oh, and did you know that ra’ah, the Hebrew word for shepherd, also means friend? Who better than His friends to witness to the rest of the world of the birth and rebirth of the Lamb?
This special night these chosen shepherds got to witness the firstborn son of God – the Lamb of God.
Shepherd and sheep are often used to illustration Christ’s relationship with his followers:
- The Psalmist said, “The Lord is my shepherd.” (Psalms 23:1)
- The Hebrews referred to him as “our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrew 13:20)
- Jesus spoke of himself as “the good shepherd” who “know my sheep, and am known of me.” (John 10:7-18)
- Peter was asked to feed his sheep (John 21:1)
- Paul likened the church and its leaders to a flock with shepherds (Acts 20:28)
- The Latin word, “pastor” means shepherd
After the Shepherds witnessed the birth of our Savior they told their family, friends, and neighbors. Their message was to be told in the courts of the temple, and from there to be told among all nations of the earth. The “made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. (Luke 2:16-17) for the angel declared to them that holy night, that these “good tidings of great joy” should “be to all people” (Luke 2:10).
Jesus was witnessed and visited by shepherds symbolic of him becoming our “Good Shepherd”, “Friend” and leader. How are you being his sheep and allowing him to lead and guide you?