The Gospel Message in Luke's Story of the Nativity - Chapter 7
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Introduction  |  Chapter 1  |  Chapter 2   |   Chapter 3   |  Chapter 4   |  Chapter 5   |  Chapter 6   |  Chapter 7

This commentary on Luke's story of the Nativity was written by Rev. Harry Colquhoun who has generously given permission for presentation on this site. Copyright ©

Chapter 7 - Gospel Themes: Part 1

In this closing chapter we would like to look at some additional inter-connections that are to be found between the earlier and later stories in our study as these relate to some prominent gospel themes. The occurrence of such themes strengthens the link between past and present and points to the fact that the Christian story is the continuing story of the people of God.

The first theme we would like to look at is one of the most important themes in Scripture. It has to do with the response that has been and continues to be made to what is presented as the “Word of God” by those who present themselves as the messengers of God. Isaiah, a prophet asked the people of his day: “Who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?”--rhetorically it seems, since he was well aware that response to the Word of God was often limited, and more often than not greeted with skepticism and often rejected by God’s people: Isa. 53:1. The Apostles received that same mixed response from their fellow countrymen when they proclaimed the message of the cross and the resurrection of Christ. While there were those who turned in faith to the message, there were many others—most it seems—who turned away in unbelief. Thus we find Paul referring to Isaiah’s statement when commenting on  the failure of his fellow Jews to embrace Christ: Rom. 10:16.

We find the importance of faith being emphasized in the opening scene of the Nativity drama—in a way that dramatically echoes the Isaac story, but also as a means of emphasizing just how important a faith response, or its opposite, a response of unbelief, played in Christ’s life. Surprisingly, the first note that is struck is a note of unbelief. Zechariah, John’s father, responds with unbelief to Gabriel’s announcement, promising him a son. The promise was too good to be true: Elizabeth was barren, and they were now both old. He asks Gabriel for a sign: “How shall I know this?” he asks. The request for a sign is an obvious failure of faith: 1 Cor. 1:22. God’s word is doubted. The response of Sarah, Isaac’s mother, as we will remember, was much the same, with the additional fact that she actually laughed at the whole idea, finding the notion quite ridiculous and beyond belief, especially since she had been barren all her life and she and her husband now nearer the grave than anything else: Gen. 18:12-15. (For comment on the symbolic dimension of these stories please see the opening chapter.)

                As a punishment for his disbelief, Zechariah is struck dumb: Lk. 1:19,20. The symbolic implications of his punishment are quite suggestive. In the spiritual realm, being deaf and dumb are seen as spiritual afflictions. Thus we find Jesus casting out a deaf and dumb spirit from one person: Mk. 9:25. (As we noted earlier, the cause for disease was attributed to evil spirits.) In affliction of spirit, man is deaf to the voice of God both within and without. He hears everything, but yet hears nothing of the voice of God calling out to him from the radiance of nature or the circumstances of his life. His spiritual affliction is profound. Hearing nothing, he has nothing to offer to God. His mouth is stopped. He cannot pray: “O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise” (Ps. 51:15).

 Praise is a noble endeavor, a form of sacrifice we offer to God in due acknowledgement of his gifts and goodness: Heb. 13:15. In and through speech man gives due thanks to the glory of God for the miracle and wonder of creation and the gift of personal being. Through praise we give due recognition to the fact that nothing we have is our own, but that what we have is ours by the goodness and mercy of God. The Westminster Confession reminds us that the first duty of man is, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” An offer of praise to God is an indication that we have risen above the mundane; freed ourselves from self-obsession, self-glorification, and base selfishness that afflicts human nature. Through praise we give due recognition to the fact that our happiness is not in ourselves, nor in the world, but in God—the source of all beauty, goodness, and truth. In and through our praise we “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name” (1Chr. 16:29). In their service of praise, the angels point the way for us. Of a higher creation than man, as God’s ministers of fire (Ps. 104:4) they stand in the presence of God, offering, both day and night, praise, laud, and honor to God’s Divine Majesty: Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8. In and through their sacrifice of praise, the angels point us upward to the heavenly, to a higher level of being, beyond ourselves to God.

                Zechariah has been promised the gift of his dreams, a son, but in unbelief cannot accept it as a possibility. His unbelief stops his mouth and can offer no praise to the Almighty on the prospect of such a wonderful gift. As a member of the cloth (he is a priest) Zechariah can be seen to represent those members of the professional clergy who are “of little faith” (Lk. 12:28) and so limited in their service to God.

Mary’s response to Gabriel’s announcement is in marked contrast to Zechariah’s response. In response to Gabriel’s announcement, Mary’s bursts forth in a hymn of praise magnifying God.

Mary’s response is, in fact, very much like Abraham’s--certainly not Sarah’s. As in the case of Abraham, Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement is one of obedient trust and compliance and she surrenders herself to God (in her uniqueness as a woman) as an instrument of his purpose.  Mary gains the admiration of Elizabeth, the mother of John, as one “blessed among women” in that she “Believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk. 1:45).

  Mary’s response is to be seen as going beyond Hannah’s response in that while Hannah “lends” Samuel back to the Lord (to serve him in the temple) Mary offers up her “very self” ( Romans 12:1) to God; in other words she offers up who she is and what she is to God—again, in all her uniqueness as a woman (offering the kind of sacrifice that only a woman could offer). In doing so, she fulfils God’s purpose for her in creation in making us “male and female.” What higher honor can one give to God than Mary gave? In what way can God be more fittingly served than this, offering our very being to God?

In Mary’s response we can begin to see something of the profound influence that she, a mother of Israel, must have exerted on her Son’s life; his mother’s sacrificial offering of herself to God provided the pattern of obedience that inspired his own obedience and the surrender he made of his life to God.

These contrasts are, I think, purposely intended by Luke to present us with a balanced perspective of the vital role both men and women play in the creation, but more importantly in the promotion and preservation of spirituality in life.

Part of the real love the child has for the mother owes itself not simply to the physical nurturing the child receives, but as a response to those deeply personal values which the mother goes out of her way to share with and instill in her child. Paul (for all the criticism that has been leveled against him as a male chauvinist—unfairly, I think) recognized just how vital an influence Timothy’s grandmother and mother had played in his “prodigy’s” life: 2 Tim. 1:15.

This is not to understate the role of the father in the nurturing process. It is the duty of both parents to love their child for God in such a way that the child comes to know something of the reality of God’s love and care for him/her, and, in turn, comes to trust in God’s love and care. The fortunate child is the one who has had the love of God loved into him/her.

                In motherhood, Mary upholds in a superlative way the tradition of her people as a “mother in Israel”: Judg. 5:7—note the context in which this phrase appears. Mary doesn’t simply perpetuate her race, but is one who nurtures faith and trust for God in her child, and so in the national consciousness (in the “Faith of our Fathers”)—the faith in God that I would say was part of the national consciousness when I was a boy growing up in Scotland. Mary’s star shines bright in the heavenly constellation of women in Israel’s history who had distinguished themselves as “handmaidens of the Lord” (Lk. 1:48). In that Jael, a heroine of fame, is spoken of as “most blessed of tent-dwelling women” (an example to women of her kind: Ju.5:24, Mary is proclaimed by Elizabeth, her “spiritual sister,” to be “blessed among women” (an example to all women”: Lk. 1:42). As the mother of Christ, she is the new Eve; the Mother of a new race. From the fruit of her womb a new humanity is born and new hope to the world given.

 We also see the importance of faith being emphasized in the temple scene when Jesus is presented according to Jewish custom to the temple authorities in Jerusalem in order to fulfill the rite of purification and the requirements of male redemption. (The inclusion of this incident serves an important purpose for Luke. It indicates to the religious authorities, the Pharisees in particular, that Jesus was raised as a true son of the Law, under the formative influence of the Law. (See Gal. 4:4.) His later visit to the temple and his conversations with the teachers of the Law, in which he displays at a young age such a remarkable acquaintance with some of the intricacies of the Law, also helps to answer the question: “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is who gave you this authority?” (LK. 20,1,2.)

 While the ceremony is in progress, the aged Simeon, under providential guidance, enters the temple, and immediately recognizes in Jesus Israel’s promised Redeemer. (We are obviously meant to see in the fulfillment of Simeon’s life-long dream the fulfillment of the ages-long dream of the people of Israel for a Messianic Redeemer. In this sense, both he and Miriam, as male and female, serve as representatives of the aspirations of the people of Israel.) After thanking God for keeping his promise to him (that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ) he takes the infant Jesus up in his arms and then with prophetic insight exclaims: “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign spoken against” (Lk. 2:35).

 His words carry a sense of promise and foreboding, a foreshadowing, of what was to come for as we saw in our earlier chapters in the response of the people and especially the Temple authorities to the message of Christ. Everything, as far as the individual is concerned, is going to depend on how he/she is going to respond to Christ’s message—and, of course, how we respond to the Gospel message.

 When we discussed this earlier, we saw that there were those who discerned the “finger of God” at work in and through Jesus, and there were those who dismissed his ministry as a grand charade, a base deception inspired by the Great Deceiver himself. We saw that Jesus was portrayed as the anti-Christ, no less: Mk. 3:20-30. It is important to notice how “modern” the objections that were raised to Jesus really are. On one hand, he is dismissed as a mad man (vs. 21) and as one “demon possessed,” on the other. In other words, those who were opposed to him set out to totally discredit him, using the age old tricks of either questioning Christ’s sanity or demonizing him—still the favorite tools of the state in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. (How many opponents of the communist state didn’t get carted off to mental institutions during the hay-day of communist power?)

 And isn’t it just too much of a simplification—and, all too often, a downright distortion and cynical misrepresentation of the facts—to brand those who are fighting against gross injustices as “terrorists.” By demonizing them we seek to dismiss and undermine the justice of their cause and justify our continued oppression of those they represent—and justify our own terrorizing oppression of the “enemy.”  While the killing of innocent civilians by suicide bombers can in no way be justified, we ought to be really asking why people are willing to resort to such desperate acts of self-destruction in order to protest what they see as the cruel and unjustified treatment of their people by an “all-powerful” oppressor. To say that it gets done for a religious end (to receive special rewards in the next life) seems, to this writer, a much less than credible explanation. Martyrdom has more to do with justice issues than anything else. One suicide bomber, for example, a beautiful young woman with a very promising career ahead of her, resorted to this form of desperate violence after her brother had been killed by the Israeli occupying forces. Violence leads to violence, Jesus said (Matt. 26:52); it cannot be stopped by more violence--in the Palestinian situation, terrorizing all the Palestinian people (inflicting collective punishment on the innocent and guilty alike). The British people will remember the response of the nation in WW 11 to the horrific devastation caused by the German bombing. Far from disheartening  and intimidating the people, it only served to create a defiant response—that led later to rain of terror being inflicted on the German people.

                It is strange indeed the kind of mental tactics we engage in when we want to dismiss something that we see as either a simple inconvenience or challenge to the way of life we have elected to follow for ourselves. We who are in the Church should not be surprised at the kind of violent opposition to the Christian way and the Christian way of doing things that we sometimes encounter in individuals and in our communities. We should remind ourselves of the words of Jesus: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).

                The beliefs of one person can cause opposition in another. This is particularly true when those beliefs involve a way of life; a way of looking at things, and a way of doing things.

                                It is not without significance that Stephen became the first martyr of the Christian Church, His lengthy and very pointed criticism of his fellow Jews (Acts 7) for their failure to embrace Christ enraged them.[1] Stephen likened their behavior to the faithless behavior of the Israelites in rejecting on repeated occasions Moses leadership, despite everything he had done to demonstrate his deep commitment to them—putting his life on the line for them. In rejecting God’s appointed servant, Stephen implied they were rejecting the God who had appointed him. Moreover, and more to the point, the Jews of his day were just as guilty of rejecting Moses leadership as the Israelites of the past because Moses had prophesied about Christ and of God's election of him as his divinely appointed prophet (vs. 37; see also Acts 3:22). The penalty for such rejection was death.  The implication was clear: in rejecting Jesus, they, too, were rejecting the God who had appointed him. Their rejection was tantamount to an act of defection from God (like the Israelites with their Golden Calf). Serious—and highly provocative—criticism indeed. But it was to get sharper yet.

                 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,” Stephen cried out to them, “you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the Law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).

His words of accusation insulted and enraged them, and (as in the case of the congregation at Nazareth) without the benefit of trial, they rose up in mob action against Stephen and cast him out of the city, and then stoned him to death. 

                The irony is very strong in this incident. In terms of God’s judgment, it is the unbeliever, the one who rejects God’s appointed prophet, who deserves to be “destroyed from the people” (Acts 3:23). Yet, in Stephen’s case, it is the faithful witness to God’s appointed Messenger who is killed. He becomes just one more innocent victim in that long list of God’s servants who had witnessed to Christ, whom the faithless had, and continued, to persecute and murder (vs. 52).

                From the Christian point of view, it is da-ja-vu  where Jesus is concerned; an unwillingness to believe in the One whose very words and deeds provided them with all the evidence they needed that God was at work in and through him: Jn. 10:38. From the distinctly Jewish perspective, to believe in Christ is to accept him as the one whom God had sent to be the instrument of their salvation, the Messiah. This is, in one qualified aspect, what it means to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”    

                In the larger sense the appeal to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” is an appeal to heart and mind; to trust. The Gospel message is one of a God at hand; of One whose help is near us, whose saving presence we need but acknowledge (confess) with “the words of our lips” (Rom. 10:8). It requires no more than a turning to God, an assent to God’s claim on our lives. “For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom. 10:10)

 Unbelief, in the Biblical sense, means an unwillingness to believe that God can be of help; that God can make a difference in one’s life. This is practical atheism. We come under gospel judgment, not because we are experiencing intellectual difficulties, but because we have faith in and for nothing. “He that believeth not,” says Jesus, “hath condemned himself already” (Jn. 8:18). For those who are able to muster just a little faith (who are willing to trust at least a little) more faith will be given (Mk. 9:24). There is little that can be done for those who rule out the possibility of God in their lives.

                As always, then, the question is: “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” God has really nothing more to say to us than what he has said to us in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ he has said all there is to say, and all that needs to be said.  But what we do need to know is that in Jesus God has offered us his best: Jn. 3:16. In Jesus Christ we have been given “grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:16); grace added to grace; a gift of abounding and surpassing grace (2 Cor. 3:9-18). To those who hear the Gospel message, the Apostolic injunction is: “Repent therefore, and turn again [to God] that your sins may be blotted out.” And to those who do turn to God the promise is that “times of refreshing” will come from the Lord; you will be blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2:38, and 3:19.

What is it Jesus offers, but himself: his gift of forgiveness and grace; peace with God and peace with man. His gift opens our eyes to the wonder of God’s love. He allows us to see God as we have never seen him before, and his gift assures us of God’s everlasting mercy and care for us.

Gospel Themes: Part 2

Reversal of Fortune Theme:

                Another important theme we find expressed in the story of the Nativity is the reversal of fortune theme. The theme forms a “cross-over” link that connects the story of Jesus with the story of Samuel. The link finds expression in the prayers of praise Hannah and Mary offer to God on the birth of their respective children. When we examine the contents of both prayers, it becomes obvious that Mary’s paean of praise, the Magnificat, has been modeled on Hannah’s prayer of praise. The one is strikingly similar to the other in both substance and sentiment. (We refer the reader to chapter one where the explanation for this modeling on Luke’s part is given.)

                Without going into much detail, we notice that the praise in both prayers is inspired by the happy change in circumstances, the reversal of fortune, God has or is about to bring about in the fortunes of his people. Hannah’s song of praise (more personal in nature) gives thanks that “The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.” From such words, one can certainly imagine the kind of change Samuel’s birth would have brought about in Hannah’s relationship with her husband—now that she has finally borne a child--and the effect the birth of Hannah’s child would have had on the very fertile but proud and haughty Elkanah.    

                While Mary’s prayer does have some personal content to it (vs. 47-49) the prayer has more of a forward look to it than anything, in that it reflects themes we find in the New Testament and one major theme in the Church’s own teaching about the death and resurrection of Christ. Mary, we note, gives thanks to God because, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree.” God, she adds, has fed the hungry, but sent the rich away empty.

We see the reflection of Mary’s prayer first in the message John the Baptist brought to the people regarding the character of the Messianic rule. (See our discussion earlier with respect to this aspect of John’s ministry—particularly as it involved those who regarded themselves as the religiously privileged.) John’s message was that the Messianic rule would completely and radically change the landscape of human life. The Heavenly Rule would transform the world as we know it so that, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth….” (Lk. 3:5). The Messianic Kingdom, in other words, would bring about a complete reversal of fortune and establish true equity and justice in the world.

Mary’s words also create an echo of an oft-repeated theme in the teachings of Jesus regarding the Kingdom of God.  To those who trust in riches today we hear him saying: “Woe unto you who are rich now, for ye shall be poor; woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall weep.” To those who grasp for recognition and place of preference in this world he says: “He who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18:14).  To the multitude at large we hear him say: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:3-5.) And to those who “want it all,” to those absorbed in their own self-interests, Jesus says: “He who seeks to gain his life shall lose it, and he who loses his life shall find it again. For the first shall be last, and the last first,” effectively closing the door on all the power trippers.

Christ’s teachings reflect the priorities of the New Testament teaching at large regarding the Kingdom of God—or, should we say, life in the Messianic Kingdom. In contrast to those whose vision of the Messianic Kingdom was one of personal and national aggrandizement, Jesus spoke of a Kingdom in which selflessness of service was its chief characteristic. In a poignant demonstration of what true life in the God’s Kingdom truly means and entails, Jesus, in utmost generosity of spirit and humility of heart, assumed the “the form of a servant” before his disciples: Phil. 2:7. He laid aside his garments (the trappings of earthly distinction—and a symbol of his renunciation of his heavenly glory) and, girding himself with a towel, proceeded to wash his disciples’ feet. His action totally disarmed and confounded his disciples, who, even at that late date, still appeared to be thinking in terms of what their service to God would bring to them, still possessed of the “What’s in it for me?” mentality. Christ’s action gave dramatic expression to the words he had spoken to them earlier: “For he who is least among you all is the one who is greatest” (Lk. 9:48). The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom in which the mark of greatness is to be seen in the service one offers to others.

                Most importantly, Mary’s prayer also reflects Church teachings regarding the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ. This teaching affirms that God has honored Jesus because he had emptied himself of his heavenly glory. Taking the form of an earthly servant, he had humbled himself and submitted himself in service to God to the shameful death that was inflicted on criminals (the unmerited death of the innocent, suffering at the hands of the unjust: Acts 3:14).  Though ignominious in his death, God had vindicated him for the service he had offered, and in a reversal of fortune, had now exalted him and given him a name above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow:Phil. 2:5-11. Peter repeats this same idea quite often in his preaching. See, for example: Acts 2:22-36, noting especially verses 23 and 24, and verses 32-36. This theme is echoed also in Ephesians 4:8-10.

                As we have indicated above, the pattern of Christ’s servitude to God is presented by the New Testament writers as the pattern of Christian discipleship; the pattern of service Christians should offer to God. Such service offered to God would merit, as Christ had merited, God’s personal reward: “If we died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:11,12). In Christ, we, too, have a reversal of fortune.

In the light of such teaching, one can only wonder what face this very worldly church of ours, possessed as it often has been and is with notions of social and political stature in the community and in the world at large, has presented to the world. Or what impressions we as individuals have often given to those around us with our moral and spiritual posturing (“holier than thou” attitudes)? We can only wonder if the attitude we have conveyed has been more one of contempt rather than love for our neighbor; one of smug self-righteousness, rather than concern for those whose situation cries out for compassion and understanding?  Are we going to be surprised on the Day of Judgement to discover those who will and who won’t be entering the Kingdom of God: Matt. 21:31?

As a final comment on this theme, it is worth noting that the New Testament connects the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom with the “Day of the Lord” of which the Old Testament prophets had spoken. The Day of the Lord, the prophets said will be, on one hand, a day of judgment (Amos 5:18) but also as a time when God will establish his Kingdom of peace on the earth: Micah 4:3-4. Luke, we see, connects both the rewards and punishment aspect in Jesus’ Parable of the Householder: Lk. 13:22-30. It is noteworthy that Luke characterizes the Day of Judgement as the Day of Reversed Fortunes (vs. 30). 

The Good Shepherd

                The third (and final) theme or motif we would like to look at is the theme of Jesus as the Good Shepherd of the people of God.

                It has often been wondered why the angels should have carried the message of the coming Savior to the shepherds on the Galilean hills first, yet it would seem most appropriate that this be so. The gesture has a great deal of symbolic meaning in that the angelic announcement to the shepherds has to do with the appearance of Jesus as the Heavenly Shepherd, whose mission it will be to gather the people of God’s pasture into the fold of their Heavenly Father.

                The shepherd role, as we shall see, has, like the Savior role, deep roots in Israel’s past, and its presence there no doubt helped influence the Church’s portrayal of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd.”

In Old Testament thought it is God himself who is Israel’s Shepherd: Psalm 95:7; and, 100:3, and, of course, the beloved “Shepherd Psalm,” Psalm 23. Jacob prays to the God who has led him (shepherded him) his whole life long, and is the angel who “redeemed him from all evil” (Gen. 48:15,16). Yet the term of shepherd was also applied to those who provided guidance and leadership to the people of God. In recognition of his faithful leadership of God’s people Moses, for example, was accorded the honorific title of “shepherd” (Isa. 63:11). Likewise, in the period of the theocracy, the judges who ruled Israel were also spoken of as God’s shepherds:1 Chr. 16:6. Those who fulfilled the office of priest in Israel were likewise accorded the title of shepherd—yet all too often in the context of those who had proven to be “faithless shepherds” (Ez. 34:2; Zech. 10:3). The prophets bewailed the fact that when the shepherd failed in his task the people of God were left to stray and wander the hills on their own, and so become easy prey for the wolves: Jer. 50:6.

Ezekiel observes that in those times when the shepherd fails (Ezekiel 34:1-6) God himself steps in and becomes Israel’s personal shepherd: Ez. 34:11-31. This beautiful passage is one in which Ezekiel presents us the image of a God, who, as Shepherd, searches out the lost sheep of the flock and returns them to the safety of the fold. We recognize in his image of God the image of Jesus of the Gospels.

 Significantly, the above passage from Ezekiel contains the promise of a Messianic “Shepherd- Prince” that while alluded to in the New Testament in reference to Jesus is never expressly cited as being prophetically fulfilled in Jesus. God’s promise through Ezekiel is: “Then I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall lead them, and he shall become their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be a prince among them” (Ez. 34:23-24). The reference to David is an important one in that Christ is to be given the “throne of his father David” (Lk. 1:32) and so, in this respect, perhaps Luke had this passage in mind, too, when writing the Nativity story.

 When we turn to the New Testament, we see Jesus as the one who, in caring for the young of the flock, in shepherd-like fashion, takes the children up in his arms (one of the endearing portraits we find of Jesus in Christian homes and churches). He speaks of himself as the shepherd who leaves the “ninety and nine” to go out in search for the lone stray from the fold—could those who heard him have missed the reference to God as the Shepherd-King? In marked contrast to the Pharisees, the perashim, the “separated ones,” whose absorbed self-interest in their own salvation causes them to be grossly neglectful of their shepherd role, Jesus takes his ministry to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel;” to those the temple simply ignored: Matt. 15:24.

Jesus, our Gospel writer tell us, is the one with the heart of a true shepherd: he knows his sheep by name, watches over them, feeds, and cares for them: Jhn. 10:1-15. So true indeed is this Shepherd’s heart that he is willing to lay down his life for his sheep: Jhn. 10:11; in other words, Jesus is not only our shepherd, he is more truly our Shepherd-Redeemer.

The image of Jesus as Shepherd-Redeemer, appears also to have been inspired by the “Suffering Servant” passage from Isaiah 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (vs. 6). (We earlier suggested the deeply personal significance this passage probably had for the disciples in their betrayal of Jesus.)  The notion of Jesus as Shepherd finds beautiful expression in the Epistle of First Peter: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (I Pet. 2:23). These are words that the Apostle Peter himself might have spoken when reflecting on his own betrayal and Christ’s act of clemency and forgiveness when he, in Shepherd fashion, reclaimed him for his service and enjoined him, for each of the three times he had denied his Master, to feed the lambs and sheep of his fold (to be a shepherd himself to Christ’s flock). The portrait of Jesus as Guardian Shepherd gives a striking Christian dimension to Psalm 23.

 Thus it is that the visit of the angels to the shepherds on the hillside is for us the “sign,” that One is coming who will, “Feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather his lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and he will gently feed those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11).  As a culminating act of mercy and grace, at the final ingathering, Christ, the “Chief Shepherd,” will appear and herd the sheep of his pasture into the fold of their Heavenly Father: 1 Pet. 5:4. 


                Thank you for joining me on the Christmas/Easter journey we have taken through the Gospels in our exploration of Luke’s story of the Nativity. We trust it has helped you see how deeply Luke has grounded his story in Old Testament thought as a way of giving expression to his own faith (the faith of the Church) in Jesus as the Christ; that is, as the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people of a Messianic Redeemer. It is a story that has been eloquently told and eloquently expressed. We rightly see in this work the work of one who writes under the inspired influence of the Spirit of God—not in an automatic way but in a way that draws upon the writer’s own personal creative and imaginative talents.

As we observed in our introduction, Luke’s purpose in writing isn’t simply to write an interesting story. He writes as one who wishes to share his Christian faith with us in the hope that we, too, if we have not already, will embrace Christ as our own personal Saviour. In the journey of faith we have undertaken, Luke has brought us to the feet of the Saviour of mankind.

I wish to express my appreciation to the webmaster, Rich, for the kind and generous help he has provided toward the posting of this study on the Maybole website. He is to be thanked, too, for the very appealing and effective art illustrations that have been added to the study to help illustrate the subjects that we dwelt upon.

[1] We do need to note that this is strictly an in-house matter, and has nothing to do with anti-semitism; it is an expression of the prophetic tradition within Israel and no more extreme in its expression than is to be found anywhere else within the prophetic tradition. (The reader is referred to p. (?) on this matter). These are people with a high sense of honor for the name of God; a people having a jealous regard for God that inspires them to defend it with prophetic heroism (1 Ki. 19:10). The prophets were also motivated to speak out defense of the honor of God when they felt the people were proving faithless in the face of God’s gracious and merciful treatment of them. Stephen sees their rejection of Christ as just another example of their faithlessness.