Angels and Shepherds: Joyful Witness

Getting Started
When have you experienced good news? Think of a time you received good news and share a little about it. In this passage we will read about some good news brought by heavenly messengers to some unlikely witnesses. We’ll ponder what it means that Jesus is “good news.”

1. Have three people read the passage, one for each paragraph (the paragraphs are vs. 1-7; 8-14; 15-20). (Note: for some in the group, even the first few words [“In those days a decree went out . . .”] may bring back memories of trees, lights, presents, or a midnight mass or service with the family. But a key to inductive Bible study is to approach the text in a fresh way as if one had never seen it before. This may be hard, but urge the group to try.)

2. In the first few verses, what are some clues that the historian Luke is trying to be painfully accurate with his political and historical facts? Why do you think he mentions Roman emperors and governors-people of power?

3. In verses 4-7, what new things do we learn about Joseph and Mary? What facts about them are repeated from our study in Luke 1:26-38? Put yourself in the drama. How would you feel, trudging over a hundred miles because some occupation government officials wanted you to register so they could tax you and, if you are a man, possibly draft you into their army? Look again at verse 7. What different emotions might Joseph and Mary have experienced?

4. Shepherds were poor, lower-class people in their society, despised by religious Jews because their work kept them away from many religious activities. Looking at verses 8-14, why do you think God chose shepherds to be the first ones to hear the good news of the birth of Jesus?

5. In verse 10, the angel talks about “good news of great joy for all people.” Look carefully at the three ways Jesus is described in verse 11. What are they? (Savior, Messiah [or Christ], Lord.) What would each of these have meant for poor Jewish shepherds under Roman occupation in the first century? Take time to ponder what each description means to us today. Why is this announcement by the angel good news?

6. Notice the contrast between these majestic titles for Jesus and the poor situation into which he was born in verses 6-7. Why do you think Luke emphasizes this contrast?

7. What is the reaction in heaven to the birth of Jesus according to verses 13-14? What is a benefit to those on earth? “On earth peace among those whom he favors” is a different translation from the one in our traditional Christmas carols, but it is more accurate. What do you think it means?

8. After the angels leave, in verses 15-16, what do the shepherds do? What have they become? (Witnesses!-Someone who sees and then tells.)

9. What is the shepherds’ first act after seeing and experiencing Jesus (verse 17)? Think back to the time when you experienced good news in your life. Did you want to tell others about the good thing? If we truly experience Jesus in our lives, and thus become “witnesses” to his truth as the shepherds were, how might we respond?

In Closing:
Again, put yourself into the passage. What feelings do you think Mary experienced in this passage? What feelings did the shepherds experience? Note that the shepherds left glorifying and praising God (verse 20). Is there anything in your life or experience right now for which you can praise God? Is there anything you are thankful for? (Note: you may want to end the study by sharing some things each person is thankful for, and then spending time in prayer praising and thanking God.)

“Witnesses to Jesus” Bible Studies are available

Many thanks to those who gave valuable feedback in the writing and editing of these studies: the Iowa staff team led by Lindsay Olesberg, Beth Krysl, Judy Johnson, Fred Neubert, Shelley Soceka, Glen Ewart, Nancy Fox, Suzy Gaeddert, Scott Eddlemon, Ann Beyerlein, Bob Wolniak, Paula Esealuka, John Seiders and Donna Snow. Special thanks to Kathy Burrows (design) and Jeff Yourison (editor).-Bob Grahmann

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this article provided this permission notice, and the copyright notice below are preserved on all copies.

© 1995 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of the USA. All rights reserved.