Understanding the End Times: The Shepherds
When I was a little girl, I actually knew and ate with shepherds. I don't mean a metaphor for pastors, but actual people who herded and lived with sheep. Half of my childhood was spent in the Southern Idaho foothills where I roamed the dry, sagebrush-covered hills. In the early spring, the now green hills would be dotted white, and in the distance, I could see the carro campo of the Basque sheepherders slowly moving into the valley. My mom would send my sister and me out with paper bags filled with Easter eggs, homemade fudge, and other treats to give to them as they spent a few days in our valley. I remember those cold spring nights, the shepherds’ dogs patrolling the sheep, a campfire enlightening the faces of people who speak different languages but understood each other entirely. Children and shepherds. We kind of fit together biblically. During the time of Jesus's birth, shepherds had the backstage pass to the Messiah. According to Luke's account (2:8) they were out in the field watching their flock and then the angels came announcing that Jesus had been born. Not to minimize the dear shepherds, but it didn't take a lot of spiritual discernment to decide to go to the place where baby Jesus and his family were staying. And although the bible doesn't say they all went, no doubt they did. Out of devotion, sheer terror, or curiosity, they went and had the amazing privilege of seeing Jesus. Sometimes, the signs of the times are that obvious: Angels come, sing, tell you where Messiah is, yay! Other times, the signs are veiled; asking the hearer to press in and come closer for deeper understanding. What does it mean "No man knows the day or hour?" and "But concerning the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write you"? Jesus said over and over; "He who has ears, let him hear." (Mathew 11:15) This is what happened with the astronomers of the East (a.k.a. wise men). They had to discern the times using prophetic writings and astronomy which partially accounts for why it took them nearly two years to arrive in Bethlehem. If you have any interest in when Jesus was really born, and what happened astronomically during that time there is a wonderful movie called The Star of Bethlehem that goes deep into these subjects.
It is important to go back a little in time in order to set a solid foundation in the prophetic signs and seasons the Holy Spirit is showing us now. When Jesus came, He told the religious leaders that they should have known His arrival was at hand because of the signs and the miracles. Some big signs they should have recognized were: According to Daniel 9:25-26, the Messiah had to come 490 years after 445 b.c. Numbers 24:17 declared that a star would come out of Jacob and Micah prophesies the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem. (By the way, when Herod wanted to find out where this ruler the kings were asking about was, he asked the chief priests and scribes and they knew exactly where to look in the scriptures: Micah 5:2) And the big one that described His miraculous birth: "Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel."( Isaiah 7:14) Jesus made it very easy for those he spoke to in the synagogue in Nazareth to know He was the Messiah. He found the place in Isaiah and told them plainly:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD...Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing and in your presence.” (Luke 4:17-21)
Father God sends an announcement that His Son is born by the angelic choir to some of the lowliest workers at that time. But precious Jesus is not ashamed to be associated with them and even calls Himself The Good Shepherd - a kind of tribute to their presence at his baby shower. This is our foundation for understanding how He does things: Fulfilling the words He speaks through the prophets in the beauty of symbolic poetry. Some believe that the star that heralded Jesus’s birth was a comet. Comets (according to ancient astronomical records kept by the Chinese and ancient cave drawings showing people and animals running from comets) were considered to be omens of doom. It is doubtful Father God would use an omen of doom to welcome His Son into the world. It was likely a convergence of planets that created at that time the brightest star anyone had ever seen ( credit to Fred Larsen, Star of Bethlehem, 2012). Jesus gave us specific things to watch for with regard to His comings. The first He called birth pains: Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, pestilences all coming closer together and with more intensity. This was so we could be alert and watching for Him. But the one He wants us to pay attention to right now is the witness of HIM: His Spirit moving around the earth and the Jewish people coming to Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul says that there is a veil over the hearts of the Jews but this is taken away when they turn to Christ. Jews around the world are believing that Jesus is the promised Messiah. This is a wonderful sign like the star on the flag of the nation of Israel pointing to His soon return.
So, the shepherds had it kind of easy. Here they are reclining near their tents, eating fudge and eggs that two cute little girls from Idaho brought, thinking about how amazing that star is in the night sky, and then the angels put on a show that is seen nowhere else in recorded history. And here we are, in the last of the last days. We have books, movies, internet information, teachings and preaching trying to explain what the prophecies recorded in the Old Testament and summed up in the New mean about the return of the Messiah. We could wish for angels to come down and give a concert telling us what we need to know but we have someone better: The Holy Spirit. He is the One who opens our ears to hear and our eyes to see. He is the one who is saying “Behold! Look up! Your redemption is drawing close!” Can you hear Him? Can you feel that Jesus is coming soon? If not, you just need to do what those smart shepherds did over two thousand years ago and come to Jesus. It's just that simple.
"For the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'"