Though over 2000 years have come and gone since the coming of Christ, some things have changed very little — “Wise Men Still Seek Him”, “Evil Men Still Are Troubled by Him”, “The World Still Doesn’t Recognize Him”, and “The Angels Still Praise Him.” For the last thought of this series I want to ponder the humble shepherds in the fields, who first heard the glorious news, and who chose to go into Bethlehem to see the thing that the Lord made known to them — the birth of the Savior of the world.
Why did the Lord choose shepherds to first tell the good news to? Shepherds aren’t anyone important by the world’s standards; they aren’t influential leaders of the community; they’re “blue collar” rural workers who often spend considerable amounts of time alone in wilderness areas. I would suggest that it was for the very reason that they were not important or influential — rather they were humble. But it was not just because God favors the poor or underprivileged.
Humility, you see, is not about being a poor, under-educated peasant; it is not an economic or educational condition. Humility is an attitude of heart. True, it can be “cultivated” by not having the wealth, education, skills, etc. that often fool us into thinking that we’re more than we really are — that we know what we’re doing, that we’ve got it all under control. The poor and under-privileged are often a bit more realistic about themselves; less prone to painting a pretty (but self-deceived) picture of themselves; more aware of what they don’t know and can’t control; and less likely to brush off faith, God, and religion as unnecessary — more humble. And it is the humble that God regularly seeks out first.
In the famous Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus gives us the Beatitudes — a sort of “Discipleship 101” — He begins significantly:
“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 gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:3-6)
Please note: “poor in spirit”, “those who mourn”, “the gentle (humble)”, and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”. Such qualities don’t sound much like kings, Wall St. giants, or know-it-alls. But they are the qualities Jesus first requires of His hearers at the very start of this famous teaching. Why? Because the “poor in spirit”, “those who mourn”, “the gentle (humble)”, and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” will actually listen. They won’t try to argue Jesus down to “be reasonable”. They won’t minimize, explain away, or discount His teachings. They won’t rationalize or justify themselves as Jesus exposes their sins. They’ll listen, digest it, and obey.
It was a humbled Moses (not “Prince Moses”) who finally listened to God and led Israel out of Egypt. It was humble shepherd-boy David (not proud king Saul) who listened to the Lord and slew Goliath. It was a humbled Saul of Tarsus (no longer a proud Pharisee) that would become the apostle Paul. Humility is a self-evident, crucial, and yet little practiced key to following the Lord.
Imagine if the angels had come to a local group of Pharisees or chief priests, instead of the shepherds; or imagine if the incarnation had happened today and the angels had appeared to some scientists, or theologians, or politicians. There might have be conferences and reports and debates — some might suggest that the angelic appearances were really swamp gas or a super-secret military experiment. But there would probably have been very little or no, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” That’s what happens without humility.
Want proof? The holy messengers of God still speak to us in the Bible, yet there are still many who seek to rationalize, justify, discount, explain away, argue away, and ignore what it says. It was drawn to my attention recently that there’s a new version of what is being called a Bible — the “Queen James Version” — which (as you might have guessed) has “re-translated”, cut out, or attempted to explain away all references to homosexuality as sin. And its authors are not alone; there are many who are not at all eager to just listen and obey.
Don’t get me wrong; don’t misunderstand. This is not to say that to be a disciple that we have to check our brains at the door — just our pride, our rationalizations, and our justifications. It is still just as true today as it was 2000 years ago, the humble still receive Him.