Why didn’t the sheep run?
I used to think I knew the answer. Maybe I was right, but maybe there was something more to that night than I knew. I was very young man then, only sixteen, and now I’m an old man of seventy. But I remember that night! Every moment of it!
I was a young shepherd then, strong and agile, and there was very little I was afraid of.
Several sheep ranchers in the area had ranged their flocks far from home that day. We settled down on fresh pastures at dusk and chose watches against predators.
Sometime after dark, suddenly there a man appeared right in front of us. No sound, no sight of him before he just appeared. Before we could blink, a dazzling brilliance surrounded us, like the Shekinah glory of God we had heard about from rabbis. This “man” had to be an angel!
He said, “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people! Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.“
An angel was telling a bunch of shepherds that the Messiah had come? Why shepherds? Why not the rabbis, the scribes, the Pharisees?
I wasn’t sure what the arrival of the Messiah meant. Was He going to start a revolt and throw the Romans out of the Promised Land? The prophets described Him as the hope of Israel. They said that He would fight for Israel, and that he would be “a light to the Gentiles”.
Then, just as suddenly as the angel had appeared, the sky was filled with Heaven’s warriors. Dozens, hundreds of angels! They looked like warriors, and they were as rowdy as victorious warriors I have met. They began shouting, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among men with whom He is well-pleased!”
I couldn’t say for sure how long the cheering went on. I couldn’t say whether they wore swords, but their mere presence was enough to make every hair on my head stand up. They were as brash and loud as any Roman Legionnaires.
After a few minutes of shouting, they left. They went straight up into the heavens! They had appeared as suddenly as the first one, right there on the ground. But when they left, they went straight up.
We decided there was only one thing to do: go to Bethlehem! See for ourselves this baby Messiah. You might think that would be a difficult task, but the first angel had said, “You will find him…” And he did say, “… in a manger…” That narrowed the search quite a bit, so we set off. And then there was that colossal star, you wouldn’t believe … maybe you would, though. Right over the manger He was in … that night was filled with wonders.
Before we left for Bethlehem, I finally realized something that had been bothering me since the first angel appeared: the sheep! They hadn’t bolted. They didn’t even seem to be concerned! I thought then that maybe the sheep couldn’t see or hear the angels. Maybe it was as simple as that …
So we went to Bethlehem and found Him. We went away rejoicing that the Messiah had come. That had to be the best news I’d ever heard. But at last I understood why the angels hadn’t appeared to our rabbis and priests. When Herod, who was Rome’s king over Israel then, heard that “the King of the Jews” had been born, and it became apparent that the three magi who broke the news to him had slipped away and weren’t coming back, Herod slaughtered every child in Bethlehem under the oldest age he’d been told the Messiah could be.
The magi told Herod that the King of the Jews had been born, but it was our priests, our scribes, who told him where. They betrayed Israel’s Messiah. So the blood of children ran in the streets of Bethlehem, and a night of wonders became a night of horrors, and we realized why it was shepherds and not priests to whom the announcement was made.
For decades, we heard nothing at all about the Messiah. We wondered if He’d somehow survived the slaughter.
When I was middle aged, I began to hear rumors of a miracle worker who claimed that the Kingdom of the Most High had come. I began to hear claims that he cured lepers, healed paralysis, gave sight to the blind, cast out demons, and even raised the dead. It was said he’d fed thousands miraculously. His name was Jesus. I didn’t think at first this could be the Messiah, because he came, I thought, from Nazareth. But his miracles were as powerful as any of the ancient prophets’, and I left my sheep in the care of another and went to investigate.
Wherever I went, I heard, “He was here last week … last month … yesterday …” I became discouraged. I learned that the priests of this time wanted to kill him. Why? From all I’d heard, he did nothing but good to everyone. Everyone I talked to loved the man!
I was short on food. I was tired, dirty, worn out with an endless search, and beginning to worry about my sheep. I heard that he had been in the Temple, but the Pharisees actually started to stone him, and somehow he got away and left. I had no idea where to find him. I gave up my search and started home.
But on my way, miles from the Temple and the city, I saw a huge crowd, and I wondered … could it be? The first person I asked answered with exuberant joy, “Yes! It’s Jesus of Nazareth!”
I worked my way through the crowd until I could hear him speak clearly. The first words I heard him say were about sheep and shepherds. He knew the shepherd’s life. Every word he said about shepherds and sheep was true. But then he said something about laying down his life and taking it up again and I could only think that the Pharisees were going to win.
I was torn in two emotionally. But he said, “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” And when he said, “I know them“, he turned and looked right at me. Eye to eye. Then the evil ones tried again, right there in front of me and the crowd, to stone him. Somehow he eluded them, and disappeared. I gave up and went home, wondering how a Messiah could save his people by dying.
Not long afterward, I heard that he had been crucified. Every day I thought about his words and what they could mean.
About four or five weeks after he was crucified, word came back from the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem that his disciples claimed to have seen him alive many times after his crucifixion. They said they’d eaten meals with him, talked with him, touched him to be sure he was not a ghost. And now his disciples were reported to be performing miracles too!
I admit I heard these things with skepticism, but I remembered that night. Then I began hearing that his disciples were being killed because they wouldn’t shut up. They were embarrassing and frightening his killers. When I heard that, I began to believe! No one dies for a lie that they know is a lie! And when Aharel, one of my distant cousins, passed through my village claiming to have become one of his disciples, we talked all night. His explanation was something every Jew will instantly understand: Messiah Jesus saved us by becoming the perfect Passover Lamb! Because He had never sinned -even His enemies testified to this – He could become the Passover lamb that takes away the sins of those who believe in Him! Just like the Most High passed over the sins of those who, believing in the Most High, presented a sacrifice for their sins, now this one Sacrifice was sufficient to atone for the sins of – the whole world! And the Most High proved that His justice had been satisfied by raising Messiah Jesus from the dead! Hosanna in the highest! Hallelujah! Death and the grave can not hold us any more!
With everything else I had heard, I finally believed. We are not going to die! We will go through death’s door into another life! Those who believe in the Messiah will be going to Paradise to live with our Messiah forever, and no pain or death or anguish will ever touch us again.
I have peace that I never knew existed, and if you trust the Messiah‘s sacrifice, you will find that peace also! Before His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, He said,
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Oh yes – why the sheep didn’t run: they knew the Good Shepherd had been born, and they understood His messengers.