Have you ever wondered why God had the angel tell a bunch of shepherds about Jesus’ birth? Why shepherds? Why not carpenters? Or fishermen? Or bricklayers?
Some have speculated that God choose the shepherds because the shepherds around Bethlehem would have been tending to not just any sheep, but the Passover lambs that would be sacrificed in a few months. Others have guessed that one of the reasons God chose the shepherds is because of their quiet lifestyle, which means receptive hearts were ready to receive the message.
Furthermore, the shepherds were excited to go and tell others about it!
Can you imagine if God had the angel make the announcement today? What if the angel had to bring his good news of great joy to one of us? Other than being freaked out by the scary angel, are we in a place where we would hear him? The chief priests helped the wise men find Jesus, yet felt no compulsion to go with them.
Regardless of whom we might have chosen, it was the shepherds who were the very first ones to hear the angelic announcement of Christ’s birth.
Shepherds are not usually wealthy or well-educated. Many times they are hired help – the sheep aren’t even their own. So, why would God purposely chose such common people, folks from a lower caste, uneducated farm workers who seem the least likely to have the means to spread the news far and wide?
We humans tend to think mass marketing. God thinks in terms of one-on-one word of mouth, friends sharing with friends.
Jesus Himself was a shepherd. In John 10:11, He said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." In verse 14, He said, "I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and My sheep know me."
Over and over the Bible tells Christian pastors to feed the sheep. Three times in John 21:15- 17, Jesus instructs Simon Peter, "Feed My sheep, take care of My sheep, feed My Sheep."
But the bottom line is that the first news of the birth of Jesus Christ was not revealed to kings or rulers. It was not revealed to the religious elite. When God came to earth, He let the world know by announcing the birth of His Son to lowly shepherds.
Why? Perhaps He wanted the poor and outcast of society to know that they were important too. It may have been that God wanted the lowliest of humanity to realize that His love included them, especially in a world where they were normally excluded. Moreover, it seems He wanted all of us to understand the qualities of love, mercy, and compassion were to be extended to everyone regardless of their social standing.
Among Jews at the time of Christ’s birth, shepherds were held in very low esteem. In Jewish lawbooks, the Talmud, it is written that shepherds were not allowed in the courts to be witnesses. In fact the Talmud instructs that no help be given to heathens or to shepherds. Shepherds were despised because they were unable to attend temple services and to keep the rituals and ceremonial laws as their flocks kept them from practicing their religion.
Dr. Marion Anderson relates this story: "I was riding in a tour bus from Jerusalem to Jericho, sitting in the front seat, since I was leading a group, and about half asleep, having made the same trip many, many times. Suddenly, the bus lurched to a stop, waking me up. There in the middle of the street was a shepherd. Now, with a 48-passenger bus running straight at me, I wouldn’t be out there, but there he was. And the sheep started to cross the road. Not all at once, but in twos and threes and ones. But the shepherd never shooed them, or hurried them, he just stood his ground until the last sheep was safely off the road. Then he followed them, and threaded his way through the flock until he was back up front again, leading the way."
God had His reasons why He revealed Himself to shepherds.
It would seem that His primary purpose was to convey the message that the Gospel is open to anyone who is willing to believe. When Jesus commanded us to go into the entire world and preach the gospel, He never specified to whom we should go. In fact, when He told the Disciples to go to Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth, He eliminated any possibility of discrimination on our part.
Practically speaking, however, we know that the poor are more easily satisfied with the simple message that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Unencumbered by wealth and overcome by poverty, the poor and needy seem to be more willing to look to Jesus Christ to supply all of their needs.