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Priestly Shepherds

Beginning 500 years before Jesus’ birth, Judean priests took an active role in the farming life of the countryside. Some priests also became shepherds by raising sheep without a blemish for future animal sacrifices. One thing that I did not know about the shepherds in the passage below is that they were priestly shepherds, working with the local temple. When this angel appeared to them, the news of a Savior meant their ancient tradition of animal sacrifice to forgive sins would no longer be necessary.

And in that vicinity there were shepherds living [out under the open sky] in the field, watching [in shifts] over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord flashed and shone all about them, and they were terribly frightened, Luke 2:8-9.

Was the initial response by these shepherds fearful that they would be out of a job? Or was their main concern based upon Old Testament angelic encounters which often came as a precursor to their deaths? All of the years of hearing this passage read out loud in church, I never knew the context of who these chosen priestly shepherds were. Based upon their reactions to seeing the Christ child, it’s clear to me that these men were more excited about the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy, Isaiah 9:6.

But its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire, a sweet and satisfying odor to the Lord. 10 And if the man’s offering is of the flock, from the sheep or the goats, for a burnt offering, he shall offer a male without blemish, Leviticus 1:9-10.

While this is merely speculation, the role of a Jewish temple priest was a messy job. The slaughtering of animal’s day after day likely left stains of blood as well as being squirted by blood in your face from time to time. This tedious practice detailed by Moses in the book of Leviticus was a temporary process until a second Adam arrived. When news of Jesus’ birth was brought forth by an angel, these priestly shepherds realized in their minds that the lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world is about to arrive, Colossians 2:13-15. This is another reason to celebrate Christmas.

by Jay Mankus

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