When God sent His angels to announce the birth of His Son, he sent them to “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” It seems God has a special place for shepherds. Abraham became a nomadic shepherd in response to God’s call on his life. Joseph found the best of the land of Egypt for his family to continue practicing their shepherding. David, the greatest king of Israel, was the Shepherd King. And Jesus is the good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the flock.
Perhaps God’s tender heart for the shepherds has to do with the similarities between His care for humanity and their care for sheep. Shepherds must constantly fight against their stubborn sheep for their own good, just as “all we like sheep have gone astray.” Sheep are are in need of constant protection from predators, just like as “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may destroy.” Shepherds have a 24/7 kind of job, just as our God never slumbers in His care for us.
If you go to a sheep farm today, you will find that sheep are still stubborn, willful, foolish, defenseless creatures. But one thing that sheep were to the Jews that they are not to us is a sacrifice. Every day the blood of sheep was spilled before the altar of the temple for the remission of sins. It’s even possible that the shepherds of Luke 2 were priest-shepherds. That is, they may have been guarding the sheep specifically destined to be sacrificed.
Whether or not that is the case, they showed their true nobility when they said, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” And leaving behind their own flocks, they came with haste to Bethlehem to see the Lamb of God lying in a manger. Oh yes, the Shepherd of Israel had come as a spotless Lamb. Upon seeing Jesus, John cried out to the crowd, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the word.”
If those flocks guarded by the shepherds were indeed temple sacrifices, then their need would soon be over. For though it is not possible that the blood of any animal should take away sins, this baby would grow up into the Man who, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God. The shepherds returned rejoicing and praising God, for the good news had come not just to Israel, but unto all men.
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.The Angel to the Shepherd, Luke 2:10-12
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.