The shepherds were there on that night and they were watching over their sheep. They kept watch–guarding them from the many possibilities of danger and harm. Many of the sheep that they were watching were the ones that were used in temple sacrifices (since Bethlehem was near Jerusalem). Its impossible to understand the exact setting but we could imagine that the sounds of the night were echoing through the valley. The terrain was dimly lit by the moon light and perhaps stars. The crackle of the fire kept steady rhythm throughout the night. Shepherds traded off shifts as they guarded their sheep.
Considering this, we would not have trouble understanding that “they were filled with great fear” when an angel of the Lord stood there among them. The night was aflame with the shining brilliance of the glory of God. Now you must remember that for 400 years God had been silent in Israel. No prophet spoke. But lately God was active again in bringing His message to His people. Months earlier, the angel Gabriel also appeared to Zachariah as he announced the conception and birth of John the Baptist. Of course, it was a brief time later when Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, appeared to a young woman named Mary and told her of the virgin conception and coming birth of One Who would be called the Son of God.
Now, presumably this same angel is standing there among the shepherds and they are terrified. But the angel was not bringing them a message of terror and fear but rather he was bringing them “good news of great joy”. What is so good about this news that it would be the cause of “great joy”…literally, “mega joy”? Of course, you know what that news is. There is born “a Savior who is Christ the Lord”. There is a Savior born…and this is not your normal, run-of-the-mill Savior, this is the Anointed One Himself, the Messiah, Christ who is the Lord. This is God in human flesh! And He has not come to judge but He has come to save. What joy! Rejoice to the highest degree shepherds! The One to Whom every temple sacrifice pointed is here. The One of Whom every prophet spoke has arrived. No longer would there be the need for the constant sacrifice of these lambs, some of the very ones that they were guarding that night.
Every bleat of those sheep was a unremitting reminder of the need for sacrifice. Every hour that those shepherds spent guarding those sheep was time spent in order to provide for the temple sacrifice. Every look at those sheep would call to mind the fact that man and God were at odds. Thus, the message of the angel was “good news of great joy” because there came a Savior! Indeed, those who walked in darkness that night had seen a great light! There was One Who was appointed before the foundation of the earth to do away with sin and bring man into fellowship with God. There was One who would bring rescue and reconciliation–once and for all.
At this point all of heaven could not be contained. There was, at that very moment, a heavenly explosion of sorts as thousands and thousands of angels became visible. The appearance of the multitude of heavenly visitors was unexpected and immediate, that is why we read that they “suddenly appeared”. Since the first day of their creation they had heard of the plan of redemption that was spoken of in the council of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now, after millennia, the plan was being enacted. The Son had left His rightful place in heaven’s throne room as He took on flesh as a baby. There in the darkness of the night the Light of the world had come. And heaven’s host could not keep silent. They erupted in a paean of praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
“Glory to God in the highest”. The mighty voices of the angels spoke to the glory of God in heaven. The word “glory” here speaks of that which is true about God and in this way it is used to refer to God being revealed for who He is. It is an exultation a delight in the glory of God. They are simply declaring that God is glorious and that He is worthy of glory. “In the highest” refers to heaven. We cannot miss this. The praise for Christmas goes not to man or to a group of men. Not to angels or to Mary or to Moses but to God Himself.
And while God in heaven gets the glory, man on earth is granted “peace”. This is quite a word. It’s a word that means everything is okay. It is what a person who is in a right relationship with God experiences. But there is a specific idea of “peace” within this context. Because of his sin, man is at odds with God. There is a broken relationship and everything is not right between man and God. There is a problem. In this case, it is not the peace of a comfort of mind or a rest of the spirit. This is talking about the message of or result of salvation. There is peace! There is no more enmity. There is no more broken relationship. There is no more need for the constant slaughter of the sacrifices. Why? Because there is peace on earth.
But notice, there is a sober note that is sounded here. It’s not “peace on earth to one and all”. No, that’s not what it says. I know that’s how some of you have memorized this but that’s not what it says. It says that peace with God is experienced by those who please God. And that is why this is so sobering. How do you please a holy God? This peace, this all is well kind of relationship between man and God is only experienced by those who please God. Salvation peace is a gift. It is not an entitlement. The angles are not rejoicing in the work of man, no, my friends, they are magnifying the amazing work of God’s grace.
If you are a person who has been given the gift of salvation, you are a person of His good pleasure. It’s incredible, incredible truth. Men to whom He extends His good pleasure. He gets all the credit. He gets all the glory. We couldn’t devise a plan of salvation. We couldn’t earn a plan…we couldn’t earn salvation so if we’re saved it’s because God designed it and God was pleased to give it.
Saying it another way, there is salvation peace, peace between man and God, among those whom God has chosen to delight in. And so the angels are praising God because He has chosen to delight in bringing salvation peace to sinners (MacArthur).
It is a gift and it is given to those who please God. Salvation peace is experienced by those in whom God finds pleasure…in whom God delights. And the only way to please God is through faith…that is to take Him at His word. “As many as received him to them He gave the right to become children of God, to as many as believed on His name” (John 1:12).
There is great truth here my friends, and I hope that you can hear this. God delights in believers, not because of their work or merit or ability but because He delights in them as a matter of His glory.
You know, this event here in Luke 2 is a really a brief glimpse of what will take place in heaven for ever and ever. We will be forever praising God as we explore the inexplicable depths of grace and mercy and love and patience and peace. Forever in heaven we will be glorifying the God of heaven because it’s alright…all is well. My soul is right with God tonight…that’s news of great joy!