In the old testament, the glory of God is always something to be feared. Not only feared in the sense of reverence and awe but something to be afraid of because it can kill you for no one can see the face of God and live(Exodus 33:20, Hebrews 12:21).
Most people obey God only because they’re afraid of the punishment. They think of Him as a despot. A master to be feared and not to be enjoyed. Sadly many professing Christians have the same view of God. They reduce the gospel as an escape from hell and not as a means to enjoy and love God. But the God of scriptures doesn’t want to be glorified through fear alone, but ultimately through the enjoyment of his glory by his people. That’s why there’s the gospel, a good news of peace and joy in God as we will see in Luke’s account of the angels’s announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds.
Luke tells us in verse 9 what the shepherds felt as they saw the glory of the Lord. They were filled with great fear or literally feared a great fear. Similarly in Luke 1:12, when an angel appeared to Zechariah, a righteous man in the sight of God, was also terrified. The same with Mary when an angel came to prophesy that she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit(1:29).
It’s a natural thing for those who recognized their sinfulness and God’s holiness to fear God. And rightly so. But in these three occasions, the angel responded the same way, saying that they need not be afraid. The angel said to Zechariah: “Fear not!” He said it to Mary: “Fear not!” And now he says it to the shepherds: “Fear not!” Hebrews 2:14-15 says that Jesus died to deliver those who through fear of death have been held in a lifetime of bondage. Fear is paralyzing and enslaving, but the gospel gives freedom through a message of joy.
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
Even though there’s benefit in being fearful of God’s glory, the angel said to them, “Fear not!”, and the reason he gave was that he came with good news of great joy. He came not to hunt and instill fear on the rebels but to bring great joy. This is in direct contrast with their great fear.
Literally in greek it says, “I evangelize to you great joy.” The direct object of the verb “εὐαγγελίζομαι” is “χαρὰν”. Not only that the message is about joy or that the message would result to joy but the message itself is great joy. He brings joy! This joy is not little joy, but great and abundant joy, “μεγάλην” No wonder, Luke sees salvation and redemption through the lens of Joy(10:17, 15:7-10, 24:52)
Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord
This joy is grounded not on fables and myths, nor on false securities and material things, but on God’s promises and their fulfillment. The angel says, “For today your Savior is born in the city of David,” alluding to Micah’s prophecy(Micah 5:2).
Now let’s turn from the message of Joy to the singing of praise. It was no accident that Luke described first the fearful reaction of the shepherds when they saw the glory of God and then an angel telling them not to fear because he brings great joy, then comes a heavenly host praising God by saying “Glory to God in the highest.” It is implied from Luke’s narrative that God is most glorified in joy than in fear. When great joy erupts, praises comes afterwards. We glorify something when we’re enjoying that something. In other words, praising God completes our enjoyment of God.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people
Here, this great joy and praises to God resulted from God’s work of bringing peace. In other words we can’t enjoy God if we’re at war with him, and God alone initiated, so to speak, the peace treaty. What temporal peace can offer are but temporal joys. The Pax Romana or Roman Peace that was decreed by Caesar can never bring true and lasting joy. But the peace decreed by God almighty will last forever and therefore bring eternal joy.
peace among people with whom he is pleased!
Now we should ask; “for whom God granted this peace?” Most of you probably already received Christmas cards containing this part of the angels’ song to the shepherds on the fields of Bethlehem from the King James Version of the Bible; “Peace on earth, good will toward men”. But most modern translations have a different reading. NIV reads “on earth peace to men on whom his [God’s] favor rests”; NRSV translated the phrase as “and on earth peace among those whom he [God] favors”. The difference between the KJV and the others is the difference between the nominative case and the genitive case.
Most manuscripts, but with least attested reading have ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία (“good will among people”) instead of ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας (“among people with whom he is pleased”). The King James Version used the manuscripts with the nominative case reading but the modern versions used the manuscripts with the genitive. The genitive is better attested and more difficult reading than that of the nominative. So, the nominative reading was more likely a scribal emandation or revision. Therefore if we take the genitive as the original reading, then the peace that the angels sang that belonged to the earth as a result of the birth of Christ is not a generic, worldwide peace for all humankind, but a peace limited to whom God has chosen in accord with his good pleasure. This is consistent with what the angel of the Lord said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 that Jesus will save his people. Peace among men with whom he is pleased but remember, without faith it is impossible to please God. So Christmas does not bring peace to all.
Now how does the people favored by God responded to the gospel? The immediate response of the shepherds when they heard the good news was to see the King and proclaim it to everyone.These despised and lowly shepherds were the first evangelists.
Not only that, Luke also mentioned 3 responses from the people who heard the gospel of great Joy. The structure is remarkable, it is a progression from basic response of amazement to treasuring and glorifying.
I. All were Amazed and Pondered(2:18)
It is only right to be amazed with miraculous signs and angelic sightings. It is natural. Remember how even the then unregenerate Nicodemus recognized the divine origin of Jesus’ authority because he’s amazed with the signs performed by Him in John 3. It doesn’t take to be born again to be amazed at something. Some today just settle for this kind of amazement. We recognize that this is uunnatural but can’t get pass that because we’re just pondering how can this things be.
II. Mary Treasured All these Things(2:19)
But Mary does more. Even though she’s still making sense the testimony of the shepherds, she nevertheless treasured all these things. We know that’s the case because this is not the first time she heard an unusual message, and yet she still believed.
III. The Shepherds Glorify God(2:20)
Lastly, inspite of their initial response to the glory of God, namely fear, when they heard the gospel they obeyed joyfully and started praising and glorifying God.
Are you goin to be paralyzed by fear and be stucked with mere amazement or will you treasure the message and glorify God by rejoicing in it? How you answer this questions will show whether you belong among whom God is pleased.