The following is a chapter taken from Sheep Tracks, Biblical Insights from a Sheepherder
“It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.” (Luke 12:38, NIV)
Winter 1992. Did you ever wonder why Jesus was born at night? Do you suppose it has any significance to the fact that even now Jesus comes to people during a period of darkness? Did you ever give thought to why shepherds were the first to receive news of the birth of the Savior? Do you think it was all coincidence, or did God’s plan provide for such? Was the glory of the Lord for all to see, but only discernible by those who were awake and keeping watch? Look at the account in Luke 2:8.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”
Before looking closely at the Scripture I wish to make a few points about the responsibility a shepherd has to watch over the flock. Providing protection from predators, elements of weather, insects and diseases, hazards of becoming snared by brush, fence wire, streams, and being-cast on their backs (a sheep cannot always get up if it rolls on to its back with feet sticking straight up) are a few of the things I must watch for in my flock.
A good shepherd will have an acute sense of discernment; he will be ever watchful to detect abnormalities in the flock. I don’t claim to be a good shepherd, but I know enough about sheep to recognize some good traits in a shepherd. The eyes, the ears, and ability to recognize even the most subtle changes in the flock are the shepherd’s means of keeping watch.
Earlier this day in December I traveled by tractor across the farm to feed a portion of our flock that is in the valley. As I traveled that half mile or so I very carefully looked to the high mountain pastures to see if I could locate two other smaller bands of sheep that are still out grazing and are not fed hay daily. Each band has many acres in which to graze, and cannot be seen at all times from the valley. I did not rest until I had sighted each band. Even though they were a half-mile away high in the hills, I concluded they were okay. Knowing the weather conditions the night before, the direction of the cold winds, and a number of other variables, I knew within reasonable limits, what to expect in terms of the location of the sheep, their behavior, etc. Frequent checks on the flock with an ever-watchful eye are necessary to know the condition of the flock and detect potential problems.
Night watch is no fun. It requires a lot of sacrifice of my personal comfort. It requires that I be out in the field with the sheep. I must be awake and alert, and my sense of hearing must be sensitized. It is very difficult, particularly if I am alone, because sleep eventually overtakes me. I seldom keep watch at night and only after predators have been in the flock. When I do I usually spend the night in a pickup truck with a loaded rifle. Predators and sheep make little noise during an attack. The thundering hoof beats of running sheep, or perhaps the squeaking sound of sheep running into wire fences are among the few sounds one can detect during an attack at night.
Now let’s look closely at the Scripture mentioned above. There are four features about Luke 2:8 that I wish to call to your attention. (1) There was more than one shepherd. (2) They were living in the fields. (3) They were keeping watch.
(4) It was night.
First, focus on number two. It is tough living in the fields. The wind chill here last night, was somewhere around zero degrees F. It is much more comfortable in this house where there is plenty of heat. It is more comfortable here at a computer, soft seats nearby if I choose, the coffee pot close at hand, etc. In case you haven’t caught up with where t/his is going, here it is — the shepherd in a comfortable house is an accurate description of Christians in the United States. All professing Christians don’t fit the same mold, but any who wish to study the facts, examine the statistics, or cast a watchful eye across different flocks, sub-flocks and bands of sheep in the valleys and on the mountains of this land, and among all nations of the world with a discerning mind under guidance of the Holy Spirit, will likely agree that we are a nation of indoor shepherds while the lost sheep are out in the fields.
Sheep are easier to see when you live out in the fields with the flock. I have a view from my desk that puts into focus a portion of the land where my sheep graze. It offers some, but not enough view for me to keep careful watch over my sheep. I might add that it would offer even less (none to be exact) if this window were made of stained glass. A few days ago my neighbor Larry Echols called to tell me he had seen a coyote near my sheep. One of the best neighbors a shepherd can have is another shepherd. Larry understands the importance of keeping watch over a flock because he too is a shepherd. We communicate to one another any time we see potential danger to our flocks. Church congregations need discernment on how to work together particularly during these days where darkness looms so heavy in this world. When we choose to be independent of others we are apt to fall asleep at some point during the night.
All watching, particularly as the Bible tells us, is not for guarding. Although the shepherds near Bethlehem on that infamous night were keeping watch over their flocks they also saw the glory of the Lord shone around them (Luke 2:9), they heard the good news of great joy (vs 10), about the birth of a Savior, Christ the Lord (vs 11) and they were told of a sign (vs 12 ) for identification of this baby. Furthermore, the shepherds visited the baby lying in a manger (vs 16), and at that point they spread the word (vs 17) and then returned, glorifying and praising God (vs 20). I repeat an earlier question; was the glory of the Lord for all to see, but only discernible to those who were awake and keeping watch?
Are we willing to take the night watch working with other shepherds? During New Testament times there were supposedly four three-hour night watches between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. I’m afraid we are guilty of wanting to stay with the day watch. As a matter of fact we are inclined to want to narrow that down to one or two hours in a day, and Sunday is the only day we want to participate. If the glory of God came at the third night watch would we see it, or would we sleep through it?
Do take note that keeping watch by night necessitates living in the fields. Are we willing to go beyond the comfortable pews and stained glass windows into the fields where the harvest is ripe? Living in the fields with the sheep is not easy. Try ministering to the homeless in New York City or the Muslims in Iraq.
Do we claim God has called us to a computer with a so so view of sheep out the window, a place not too cold or too hot, one that is close to soft cushions, a coffee pot, and a sweet roll or two? Why not throw in a good salary with fringes. Or we could throw in enough money to buy the stained glass to completely block the view of the fields and the sheep therein. At that point we could just forget about the sheep out there altogether and concentrate more on our own comfort.
Has God called a disproportionate number of Christians to minister-in the United States with millions of un-shepherded sheep in the rest of the world? He did command us to make disciples of all nations. Maybe we would have received a different sign or call on our lives had we not fallen asleep during the night watch. Constant care, feeding and protection of sheep can only be fulfilled when a night watch is a part of the flock management. In a like manner we are to be prepared for His second coming. Are you and I willing to commit to a night watch? God’s Word always says it best…Jesus said, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. (Luke 12:38)