What can we learn from how angels delivered the gospel to the shepherds? Luke 2:10 literally says they evangelized us:
And the heavenly messenger said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for I am evangelizing you of great joy which will be for all the people.”
I know that’s not what our English translations say. Evangelize means something different to us — something like converting an outsider to our faith.
What’s weird about that is that evangelize is not really an English word. We just took a Greek word and transliterated it into our language: euangelizō => evangelize. Then we modified the meaning to suit ourselves. So in recent centuries, evangelizing pagans became part of colonializing them. Some big businesses like Microsoft now employ evangelists to convert people to use their products.
Can we recover what evangelize meant in the New Testament? The angel who came to evangelize us could be a good example to follow.
The heavenly evangelist’s approach
I’ve heard “evangelists” try to frighten people into faith. “Where would you be if you don’t make your decision tonight, and you’re hit by a bus on the way home?” That’s not how God’s messenger approached people. His message was the opposite, Do not be afraid.
Emotions aren’t bad. The heavenly evangelist’s message was great joy.
My mother told me about a day like that. People were literally dancing in the streets as the radio announced the end of World War II. That’s the kind of message the angel was delivering: good news of great joy.
I don’t imagine people were dancing in the streets in Germany and Japan. Especially Hiroshima. Human conflicts produce winners and losers. The angel had a better message: good news of great joy for all people.
The heavenly evangelist’s message
With this joyful introduction, the evangelist from heaven now delivers the content of his good news:
A saviour has been born for you today. He is the anointed leader, in David’s city! (Luke 2:11)
David, the God-anointed king, had saved his people from their enemies on many occasions. He recognized God as the one who saved him and his people:
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my saviour — from violent people you save me … 47 Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Saviour! 48 He is the God who avenges me, who puts the nations under me, 49 who sets me free from my enemies. (2 Samuel 22:3, 47-49).
But as wonderful as those early memories of the kingdom had been, it was now five centuries since an anointed leader reigned in Jerusalem. God’s nation was no longer serving him as their direct sovereign; they were serving foreign kingdoms.
All of a sudden, while ordinary people were doing ordinary things like protecting their sheep at night, the heavenly evangelist turned up and told them that a saviour had been born for them! It was astounding news: the new king was already alive in David’s city.
The gospel that the angel announced was a person: He is Christ the Lord.
Christ means anointed leader. The Greek word christos was used in the Septuagint for the Hebrew word mā·šîaḥ. That’s why Luke 2:11 in the NIV says, He is the Messiah, the Lord. The good news is the arrival of the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed ruler appointed by God to restore heaven’s reign to the earth.
Lord means leader. Depending on what he’s leading, a kyrios could be the master of a household, the emperor in Rome, or the Lord who reigns over his covenant people. The angel’s announcement of Christ the Lord is the good news that God’s anointed ruler (the Christ) is here to lead us (our Lord).
It’s such good news because Christ the Lord has come as the Saviour given by God for his people. In him, God rescues his people from their oppression. No longer will they be trodden down by their enemies. The Christ will rescue them to serve God as his kingdom. What astounding good news: A saviour has been born for you today.
As we’ll see later in Luke’s Gospel, this Saviour really is more interested in saving his people than saving himself. Because he’s not a self-serving leader, the heavenly evangelist proclaims his arrival to be good news of great joy for all the people.
Interesting how that phrase has entered our political-speak today. Next time you hear an acceptance speech after an election, you’ll probably hear the leader saying, “I promise to govern not only for those who voted for me but for all the people.” Of course, they end up using their power to try to get themselves re-elected, but at least they know that true leadership would mean taking care of the people.
The heavenly evangelist’s call
So, how does the angel ask the shepherds to respond to his gospel?
Since the good news is a person, the angel asks them to check out this person for themselves. But how would they know it was him when they saw him?
In David’s city they won’t see someone training a great army with power to coerce the earth to submit to God. They won’t even see a majestic prince dressed to the nines in a Janie + Jack label, presented in the royal suite.
They will see a helpless infant, his hands tied inside strips of cloth that poor parents used for wrapping up their babies to keep them warm. They will see him lying in a makeshift bed designed for feeding animals.
This is the sign for you: you will find an infant, wrapped in cloth strips, lying in a feed trough (Luke 2:12)
The sign doesn’t point to someone with the strength to save his people. It’s the incongruity of the royal birth that makes it a sign, pointing to the God whose saving power is revealed in weakness.
It’s never our clever arguments or emotional stories that save people. It’s Holy Spirit who reveals the Christ and regenerates people with his resurrection life.
What can we learn from the heavenly evangelist?
Not a single word of condemnation. Good news of great joy for all the people.
The good news is a person: God’s anointed (Christ), as our leader (Lord), rescuing us from oppression (Saviour), into God’s reign (the David connection).
We point people to Jesus. He’s not your typical expression of power. He is the heavenly expression of power for the people, not for himself. It’s the revelation of Jesus that saves, and he is good news of great joy for all people.
This is the gospel Jesus proclaimed. He called it the gospel of the kingdom, the good news that heaven’s governance was returning to earth in him.
This is the gospel his apostles proclaimed. God’s action in raising Jesus from the dead has made this Jesus whom you crucified Lord and Messiah, so God calls everyone to life in his leadership (Acts 2:38-39).
The gospel we proclaim is God’s good news. When his Christ was crucified, God raised him up with all authority — Lord of all.
This is the gospel of Christ.
What others are saying
Apostle Peter (Acts 10:36):
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
Drew J. Strait, “From Salvation Culture to Peace Culture: Luke’s Gospeling of Christ’s Peace,” in Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now, ed. Nijay K. Gupta et al. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021), 32
In Luke’s cosmology, peace is not a peripheral social distinctive of Christian baptismal identity. It is, rather, a centering distinctive of the church’s life together. To follow Jesus as Lord and Messiah is to become an evangel-messenger of peace in community, an active participant in the resurrected Messiah’s cosmic and corporate ministry of salvation and reconciliation. When we preach the whole gospel—the King Jesus gospel—we invite humanity to become interrupters of the spiral of violence and to embrace and become Christ’s cosmic, corporate, restorative, reparative, transformative, and justice-making peace on earth. For Luke, Jesus is not only the good king; he is the ideal king.
Matthew W. Bates, “Living the Gospel according to Acts,” in Living the King Jesus Gospel: Discipleship and Ministry Then and Now, ed. Nijay K. Gupta et al. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021), 50:
To live the King Jesus gospel is to bear witness to Jesus’s kingship through holistic self-giving. When we write the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the king onto our bodies, marrying word to deed, we most fully attest to the gospel.
- Evangelism as Jesus practiced it (Mk 4:26-29)
- Planting seeds is better than cracking hard hearts (Mt 13:11-17)
- The gospel revelation (Mt 16:16-18)
- Our king’s great commission (Mt 28:16–20)
- Making God known (podcast)
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