A New Year's Focus for Watchmen
There were many citizens in Bethlehem that night. Some slept. Some worked. Some wandered the night, homeless or troubled. One group of men that night were Watchmen by the truest definition - they watched.
The Watchmen huddled in the night air of the hillside, tending to the Temple flocks, guarding the Passover lambs. We call them shepherds because of the sheep. The Greek term is poimén - it means a feeder and protector of the flock primarily. It’s the same term Jesus used to describe a spiritual leader - a pastor (Matt. 26:31; Mark 6:34; John 10:2,11).
These men fed the sheep, leading them from pasture to water source, then to a protected paddock for the night, and on to a new pasture the next day. It was grueling work. They spent twenty-four hours with the sheep, night and day, every day. Luke describes them as “…keeping watch over their flocks by night.” (Luke 2:8-20)
For this group of shepherds, the night began like any other. What few lights flickered in the town were the waning candles of a few late-night citizens, pacing worriers, the ill and sleepless, and those doing last minute chores.
There were no street lights, shops, or headlights of Bethlehem traffic. From their Watchman’s vantage point on the hillside, it looked like last night or the night before. It would have been easy to slip into that “ho-hum, another night” mindset, but Watchmen share a common trait with shepherds - they take their duty seriously, too seriously to nap or become distracted by lesser things. Too much is at stake; it’s life-or-death every night.
The Shepherd-Watchmen Story
Watchmen and shepherds understand what others fail to understand because they see what others rarely see. The night brings stillness and starlight, yes; but also danger and treachery. You never know which will accompany tonight’s darkness – beauty or peril, so you watch for both.
On that Bethlehem night when Jesus was born, the shepherds did what they did every other night. They rested, and relaxed, and listened.
It’s quiet in the darkness; perhaps a few dried almond leaves rustle in the slight breeze. A newborn lamb softly bleats and shuffles closer to its mother. In the distance, the trickling brook makes its noisy way across the rocks and into the pool far below. It’s a Psalm 23 night in the hills above Bethlehem.
In less time than it takes to cry for help, an angel appears. To these simple shepherd-watchmen, the angel is fearsome, powerful, and towering. “Fear not” he begins, “for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
One angel delivered the message, moments later; one angel is joined by a ‘multitude.’ How many is a multitude? We don’t know, but we can safely assume it was a heavenly choir, not a quartet. All of Heaven had been awaiting this one announcement for millennia: Messiah is born!
Who knows, it could have been every angel in Heaven. If you’re an angel, would you skip that performance? More angels appear, and more, and many more. The great angelic host erupts in song. In their song is a message – you could say a calling.
This night the shepherd-watchmen were treated to the first performance of Handel’s Messiah. There is an eruption of lights unlike any they’d ever seen, and countless angels singing “Glory to God in the highest!” How do you say, “You don’t see that every night” in Hebrew??
Average Watchmen In Average Places
It’s clear to us that Jesus is the Messiah Who was born in Bethlehem; we have the advantage of history. Did those few shepherd watchmen regularly talk about the Messiah? Probably not. Did they know what the prophet Micah wrote? “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me one Who will be ruler over Israel, Whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2) Perhaps they knew, perhaps not.
The shepherds were watching sheep. They were careful to listen for the snap of a twig, or the rumbling growl of a lion. They were commissioned to protect sheep. They saw the Savior where no one was looking for Him.
There is nothing in Scripture that indicates they were a special group of “believing shepherds” who knew the Messiah was going to appear in Bethlehem. They were not elite special forces shepherds chosen for this night because they were all-stars. No, they were normal, average (probably smelly) shepherds.
The moment was special, not the shepherds. Micah’s message makes it clear that the city of Bethlehem was also not special “…you, Bethlehem … are small among the clans of Judah…”
Does your Watchman’s post seem average? Do you feel like you are missing out on the “big events” or breaking news? Maybe you are merely doing your job and serving God in what seems like an insignificant place and time, but it’s not. These were average shepherd watchmen, on an average night, outside a below-average city, but they were eye-witnesses to the greatest moment in history, and they witnessed to the sleeping city (Luke 2:16-18).
Watchmen See Jesus Where Others Do Not
Watchmen see and hear danger and recognize the enemy and his plans when others may not. It’s why they are Watchmen - their ability to see.
Watchmen see more than the evil or the enemy or the danger; they see Jesus where He is least expected.
Watchmen see Jesus at work in the world when others only see the worst of the world. The world is filled with sin and evil and death and decay. It has been ever since Adam and Eve sinned (Romans 5:12). Watchmen see and hear the sin, but they also hear God’s voice calling mankind to be saved. Others hear angry voices calling for social justice in an unjust world. Watchmen understand that social justice never saved a soul and never will. Watchmen see the enemy who tries to kill steal and destroy (John 10:10), but they also see the Savior Who brings peace (1 Thessalonians 3:16).
That night in Bethlehem, a few shepherd-watchmen began the night anticipating only the lonely darkness of another day ending. They expected a night of caring for the Temple flock, but they got so much more.
The Temple flock were specially-chosen sheep which would be used to celebrate the Passover. The shepherds were there to work and protect that select flock of lambs. They had no idea they were about to meet THE Passover Lamb.
Where is God at work in your city Watchman? What is God saying in your church? Where is the greatest need? What can you do to serve the Lord where you are? Where is Jesus entering your world? Tune your vision to see in the darkness. Walk in the light (John 11:10).
We are commanded, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him…” (Matthew 24:44). We expect Jesus to show at any moment when others do not expect Him. Watchmen know He also shows up where He is not expected.
Expect the Unexpected Do the Expected
Be vigilant Watchman. You never know which night or day will be the most important or most crucial. Will you hear a trumpet blast and the most epic announcement in history (1 Cor. 15:52), or will it be just another night praying over your sleeping city? We cannot know, but we can be ready.
As we enter this New Year, we do so anticipating Christ’ return. We are ready. We are watching. We are eagerly expecting. We are also busy doing what we are called to do. You may be a ministry professional, but most Watchmen are not.
Out of the hundreds of Watchmen we minister to, fewer than 10% are actively involved in full-time ministry - pastors, missionaries, Christian school teachers, Bible college professors, positions like that. Most Watchmen and Watchwomen are busy with regular lives and families and unspectacular careers. They’re students, salesmen, computer programmers, bus drivers, engineers, and who knows, maybe a shepherd or two.
Will Jesus return this year? We cannot know, but we can be ready. Will the Rapture happen soon? It’s impossible to predict, and wise Watchmen don’t try because even Jesus doesn’t know when He will return. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)
Wise Watchmen follow their calling, today, tonight, tomorrow. They see through the darkness and recognize even the faintest light. Watchmen are always watching so the light does not take them by surprise. They are always listening so God’s whisper does not go unheard.
Watchmen are always focused on Christ. They are not surprised when He appears where He’s least expected.
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