Jesus’ story begins with shepherds coming to him, the lamb of God. It ends with the Shepherd being struck down and the sheep scattering. And then there is a final twist.
The story begins with sheep being drawn to the lamb:
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. [Luke 2:8-20]
God loves shepherds. Abel, Moses, David, and Amos are all shepherds. In Psalm 23, God refers to himself as a shepherd. It’s no surprise that God would allow these nameless shepherds to be the first witnesses of the birth of Emmanuel.
To top it off, God promised that the Messiah would be a Shepherd-King.[i] Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd who knows his flock by name and protects them against thieves.[ii] The night before he is crucified, Jesus warns them that, as Zechariah prophesied, he is about to be killed, and his disciples will scatter.
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. [Matthew 26:31-35]
That very night Jesus was taken by force and the disciples fled. The perfect lamb was led to the slaughter to atone for the sins of the world.
Peter, ashamed of his cowardice, went back to fishing. The risen Shepherd comes for him. They meet on the shore.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. [John 21:15-17]
His first night on earth, the shepherds welcome the Lamb-Shepherd. This foretells the life ahead for the one who will shepherd his people with justice, lay his life down as a sheep to the slaughter, and commission his disciples as shepherds.