Glory to God ~ 20121216 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

12/16 Advent: Luke 2:11-20 Glory to God

Lord willing, we are going to take this week and the next to examine the first hymn celebrating the birth of Jesus that was ever sung. It goes like this:

Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

This hymn is packed with meaning, and I pray it will help focus our priorities as we seek to worship Jesus.

Let's get some background to this night. In 63 B.C., the Roman General Pompey conquered Jerusalem and entered the Jewish temple. Jerusalem was now under Roman occupation. By 27 B.C., General Octavian, an adopted son of Julius Caesar, had risen to power in the empire and received the title 'Augustus', or 'the illustrious one', a title of divinity. The promised land is in the hands of the Gentiles. The emperor is revered as a god. The pax romana or Roman Peace is enforced by military might. Herod the Great, a suspicious and bloody ruler, has been appointed by Rome to rule over Israel. Luke tells us:

Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Caesar Augustus decided that the entire Roman world should be registered. It was tax time. This forced Joseph and Mary to travel the 70 or 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. When the time came for Mary to give birth, there was no room for them in the guest chamber. Jesus was wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in an animal's feed trough.

Luke 2:8 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 fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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.


Shepherds were not well respected in this day. Because of the nature of their work, they were considered ceremonially unclean and excluded from religious activities. Sheep are stupid helpless animals that need constant supervision and protection. A shepherd's job would be to lead the sheep to safe places of pasture, to keep them from wandering into danger, to protect them from thieves and predators. Thieves and many of their natural predators would come out at night, so the hours of darkness would be especially critical for keeping careful watch. It is to this unsuspecting audience in the darkness of the Judean countryside that the lights were turned on. The text says

9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

An Angel Appeared

An angel appeared. That in itself is a terrifying experience. When messengers of God show up to people, there is reason to be afraid, because we are faced with our own guilt. Sometimes the message of the angel is “Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me” (Num.22:32). There is good reason to be very afraid, because we know that in one night, one angel slaughtered 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (2Ki.19:35). When David sinned in numbering the people, one angel struck down 70,000 men with pestilence (1Chr.21:14-16). The biblical accounts of the appearance of a heavenly messenger in visible form to humans often results in paralyzing fear, and the inclination to worship. This is no different. The shepherds were filled with fear. They were not just a little bit afraid; they were filled with fear. If we translate the language literally, we get 'they feared with great fear'. But it was not only the presence of the angel (as if that wasn't enough!) that filled them with fear. The text says that 'the glory of the Lord shone around them'.

The Glory of the Lord

What does this mean? The glory of the Lord is the visible manifestation of God's invisible presence. It is his splendor, brightness, magnificence, excellence, majesty or dignity. The Old Testament term for glory refers to the weightiness, the heaviness or gravity of the presence of the Lord. Moses longed to behold the glory of God.

Exodus 33:18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

Unmediated exposure to the glory of God for even the holiest of humans would mean death. At Mount Sinai,

Exodus 24:16 The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

God's glory was revealed in cloud and devouring fire. God intended to dwell with his people. He gave instructions for his tent to be constructed, and when it was assembled,

Exodus 40:34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. ...38 For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

Once Israel was finally in the promised land, when Solomon finished building a permanent place for God's presence to dwell,

2 Chronicles 7:1 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

But the people did not remain faithful to the Lord. Their hearts went after other gods and committed spiritual adultery. As God warned, he sent them into captivity and his glory departed from his temple

Ezekiel 10:4 And the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD. ...18 Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim.

Ezekiel 11:23 And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.

The glory had departed. Israel went into Babylonian captivity. The Persians defeated the Babylonians in 539BC, and Cyrus the Persian commissioned many Israelites to returned to the land and rebuild the temple in 538 BC, but we are never told that God's glory returned. For about 600 years of Jewish history, God's glory was absent. God's glory had departed.

And then, in the dark of an unknown night in the Judean countryside among a group of unsuspecting shepherds, the glory of the Lord blazed out in radiant splendor! Something awesome is happening!

Good News of Great Joy for All the People

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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.”

An angel shows up and the weightiness an holiness of the glory of the Lord flashes forth, and these shepherds became acutely aware of how far they fall short. But this angel did not come in judgment. He came with good news. The glory of the Lord had returned! Good news of great joy that will be for all the people! Even these dirty shepherds! A savior is born to you! Good news! Your great fear will be turned to great joy. One has been born who will save you from your sins! He is the promised Davidic King, he is the Messiah, the Anointed One, and he is the Lord, YHWH God himself. This is the sign to you shepherds. This is how you will know that he has come even for you. You will find this newborn King, the promised Messiah, YHWH in the flesh, lying in a feeding trough for animals. He has fully immersed himself in your daily existence. He has identified with you shepherds. He is born to you, for you.

Glory to God

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!”

This is unprecedented in all of biblical history, except back before time began, when the Lord laid the foundation of the earth,

Job 38:7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

No man ever before has had this privilege of being the audience for the gathered armies of heaven in worship to their King. This staggers the imagination. When we think of the awesome power of even one of these created beings, and read the biblical descriptions of some of these fantastic creatures in Isaiah and Ezekiel's visions, to imagine innumerable ranks of angelic creatures breaking into unrestrained praise of their great God is more that we can comprehend. What these simple shepherds experienced was truly out of this world!

It would be wise to pay attention to what the angels said. They gave praise to God, because that is what angels are created to do. Notice where they start. They don't start with a message of peace among men. That is an important message, and they will get to that. But that is second. It is not first. The salvation of humans takes second place to the glory of God. Humans, like angels and all the rest of creation, were created to bring glory to God. That is the primary purpose of everything. That is why we exist. We were created to glorify God. We have failed miserably. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That was the sin of Satan. He was not content to give glory to God; he wanted to be like God and get glory for himself. That was the lie of Satan to our first parents in the garden, that rather than be content to give glory to God, you can be like God, and get glory for yourself. We failed to give God the glory he deserves. Rather, we dishonored God, robbed him of worship, and treated him with ingratitude and contempt. That is what Jesus came to restore. Jesus came to elevate the glory of God back to its rightful place. Jesus said in John 7:18 that he 'seeks the glory of him who sent him'.

Even Lazarus' death was designed to bring glory to God.

John 11:4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

John 11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus taught us to live in such a way,

Matthew 5:16 ... so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus' goal was to seek the honor of his Father. The Father was seeking to glorify his Son.

John 8:49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. ...54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’

The angels praised 'Glory in the highest to God!' What was this highest glory? In what way would God be magnified in Jesus?

John 12:23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Jesus connects his glory with a seed going into the earth and dying in order to bear much fruit. The hour had come for Jesus to be glorified, and to bring glory to his Father. He was looking to the hour of his death by crucifixion, and he says 'for this purpose I have come'. Jesus came, God the Son took on a body of human flesh, so that he could bring glory to God in his death. After Judas the betrayer left,

John 13:31 Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

Jesus aim was to bring glory to God.

John 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

The glory of the Father and the glory of the Son are one. Jesus connected the way he would bring glory to the Father with giving eternal life to all the Father gave to him. He defined eternal life in terms of relationship; knowing God and Jesus Christ. Jesus would bear much fruit and so glorify his Father like a seed, by dying. He would secure eternal life for his followers by dying in their place. He would bring them into relationship with him, into the presence of his glory. He would pay the deep debt of dishonor we owe to God, and restore us to a place where we can live lives that bring glory to God.

Philippians 2:3 humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Glory to God in the highest! The angels sang Glory to God in the highest! You and I and the angels and everything were created to bring him glory. Let us live lives that magnify and put on display our great God!