The First Disciples – Not who you might think
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Dr. RB McFee
So who were the first disciples of Christ, the one who would be the initial spreaders of The Good News? And why does it matter?
Let’s start with the who, and then we’ll get to the why.
So who is the who? And this time we won’t get the answer in Who-ville.
Was it the witnesses at Jesus’ baptism, or perhaps even John the Baptist himself? Consider his admonitions when asked if he was the foretold Messiah….
“John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Luke 3:16 ESV.
Or could it be James, John, Andrew and Peter? The initial members of Jesus’ inner circle? After all they were the first selected after Jesus was baptized, and God announced His anointing of His Son.
Maybe it was God Himself?
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, He came up out of the water. Heaven was opened and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. Then a voice said from Heaven, “This is my own dear Son with Whom I am pleased.”
Was it the group of people who followed Jesus from Nazareth?
Could it be earlier in Jesus’ life – Simeon and Anna?
To quote a children’s game Hide and Seek, you’re getting warmer!
Consider this passage in the Gospel Luke
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields, nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the Baby who was lying in the manger, When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2: 8 – 20.
It would appear that the shepherds were indeed the first to proclaim the miracle of Jesus as a Gift from God long before the favored fishermen of later years. The shepherds left the manger, the Holy Family, and told others.
Does that qualify them as true “disciples,” in the apostolic or theological sense, or even religious followers, let alone Jesus’ future followers? Regardless how a divinity school scholar might answer this, let’s remember God selected them. He chose shepherds as the first folks to share the story of our Lord’s birth. And I would suggest they did throughout their lives. With each milestone of Jesus’ ministry, someone from that field recalled His birth, recalled that night, and told the story again and again.
Although society often looked down at the shepherds working long hours in the fields, sleeping in the wild, often amidst the very animals they were protecting, covered in dirt and dander. Not exactly the folks invited to Pharisee dinner parties.
By contrast spiritually God holds the role of shepherd in high regard. In fact, He was often compared to one!
From Genesis 48: 24 when Jacob proclaimed God had been his Shepherd all his life, to Psalm 23:1 where “the Lord is my Shepherd,” to other texts in the Old and New Testaments, the shepherd emerges as having an important role in God’s Kingdom. Recall the prophet Samuel selected David to be a future king of Israel when he was a shepherd boy.
Jesus Himself in John 10:11 says “I am the Good Shepherd.”
Biblically the shepherd is more than a job; it captures the role of protector, guide, friend and guardian. In days of old, a shepherd would, and could quite literally lay down his life to protect a stray, fighting of wild animals, or braving dangerous terrain.
The shepherd is the servant protector. What better description of God, of our Lord is there?
Jesus, like his ancestor King David before him, is our spiritual Shepherd. In fact, what better role describes our Lord than as ‘the Shepherd King,’ One Who would and did lay down His life for us, Who continues to guide and protect us?!
How appropriate it is then, that Jesus was born in a stable, the very kind of animal shelter shepherds would use.
So when we talk about the first to share the Good News, it appears to be shepherds.
Why does it matter?
Perhaps because each year as we hear the Nativity story, whether in our humble abode, at an outdoor service, or at church, we are the audience of the angels, we are the visitors to the manger, and we can be the shepherds, too; as proclaimers of the good news, as guardians and servants for others.
Luke doesn’t tell us who the shepherds told after they left the stable. But one can imagine as “the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told” they were not exactly quiet about it, and others would have heard their joyous talking and likely asked what were they going on about.
Perhaps they didn’t know the ultimate significance of Who they described and what they shared on that powerful, Divine night. But they knew the Child was important enough for God to tell them through an angelic visitation.
After encountering our Infant Savior, one has to consider an amazing transformation occurred in their spirit. One can imagine that they were so imbued with enthusiasm and awe at what God shared with them they couldn’t wait to share it with others.
How about us? Does the Christmas story, the Divine night, the telling about and observance of our Lord’s birth so fill us that we have to share the Good News with others? Is Christmas still a miracle, our miracle? Are we transformed, captured with the awe and wonder that God would do this for us?
There’s a reason shepherds would be the first God would tell of His Son, through an army of angels no less. And then give them the opportunity to see His newborn Son before kings, and prophets, magi and leaders.
God is reminding us no one is unimportant to Him. Although shepherds in first century Judea were the least among society, yet represented all that was good in God’s value system –and He proved it by sending us not a monarch, not a royal robed emperor, but a Shepherd King, a Servant Savior.
To God, we are all shepherds if we choose to be – guides, protectors, showing love to the lost and least among us. Which is why He revealed Himself to us 2000 years ago in a manger and He continues to do so every year at Christmas. Only now we, too, can become part of the story.
And that is good news worth sharing.