Why Do the Angels Say “Good Tidings of Great Joy”?

Contributing Writer
Why Do the Angels Say “Good Tidings of Great Joy”?

The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is the opening stanza of the New Testament salvation song. During this time of year especially, we sing Christmas carols with great joy as we anticipate the celebration of our Lord Jesus’ birth. Charles Wesley wrote one of our favorite Christmas hymns and called it, “Hark! The Herald!” The lyrics of the song echo what is said in Luke 2:10,

“Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”

What are the good tidings of great joy? Let’s look at the events of that night so long ago.

The shepherds were surrounded by bleating, smelly sheep and the dust that arose when they and their herds moved about. They had no idea what was about to happen — the pronouncement of the ages! The Bible tells us God sent an angel and he appeared before them, “and the glory of the Lord shone round them, and they were greatly afraid” (Luke 2:9). Not only did the angel reflect the Lord’s glorious light, but it was so extensive it surrounded the shepherds, too. The angel had to tell them not to be afraid, so great was the glory of the Lord that surrounded them (see also Exodus 34:29-30).

The angel proclaimed his tidings of great joy and then said, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Once the angel gave the shepherds the directions to find the baby, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:13-14).

Surely the shepherds were overcome, but they quickly gathered their wits about them and headed into Bethlehem to see what happened. After they saw Mary, Joseph, and the baby, they “made known” what the angel said to them. In verse twenty, we are told the shepherds went back to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” We can rightly call these shepherds some of the first evangelists, for they shared the good news about Jesus with people.

What Does This Verse Mean?

To reiterate, the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” What are good tidings?

Tidings is the word used in the NKJV translation of the Bible. Others such as the ESV use good news instead of tidings. Interestingly, we use good news to describe the Gospel. And Jesus Christ is the Gospel (Mark 1:14-15).

This verse is telling us Jesus is the Good News and He is joyful news, for all people will know He is Lord (1 Corinthians 8:6; Revelation 19:16).

Joseph (who was of the house and lineage of David) and Mary his wife traveled to Bethlehem to register (census) according to governor Quirinius’ decree. After they arrived, Mary’s time to give birth came. Because the inn was full, they lodged in a place that held a manger, where she delivered her baby boy.

Why Was This News So Joyful?

It’s the Gospel! God was preparing the shepherds for the news that the Savior was born. It’s like He said, “Get ready. Here I come! I love the world so much I am sending you My Son, Christ the Lord, to save you from your sins!” (John 3:16).

Why Did the Angels Tell This to Shepherds and Not to the Rulers?

Jesus’ birth was so momentous, the Lord God sent one of His angels to announce the event. But to whom did he announce Jesus’ birth? Shepherds. One would expect such a proclamation to be made in the highest reaches of humanity — to kings and priests and all the leaders of Judaism. But no, the One who would be our Shepherd (John 10:14) was heralded to lowly shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem.

When we think about it though, it is fitting, for Isaiah the prophet foretold He would be, “…despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:3). Weren’t the shepherds also regarded as the lowest of the low and despised and rejected by men? Jesus did not arrive in His first advent as a conqueror, riding on a white horse. He came as a helpless babe, yet fully God and fully man. (In Matthew 11:29, Jesus calls Himself lowly in heart.)

As late pastor R.C. Sproul said, “The entrance of Jesus into this world is against the backdrop of humiliation. There was no place for Him to lay His head. In fact, as an adult, He would say, ‘The Son of Man has no place to lay His head’ (Luke 9:58). He never had a place to lay His head that wasn’t borrowed from someone else.’” To be born in a manger — a cattle feeding trough — was humiliation indeed.

The Bible tells us Jesus’ first advent was as a humble servant, even though the Jewish leaders expected a Savior who would rid them of Rome’s nefarious yoke of oppression. They wanted a military king to ride in and save them. God had other plans, and He tells us in His Word His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9) and His ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33; Psalm 147:5).

Jesus knows all about our troubles (Hebrews 4:15). If He had come as expected by the rulers, how then could He relate to all a mere human endures. But He is compassionate, gracious, and merciful, and we trust Him more because we know He understands us (John 2:24). And more importantly, He had to come as a man — as the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49) — to atone for our sins, which only the sinless Savior could do.

When He comes again in glory, He will arrive as a Judge (John 5:25-29). He will ride a white horse and He is called Faithful and True “and in righteousness he judges and makes war” (Revelation 19:11).

What Else Happens in Luke 2?

Luke 2 covers the period between Jesus’ birth and age twelve. Luke 2:21 says, “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” After a period of forty days, according to the purification put forth by Moses in Leviticus 12, His parents took Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him at the Temple and to offer a sacrifice “according to what is said in the Law of the Lord” (Luke 2:24).

Simeon, a “righteous and devout man” and upon whom was the Holy Spirit, had been waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” He was told he would not die until he saw “the Lord’s Christ,” and when he recognized Him, Simeon “took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now You are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:28-32). Here we see what the angel announced to the shepherds. Simeon beheld the salvation God promised for all people, and Joseph and Mary “marveled at what was said about Him.” Simeon blessed them and spoke prophetic words about Christ (Luke 2:33-35).

Anna, the eighty-four-year-old widow and prophetess was there also. She spent years at the temple in worship, fasting, and prayer. After Simeon pronounced his blessing, she gave thanks to God and spoke of Him “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

His family returned to Nazareth where Jesus grew (Luke 2:39-40), and at twelve-years-old, Jesus accompanied His family to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When the feast concluded, the family left to go home to Nazareth, and Jesus, unknown to them, stayed behind. When they discovered His absence, they went back to Jerusalem and searched three days for Him. Jesus was at the temple, “…sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47).

His astonished parents saw Him there and Mary questioned His treatment of them in their distress. Jesus’ answer was probably even more astonishing. He said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). He then left with them and, as He grew, He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

Does This News Still Bring "Great Joy" to Us Today?

The Bible tells us Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and what He was at the proclamation of great joy, He is now. Our world is one of fear and anxiety with ongoing wars, deception, and other evils. Without Jesus’ first advent, we would be without hope. But 1 John 5:11-13 tells us the unbreakable testimony that God has given us eternal life in His Son, Jesus Christ. Those of us who are “in the Son” have eternal life.

The Bible tells us more than 365 times to fear not (John 16:33), and as we’ve all heard, that’s at least one encouragement for every day of our year. In John 15:11, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” The things Jesus referred to were all about Him and what He brings to us who believe in and love Him. He is truly our good tidings of great joy.

We tend to sing with greater joy at Christmastime. Why not every week? Join me in singing our hearts out every week during our worship service. Let’s praise the Lord for the wondrous things He has done, is doing, and will do. He came to earth as a baby and wrapped all our sins in His forgiveness so we can surrender to Him and live our lives for Him in submission and freedom. Study His life through the Gospels and the beginning of the book of Acts. He will change your life because He is no mystery; He is our Savior. 

Merry Christmas!

Photo credit: Pixabay

Lisa Baker 1200x1200Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody (End Game Press – Feb. 2022). She writes fiction and nonfiction and her current works-in-progress include a children’s picture book to accompany Someplace to be Somebody and a Christmas story anthology. Also, she and her husband are writing a Christian living book. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of AWSA and BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.