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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Go, Tell It on the Mountain

From “Four Beloved Christmas Carols and the True Stories Behind Them,” a article by Amy Green, Dec. 17, 2019:

“History can’t tell us who first sang the lines of ‘Go, Tell It on the Mountain,’ because the original author and lyricist was an enslaved African American. We know much more about the people responsible for bringing this song to the rest of the world. The song was popularized by the original Fisk Jubilee Singers.

“The Jubilee Singers started out in 1871 as a brave little band of young people led by George White and Ella Shepperd. Many of them were former slaves, and their mission was to raise money for their struggling university on a singing tour through Northern cities.

“They began by performing only traditional hymns and classical arrangements to show their musical training and their performances received a moderate amount of attention, but the journey was anything but easy.

“Three days before Christmas, the tide turned. The choir had run out of funds when the most famous preacher of the day, Henry Ward Beecher, invited them to his church. They began to sing the songs of their hearts, the spirituals they’d learned from their parents during slavery days.

“The wealthy congregation responded with tears… and donations. Soon, they went from struggling to successful to, eventually, famous—world-famous, when their tour of England had them appearing before nobility Queen Victoria herself.

“Their concerts were the first time most Americans were introduced to spirituals, including ‘Go, Tell It on the Mountain,’ a seasonal crowd favorite, so that the good news could truly spread ‘Over the hills and everywhere.’”

1. The only announcement of Jesus’ birth on the night it happened was to a group of shepherds. (8-14)

The angel appeared SUDDENLY and a very typical shift at work was forever interrupted. (8-9) Angels figure more prominently in Luke than in the other Gospels (27 uses of the word in Luke, 31 in the other three combined). The ANGEL OF THE LORD who serves as spokesman for the heavenly host is not named here, but in chapter one, it was Gabriel who appeared to Zechariah and Mary.

The word LORD means “master” and was used by respectful Jews in place of God’s personal name, “Yahweh.” THE RADIANCE OF THE LORD’S GLORY SURROUNDED THEM. Radiant light is a frequent way of describing God’s actual presence (Ezekiel 10:4). Glory is also the praise we offer to God in worship, which is how we can say God is present in the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3).

Of course, while we have an interest in learning about the messenger, what’s really important is the message. (10-12) Angels are constantly telling people, “DO NOT BE AFRAID,” I wonder if that gets tedious for them? These men were TERRIFIED by the sudden and supernatural appearance of the angel. Their initial terror is a contrast to the joyful nature of the message and their eventual response to it.

The message is...

Universal = GOOD NEWS THAT WILL BRING GREAT JOY TO ALL PEOPLE. Part of the proof of this statement is the people to whom the message was given. Shepherds were marginalized people in that culture. The fact that God made the announcement to them is a victory for the common man.

Here’s another way to look at it: If you wanted to hide the newborn Messiah and His family in plain sight, gathering a group of shepherds around them would be the best way to do it! No bystanders would push through a crowd of shepherds to find out what they’re looking at.

Christ-centered = THE SAVIOR, YES, THE MESSIAH, THE LORD. Surprisingly, this is the only place in Luke where Jesus is called the SAVIOR. That implies a kind of emphasis on this angel’s message. The word for LORD implies the person is a redeemer.

Fulfills Prophecy = BORN TODAY IN THE CITY OF DAVID. As we see in Matthew 2, the religious experts of the day connected Bethlehem with the birth of the Messiah, a descendant of David. Alone among all the newborns in Bethlehem, this baby would easily be identified by His unusual circumstance: WRAPPED SNUGLY IN STRIPS OF CLOTH is a clear indication of caring, the usual practice, believed to improve the circulation of blood in the limbs. Contrarily, LYING IN A MANGER is something we might picture for an abandoned child. It’s an odd mix of care and neglect.

The angel chorus celebrated the message. (13-14) The VAST HOST of angels, THE ARMIES OF HEAVEN, offer worship of God to accompany the delivery of the message. Angels are a heavenly race created by God. They are His messengers and offer worship of God. In this passage they perform both functions.

Their praise is theologically profound. PEACE ON EARTH TO THOSE WITH WHOM GOD IS PLEASED. In verse ten, the news is GOOD NEWS to ALL PEOPLE, but in verse fourteen, it is PEACE only to those who please God. While this seems inconsistent, it is realistic instead. Through Jesus, God will offer salvation to all people. The idea of salvation ought to bring GREAT JOY TO ALL PEOPLE. Realistically, however, not ALL PEOPLE are going to receive God’s gift; some – most – will refuse it. As many as accept it please God and they receive His peace. This language will appear again in Luke 10:21 where Jesus taught it was God’s good pleasure to reveal His truth to those with childlike faith.

2. The shepherds faithfully attended to the newborn Messiah. (15-17, 20)

They were faithful to go see for themselves. (15-16) After the angels disappeared, there must have been a moment when the night returned to normal, and they wondered if the whole thing might have happened.

To their credit, the shepherds wasted no time agreeing together to go to Bethlehem (15) and HURRIED into the village (16). There they found Him, just as the angel had described Him (20). AS IT HAD BEEN TOLD THEM isn’t a footnote; it’s an important affirmation that every word of God is true, that He keeps His promises.

They were faithful to witness to what they’d seen. (17, 20) THEY TOLD EVERYONE WHAT HAD HAPPENED AND WHAT THE ANGEL HAD SAID TO THEM ABOUT THIS CHILD. (17) THEY WENT BACK TO THEIR FLOCKS, GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD FOR ALL THEY HAD HEARD AND SEEN. (20) These men returned to their jobs, but they were forever changed by the experience.

3. Reactions to the shepherds’ witness. (18-19)

The residents of Bethlehem were ASTONISHED. (18) ALL WHO HEARD THE SHEPHERD’S STORY had this reaction. ASTONISHED does not necessarily mean they disbelieved or rejected the shepherds’ witness, only that it surprised them.

Mary kept it in her heart. (19) We got acquainted with Mary’s faith in chapter one. Here in chapter two, Mary’s faith is evident in the way she treasured and pondered the witness of the shepherds. This expression will be repeated after the encounter with Simeon and Anna (51).

The Greek word for Mary’s “pondering” these truths has been translated as engaging in a battle (Luke 14:31) or a conversation (Acts 17:18). The word indicates more of a mental struggle than a sentimental preoccupation. I think this is Mary’s struggle to understand how all this was going to work out. Anyone who has parented a child can identify with Mary in our constant concern for our child and eagerness for them to excel. Multiply that feeling by orders of magnitude to appreciate Mary’s life-long struggle for her Messiah-son.

God used a set of shepherds to witness to the birth of His Son.

Verse 18 is a puzzle to me. In first century Jewish society, shepherds were disrespected men. So why would anybody have believed them enough to be ASTONISHED by their story? There must have been excitement in their voices, wonder in their eyes, and glow on their faces. They may have been so overcome with emotion that you could tell they’d seen something fabulous.

In a message entitled, “Angels We have Heard on High,” Dr. Justin Imel Sr., told of prospectors who set out from Bannock, Montana (then the state capital), in search of gold. “They went through many hardships and several of their little company died en route.

Downhearted, the prospectors returned to the capital city. On the way back, one of the men casually picked up a little stone from the creek bed. Using a hammer to crack it apart, he said, “It looks as though there may be gold there.” The men panned gold the rest of the day, finding 12 dollars’ worth. They panned the next day too and realized 50 dollars, a great sum in that day.

Returning to Bannock, they vowed not to breath a word about the gold strike. They secretively re-equipped themselves with supplies for another prospecting trip. But when they were ready to go back, 300 men followed them. None of them had told the townspeople of their claim. Their beaming faces betrayed the secret!

Shouldn’t our lives be so full of hope, faith, and love that our faces glow? Shouldn’t we who are aware of the momentous gift given at Christmas, do as the shepherds did, telling everyone we know that we know Jesus? If you’ve ever wondered about how to be a witness, take a cue from this passage and be a happy, excited one!

R. Kent Hughes supplied good perspective on this passage in his commentary on Luke’s Gospel: “The truth is, even if Christ were born in Bethlehem a thousand times but not within you, you would be eternally lost. The Christ who was born into the world must be born in your heart. Religious sentiment, even at Christmastime, without the living Christ is a yellow brick road to darkness.” (That You May Know the Truth, 2014, quoted by Darling.)

RESOURCES:, retrieved on 30nov22.

Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, The Gospel of Luke, 2006, Allison A. Trites.

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, The Gospels, 2002, Darrell L. Bock.

The Characters of Christmas, 2019, Daniel Darling. retrieved on 30nov22.

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