After verifying the angel’s sign, the shepherds first reaction was that they immediately made it known to others, presumably those in the synagogue / inn (Luke 2:16-20). While everyone else simply marveled over what they heard, Mary pondered in her heart what she was told. It is interesting how the shepherd’s reaction contrasts with that of the chief priests and scribes in Matthew’s account (Matthew 2:1-6). The shepherds immediately looked to verify what they were told and glorified God by spreading the good news, but the priests, although they told others where they might find the Messiah, they didn’t look for him, themselves.
The inactivity of the religious authorities of Jesus’ day revealed their value of what God was doing. Not seeking Jesus showed the leaders of the Jews had no value for the prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah. They owed their authority to the Romans, to Caesar whose Pax Romana they celebrated in the world census. Jesus’ coming would have meant the end of their authority over the people. There is no excuse for the unbelief of the scribes and priests of Matthew’s account (cf. Luke 1:64, 67-75), because they chose not to use the information they did have to verify the coming of the Messiah with those who sought him out—like the shepherds (in Luke) and the Magi (in Matthew’s account).
Many people simply marveled over what the shepherds told them (Luke 2:18). This doesn’t mean that those folks changed any of the circumstances surrounding Jesus birth. For example, nothing is said that room was suddenly available for Jesus. People marvel over great stories, great works, magic etc. but it doesn’t change how they live.
In Luke 1:21, 63 people marveled without understanding what had taken place; in Luke 7:9 Jesus marveled at so great a faith; in Matthew 8:27 the disciples marveled at the power of Jesus; in Matthew 9:33 people marveled at new understanding of Scripture. Instead of a change of behavior, it was said Jesus worked miracles through the power of evil. In Matthew 22:22 the Pharisees marveled at Jesus reply to their question but weren’t won over by it; Matthew 27:14 Pilate marveled at Jesus’ silence in the face of being accused of capital crimes, but he didn’t rule in Jesus’ favor.
It is interesting what Josephus records concerning the time of the world census:
041 There was also a Jewish party called Pharisees, who claimed to set a high value on detailed knowledge of the ancestral laws which are pleasing to God, by whose guidance this circle of women was ruled. This party could have greatly helped the king but were set on opposing and harming him. 042 When all the rest of the Jews swore allegiance to Caesar and the rule of the king, — [he world census of Caesar Augustus—Luke 2:1-3. The census was taken in Herod’s kingdom and the Jews were required not only to take an oath of loyalty to Caesar but also to Herod the king] more than six thousand of these men did not swear, [If this was not a census, how was it known that over 6000 Pharisees refused to comply?] and when the king imposed a financial penalty on them, Pheroras’s wife paid the fine on their behalf. 043 To repay her goodwill, since they were believed to have the foreknowledge of the future under divine inspiration, they foretold how God had decreed that Herod’s rule would end and the royalty be taken from his descendants and come to her and Pheroras and their children. 044 This prediction, of which Salome was also aware, was reported to the king, and how they had perverted some people around the court, so the king had the most seriously accused of the Pharisees killed as well as the eunuch Bagoas and the king’s playmate, a man named Carus, whose beauty surpassed all others at that time. He also killed all in his own household who had agreed with what the Pharisee had said. 045 Bagoas was misled by them to think he would be named the father and benefactor of the one who was to be set up as king, who would have power to do everything [The Messiah] and could enable him to marry and beget children of his own. [JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.2.4 (emphasis and brackets mine)].
Was the idea that the eunuch, Bagoas, would be able to sire a child the Pharisees’ version of a “virgin birth”? Was he their male ‘virgin’ who was suddenly able to miraculously have a child? It never ceases to amaze me what some folks will do, even changing the word of God in order to substantiate their own beliefs, to which they cling instead of submitting to God.
We are all responsible for our reaction to seeing Jesus or recognizing the sign given us from heaven—the Bible. Is it true or not? We must decide on our own how we will react. I grew up learning about Jesus in a relatively peaceful religious environment. Nevertheless, when someone made me uncomfortable with my early life with Christ, he did so using the word of God. I believed the strange stories men told me, because I didn’t know how to discern the word myself. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to matter under what circumstances we feel compelled to look for Jesus. Men, weather benevolent or harsh, don’t seem to have any power over our decision. After about three years studying the Bible under the stern leadership of other men, although I was seeking to do the will of God, that is, believing on Jesus and daily walking with him as best I knew how, I was set free from their power, and when the dust settled all that was left were Jesus and me. Those same men tried to direct me again, but after my schooling under their authority was fulfilled, I knew what God was like, and I couldn’t be fooled a second time. I was free to seek for and to walk with Jesus, and no one could take that from me. I could give it up; I could even take what God gave me and corrupt it myself, like Josephus’ Pharisees did above, but no man had any power over what I chose to believe about Jesus ever again. The heavenly message has survived relatively intact for over 2000 years, and folks can read and make their own decision about the Jesus of the Bible on their own. I was able to prove that much to myself, and so can anyone else, if he or she wishes to extend the effort.