A Psalm For All Sheep
Text: Psalm 23
Proposition: In all the foolishness of our sin we have a Shepherd who knows us, calls us, leads us, fights for us and loves us because we belong to Him.
Introduction: Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent preacher in the 1850’s said this about the Psalm we are going to look at this morning: “It has charmed more grief to rest than all the philosophy of the world. It has remanded to their dungeon more felon thoughts, more black doubts, more thieving sorrows than there are sands on the sea-shore. It has comforted the noble host of the poor. It has sung courage to the army of the disappointed. It has poured balm and consolation into the heart of the sick, of captives in dungeons, of widows in their pinching grief’s, of orphans in their loneliness. Dying soldiers have died easier as it was read to them; ghastly hospitals have been illuminated; it has visited the prisoner, and broken his chains, and, like Peter's angel, led him forth in imagination, and sung him back to his home again…” Beecher was talking about Psalm 23, a Psalm that David wrote that pictures the Lord as the Great Shepherd of all who trust in Him. It’s an extremely personal Psalm about enduring faith and for some these were the last words they ever I uttered before they died. Turn with me to Psalm 23.
I. The Comfort of Every Sheep is in a Flock That Has a Loving Shepherd.
David begins by saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” It’s the Shepherd who directs him, watches over him, loves him, calls him by name. The Lord is boss, owner, caretaker, the Lord is MY Shepherd. As a result, “I shall not want”. This can mean that He provides for me so abundantly that I have no want, all my needs are met. Then it can also carry the inference that because the Lord is my Shepherd I will trust in Him and choose not to want. It’s a backwards way of saying that our Good Shepherd’s care creates contentment in the sheep, they trust that He knows what He is doing. To demonstrate that lack of want David pushes the metaphor to describe how the Shepherd provides for them. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul.” Author Phillip Keller in his Book, ‘A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23’ said that sheep need four things before they will lie down in green pastures. 1. They need to feel safe, to be free from fear. 2. They need to be free from conflict with other sheep. 3. They need to be free from flies and other parasites that bite. 4. They need to be well fed. If you like alliteration it comes down to Freedom from Fear, Friction, Flies and Famine. The Great Shepherd enables David to lie down in green pastures, to rest, to be still by taking away fear, creating an accepting flock, brushing away the annoying flies that distract us and feeding us with what we need for body and soul and spirit. Then the Lord leads us, that is He makes us get up and walk, following Him beside still waters. The net effect of this is that He restores my soul. Literally it means He brings it back. My soul, my emotions, will and intellect can become exhausted, we run on empty and despair begins to set in. That’s when the Shepherd comes to bring freedom from fear, friction, flies and famine. He leads you beside still water, pools of reflection and He restores your soul in that place. Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul…”. That word ‘converting’ is the same one that is translated ‘restores’. The word of God can do that, it can be like a mirror in which you see what you really look like. As I agree with what the word shows me it turns me, converts me, from a path of destruction, it brings back life to my soul. He even leads us in the paths of righteousness for His names sake. In other words what God does in my life is not just spiritual and physical care, He also leads me in the path of what is morally right. The paths of righteousness, are well beaten paths, worn down by those who have gone before us. The flock has passed this way many times before and each time it was the Shepherd who led them this way. After all they are His sheep, His name is on the line, it is in His ability to care for the sheep, to nurture them and see that they multiply. Those signs of health reflect on Him as our Shepherd, it brings Him the praise and the glory that is due Him.
Sheep are incredibly social creatures, they like being together. National Geographic did an article that revealed sheep have the capacity to recognize the faces of fifty other sheep for up to two years once they are separated from that flock. The way that a shepherd can tell if a sheep is starting to get ill is when the sheep starts to wander off and feed by itself. The sign of sick sheep is given in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, each one, to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Sick sheep struggle with iniquity or sin and try to go it alone. The Great Shepherd came to rescue the sick, He seeks us out, He finds us in forsaken places. By His own blood He pays the price for us. He brings us to Himself and then He brings us to a flock where we are loved and love.
II. How I Walk Has Everything to Do With the Presence of the Shepherd.
This is such a subtle verse, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil for You are with me.” Notice that this verse is not future tense, it’s present tense. It doesn’t say, ‘Someday when I’m about to die you’ll be there so I’ll see you then’. It says today You are with me. Today I invite you Lord, walk with me now. Notice that it doesn’t say that this is the valley of death, it says it is the valley of the shadow of death. Someone has made the observation that in order for there to be a shadow there must first be a source of light. It’s like death stands by the road you walk on every day and behind death is the person of Jesus Christ, the brightness of His presence causing a shadow from death to fall across your path. It’s that presence of Jesus that enables me not to fear the evil when that shadow comes near. Notice one more thing, when we get close to danger the pronoun changes from ‘He’ to ‘You’. It’s a much more personal tone, it’s why it’s been such a comfort to those facing death, “You are with me”. And it’s not just His presence, it’s His power. “Your rod and your staff they comfort me”. The Shepherd uses the staff to direct his sheep, He uses it to defend His sheep, He may even use it to correct His sheep. In all cases the rod and staff are used as instruments of care and training for the sheep, they are a comfort to us because the Shepherd means to keep us alive. He will use His knowledge, His presence and His power even to the point of laying down His life for His sheep so that they would live. Here’s two great verses of Scripture, John 10:10, 11, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Christ came not that we would just have life but that we would have it abundantly! Now, here and in all that eternal life was designed to be. How you walk each day through the shadows that fall across your path has everything to do with the presence of the Lord, ‘For Thou art with me.’
III. The Extent of the Shepherd’s Care Can Only Be Called Extravagant.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” This is like a picture of the Prodigal Father, the one who loved his runaway son with such an extravagant love that it outraged the older, more cautious and more legalistic son. Right in front of my enemies You set up a table for me to sit down and dine at. When I should be worried about the outcome of the battle, You make me an extravagant supper that simply says, “I’m taking care of you, your enemies are as nothing to Me.” You anoint my head with oil, an oil that covers and protects and even confers a recognition that says I’m under your roof. My cup overflows. How much recognition and power do you need? God gives us more than that. How much security and blessing do you need? God gives us more than that. How much success and well being can you drink in? Your cup overflows because the extent of God’s care for those that are His is extravagant. So David writes, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Remember that line from the old Hymn. ‘Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise…’. There are streams of mercy that follow after us, streams of God’s pardoning mercy, protecting mercy, providing mercy. All the days of my life His mercy and goodness are close and when I die and go beyond this sin soaked mortality, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The only way that can be, the only reason that it is, is because of the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the Door into the Father’s house, our Advocate in the Father’s court room, our High Priest that creates righteousness in us by taking our sin upon Himself and imparting His righteousness to us. He is our King and His care for us is extravagant to the point of death on a cross, resurrection from a tomb and ascension to a throne in glory, that where He is, we may be also.