130421 Psalm 23

Last Updated on Monday, 22 April 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Psalm 23
Theme: The Lord's Sheep Lack Nothing

You've been hearing about it since the bell rang to signal the beginning of worship this morning. In the opening announcements. In the call to worship. In the lessons for the day and the hymn of the day. If you opened your bulletin you even saw it printed in bold at the top of the page. Today is the fourth Sunday of the Easter season, but it has also been designated as Good Shepherd Sunday.

Why? Why do we observe an annual Good Shepherd Sunday? And why are there so many passages in both the Old and New Testaments that use this specific word picture to describe God? What's the connection between the Lord and the Good Shepherd, and why is this connection so common?

This was Martin Luther's answer: "It is most comforting when Scripture calls God our Refuge, our Strength, our Rock, our Shield, Hope, our Comfort, Savior, King, etc. For by his actions and without ceasing He truly demonstrates in His people that He is exactly as Scripture portrays Him.

It is exceedingly comforting to know, however, that here (he's talking about Psalm 23) and in other places in Scripture He is frequently called a Shepherd. For in this single word "shepherd" there are gathered together in one all the good and comforting things that we praise in God."

Better than any other image or illustration, the shepherd captures the essence of who God is and what God does. And the picture of the Lord as a shepherd is painted beautifully and poetically in the 23rd Psalm.

In this intensely personal psalm, King David speaks to us. And in a way David also speaks for us because the Lord is our shepherd too. As we reacquaint ourselves with this old friend this morning, as we meditate on these inspired verses, we will be reminded of and rejoice in this timeless truth...

THE LORD'S SHEEP LACK NOTHING

Before we begin I have to confess that today's sermon theme isn't exactly original. It's actually a literal translation of Psalm 23:1. The NIV reads, "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want," but the Hebrew text literally says, "The LORD is the one who tends me; I am not lacking (anything)." The opening verse sets the tone for the rest of the psalm. It is David's way of saying: "I belong to the Lord; and because I do I have everything I need."

But before we talk about all the good things the Good Shepherd does for us, before we discuss the different ways the Lord takes care of us, we need to take one more look at the opening phrase. "The Lord is my shepherd" is a clear confession of faith, but within those words there is also a subtle admission of guilt.

David had raised to be a shepherd. He knew what it was like to be all alone at night in the fields. He knew what it felt like to have helpless creatures depending on him for their survival. And so when David wrote those words, he was acknowledging that he was a helpless creature. He was admitting that he needed protection. When David confessed: "The Lord is my shepherd," he was essentially calling himself a sheep.

And that's not a very flattering description for anyone, much less a king. I don't know of too many people who are eager to put themselves on the same level as sheep. They aren't the smartest animals. They aren't the cleanest animals. And they don't make very good pets.

None of those things seemed to bother David though. He was okay with being a sheep. He was happy about being one of the Lord's sheep. And at the end of the day, I hope you are too. Because the Lord is our Shepherd, because we are his sheep, we lack nothing.

We shall not want, first, because our Shepherd provides for us: "He makes me (us) lie down in green pastures, he leads me (us) beside quiet waters" (2). Those words paint a picture. A flock of sheep is grazing in a grassy meadow. A few of them are drinking from a nearby stream. There is no threat of danger. They have no worries. They are at peace.

And this week we were reminded again that peace is a pretty precious commodity. With tensions on the rise in North Korea. With the bombs that went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Whether its conflicts with our enemies or even in our own families, we might be tempted to conclude that the thought of peace sounds nice, but in this world it's nothing more than a dream.

It doesn't have to be that way though. The Lord offers us lasting peace. God gives us the kind of peace that cannot be taken away. Our Shepherd invites us to drink deeply of His Word, to spend time with him, to learn from him and trust in him. And the more we do that, the more we will appreciate what David meant when he said: "He restores my soul" (3a).

There were times in David's life when his soul needed some restoring: when King Saul tried to kill him, when his own son rebelled against him, when he committed adultery and then tried to cover it up with murder. On the surface David was a mighty king. Beneath the surface he was a tormented soul. His fears followed him. His failures haunted him. His sin troubled him.

Can you relate? Is there a relationship in your life that is causing you headaches or heartache? Is there a sin from your past that just won't go away? Are you lonely? Are you afraid? If you feel like you are at a dead end, if you feel like your life is a lost cause, remember David's words: The Lord is your Shepherd, and he restores your soul.

He comes to his disciples and says: "Peace be with you" (Luke 24:36). He opens his arms and says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Your Shepherd cares for you. Your Shepherd will provide for all of your needs, and he will also provide you with divine guidance.

"He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake" (3b). I remember reading somewhere that if one sheep goes off the edge of a cliff, others will blindly follow him to their death. I have never seen anything like that, but it would explain why sheep need a shepherd. And it would help us understand why a shepherd's guidance is so important for the safety of the flock.

But that's just sheep, right? We're not like that. We're not that dumb. We don't need to be watched around the clock. We would never blindly follow someone else into a dangerous situation. We would never give "everyone else is doing it" as a reason for doing something.

Maybe that sheep comparison isn't so bad after all. Sheep love to wander. So do we. Sheep get themselves into all kinds of trouble. So do we. Sheep need a shepherd. So do we. The good news is that we have one. The Lord is our Shepherd, and he guides us in paths of righteousness. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). He is our guide through life, and he leads us along the path to eternal life.

But sometimes even that path can be a dangerous one. There are sins that will try to ensnare you. There are enemies that will try to devour you. But no matter who or what attacks you, the Lord is your Shepherd. And he will protect you.

Over the years David had become accustomed to protecting others. As a shepherd, he protected his sheep from wild animals. As a king, he protected his people from their enemies. And so it was no small thing for this great protector to acknowledge that he needed protection. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me" (4).

David wasn't afraid, but it wasn't because of his superior fighting skills. David had nothing to fear, but it wasn't because he commanded powerful armies. David tells us why he wasn't afraid of lions or bears or Goliath or even death: "I will fear no evil, for you are with me." One short phrase, four little words that mean so much...

For the Christian who is struggling with temptation: You are with me. For the father of two or three or four who just lost his job: You are with me. For the college student who is openly mocked for being a Christian: You are with me. For the patient who has just been told that the treatment isn't working: You are with me. For the widow or widower who is suddenly alone: You are with me. For the weary soul hanging on by a thread: You are with me.

No matter where you are in your life, no matter what is going on in your life, this truth remains. The Lord is with you. The Lord is always with you. He will provide for you. He will protect you. And he is also preparing something special for you.

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows" (5). In this verse the setting seems to change from a grassy hillside to a royal banquet. This transition isn't all that unusual if we remember that ancient rulers were often described as the shepherds of their people.

Even though David hadn't earned it, he was an honored guest at the Lord's table. Even though David didn't deserve it, the Lord treated him like royalty. He had been anointed with the oil of joy. His cup overflowed with blessings. And David recognized that the greatest blessing was yet to come: "Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (6).

The psalm concludes with a happy ending like most good stories do. But this is not just a story. It's not just poetry on a page. It's real. David's hope was real. God's promises are real. Eternal life is real. And we don't have to do anything to make our eternal destiny a reality.

Jesus was a student of the Old Testament Scriptures. He was familiar with Psalm 23. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if the words of this psalm were on his mind when he called himself the Good Shepherd.

What makes the Good Shepherd so good? I will let Jesus speak for himself: "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14,15).

Jesus knows us. He knows what we need. And he came down to this earth to meet our greatest need, our need for a Savior. Two thousand years ago Jesus gave up his throne in heaven for us. And after thirty-three years of sinless living, the Good Shepherd made the ultimate sacrifice when he laid down his life for the sheep.

Jesus came to die, to die in your place, to die on the cross for the sins of all people. Jesus gave up his life to rescue you from eternal death. And three days later he rose. Jesus rose from the dead to declare his victory over sin and Satan and death. Jesus rose to give you the assurance of your own resurrection. And then he ascended to make preparations for the day when you will "dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

That is why we observe Good Shepherd Sunday. That's why the Easter season is the perfect time to celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. The risen Lord is your loving Shepherd. He provides for you. He protects you. He is preparing a place in heaven for you. And because your Shepherd does all those things for you, because you are Jesus' little lamb, you lack nothing. Amen.

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