160417 Psalm 23

Last Updated on Monday, 18 April 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Psalm 23
Theme: A Sheep Looks At Psalm 23

There are a lot of perks being a pastor...besides the fact that you only have to work one day a week. In all seriousness, being a pastor can be challenging, but most pastors would be quick to tell you that they are also on the receiving end of many, many blessings.

For one, we get paid to do what God has called every Christian to do, to study God's Word and grow in God's Word and share God's Word. It is our privilege to preach and teach and administer the sacraments. And then there are the people we serve. I am often amazed by and grateful for the generosity of God's people.

As a child growing up in a parsonage I can remember walking onto our front porch and finding a flat of green beans or freshly picked strawberries left there just because, just as a small way for someone in the congregation to say "thank you."

I had one of those experiences a couple weeks ago when I opened my office door and found something on my desk. It wasn't a basket of fresh produce. It was a book. It was this little volume called "A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23." A member had left it for me along with a little note.

I had heard of this book, but I had never actually read it. So I did. I read it in anticipation of this day. As Pastor Schmidt pointed out at the beginning of the service, the fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The lessons, hymns and prayers for today all revolve around the Good Shepherd theme.

What makes this book unique is that it was written by an actual shepherd. W. Phillip Keller approaches the psalm from the perspective of someone with years of experience watching over flocks. And as we continue I hope to share with you a few of his insights. But I don't want to take it too far because not too many of us can relate to Keller. Most of us have never set foot on a sheep ranch. And very few of us have any real experience working with a flock of sheep.

We may not know what it feels like to be a shepherd, but I think we can relate to sheep. So let's approach the psalm the way King David did, from the viewpoint of a sheep...

A SHEEP LOOKS AT PSALM 23

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 understand what David is saying in the psalm's opening phrase. "The LORD is my shepherd" is a clear confession of faith, but in those words there is also an implied admission of guilt.

David had been a shepherd. He knew what it was like to be all alone 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. Sheep aren't very smart. Sheep aren't very clean. And they don't make very good pets either. 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 I hope you are too. Because the Lord is our Shepherd, because we are his sheep, we shall not be in want.

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, don't they? A flock of sheep grazing in a grassy meadow. A few of them drinking from a nearby stream. There is no threat of danger. They have no worries. They are at peace.

And if you watched the news last week you know that peace is a pretty precious commodity. A former NFL star was gunned down in the streets of New Orleans (seven bullets in the back). Massive earthquakes rocked Japan and Ecuador, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Political ads and political debates are becoming more and more hostile. Conflicts with our enemies, or even within our own families, make us conclude that the idea of peace sounds nice, but in this world that is nothing more than a dream.

It doesn't have to be that way. 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 kept trying 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 making your heart ache? Is there a sin from your past that just won't go away? If you are afraid, if you are weak, when you feel the most vulnerable, take refuge in David's words. Remember that the Lord is your Shepherd, and he will restore your soul. 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 loves you. 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). In his book Keller explains that if one sheep is suddenly startled by something and runs, the rest of the flock will blindly follow after it. I have never personally witnessed 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 use "everyone else is doing it" as a reason for doing something.

Or perhaps 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 admit 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." Four little words that mean so much...

To the Christian who is battling temptation: You are with me. To the family that seems to always be struggling to make ends meet: You are with me. To the college student who is ridiculed for his/her faith: You are with me. To the widow/widower who is suddenly all alone: You are with me. To 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 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 changes from a grassy hillside to a royal banquet. This transition isn't all that unusual if we remember that ancient rulers were sometimes 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. This is not just Hebrew 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. No doubt 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 answer that question 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 exactly what we need. And two thousand years ago he came down to this earth to meet our greatest need. 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 offered up his life for the sheep.

Jesus was born 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 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 and I will "dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

That is why we have 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. And he is preparing a place in heaven for you. David was right, and the inspired words of Psalm 23 prove it. Being a sheep isn't so bad after all. Because we are Jesus' sheep. Because Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Amen.

"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Hebrews 13:20-21)

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