Sermon \ April 26, 2015 \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ Psalm 23 \ The Lord is My Shepherd
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (N.I.V.)
The 23rd Psalm is one of the best-known and best-loved parts of the entire Bible. Bible scholars tell us that this famous Psalm is a “Psalm of Trust.” And they also tell us that there are only two Psalms of trust in the Bible, Psalm 16 and Psalm 23. This morning, on this Sunday of the church year called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” we consider the second of those two Psalms of Trust – the 23rd Psalm. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day. I pray that His Holy Spirit would enable us, first of all, to hear His Word – secondly, to understand it – and, thirdly, to put it into practice in our lives today.
Psalm 23 is, as I say, a Psalm of Trust. It’s a beautiful confession of faith. It may be hard to believe, but this Psalm is written by Israel’s King David, who just happens to be the same person who wrote Psalm 51. The 23rd Psalm was written during a time in David's life when his faith was vibrant and strong. When it comes right down to it, King David is a very interesting Bible character. He's a man very much like us, an individual who went through some good times and also through some very challenging times over the years. Israel’s King David sometimes experienced severe conflict. And he also experienced times of peace. There were people that David could get along with. And there were others that he could not
The writer of the 23rd Psalm was many things. He started out as a shepherd. When he was just a teenager, David was anointed King by God’s prophet Samuel. As an adult, David was a warrior king. But he was also was a father and a husband. King David was granted his kingdom by none other than God himself. David, however, as we see in Psalm 51, was no plaster saint in the Spiritual Hall of Fame. He was a sinner, just like you and me. David experienced the high point Israel's power and glory. But he also knew what it was like to be defeated, depressed, and condemned.
King David was a real human being, with abundant spiritual warts and wrinkles. During his lifetime, in the school of hard knocks, he learned many important lessons about life and about faith in God. Israel’s King David wrote many of the Psalms – including the one we’re looking at this morning. David, the great and glorious king of Israel, was also a man with feet of clay. The Scriptures don’t pull any punches: David was a great man of God. But he was also a grievous sinner. He knew what it was like to live on the mountain-top of praise. But he also knew what it was like to dwell in the slough of despondency. Psalm 23 takes us to the mountain-top. Psalm 51, on the other hand, takes us into the depths of despair.
Psalm 23 contains timeless words of wisdom. These are the words of someone who knows the Lord very well – someone who has a lifetime of experience with the LORD. These are the words of someone who TRUSTS God. That's why Psalm 23 is a Psalm of comfort and strength. In a very real sense, it's David's personal statement of faith – his testimony you might call it – his personal creed. In Psalm 23, David reviews the events of his life, but he does it in the light of his relationship with God. Like generations of believers before and after him, David sees God's hand at work in all aspects of his life. David knows very well that God has been with him in the past, and he's confident that God will continue to be with him in the future. In Psalm 23, David speaks of a God he knows very well – a God he knows personally. The words of Psalm 23 are words of heartfelt faith and trust.
Psalm 23 tells us what life looks like when it's lived in submission to God's will. Psalm 23 tells us that life – life lived in a trust relationship with God – is abundant and full. It tells us that living in a trust relationship with God is living the way that God would have us live. In this Psalm, David pondered the meaning of faith. God was very important to David. His love for God (which came second) – and God's love for him – (which came first!) are reflected in every line of this Psalm. Here, David describes God with two different images. He describes God, first of all, as a Shepherd who loves and cares for his sheep. And, secondly, David describes God as a gracious Host who invites guests into his home for protection from their enemies and for a sumptuous meal.
God hasn't changed since David's time. He's still our Shepherd. And He is still our gracious Host. He invites us often – as he does this morning – to his table for a meal – a meal of bread and wine. In this meal, He offers us the true body and true blood of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As the Shepherd, and the Host, God's love and grace come through loud and clear. Describing God as a Shepherd who cares for his sheep is a common image or motif in the Old Testament. It's an image that carries with it the idea of love and compassion. Many people mistakenly think that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and the Law, while the God of the New Testament is a God of grace and mercy. The truth is that God's Law – and his Grace – are clearly seen in both Testaments – Old and New as well. God’s prophet Isaiah describes God as a Shepherd. In Isaiah 40, verse 11 we find these words:
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
In the Scriptures, God is often described as the Shepherd of Israel. He treats his chosen people as a loving shepherd would care for his sheep. He cares for them. He looks out for them. He protects them from danger. In the first verse of Psalm 23 David says:
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
Because God is David's shepherd, all David's needs are looked after.
In this Psalm, God does at least five things for David. David says, first of all, that God is his Guide through life.
"He leads me beside the still waters..." he says.
And then he adds,
"He leads me in the paths of righteousness."
As David walks life's path, God is there to show him the way. God’s Word is the lamp that lights the way. And when David travels through the valley of the shadow of death, God is right there with him. From morning to evening, day after day, God is there with David. From the beginning of David's life to the end, God is there. We've all learned from personal experience that it's easier to go through life's tough times when someone else goes with us. We've all learned from personal experience that things are easier to handle when we have a support system to lighten the load for us. It's been said that when we share our joys with others, our joys are multiplied. And when we share our sorrows with a caring community, our sorrows are reduced. As Christian people, we know that God travels with us along life's highway. And we also know that Christian brothers and sisters walk with us, too. What that means is that, as God's people, we are never alone.
King David was a warrior-king. He experienced many life-threatening situations. But he learned – and he believed with all his heart – that God was always with him. King David, the man of faith, knew that he didn't have to go through life alone. He had personal experience with the valley of the shadow of death. It wasn’t just an abstract concept for him. There were many times in his life when he didn't think he'd make it through. There were times when fear got the best of him. But David took comfort in his faith and his relationship with God. He learned from personal experience that God wouldn't let him down.
It's important to remember that David spent several years as a shepherd before he took over the duties of the king. As a shepherd, he knew the dangers of the dark valleys and the ravines. The sheep he cared for may not have known the danger, but he certainly did. And the same was true of David's relationship with God. God was always there – looking out for him – guiding him, and protecting him. And, on our journey through life, we, too, need a guide to show us the way. We, too, need someone to provide a firm and steady hand. We need someone to warn us of impending danger. In the 4th verse of Psalm 23, David says, in the King James translation:
I fear no evil -- for thou art with me.
With David, and with the faithful of all generations, we know for a fact that God is our Guide. He's our Defender. He's our Strength. God is our Shepherd and he has a shepherd's crook to keep us on the safe path when we begin to wander. He uses that crook to prod us when we dawdle. He may use it if we need punishment. I think it’s significant that the Hebrew word for "staff" comes from a root word that means "to lean on." When it comes right down to it, every person, without exception, needs something or someone to lean on in life. No one is strong enough to go through life completely independent – completely disconnected from others. God wants us to lean on him. And that's exactly what his faithful people do. Others may have alcohol or drugs or other things as their crutch in life. Some might have gambling to lean on. The list is long and varied. But you and I lean on the Lord. He is there for us to lean on when we get weary along the way. There's a little children's hymn that says,
"...they are weak, but he is strong."
David learned that truth almost 3000 years ago. And we know it today, as well.
Psalm 23 – one of those two Psalms of Trust in the Bible – reminds us that God was David's Guide. He was David's Protector. He was David's Comforter.
"Thy rod and thy staff," says David, "they comfort me.”
It's interesting that the word for "comfort" in the language of the Jewish people means "to sigh deeply." And so, God sighs deeply when he thinks of us. He understands how we feel and he freely offers us his comfort and strength. Psalm 23 paints a beautiful picture of God's amazing grace and love. When you think about it, God isn't the only one who sighs deeply. We, too, sigh deeply – in gratitude and in praise to God when we realize what he has done for us. Like someone settling into an easy chair at the end of a hard day's work, we sigh deeply when we think of our God and of the love of his Son, Jesus Christ – the One who went to the cross to forgive us our sins, and was raised from the dead to restore our broken relationship with God.
So Psalm 23 tells us, first of all, that God was David's Guide. Secondly, God was David's Defender. Third, He was David's Comforter. And fourthly, God was David's "Restorer." In verse 3 of Psalm 23, David says,
"He restores my soul."
God graciously made a way for David to rest occasionally on the road of life. He allowed David to be restored and strengthened before he had to carry on. God gave David a chance to recharge his spiritual batteries once in a while. God's presence was like a breath of fresh air for David. God's presence was like an open window in a stuffy room. When life's burdens began to weight heavily on him down, David’s LORD granted restoration. Like a shepherd leading his tired sheep to lush feeding grounds, God nourished and restored David.
The fifth blessing that God had for David was Nourishment.
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies," says David.
God provided the nourishment that David needed to keep him strong. That food came in the form of physical nourishment. But, more importantly, it also came in the form of the spiritual nourishment that David found in God's Word, the Holy Scriptures. Imagine what David's life would have been like without his faith-relationship with God. Everything David needed, God provided. No wonder David begins the 23rd Psalm with the famous words,
"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want."
I'm here this morning to tell you that God hasn't changed since David's day. God does the same things for us that he did for David so long ago. He does them through his Son, Jesus Christ. Christ – the very Word of God – guides us along the way. Christ – our Savior – defends us from accusations of sin. God's Holy Spirit comforts us. The Holy Spirit restores our souls. At God's table called Holy Communion He nourishes us with bread and wine – the body and blood of Jesus. There's no doubt about it, God richly blessed David. David knew as well as anyone that he didn't deserve such special treatment. He knew that all of God's blessings come to him by grace alone.
It’s true. Psalm 23 is very much a Psalm of Trust. It is one man's story of how faith in God made life worthwhile. Psalm 23 is a story of difficulties overcome. It reminds us that God never leaves his people or forsakes them. The message of Psalm 23 is the message of God's love. And the message of God's love surprises people at first. Human beings have trouble imagining that God could love them, considering all of their shortcomings and sins. In Psalm 23, we learn the truth about God's grace – and about our sin. As Christian people, we see God's grace most clearly in the life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. David saw abundant evidence of God's love and grace when he looked back over his life. And he had reason for hope when he looked to the future.
"Surely goodness and mercy WILL follow me all the days of my life," he said, "and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever."
May God bless each and every one of us here this morning with an abundant measure of his love and grace. May his Word guide us on life's path. May he defend us from evil. May he comfort us with words of hope and peace. May he restore our soul and nourish our faith. May he grant us the kind of life-transforming trust that David had – now and forever. Amen.
Let's Pray – DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER: Remind us that Jesus, your Son, is our Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep. Keep us in your flock. Enable us to trust you with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength. Protect us from danger. And bring us someday to the safe pastures of heaven. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.