Please open your Bible with me at Psalm 23. We are looking at this best known and best loved Psalm to find strength and encouragement for these difficult and dangerous days.
This Psalm is about the Lord. The Lord is my shepherd. Every line of this Psalm is about who He is and what He does for us. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
This Psalm is about us. The Lord is my shepherd. Every line of this Psalm is about us and about what is ours when we belong to the Lord. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
We saw last time that the relationship of the shepherd and his sheep is first and foremost one of ownership. The shepherd owns the flock, so when I say, ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ I am saying ‘The Lord owns me.’
We saw that a shepherd takes ownership of his sheep when they are bought or born. Both are true of you as a Christian. You are not your own. You have been bought with a price. The Lord Jesus Christ purchased you at the cost of laying down His life. You have been bought, and you have been born into God’s flock. You have been born again through the living and enduring Word of God.
When we are in the flock of God, the Shepherd owns us. What will the Shepherd do for the flock that He owns? This Psalm gives 5 marvelous answers to that that question: He leads, us, He restores us, He protects us, He provides for us and He loves us.
Today we look at the first of these – the Shepherd leads me. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake,” (Psa 23:2, 3).
The first blessing of being wholly owned by the Good Shepherd is that He leads me. David says this twice. He leads me beside still waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Notice that David states this as a fact. Here is what the shepherd does. He leads His flock. As Paul puts it in the New Testament, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” (Rom 8:14). Where does He lead us? David says, He leads me into rest. And He leads me into righteousness.
1. The Good Shepherd Leads Us Into Rest.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters, (v2)
Green pastures provide grazing for the sheep. But the main point here is not feeding but resting. He makes me lie down in green pastures. We will look later at how the shepherd feeds the sheep when we come to the table and the cup, but here the main theme is rest.
Then David says, He leads me beside still waters. Sheep are scared of moving water. If a sheep should fall in, its fleece would soak up water like a sponge, and the weight would cause it to drown. So, a good shepherd will dam up a river and make a place where the water is still so that the sheep can drink.
Here are two beautiful descriptions of rest. The meadow with lush grass, with pools of still water beside.
Three Observations On Rest
a. Rest does not come easily or naturally to sheep
He makes me lie down (v2)
Why is it difficult for sheep to rest? Sheep are timid creatures and the only way they can defend themselves is to run. So, they remain standing. It only takes the bark of a dog and they are off running. How can sheep lie down when they are so vulnerable?
Maybe you find it hard to rest. There is a problem you need to solve. There is an overwhelming challenge you face. You battle many fears. Your mind will not rest. How am I going to get through this? You lie awake at night, going over all that has happened, and all that could happen. You need rest, but I don’t know how to find it.’
David has been there. It’s clear from this Psalm that rest did not come to him easily or naturally.
When you think about his life, that’s hardly surprising. All those years of being on the run from Saul, the years of worry over his divided and dysfunctional family, the sheer weight of responsibility that he carried on his shoulders as the king.
Rest did not come easily or naturally to David, but he says, “The Lord… makes me lie down” (vs. 1-2).
b. Sheep rest when they can see their shepherd
Sheep will only lie down when they feel safe. And they will only feel safe when they can see the shepherd.
Put yourself in the position of a sheep. You know that you are vulnerable. Your only defense is to run so you stay on your feet. But when you can see your shepherd, you will lie down and rest. If the coyote comes, the shepherd is there. He will deal with the coyote. So, you can rest. If the shepherd was to leave the field, you would be on your feet watching for danger and ready to run. But as long as you can see your shepherd, you will be able to rest.
David says, “My shepherd… makes me lie down.” And here’s how: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Even if the worst happens…If I go through the valley of the shadow of death I will have nothing to fear, because my Shepherd is with me and when I know He is with me, I can rest.
c. The way to find rest is to keep the Shepherd in view.
The shepherd does not give rest to the sheep by ridding the world of danger. The wolves are still out there. But the sheep lie down because they have the shepherd in view. His presence gives them rest.
Here’s how you address your fears: ‘I do not face this alone. The shepherd is with me. And my Shepherd is the Lord God Almighty. The way to find rest is to keep the Shepherd in view. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
2. The Good Shepherd Leads Us Into Righteousness.
He leads me in paths of righteousness (v3). Notice that the shepherd leads ‘beside still waters’ and ‘in paths of righteousness.’
There are times for lying down and there are times for moving forward. There’s more to the Christian life than rest. He makes me lie down, because I need to rest, but we rest in order that we may have strength to follow Him on the right path. The natural order would be that you walk the right path and then you rest in the meadow. But notice that here it is the other way around. ‘Rest in the meadow, and then you will be able to walk the right path.’
The Bible speaks of righteousness in two ways. There is a righteousness that Christ gives us. And a righteousness to which He calls us.
The Righteousness Christ gives us
Paul says that He wants to be found in Christ…” not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith,” (Phil 3:9).
We become right with God by the righteousness Christ gives us. He lived a life of perfect righteousness for us. When he died on the cross, that life was offered for us.
All the righteousness you will ever need is given to you by the Lord Jesus Christ. The righteousness of Jesus becomes yours when you become His. It is a marvelous thing to be wholly owned by the Son of God!
Paul says I want to be found in Him not having a righteousness of my own, but that which comes through faith in Christ.
The Righteousness to which He calls us
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24). When the Lord is your shepherd, He will lead you. And the paths on which He will lead you will always be paths of righteousness.
Clearly this is what David talking about here.
Paths of righteousness simply means the right paths. Where the Shepherd leads you will always be the right path.
a. The right path will not always be an easy path.
In vs. 5, the right path takes you through the presence of enemies. In vs. 4, the right path takes you through the valley of the shadow of death. But even there the Good Shepherd will lead you.
The pastures will not always be green and the waters will not always be still. The gospels record that Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake” (Mk 4:35). And Jesus led them into a storm. But it was in the storm that they saw His glory and learned that they could trust Him.
The Good Shepherd won’t always lead you beside the water. Something He will lead you through the waters. In another Psalm we read, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:19-20).
i. There will be times where the way God leads you seems impossible.
When God’s people came to the Red Sea, it seemed that there was no way forward. But God made a way through the sea. And God says ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isa 43:2).
ii. There will be times when you find it hard to detect the presence of God
When God’s people crossed the Red Sea, God was with them. God was leading them. God was guarding them, yet His footprints were unseen.
There will be times where you say – where is God in this? I can’t see Him, I can’t feel His presence. I can’t figure out what He is doing.
God’s ways may be a mystery to you. But you can be sure of this. When the Lord is your shepherd, He will lead you. Even when His footprints are unseen.
iii. There will be times when God’s direction in your life comes through people He puts beside you.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Seek the wisdom and counsel of others when you are trying to discern the right path. This is one of the ways God will lead you. God gives under-shepherds to you. And He puts other believers around you.
b. Where the Shepherd leads is always the right path.
He leads me in paths of righteousness (v3). Knowing this will help you when you face change in your life.
A shepherd has two responsibilities. To care for the sheep and to manage the land.
When the sheep are put into a field of lush grass, they enjoy a feast. The problem is that they don’t know when to stop. And if sheep are left in a field for too long, they will eat not only the grass, but the roots and they will leave the field completely barren.
So, a good shepherd must have a land management plan. Before the field where the sheep are gets over-grazed, he will move the sheep on. He moves them so that he can nourish them somewhere else.
Here is something that all of us will face. God puts you in a place where the grass is green. You are happy in the field, and when the Shepherd moves you on, you don’t want to go. ‘Why can’t I stay here longer? I don’t want this change! I don’t want to leave this field.
When the shepherd moves you on, He is saying to you, ‘This is no longer the place where you will be nourished. I have another place where I will provide for you. There I will feed you. There I will make you lie down. Do not be afraid. This is the right path.’
You may not want to move to the field where the shepherd leads you. But He will feed you there. He will feed you in a way that your soul would not have been fed if you had stayed where you were before.
So, trust the Shepherd when He moves you on.
There’s an old hymn that says, “In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear…” When the Lord is your shepherd you don’t need to fear change. Because where the Shepherd leads you is always the right path.
3. The Good Shepherd leads us for His Name’s Sake.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Ps. 23:3).
It would be easy to pass over this little phrase, but I want us to see today that this is the most wonderful phrase of all. How can I be sure that the Shepherd will lead me? What assurance do I have that He will bring me all the way home?
When you come to a dark valley, you may find yourself saying, ‘Sometimes I feel like giving up on myself. How do I know that God will not give up on me.’
The answer lies in these wonderful words: “For His name’s sake.”
Why does the Good Shepherd buy and birth sheep into His flock? The Bible’s answer is that God does what He does for His name’s sake.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned…” (Ezek. 36:22).
I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake… (Isa 43:25)
In His early life, the apostle Paul was among the worst of men. He tells us he was a blasphemer and a violent man (1Tim 1:13).
But then he says, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience…” (1 Tim 1:16). God picked the worst of people to show how patient He is! ‘God did not choose me because He saw something lovable in me. I was a blasphemer and a violent man!’
Someone may say, “I don’t like this.” “I like to think that when God looks at me, He sees something beautiful. That He is drawn to me because of what He sees in me. That he loves because He finds something lovable. Where would that leave you when you are no longer beautiful? Where would you be when what God sees in is not attractive but ugly?
What would become of you when in your persistent and tiresome waywardness, you are far from lovable? Here is good news. God does not lead you for your sake. God leads you for His name’s sake.
The Good Shepherd has staked His own name and reputation on leading you safely home. He has said, “My sheep… will never perish” (John 10:28). He has said that He will lose none of them (John 16:39, 7:12).
What God is doing in your life is for His name’s sake. His grace, His patience, and His faithfulness will be put on display forever through what He will make of you. That is why He will never give up on you.
No angel in heaven will ever say ‘It’s a shame that sheep was too weak to make it. What a pity that one wandered off and never came home.
No! God has given his word. Every sheep bought and born into His flock will be brought safely home. Not one of them will be missing. What He has accomplished in each of us will be for His praise and glory forever.
The strongest assurance you can ever have is that the Good Shepherd has staked His name on leading you home. Despite your many sins, and wanderings, despite the enemies that assault you and the doubts that assail you, you will arrive safely home. The honor of the Shepherd’s name hangs on it.
It is a marvelous thing to be able to say ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ and to know that He leads you. And when you arrive in His presence, safe from all your enemies, and with the dark valley behind you, He will still be your shepherd, and He will lead you forever.
The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev 7:17 NIV).
© Colin S. Smith
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