Please open your Bible for the last time in this series at Psalm 23. Our first aim in this series has been to encourage. These are difficult days for all of us. Many of us feel tired, jaded, discouraged, and flat. Some of us are anxious, fearful and even distressed at what the future might bring.
We came to this Psalm looking to be refreshed. I have loved meditating on Psalm 23. Living in it for these last weeks has done me good, and I have been moved to learn that many of you have been helped by it too.
The first person to be helped by this Psalm was David himself. Picture what it was like for David to write this Psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His life was plagued with trouble. Aggravation from Saul, opposition from the Philistines, the pressures of leading a divided nation, trouble in his own family, not to mention the sins that plagued his own heart.
As David thinks about all that he is facing, his mind goes back to the early years of his life when his work had been keeping the sheep. As he remembers what he did for the sheep, some words come to him The Lord is my shepherd.
He begins to think about what that means. ‘When I cared for the sheep, they lacked nothing, and the Lord is a better shepherd than I was so the same will be true for me. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Words continue to come to David as he thinks about what it means for the Lord to be His Shepherd The Lord leads me. He leads me into rest and He leads me into righteousness.
The Lord restores me. My heart wanders and my spirit falters. But the Lord picks me up. The Lord brings me back. The Lord will never let me go.
The Lord guards me. I have walked through some dark valleys and more lie ahead of me. But even when I walk through the darkest valley, my Shepherd will be with me.
The Lord sustains me. The Philistines hate me. Trusted colleagues betray me. Members of my own family rise up against me, but the Lord stands with me and gives me strength. He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
The whole of this Psalm is a meditation on what the Good Shepherd does for His sheep. And David’s faith is strengthened as he takes in what the Lord does for him. His first thought is “I shall not want” but by the end, he is able to say something even better: ‘Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23 is an exercise in faith. It brings to mind all that is true of you in Christ. That is why it is so encouraging.
When you are tired and jaded and drained and flat, when you are run down and you need to be refreshed, bring to mind all that is yours in Jesus Christ and your faith will be strengthened.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, (Psa 103 1-2).
Now today, we are looking at the last verse of this Psalm. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).
When the Lord is your shepherd, His love surrounds you now and forever. And the love of the Good Shepherd is: A love that pursues, and a love that welcomes.
1. A Love That Pursues
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” (Psalm 23:6).
One of the joys of farming life where I come from, are the dogs that chase after the sheep. A shepherd’s dogs are always with him. When the shepherd goes out to gather sheep from the hills, and bring them into the pens, the dogs go with him. They will run in wide arcs over the hills, chasing the sheep in the direction the shepherd wants them to go.
And when the sheep are gathered, the shepherd will lead them, and the dogs will bring up the rear.
Sheepdogs are beautiful, highly trained, hardworking and intelligent creatures. And no shepherd would ever be without them.
Douglas Macmillan quotes a Scottish shepherd who preached on the verse we are looking at today: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Think of a shepherd walking in front of his sheep. The sheep follow him, and behind them are two sheepdogs chasing after the stragglers, and keeping the flock close to the shepherd.
The Good Shepherd has two sheepdogs; one is called ‘Goodness.’ The other is called ‘Mercy.’
I love that picture. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. The Good Shepherd keeps me close to Himself through His goodness and mercy that are always chasing after me.
Let’s take a look at these two lovely sheepdogs:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Someone may say, “Well my life is filled with a great deal of trouble.” You can easily list many things that are not as you would want them to be. Sin has brought its devastating effects into the world, and things are not as they should be in our world, our country, our work, our churches, our homes or in our own hearts. But there is good in your life too. James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” (James 1:17).
Everything good in your life comes from the loving hands of God. So, thank Him for it. Sinners blame God for everything and thank Him for nothing. Believers thank God for everything and blame Him for nothing.
Goodness is God giving us what we don’t deserve, and if you belong to the Good Shepherd, God’s goodness is always chasing after you.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Goodness is God giving us what we don’t deserve. Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.
God chases after us with mercy. That is good news, because if God chased after us in justice we would all be in trouble.
Over these last weeks, we have seen the devastating effects of wildfires in California. Wildfire sweeping across mountains is absolutely terrifying.
Did you know that the Bible uses that picture to describe God’s judgment of the wicked. “As fires consume the forest, as the flame sets the mountain ablaze…” (Psalm 83:14). That’s how God’s judgment pursues the wicked. A wildfire sweeping over the mountain consuming everything in its path.
So, thank God, that in Christ He does not chase after you with the wildfire of judgment. He chases after you in mercy. Goodness and mercy will follow me. And this is how the Good Shepherd keeps us close to Himself.
If God was chasing after you with judgment and condemnation, of course you would run. But why would you run when you are being chased by goodness and mercy?
God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Rom 2:4). God’s goodness and mercy are chasing after you to bring you closer to the Good Shepherd.
And David is in no doubt about this. He says Surely goodness and mercy will follow me .’ When you belong to the Good Shepherd, you can be sure about this: God chases after you, not in judgment and condemnation, but in goodness and mercy.
c. Follow me
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Remember, David has already said that the Good Shepherd leads His sheep. He leads me beside still waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
The Shepherd is in front of the sheep. But now he says that the Shepherd’s goodness and mercy follow the sheep. So, in Christ, you are encircled in the love of Christ.
There is an ancient Celtic hymn attributed to St Patrick in the 5th century. It begins with these words, I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity.
Christ be with me, Christ within me Christ behind me,
Christ before me, Christ beside me,
Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
When the Lord is your shepherd, you are surrounded on all sides by the goodness and mercy of God. Behind me, before me, beside me, beneath me above me. Brothers and sisters, nothing can ever separate us from you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Rom 8:39).
d. All the days of my life
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. When you belong to the Good Shepherd, this will always be true of you. Jerry Bridges says this so well, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
All the days of my life…
Here we are, anxious about our world, our country, our families, ourselves. And who knows what the future holds? But of this you can be certain: Whatever the future holds, God’s goodness and God’s mercy will follow you all the days of your life.
2. A Love That Welcomes
“and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:6)
These words can be understood in two ways. If you are using the ESV Bible you will see a footnote that says, “for length of days.” I will dwell in the house of the Lord “for length of days.”
David says in Psalm 27, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,” (Psalm 27:4). Because of God’s goodness, and because of God’s mercy, because the Lord leads me, restores me, guards me and sustains me, I will walk with Him, worship Him, love Him, and serve Him, all the days of my life.
But I think that David is looking beyond His days in this world. He already said, ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And when he looks beyond the days of his life in this world he sees what comes after: The joy of eternity in the immediate presence of the Lord. And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
What will that be like? The first thing to say is that it will be very different from life in this world. When you dwell in the house of the Lord, faith will be turned to sight. Old battles will be over, old wounds will be healed. And God will wipe away all tears from your eyes.
You will see Christ in His glory. His kingdom will come. Death will be defeated. Evil will be overthrown. Heaven will come to earth and God will dwell with His people in a world of love where He will make everything new.
Dwelling in the house of the Lord will be incomparably better than the greatest joys any of us have known in this life. Your experience in heaven will be very different from your life in this world, but your relationship with Jesus will be the same.
When John was given a glimpse of what it will be like when all of God’s redeemed people are gathered in His presence, he says, “they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.” Then, he tells us that, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water…” (Rev 7:17).
The relationship you have with Jesus in this world will continue forever. If He is your shepherd now, He will be your Shepherd then.
Notice who the Shepherd is: The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd. Why will any of us be in heaven? There’s only one reason: The Good Shepherd came to seek and to save the lost.
Here’s what that means: The Good Shepherd became one with the sheep. He took our flesh. He came into our world. He shared our life. He became the Lamb: The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, (John1:29).
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (Isa 53:7).
But God raised Him up and exalted Him to the highest place. The Lamb of God is the Lion of Judah. He reigns. And He says, ‘I give my sheep eternal life. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand, (John 10:28).
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water… (Rev 7:17). Here’s why eternal life will never be dull. The Good Shepherd will always be leading you into something new. Heaven will be a world of fresh discoveries and new delights.
And it will be Jesus Himself who leads you into them. Heaven will not be a world in which you meet Jesus and then go off to pursue your own thing. The Lamb will be your Shepherd! He will guide you to springs of living water (Rev 7:17). Jesus said to the Father, “I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world,” (John 17:24).
And when we are in the Father’s house, Jesus prayer will be answered. We will be with Him where He is We will see His glory: He will be our Shepherd, and He will guide us to streams of living water.
Thomas Boston speaks of how “the glorified shall walk eternally, seeing more and more of God…They may bring their vessels to this ocean every moment, and fill them with new waters.”
Donald Macleod says of the Garden of Eden, “It offered scope for art, science, and technology… The same will doubtless be true of the world to come. Not only the Creator but the Creation too will be an object of wonder to the redeemed. It will challenge their intellects, fire their imaginations and stimulate their industry. The scenario is a thrilling one: brilliant minds in powerful bodies in a transformed universe.”
And this joy will go on increasing! The joys you experience in life remain with you. They stay in your memory and you can continue to derive happiness from them. As years pass you have a growing pool of blessed memories from which you can draw, and every new joy in your life makes that reservoir deeper.
Think about what that will be like in eternity: One joy will be added to another as the Good Shepherd leads you into springs of living water.
Jonathan Edwards points out that the joys of heaven will accumulate. “So, think about what that will be like when you have been in heaven for a million, million ages…To put what he says, simply, the more you know of God the more you will see of His beauty, and the more you see His beauty, the more you will love Him. And the more you love God the more happiness you will have in Him.”
Friends, we are talking about exponentially increasing joy!
When we began this series, I set out two aims: To encourage and to entice. I want to end where we began
1. To encourage
The greatest blessing you can know in life is to be wholly owned by the Son of God. When the Lord is your Shepherd, you are able to say, He leads, me, He restores me, He guards me and He sustains me.
Whatever happens in your work, your family, with your health or with your money, whatever happens in our country, if the Lord is your Shepherd, you will always be able to say, “Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me; And in God’s house for evermore my dwelling-place shall be.”
And so, through all the length of days Thy goodness faileth never
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise Within Thy house forever.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
2. To entice
What is your position if the Lord is not your shepherd? What is your position if you choose to be your own shepherd? Your own god? What if you choose to be the captain of your own ship, the master of your own soul?
Then your reality will be something like this: I am my own shepherd, and I will always want.
Sin makes me restless: It keeps me from lying down in green pastures. It leads me beside troubled waters. It ruins my soul. Sin leads me in paths of unrighteousness which I pursue for my own sake. When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will have great fear, for sin will be with me. Its guilt and its shame will haunt me. Sin prepares a table before me in the presence of my friends. It promises much, but it always disappoints. And my cup is always empty. Surely judgment and condemnation will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the lost forever.
Who wants to say that? And if that’s your reality why should you stay there? The Good Shepherd has come to seek and to save the lost. He gave Himself to you, and He calls you to follow Him.
The greatest blessing you can know in life is to be wholly owned by the Son of God. When you can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” you will be able to say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. “
 Douglas MacMillan, The Lord Our Shepherd, p. 82.
 ‘I Bind Unto Myself Today,’ Attributed to St. Patrick, (385-461), tr. Cecil Frances Alexander, (1818-95).
 Jerry Bridges, ‘Who Am I?’ p. 92
 Human Nature in its Fourfold State, p. 302
 Monthly record of the Free Church of Scotland, 1990 p. 125.
 Adapted from Jonathan Edwards, Works Vol. 2 p.618.
 The Lord’s My Shepherd I’ll Not Want, Scottish Psalter (1630).
 From the hymn, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” Henry Williams Baker, (1821-77).
© Colin S. Smith
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