Please open your Bible with me at Psalm 23.
I expect that for all of us there are gems of wisdom that we hear once and never forget. One of these gems for me came from Warren Wiersbe, an esteemed pastor, once of Moody Church and then the Back to the Bible radio program.
He was speaking at a conference in Britain and in a question and answer session he was asked what he would do differently if he had his ministry life over again. I remember leaning forward, eager to hear what someone I admired so greatly would say. “If I had my time over again,” he said, “I would encourage God’s people more.”
His answer has stayed with me. Warren Wiersbe was one of the most encouraging people I ever met, but as he looked back on his long life in ministry he said, “I would encourage God’s people more.”
These are days when all of us could use some encouragement. Perhaps like me, you thought back in March that life would be back to normal by now. You rose to the challenge of the lock down. You did what had to be done with cheerful resilience.
But as time goes on you find yourself tired, jaded, flat. The joy and energy that are usually in you seem to have drained. So here we are, the weekend after Labor Day, a time when we are all usually refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to go. But this year is different, and we could use some encouragement.
There is a reason why Psalm 23 is one of the best known and best loved chapters in the Bible: God has used this Psalm to encourage His people for more than 3,000 years. My hope and prayer for this series is that God will use these familiar words to bring fresh strength, hope, comfort and encouragement for all of us.
Psalm 23 is about what God does for His people and, like all of the Bible, it points us to Jesus Christ. David said, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). So, in this series we are going to discover all that is ours when we belong to Him.
It is a marvelous thing to be able to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
When you eat rich food, you want to eat it slowly so that you can savor its taste. This Psalm is super-rich and I want us to savor it’s delight slowly. So, the plan is for us to look at these six verses over six weeks. We begin today with v1: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
The Lord is my shepherd (v1).
Now it is sometimes alleged that, because most of us live in cities or suburbs, we don’t know what a shepherd is and we can’t grasp what a shepherd does. But even if you have never seen a flock of sheep in your life, this Psalm tells you all that you need to know about a Shepherd.
- A shepherd owns the sheep (v2), and the Good Shepherd owns us. He says ‘My sheep will never perish (Jn 10:28).
- A shepherd leads the sheep, (v2, 3) and the Good Shepherd leads us into rest and into righteousness.
- A shepherd restores the sheep, (v3) and the Good Shepherd retrieves us when we are lost and restores us when we are spent.
- A shepherd protects the sheep (v4) and the Good Shepherd protects us from evil and from enemies.
- A shepherd feeds the sheep (v5) and the Good Shepherd invites us to His table and presents us with an overflowing cup.
- A shepherd loves the sheep (v6) and the Good Shepherd loves us with a love that pursues us and one day will welcome us into His presence.
That’s where this Psalm takes us and that’s where we are going over these next weeks.
Maybe you are thinking that this is a bit sentimental. Fluffy sheep and a shepherd with a crook. Maybe this sounds to you like a children’s bedtime story.
This is a Psalm of David, and David knew what it took to be a shepherd. This was what he did in his teenage years. It was a dangerous job. Wild animals would attack the sheep. The sling he used to overcome Goliath would have been used to ward off wild animals who came to attack the sheep.
But sometimes it took more than a sling. David tells about how he fought with a lion and bear. David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him…” (1 Sam 17:34-37).
There’s nothing sentimental about the work of a shepherd. When the lion and the bear came, David stood with the sheep to protect them even at risk to his own life. Now he says, “The Lord is my shepherd. That is how He is with me.”
The 23rd Psalm deals with the realities of life. David had enemies who hunted him, his own son hated him, he lived under the constant stress of managing an entire nation. He knew about failure and he knew about fear. He knew what it was to be discouraged, and exhausted.
When you face difficult decisions, this Psalm is for you. When you are losing heart, this Psalm is for you. When you face enemies or when you have seen the face of evil, this Psalm is for you. Since one day you will walk through the valley of death, this Psalm is for you. You need a shepherd.
2. The Lord
The Lord is my shepherd (v1)
The quality of life enjoyed by any flock depends entirely on their shepherd.
In the Old Testament, God appointed prophets, priests and kings to shepherd His people. Their calling was to feed the sheep, seek the sheep and guard the sheep. But they didn’t do their job. Most professions have a system of making an annual review or appraisal of how employees have performed in their duties. In Ezekiel 34 we have a review conducted by Almighty God. It is not a good review. God indicts the shepherds who had failed to do their job. “Son of man prophesy against the shepherds of Israel (Ezekiel 34:1):
“The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them” (Ezekiel 34:4).
The quality of life enjoyed by any flock depends entirely on their shepherd. And in Ezekiel’s day, the shepherds had failed to take care of God’s sheep. No one was looking for the lost. No one cared for the sick and the injured. No one came to strengthen the weak.
So, what happened? God says, “My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (Ezekiel 34:6).
God looked on the lostness of the sheep and said, “I myself will become their shepherd!” I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak (Ezekiel 34:11, 16).
And when Jesus came into the world He said, “I am the good shepherd…I know my sheep I lay down my life for the sheep. My sheep will never perish” (John 10:11, 15, 28).
All the way through, this Psalm is about the Lord The LORD is my shepherd…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. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil…and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Your entire experience of life will depend on who your shepherd is. David says, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” He owns me, and I am blessed, because He will lead me, restore me, protect me, feed me and love me.
The Lord is my shepherd (v1)
Sheep are added to a flock by being bought or being born. A shepherd can breed sheep or he can buy them. In farming one or other of these are true. A lamb is added to the flock because it is bought or because it is born.
In God’s flock both are true. Every Christian has been bought into God’s flock. Every Christian has been born into God’s flock.
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18).
Brothers, sisters in Christ, do you see what the Lord has done for you? He bought you. He paid a price to make you His own.
Karen and I have been watching a series called Farming Life – it’s about sheep and cattle farming in Scotland. One of the features of the farming year are the sheep auctions. Farmers will buy rams (or tups) for breeding or ewes to grow the flock.
Before the auction, the farmers walk round the pens and look at the sheep, they decide which ones they want to buy and how much they want to bid.
The Lord Jesus Christ purchased you and the price He paid was the laying down of His own life. You are not your own. You have been bought with a price. The Lord is now your shepherd and that is why you will not want.
What you need will be given to you because the Shepherd has made you His own. Having given Himself to purchase you, you can be sure that He will give you all that you need (Rom 8:32).
You have been bought into Christ’s flock, and you have been born into His flock. For sheep it would be one or the other, but both are true of you. “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).
The Spirit of God moved over your dead soul just as He moved over the dark and dead waters in the beginning. He brought you to life. He awakened you to your need for a Savior, and He opened your eyes to the glory of Christ He brought you to faith and gave you a new desire to leave sin and to follow Jesus.
Not only did He bring you to new life, He sustains you in this new life. For all your doubts and fears, for all your unanswered questions, for all your many sins and failings, you still love Christ and the Lord is still your shepherd.
Having bought and bred the flock, the Shepherd lives with His sheep; they are the constant focus of His care and attention.
When you belong to the flock of God, you can say with confidence, “The LORD is my shepherd. 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. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
This Psalm is for believers.
Everything in it flows from a relationship: The Lord is my shepherd. This Psalm clearly belongs to those who are bought and born into the flock of God.
I have an old book by a Scottish pastor, John McNeil, who preached often on Psalm 23 all over the world. People came to faith in Christ through his preaching of this Psalm. This surprised him because there is nothing evangelistic in Psalm 23. It is all about the relationship a believer has with the Lord. And yet when John McNeil preached this Psalm, people came to faith in Jesus.
This is what he wrote, “I have often been surprised to find the… converting power, under God, of a portion of Scripture so evidently belonging to believers. The sinner’s mouth begins to water, I suppose, when you seem… to leave him on the outside while you dwell on the blessedness of those who are in the fold. In his reaction to that, he begins to evangelize himself, and gets to the Shepherd without you.”
I have two aims for this series: To encourage all of you who belong to Christ so that you will say “I am blessed, because what was true for David is true for me.” To entice some of you who have resisted Christ so that you will say, “I wish these things that were true of David were true of me.”
Led, restored, protected, fed, and loved by the good shepherd. These things can all be yours. But if they are to become yours, you must become His.
The relationship of a shepherd to the sheep is first and foremost one of ownership. The shepherd owns the flock. He bought them and He birthed them.
You see this in the words of Jesus. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees (John 10:11-12). Some of you may be asking, Do I want to be wholly owned? Something in us rebels against that thought.
Back in the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Eve by saying to her, “You shall be as God.” Something within the sinful nature persists in believing that life will be ours if we can take the place of God ourselves.
One of the most barefaced expressions of being your own god came from the actress Shirley MacLaine.
She said, “I know that I exist, therefore I am. I know that the god-source exists, therefore it is. Since I am part of that force, then I am that I am.” When I read these words, I feel sorry for Shirley. If you are your own god you are completely alone. You have no one to look to but yourself.
Nothing could be more tragic than sheep without a shepherd. Other animals do fine on their own. Deer or rabbits do not need to be farmed, but sheep need a shepherd. Left to themselves, they will soon go hungry. Other animals hunt, but sheep need to be fed.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep without a shepherd will soon be in a desperate state.
They will wander off and become lost. Their hooves will rot. Their wool will grow long and weigh them down to exhaustion. Wolves will come and destroy them. For sheep to be without a shepherd would be disastrous but for sinners like us, it would be worse. The worst that can happen to sheep without a shepherd is that they die. But the worst that will happen to sinners who choose to be their own god, is not that they die, it is that ahead of them stretches a dark hell in which they are completely alone.
But David is not on his own. He can say “The Lord is my shepherd.” My shepherd owns me. His goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. When I die, I will not go into outer darkness. My shepherd will welcome me home and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
What a marvelous thing it is to be wholly owned by the Son of God!
To know that you are His in life, in death and forever. To know that you are bought and born into His flock. To know that because He owns you, He will lead you, restore you, protect you, feed you and love you all your life. That even the darkest valley is made safe by His presence, and that you have a glorious eternal future in His home.
The Heidelberg Catechism opens with this question and answer:
1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
4. I Shall Not Want
David carried an enormous weight of responsibility on his shoulders. He grew up as a shepherd, but God called Him to be a king. And, as the king, he was called to shepherd the people of God (2 Samuel 5:1-2). David was called to shepherd the flock of God. How could he do that? How could he lead God’s people?
How could he restore them, protect them, feed them and love them? David how will you shepherd the flock of God? Here’s his answer: “The Lord is my shepherd.” What God has called me to do for others, He will do for me.
Think about your own life and the trust that God has given you. How are you going to carry the weight of responsibility that is on you? You are caring for children, for parents. You have been given trust in your employment. The decisions you make will affect the lives of others.
You are a shepherd. You have a duty of care. How are you going to discharge it?
You can shepherd others because God will shepherd you.
You will be able to restore and refresh others because the Lord will restore and refresh you. You will be able to provide for others because the Lord will provide for you.
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh…And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel,
You will be able to keep loving others because the Lord will never stop loving you.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want That’s the logic of faith: You may face hard decisions when you don’t know the right way, but the Lord is your shepherd. He will lead you in right paths. You may be struck down by disease, and laid low without strength, but the Lord is your shepherd. He will restore your soul. You may have enemies who will oppose you and even try to destroy you, but the Lord is your shepherd. He will protect you.
One day you will face the dark valley of death, but the Lord is my shepherd and even there He will walk with you, and bring you safely through. And on the other side, you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
It is a marvelous thing to be wholly owned by the Son of God.
When the Lord is your Shepherd, you have all that you need.
The King of love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am His, and He is mine forever.
© Colin S. Smith
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