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2020-04-19 Psalm 23:1 THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD

The Good Shepherd --- Psalm 23  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD (Psalm 23:1) April 19, 2020 Read Psalm 23:1-6 – Some years ago Canadian author, Douglas Coupland, wrote, Life After God, documenting his generation’s pursuit of life by its own values, goals and human wisdom, having jettisoned God as having any relevance to human life, if, indeed, He exists at all. But he caught everyone off guard when he ended his book like this: “Now – here is my secret. I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is -- I need God – I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.” The rawness of that admission, which aptly describes the human condition for all times, not just our time, tells you why this psalm has always been so revered. It addresses like nothing else our deepest human needs. This is easily the most beloved of the 150 psalms and probably the best known and best-loved chapter in the whole Bible. Spurgeon called it “the pearl of psalms.” Alex Maclaren said, “the world could spare many a large book better than this sunny little psalm. It has dried many tears and supplied the mold into which many hearts have poured their faith.” I trust it will do the same for us in our own unprecedented time of trouble. Who wrote it? Almost certainly David, the shepherd King, no doubt late in life, when he’d come to realize that few things are really necessary, that God truly is in charge, and that He is worthy of all our trust. Our old pastor, Philip DeCourcy had a mentor, Thomas Moore, who was retiring after 43 years of ministry. At a retirement service Philip asked, “So, Tom, now that you’re retired, what are you doing tomorrow?” Moore replied, “I’m going to get up at 6:00 like always, have my time with the Lord, and rededicate the rest of my life to Him.” Isn’t that a great way to go out? Not an old grouch, but filled with faith, grace and love for the Shepherd – like David. It’s noteworthy that Psa 22-24 form a wonderful messianic trilogy. They’re all about Christ. Psa 22 shows Jesus dying in the past; Psa 23 shows Him living for believers in the present; Psa 24 shows Him coming again in the future. Some have called it the Cross, the Crook and the Crown. In 22 He gives His life for the sheep; in 23 He gives His love to the sheep; in 24 He gives the light of His presence. It’s a lovely picture of the Person and work of Christ 1 and what He means to us. So – let’s begin with v. 1 where we see the Grace of the Shepherd, the Gravitation of the Sheep and the Greatness of the Supply. I. The Grace of the Shepherd The psalm describes the incredible beauty of what a relationship between God and us can be. As a metaphor David chooses shepherd and sheep – a subject with which he was intimately familiar with from his early days as a shepherd boy. The metaphor is entirely appropriate on many levels, including the fact that sheep are among the most helpless of animals and the shepherd is the most active of masters. It is no compliment that David refers to himself and by extension to us as sheep. At our strongest, we need the shepherd. If you had to summarize the message of this psalm in one word, it would be dependence. The sheep are absolutely dependent for physical survival on the wisdom and direction of the shepherd – just as we are dependent for our spiritual survival on the wisdom and greatness of our heavenly shepherd. The setting here seems idyllic – sheep quietly grazing under the shepherd’s watchful eye. But shepherd was a lowly job in ancient times. It was a 24-hour a day job. Summer and winter, rain and shine, you lived with the dirty, smelly sheep in the heat of the day and the cold of the night. No one aspired to be a shepherd, so it usually fell to the youngest son in the family, like David. Yet look who lowered himself to be David’s shepherd, and ours as well! “The Lord is my shepherd.” Emphasis is on “the Lord.” If you look closely at your Bible, you will see that the word LORD is in all caps. This means that it is translating the Hebrew Word for the special name God uses for His covenant relationship – Yahweh. Hebrew has no vowels, so the name is actually the four consonants Y, H, W, H – pronounced Yahweh, transliterated Jehovah in German. It is God’s special covenant name used more than 7,000 times in the Bible -- so revered by the Jewish people that they would never pronounce it out loud. When reading the Hebrew OT, they would substitute “Adonai”, or “Elohim” – other names for God, so special was this name to them. When scribes copied this word, they would break the pen, and take a ritual bath before going back to copying. It’s a name inspires deepest reverence. To delve further into this name, turn to Exod 3. God is calling Moses, after 40 years of herding sheep, to deliver Israel from Egypt. Moses is understandably reluctant, offering excuse after excuse as to why God has the wrong guy. As a final protest, Exod 3:13: “Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and 2 they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” What is not obvious in English is that the word LORD is derived from the verb to be – I am. So God has taken His name, I Am, in v. 14, built it into Yahweh in v. 15 and instructed that this be the way He is to be known to Israel forever – I AM. Strange name? Yes, but think what God is saying. This name emphasizes the self-existence and self-sufficiency of God. He is the one who never changes, never ages, never gets exhausted. The bush that originally drew Moses’ attention never burns up. Why? It is a visual representation of the Lord who is timeless, and never consumed, never used up, never burdened, never at a loss for anything. Everything that He needs He has in Himself. He needs nothing, least of all a relationship with mankind. The love between Father, Son and HS is all-sufficient, all-satisfying, and eternally exhaustless. Yet – this entirely self-contained One who is not accountable to anyone and who needs no one – this One complete in every way – this one has stooped to shepherd to a flock of unruly, ungrateful, undeserving, and largely unappreciative sheep. What a pix of grace! God’s undeserved, unmerited favor being poured out on anyone who by faith will receive Him as Shepherd. As our world falls apart, He never changes. God has always been to Himself what He has ever needed Himself to be. So, is He not enough for you? A pastor ran into some old friends one day and it came out that they had just lost their home and everything in it to a fire in Sylmar where they lived in SoCal. The pastor asked, “Well, how are you doing?” The man replied, “Well, Pastor, we’re doing fine under the shepherd’s care. Somehow everything we’ve needed He has provided.” Our pastor in SoCal used to say the only poem you’ll ever need is this: “God is. I’m His. He’s mine. All’s fine.” Our Shepherd is filled with Amazing Grace. II. The Gravitation (Surrender) of the Sheep Now, there’s another small, but key word – “my.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Yahweh, the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-sufficient One was David’s shepherd. But, is He your shepherd? He is not shepherd to everyone. David had joined the Shepherd’s flock, but have you? “My” show the 3 intimacy between sheep and Shepherd. Personal pronouns are used 28 times in the psalm showing how intertwined these lives are. The great thing for us is that between David’s time and now, the great Shepherd, Yahweh, has taken on a human face. He is none other than Jesus Christ, of course. It is amazing how many times Jesus uses the phrase “I am” in John alone. I am the bread of life (6:48); I am the light of the world (8:12); I am from above (8:23); I am [the Son of Man] (8:28); I am the door (10:9); I am the Son of God (10:36); I am the resurrection and the life (11:25); I am the way, truth and life (14:6); I am the vine (15:5); and sometimes just – I am (8:58; 18:8). In every case, He is staking His claim to be Yahweh. And for our purposes, He claimed, “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14). You could hardly miss the point. David’s good shepherd, Yahweh, has now taken on human form, entered human life and shepherd’s those who are His. But He also introduces a new element – the price of shepherding. It’s not just hot days, cold night and smelly company. Jn 10:11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That’s a new element! Why? Jn 3:14-15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” He gave His life to give us life. The picture He uses in Jn 3 goes back to when the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. But they were no sooner delivered than they began to complain about everything – so badly God sent fiery serpents who bit and killed them. Num 21: 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. In repentance and faith, they looked to the serpent on the pole and were physically saved. Jesus uses that to depict the spiritual salvation required to join His flock. It is Jesus Himself who is lifted up on the cross that all who repent and believe, turn and look to him, might be saved. Only those can truly call Him “my shepherd.” So, Jesus says, Jn 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The relationship between sheep and Shepherd is paid for by the life of the Shepherd. He’s both Shepherd and Savior. When I was a boy, I collected baseball cards. To this day I can see certain famous as well as obscure faces on those cards. I knew all the stats on the 4 back. But I never knew a single major league player personally. Not one. I could never have said, “My friend” for “My coach” about any of them. I didn’t know them. So you can read the 23rd psalm all you want, but He’s not your shepherd and the promises have nothing to do with you – unless He’s first your Savior. Then you can say, “My Shepherd” like David did. Martin Luther said “the personal pronouns in this chapter are the difference between true religion and false religion.” And he was right. III. The Greatness of the Supply Now we come to the result of having the Lord as our Shepherd. “I shall not want.” In Deut 2:7 Moses reminds the Israelites how God provided all their needs during 40 years in the wilderness. He closes by saying, “You lacked nothing.” Why? The Lord was watching over them. Their shepherd. That’s a great pattern David sees here. To have the Shepherd is to lack nothing! Life is transitory, right? Tables turn quickly. We need new deposits all the time – money, rest, reassurance. We’re beggars and borrowers all our lives, but if the Lord is our shepherd, we lack nothing. We shall not want. The rest of the psalm fleshes out this out as we’ll see in coming weeks. Ron Self went to Argentina as missionary in the 1970’s. As they went, a friend tried to get funds for them from a Xn foundation, but the foundation owner felt other needs were more pressing and that was that. Thirty years later, their church in Buenos Aires needed $50,000 to buy land to build on. Rather than a pro fund-raising effort, Ron committed it to prayer. He and his wife returned to Toledo for furlough. One day, out of the blue, an envelope arrived. Inside was $50,000 in Ron’s name for use in Xn work. It was from the fund. Thirty years later! The owner, getting late in life, needed to close the fund. In deciding how to disperse the funds, he thought of the thirty-year-old request, tracked down the couple and sent the money. Amazing! Yes, but just the Shepherd at work. He not only knows what we need, but when we need it. Now, don’t expect $50,000 tomorrow, but know, you shall not want. If that’s true, why do some needs seem unmet? F. B. Meyer offers four possibilities. 1) Maybe we haven’t done all we can do. When Noah was faced with imminent death in the flood, God gave him the plans, but he had to build the ark. We have to ask if we’ve done what we can. 2) Possibly our prayer has lacked fervency. Or we’re holding back. We’ve strayed. We want God to destroy the wolf that threatens, but we don’t want to rejoin the flock. That’s harboring sin, in which case, the Lord will not hear. 3) Perhaps the hour of 5 need has not fully come. Martha berated Jesus for delaying coming when Lazarus was ill. He could have healed illness, but not death. Well . . . we know the rest of that story. Same with Abe waiting 25 years for God to fulfill the promise of Isaac – until Abe and Sarah were physically unable – then God worked. 4) Perhaps we’re are asking something that’s not good for us. Psa 84:11b: “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk upgrightly.” There are times we lack what we want – but as we follow the Shepherd, we will never lack what we need. We just need to see life from His perspective. Conc – “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall now want.” That says it all, doesn’t it? It requires faith to see it, but that’s the Shepherd testing and growing us. But in the all-sufficient, self-existing, eternally loving Shepherd we have all we will ever need. Danny Simpson pulled out his weapon and went to rob a store in Ottawa, Canada one day. He got $6,000. He also got caught. He went to jail; his weapon went to a museum. Unbeknownst to him, he had some rare gun that was worth more than $100,000. So for the sake of $6K, he lost his freedom and his $100,000 weapon. He didn’t now what he had. We must always remember what we have in Christ. “Yahweh is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Let’s start each day this week with that reminder squarely before us. Let’s pray. 6
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