April 22, 2018: 4th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, knowing that You intimately care for us and see to our needs each day is a tremendous comfort. Armed with that knowledge we can journey through life without fear and hesitation over our present and our future.  So today we thank You for being our Good Shepherd. Amen


Text:  Psalm 23

Dearly Beloved By Christ:  

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has never heard of the 23rd Psalm.  Christians love it.  Unbelievers know of it.  So, why is this Psalm so revered?  Why is it the most recognized portion of the entire Bible?  I think there are two reasons. One, the imagery that King David employed when he wrote it strikes a deep chord in us.  Who doesn’t long to languish in a park-like setting with green hills, singing birds, a bubbling brook, sunshine and a gentle breeze wafting over you?  God created us from the “dust of the ground” so this Father-earth setting is literally a part of our being. And two, this Psalm gently tackles the hard issues of life head-on and gives us answers to them without the usual harshness of life.  So, let’s now look anew at the 23rd Psalm.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  Sheep are cute and helpless. They need someone to watch out for them and keep them safe from danger.  Sheep are defenseless against a coyote, a wolf, or a lion. They bunch up when scared and can even trample or suffocate each other.  So, having a caring, loving, patient Shepherd to protect them is vital. In our case that Shepherd is none other than the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  He provides for all of our wants and needs. And He can do so because He has almighty power. Of course, our greatest needs are for safety and life. Jesus gives us both—eternally.  He supplies us with our daily needs and also has died and arisen from the grave to give us the gift of eternal life. The newer translations state it this way: “I shall lack nothing.”  Reduce your life down to its basic elements and voila! David has it 100% correct.

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”  Green is a wonderful color vs. dry brown. Just look at how excited you get each Spring when green shoots appear.  Green pastures mean life. They mean food. They mean absence of want and hunger. Likewise, having Him actually lead you to quiet waters vs. raging torrents is a comforting thing.  The languid waters of summer are far easier on the psyche than the floods of early Spring. One calms your soul, the other sets you on edge. Christ calms us because in Him we have peace and safety.

“He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  All of us walk down pathways—like my usual route with the dog. You have your pathways, too, on your commute to work each day.  You learn to know the potholes, the congested areas and bottlenecks. Your blood pressure goes down after you get by such obstacles.  And so it is with all pathways of life. Having God Who knows all guide you in selecting a spouse, having a child, raising that child, planning for old age—well, that’s comforting, too.  And since we have been made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ, well, He knows the potholes to steer us around, doesn’t He? Moreover, His sacrifice on the cross and empty tomb proves He knows what He’s doing.

“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.”  Life isn’t a bed of roses. Tough times come. Death, either that of a friend, a loved one, or even our own happens. During those times we can either buckle and collapse emotionally, or we can get through it.  As a Christian you know you will get through it because Christ, by using the rod of His Law and the Staff of His Gospel, steers us. Sometimes God has to tell us: “No” or “Don’t do that.” He sends Pastors and friends to remind us about our sins.  It may hurt our pride a bit, but it preserves our soul. Knowing that is comforting.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”  A brimming banquet table is a welcome sight to a starving person. When it’s provided amid those who seek to trip us up, it’s even more welcoming.  It’s a validation of our faith for them to see. King David was anointed to His regal office by Samuel the prophet. Samuel took a horn of olive oil and drenched David’s head.  This was God’s sign of blessing upon him. Likewise, a cup of wine that never runs dry is a thing of beauty. Blessings that never cease in whatever form they take, such as a stronger faith, the ability to cope with adversity, pain management for the suffering, you name it.  These are all something to be marveled over since apart from God nothing good ever happens in life. We have all this and more in our Good Shepherd.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Ancient Hebrew had various ways of emphasizing a point. We might well use the word “surely” as is done here, but it really means: “truly.”   Yes, through faith in Jesus we have true goodness and true mercy from God. These blessings will never cease following us as we walk through all the stages of life.  All because this is how great God’s love for us is in Christ! And when death does come, when that new beginning in glory beckons, He provides us with the very best of all.  He says: “I will, (not: I might) dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Or, as the Hebrew literally says: “I will return to the house of the Lord forever.” Yes, death is actually going home to be with God.  What could be better than enjoying the endless wonders of our heavenly home?

And now you know why the 23rd Psalm is so revered and honored.  Amen