Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen, Psalm 23

 Tom Lowe
4-26-11

Psalm 23

Today, we are going to look at one of the most comforting, and definitely one of the most well known psalms in the Bible-the 23rd Psalm.   It was written by David, who presents us with the scenes of pastoral life, which he was familiar with, since he wandered the hills and valleys of Israel as a young shepherd boy.  In it, he describes God’s providential care in providing refreshment, guidance, protection, and abundance, and in so doing provides grounds for confidence in His everlasting kindness.

David is someone whom most of us can relate to very well.  He knew what it was like to be a lowly peasant, because he served as a shepherd for his father’s sheep.  He knew what it was like to be on top of the social ladder, because he became king of millions of Israelites.  He knew what sin was all about-having committed murder and adultery.  He was a brilliant fighter and an excellent musician as well.  Maybe that’s why most of us know the story of David so well; we can relate to him in some way.  He was a man with a vast amount of experience, but the best thing that can be said about him, was said by God, Himself-He called David a man after my own heart.  David wrote this psalm, but he wrote it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s look at the first two verses.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (v. 1 and 2)

What a peaceful picture!  David, the shepherd of the sheep said that God was his shepherd.  If you had your Bible, you would see that LORD is spelled in capital letters.  This stands for the ever constant God-the one who had consistently been there for the Israelites-mercifully saved them from slavery to the Egyptians-led them for forty years through the wilderness-and brought them to the Promised Land.  Jesus identified Himself to be that shepherd.  David knew that this LORD was his shepherd.  He is also the shepherd of Israel, the shepherd of the whole church in general, and the shepherd of every individual believer.  He is my shepherd and I hope He is yours too. We couldn’t ask for a better shepherd.  And when David says that the Lord is his shepherd, what a comforting thought that is.  Our Lord is a living and personal God-one who caries us in His arms-searches for us when we are lost-and takes a personal interest in us. 

How does this shepherd provide for us?  He lets us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside quiet waters.  For a natural sheep, nothing can be better than when his shepherd feeds him in pleasant green pastures, and near fresh water.  When that happens to it, it feels like nothing on earth is blessed more than it is.  Notice what the shepherd allows us to do.  We do not just graze on green pastures, but we lie down in them.  The picture that I get is of a dog that lies down in the grass and rolls in it.  It is a picture of complete rest and relaxation.

What are these green pastures symbols of?  It can be nothing else than the Word of God.  As 1 Peter 2:2-3 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”  Hearing the Word of God is like eating a great dinner.  The first time it gets between your teeth, your mouth waters, and you want more.  You can’t wait to chew it, swallow it, and get some more.  And after you eat that first meal, you plan to eat it again and again. 

Is that the way you look at the Word of God?  As something you can rest easy in?  Something that gives you comfort?  Unfortunately, this is not the case with many.  Why?  Because Christ is not their shepherd.  They are led by a man, who leads them in the wrong direction.  Their shepherd may even claim to be a man of God, but he doesn’t teach the truth of God’s word, so his leading is poor. 

If Christ is as a shepherd to us, we must be like sheep, inoffensive, meek and quiet; we must know the shepherds voice and follow him.  And when Christ is our shepherd, He leads us to springs of living water.  We can hear Jesus tell us, that our thirst has been quenched.  He says to us, “Your debt has been paid in full! You are righteous in God’s sight, because of my righteousness!”  When we hear that, it brings rest to our souls.  That’s what the Word of God is supposed to do.  It is only in the Gospel of God-the good news that Jesus has paid for your sins, that you can find rest.  When you hear that God has punished Christ in your place, you realize that you have a merciful God, who loves you very much.

David understood this.  It was David himself, who was led to the desert of regret by Nathan, who told him-YOU ARE THE MAN who murdered and committed adultery.  But it was also David, who starving to death for God’s forgiveness was assured by Nathan-the Lord has forgiven your sins.  And so he wrote the 23 Psalm.  Blessed is he whose sins are covered by the blood of Christ.  For those of us who know the guilt of David, because we sin every day, we also appreciate hearing that our sins are forgiven, for those words are refreshing waters, and we want to lie in them for the rest of our lives.

The Great Shepherd takes care of His sheep, and gives them all they need.  If I don’t have everything I desire, I may conclude it is either not fit for me, or not good for me, or I shall have it in the future.  I am His sheep, so I trust Him for all things; even the air I breathe.  The blessings of God and the joys of the Holy Spirit are those still waters by which the people of God are led. 

Now we come to the third and forth verses. 

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

You might get the impression from the first two verses that Christianity is the easiest religion there is; just laying around in tall grass and drinking cool water.  But if you have been a Christian for a while, you know that this is not true.  David makes that clear, as he shows where the shepherd leads his sheep.  As they continue down the path of righteousness; they soon find out that this wonderfully refreshing stream leads through the valley of the shadow of death.  But in the darkest and most trying hour, God is near.  Those that are sick and those that are old, have no reason to look upon themselves as if they are in the valley of the shadow of death.  Death is a word which sounds terrible; it is death that comes to all of us, and there is no way out of it, but for God’s people, it can be a fruitful and comfortable time; a gentle walk through the valley with the Lord Jesus.  To some, death is the king of terrors, but not to the sheep of Christ; they tremble at it no more than sheep that are intended for the slaughter.  Even in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; none of these things move me.  Death cannot be an evil thing for the child of God, and therefore it can do us no real harm; it kills the body, but cannot touch the soul.  Why should we dread it, when there is nothing hurtful about it?

Jesus’ own life gives us a great illustration of this.  When He was living on earth, He did not build Himself a nice palace, and lay around with servants polishing His toe nails and feeding Him grapes and snickers bars.  He went down to the valley of death.  Every day of His public ministry, He faced false prophets-Pharisees, Sadducees; the religious leaders.  There were many days that He went without a place to lay His head.  All of this was on the way to His eternal destiny-the cross.  Jesus had to go through this valley, so He could pay for the sins of the world. 

Jesus says to His followers, if you want to follow me, pick up your cross and follow me.  Go down to the valley of darkness with me.  You must suffer ridicule.  You must suffer pain.  You must suffer heartache.  What do you think about this?  Many think, “If Jesus is such a loving and caring shepherd, wouldn’t He lead us through the valley of lilies and lollipops?  Wouldn’t it be like the movie, The Sound of Music, where we would skip through flowering hills and sing happy songs?”  Well there is an easy pathway through life, and many take it.  The Devil offered the easy path to Jesus, but He turned it down.  He chose to go through the valley, because that path led to the cross.  There was a path that went around the valley and avoided the cross, but Jesus preferred the hard way, and I am glad He did, because I needed a Savior.  Satan tempts us, just like he did Jesus.  He says, you can reach heaven without suffering.  There is a nice paved pathway over here, which goes around the valley of death.  There’s no suffering or pain.  He says to us, “why eat such an awful meal of sorrow, when I can give you a snickers bar of happiness with that woman; an ice cream bar of joy with that job on Sunday morning?  Why exercise your faith?  Enjoy life; eat, drink, and be merry.”  Do you remember what Jesus told him?  “Get behind me Satan.  

But why do we have to go through this valley?  Didn’t Jesus suffer enough for our sins?  Yes, He did.  But the only way you can make a horse drink, is to make him thirsty.  Will you feel a need to pray to God, if everything you wanted was given to you?   Will you feel a need for His angels, if you didn’t occasionally suffer loss?  Will you want to drink of God’s eternal life, if life here was so much fun?  No!  The path of righteousness-Jesus’ righteousness-must lead through the valley of the shadow of death.  It’s only when we meet death that we will be able to be with our Lord forever.  That’s why Paul said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ-which is better far.”  The only way to heaven is through the valley of the shadow of death on the pathway of Christ’s righteousness.  It is a move of pure mercy for our Lord to take us down the valley of the shadow of death.

But what gives us comfort on this pathway?  The rod and staff of God.  The rod is used by the shepherd to fight off the wild animals.  And the staff is used to help guide the sheep.  This is, once again, the Word of God.  Only the Word of God will fight off the demons, with their temptations.  He instructs me by His word and directs me through my conscience and by His will.  Only the staff of God will assure us that God is still protecting us through this veil of tears.  All of God’s people realize that they are prone to go astray like lost sheep.  Although God may allow His people to fall into sin, He will not allow them to lie still in it.  Only God’s word will guide us out of sin and to Christ and His righteousness.  Why does God mercifully lead us on this pathway?  Because He is our merciful Lord and Savior.  All that He has done for me, was not done because I deserved His favor, but only for His name’s sake, or for the sake of His word, or because He was fulfilling His promises, or for His own glory, or to benefit His people.  The name of God will therefore be my strong tower, and assures me that He, who has led me and fed me, all through my life, will not leave me as I near the end.

Verse 5 says…..

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneyh over.

There is a story in Daniel chapter five about a Babylonian king by the name of Belshazzer, whose kingdom was about to be overrun by the armies of the Medes and Persians.  Their armies were right outside the gates of the city.  Do you know what he decided to do in the face of this disaster?  He decided to have a banquet.  He either underestimated his enemy, or overestimated his abilities.  His action was one of either arrogance or ignorance.  That very night God wrote his fate down on the wall of his palace; He wrote, “Your kingdom will fall.”

Therefore, this psalm might surprise us by the turn it takes.  You would think that while going through the valley of death and facing Satan that God would erect a wall, or some form of protection around His servant.  But instead, the Psalmists writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  Is this arrogance?    Not at all.  Why?  Because we are to put on our Armour through our mouths.  Remember, that throughout this psalm, God compares listening to the Word of God, to eating.  So, when you eat from the Word of God by listening to it, it makes you stronger and better prepared to fight against the Devil.  Before Jesus fought the Devil in the wilderness, He spent His life studying the scriptures, enabling Him to fight those fights.  Thank God, Jesus did His homework!  If He hadn’t defeated the Devil, and lost instead, then we would be on our way to Hell.  But thanks be to God, He fully partook of God’s word and defeated the Devil.

God has prepared a great diet for us to eat, to protect us against the Devil’s attacks.  We have been provided with a smorgasbord of God’s word, that all of us have easy access to.  Isn’t that a great thing?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if every war could be won without any danger, care, trouble, and work; we could conquer our enemies by doing nothing more than just setting at a table, dining and being happily content?  In this psalm, God’s man wants to indicate the great and wonderful power of the precious Word.  Through God’s word, I have a feeling of rich comfort in my heart, despite my guilty conscience, despite sin, fear and the terror of death.  If I live by the word, I become so courageous and invincible, outwardly, that none of my enemies can prevail against me.  His word gives me strength, when I am in the presence of my enemies, so that when they rage and rant violently, I feel more at ease than when I am sitting at a table and have all that my heart desires.  Eating and drinking means believing and clinging firmly to the Word.  It’s through that Word that God anoints our head with oil and fills our cups to overflowing.  In the Old Testament, Oil was used in times of joy and celebration.  It smelled and felt good.  Priests and Kings were customarily anointed with it.  When the Jews had their festivals and wished to be happy, they would anoint or sprinkle themselves with precious oils.  I thought that He would have put amour on me, placed a helmet on my head, a sword in my hand, and warned me to be cautious and to pay special attention to the business at hand.  Instead, He places me at a table and prepares a special meal for me; He anoints my head with oil as if, instead of going to do battle, I was on my way to a party or a dance.  And so, if I may want anything now, He fills my cup to overflowing, so that at once I may get happy and get drunk, not with wine, but with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit makes us not only courageous and bold, but also, so secure and happy that we can get drunk with a great and boundless joy.  As Ephesians 5:18 says, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.”  The apostles were this type of warrior, and on the day of Pentecost, they stood up in Jerusalem against the command of the emperor, not being intoxicated with wine, but with the Holy Spirit.  And now we come to the last verse, which says, …..

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
 
There are many people today, who call themselves Christians, which would look at this verse as a sign of arrogance.  They would say, “How can anyone know where they will go when they die?  All we can have is just a vague hope that someday we may end up getting there; maybe after a few hundred years of suffering in some netherworld.”  It makes me wonder how they can speak this psalm or why they would speak it. 

There is the most wonderful word in this verse-“MERCY.”  It does not mean the same as love or grace, and it means even more than what we commonly believe “mercy” to mean.  It carries with it a sense of carrying out a responsibility and fulfilling an obligation.  For example, when a person looks after his or her parents-he or she is fulfilling a sense of duty or obligation.  The Lord has an obligation toward us; not that He owes us for anything that we have done.  No!  He has an obligation to live up to His name as a merciful God.  Since He is a faithful God who keeps his promises, and a loving God, He has an obligation to his own name to do what He has promised to do.  Out of pure grace God has promised to us:

(1 John 1:7) The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sins.

(Romans 8:28) In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.

(John 11:25) I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.

(John 14:6) The way to eternal life is through faith in Jesus Christ.

God has promised great things to us.  He has promised that Jesus has paid for all our sins.  He has promised that all things will work out for our good.  He has promised those who believe in Him, an eternity in heaven.  He has never made a promise that He didn’t keep.

Is it arrogance or presumptuous to say with David that I will surely dwell in the house of the Lord forever?  Is the promise of heaven made to only a few special saints, throughout history?  By no means!  Jesus died for the sins of the world.  He promises those who believe in Him that they will live again to be with Jesus.  To doubt that, and to say something like this, “I might make it, but I’m not sure,” is the same as questioning God’s mercy.  It isn’t presumptuous to believe God’s promises.  It is called God given faith.  He has an obligation to fulfill His promises as our merciful Lord.  With Paul then, we can say, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Have you noticed the one repeating theme throughout this psalm?  What is it?  Isn’t it the importance of the Word of God?  By it, our Shepherd gives us nourishment through the message of Christ.  In it we find comfort in life’s trials and tribulations.  And in the message of Christ, our Good Shepherd, we find eternal life.  Therefore, we can say with David, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Amen.

 


 

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