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Psalm 23 (A sermon on the occasion of the memorization of the Psalm) May 18, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Psalms, Religion, Sermons, Shepherd.
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THE FOLD AND THE FEAST

Psalm 23:1-6

There is no psalm better known or more beloved than this one. It is one of the four psalms that I have presented to you for memorization during the summer months. Let us look at it today and understand how that this psalm might be helpful for us if we learn what it has to say to us.

The LORD (Jehovah) cares for us like a shepherd (verses 1-4).

His care is shown through His provision for us (verses 1-2). West of Nashville, there was an Methodist preacher named George Rye. He was pastoring a non-denominational church near Dickson, Tennessee. One day, he was driving us to a barbeque restaurant out in the middle of nowhere. As we were driving, he pointed to a group of cows, laying under a huge shade tree, chewing their cud. Preacher Rye said, “Robert, I want you to look at that. Those are contented cows. They don’t have a care in the world.” That is the picture of these first two verses. Contented in the shepherd’s care. As Paul said in Philippians 4, David could also say, “I have learned through thick and thin, that no matter what situation God allows me to be in, I have learned to be content in my shepherd. I shall not want.”

His care is shown through the hope that He gives to His sheep (verse 3-4). Hope recognizes that life has difficulties and dangers, that there are times even of despair and desperation.

It is not always easy to feel this hope within ourselves. “Some pious souls are troubled because they cannot at all times, or often, use, in its joyous import, the language of this Psalm. Such should remember that David, though he lived long, never wrote but one twenty-third Psalm. Some of his odes do indeed express as lively a faith as this, and faith can walk in darkness. But where else do we find a whole Psalm expressive of personal confidence, joy, and triumph, from beginning to end? God’s people have their seasons of darkness and their times of rejoicing.” William S. Plumer.

However, our shepherd “restores our soul.” This phrase is used to describe “resurrection” both literally and figuratively. When Elijah stretched himself over the dead son of the widow of Zarephath, he prayed exactly these words, “Lord, restore his soul” and it says that the LORD heard his prayer and restored the boy’s soul and he revived, he came back to life. In Lamentations is speaks of those who starved to death while looking for a little food to restore their soul. We our not talking about encouragement for someone who is having a bad day. This psalm is talking about someone who is in desperate straits; someone who seems to have no escape, no way out; someone for whom there is no hope but the shepherd restores their soul.

Now how does our shepherd do this? There are a number of ways but there is one way plainly spelled out in Scripture. In Psalm 19:7 we find this phrase used spiritually, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting (restoring) the soul.” The answer to your desperate situation is found in God’s Word. Wise counsel can help. Medicines can help. Support groups can help. There are many ways in which one can be helped but it is the Word of God that has the answer to you desperate situation and the better you understand that, the more confidence and contentment in Christ you can have.

The LORD (Jehovah) protects those who are His (verses 1, 4-6). This is an important point. The protection is extended only to His sheep, “The LORD is MY shepherd.” He owns me. This ownership though is not the same as ownership of a toaster which once it has outlived its usefulness is thrown away and replaced. The last phrase of this psalm describes for us this ownership. This ownership is based on a family relationship, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

“Where’s your home, David? Is it this palace here?”

“Oh, no. I live with God. His home is my home. Where He is, I belong.”

“What do you mean, David?”

David’s answer might sound like Psalm 27:1-6 (especially verses 4-5, “One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock”).

From the danger of the unknown (verse 4). I should mention that when I say “the danger of the unknown” I mean dangers that are unknown to us, dangers that are unexpected by us. Our Lord knows the dangers. He knows where the robbers lie in wait and where the wolves are hidden. In that sense, there is no real danger. We cannot be touched because our shepherd guides us.

“I want to talk to you about heaven,” said a dying parent [Rev. Hugh Stowell, Rector of Ballaugh, Isle of Man) to a member of his family. “We may not be spared to each other long. May we meet around the throne of glory, one family in heaven!” Overpowered at the thought, his beloved daughter exclaimed, “Surely you do not think there is any danger?” Calmly and beautifully he replied, “Danger, my darling! Oh, do not use that word! There can be no danger to the Christian, whatever may happen! All is right! All is well! God is love! All is well! Everlastingly well! Everlastingly well!” John Stevenson.

John 10 describes the valley of the shadow of death, the evils that we need not fear with two pictures. In verses 12-13 there is the danger of the wolf. What the wolf does is he comes in and catches one sheep and in so doing he scatters and terrorizes the others. There is for us though no danger from the wolf. “Catch” in verse 12 and “snatch” in verses 28 & 29 are the same words. If one of us could be snatched from Christ’s hand and from God’s hand, the rest of us could be scattered but neither is possible.

There is secondly for the sheep the danger of the thief (John 10:8-10). There is only one shepherd and that is Jesus Christ. All others are thieves and robbers who have only one reason for their existence, to steal and to kill and to destroy. Jesus, however, is come to give life and that more abundantly. We are not only safe under his protection but we also are enjoying abundance. All that is made possible because He is with us. He is our protection. One look at His rod and His staff and I am comforted. I need not fear. I need not worry.

There dangers of deceptive thieves are very real. Some of them are religious teaching things that rob our confidence in Christ and the salvation which He has provided, some are secular bringing doubt on the reality of truth and righteousness (relativism, for example). Some are intellectual dogmas like evolution which in the end result teaches us that we are lucky accidents with an unlucky future. Others are centered around the pleasures of this world which whether socially acceptable or unacceptable will eventually no longer please us. The dangers are there and sometimes we cannot see them but He always sees them and He always is ready to protect us from them.

Philip Keller in the classic, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” tells about photographing elephants in Kenya accompanied by a young Masai herder who carried a rod in his hands. “We came to the crest of a hill from which we could see a herd of elephants in the thick bush below us. To drive them out into the open we decided to dislodge a boulder and roll it down the slope. As we heaved and pushed against the great rock, a cobra, coiled beneath it, suddenly came into view ready to strike. In a split second the alert shepherd boy lashed out with his club, killing the snake on the spot. The weapon had never left his hand even while we worked on the rock…In that instand I saw the meaning of this phrase in a new light. It was the rod ever ready in the shepherd‘s hand that had saved the day for us.”

From the danger of the known (verse 5). Verse 5 changes from the pictures of the flock to that of a feast. Notice where this feast takes place, “In the presence of mine enemies.” Psalm 31:19-20 explains for us more clearly what this means, “Oh, how great is Your goodness, Which You have laid up for those who fear You, Which You have prepared for those who trust in You In the presence of the sons of men! You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence From the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion From the strife of tongues.” Even when it seems the world is against us, God takes care of us abundantly. He arranges the feast on the table. He brings us the sweet smelling oil to put on our head as a sign of hospitality. He just keeps bringing us more and more and more to drink. Yes, we know that there are dangers around us. There are some that we are unaware but there are as many or more of which we are fully aware but we need not worry. He has the table set. He is attending to our every need. Dusty feet? He will wash them. Refreshment? Let me fill you glass. Tired and worry and sweaty? Let me anoint you with the wonderful perfumed oil that I have at your disposal. I may not know what dangers you face but when danger comes and looks you in the eye you can say with confidence that your need is being taken care of by the LORD, Jehovah.

The LORD (Jehovah) gives us confidence that we can depend on Him (verse 6a). We have already noticed that His presence, His ownership of us, His invitation to us into His family, into His household gives us confidence and freedom from fear. Let’s not, however, forget how this is made possible. By His goodness and mercy. As I was looking at this verse, I began to think of Regina’s two dogs, “Goodness” and “Mercy”. I then I looked at the word “follow.” It is a hunter’s word. It means “to hunt, to hound, to pursue with the aim of catching or securing something.” Oh how wonderful the goodness and mercy of God is. Not only will it never leave me but I can never leave it. That is the picture of this verse.

Believer, Trust your Shepherd.

Get close to the shepherd – Go to him in prayer, bring your request to him. Let him “hold his staff against your side so that you stay in touch with him” (adapted from Philip Keller).

Realize that you can trust this shepherd – It is the reality that the Good Shepherd will protect me because He cares for me that gives me confidence in Him.

Learn Confidence from God’s Word – Let God’s Word restore your soul. During this summer we are going to learn several psalms. If you do not know this one by heart, learn it and repeat it to yourself every morning as you get up and every evening as you lie down. Learn these psalms, think on them, challenge your heart and pray to God about these verses. Study them and watch God bring situations into your life where you will learn to show confidence in His protecting care. These situations are coming anyway. Why not prepare yourself for them in a way that honors and glorifies God.

How do you become one of Christ’s sheep? Psalm 23 does not tell us but Jesus tells us in John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Realize that you are a sinner who deserves hell.

Realize that Jesus came, died for your sin and rose again to protect you from the eternal penalty that you deserve. John 10:11-12, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”

Trust Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin. John 10:24-28, “Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

There are thieves and robbers out there. Some of them are religious, some are not. Some reject Jesus completely. Others say, trust Jesus and your church or trust Jesus and your baptism or trust Jesus and the ten commandments or trust Jesus and that your good works will outweigh your bad works. Jesus said in John 10:1, “No, I am the good shepherd. I am the door. There is no other way.”

If you trust Christ and Him alone for salvation, you will have life and that more abundantly.

 

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