Learn the Shepherd Psalm

Text: Psalm 23 Time: 24/05/15 Place: Childs Hill Baptist
I'd like us to look today at the best known Psalm in the Bible, Psalm 23. In fact I'd like to do more than that. I'd like to encourage you to learn it if you never have before and I'd like to encourage you to use it to pray with. It is more of a confession than a prayer. These are statements rather than prayers - The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshes my soul and so on. They can easily be turned into prayers, however, “Thank you LORD for being my shepherd. I praise you that lack nothing. You are the one who makes me lie down in green pastures and who leads me beside quiet waters. Continue to refresh my soul and guide me along the right paths for your name's sake. Even when I walk through the darkest valley help me not to fear evil, but to remember and know that you are with me. May your rod and your staff be a comfort me.” And so on.
The psalm is A psalm of David. Half the 150 psalms are ascribed to him and we rightly think of him as the main author though not the one who gave the book its final form – 150 psalms divided into five books. David himself we know was a shepherd so when we read him saying The LORD is my shepherd it has a particular resonance. I listened someone speaking last week on the nineteenth century Baptist missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson. He mentioned that Judson wrote to his future father-in-law before leaving America asking for his daughter's hand in marriage. Judson wrote “I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world”. That's how it was in those days. Imagine! The speaker said he sympathised in particular as he is the father of three girls. So when David says The LORD is my shepherd it has a weight. Further, the word shepherd was often used for kings and other leaders. In 2 Samuel 5:2 the people remind Jesus of how the LORD said to David You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.
This opening sentence really anchors the whole psalm, The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. The rest of the psalm can then be divided into three major parts. So let's say
1. Is the LORD your Shepherd?
When you see The LORD in capitals, remember it says Lord because that was what the Jews used to say when they came to God's own special name. They did it so often that we no longer know how to say God's name properly. It is something like Yahweh. What David wrote then is not really The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing but Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing. “The true God who has revealed himself by name, he is my shepherd and so I can and do lack nothing at all.”
Dale Ralph Davis suggests there are three things there.
1. Intimacy. The use of the covenant name means that David is talking in very intimate terms and is saying both that he knows God by name and that God knows him as a shepherd knows his sheep. There is an intimate relationship, what we call today a personal relationship. In the Bible we are all encouraged to be in a personal relationship with God. This is possible because the Lord Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, the Good Shepherd, has come into this world to make it possible.
I remember when I was in primary school being told a story that comes from the 1850s and life on the American prairies. In a log cabin a little boy is dying of diphtheria. Because these people were so far from civilisation the only preacher they saw was a circuit riding preacher who would come every two months or so on his horse. He came to them one snowy March day and went in to see the sick little boy and talk with him. They talked about Psalm 23. The boy knew it but the preacher taught him to say it using his left hand to say The (thumb) LORD (first) is (second) my (third) Shepherd (fourth). He told him that the third finger of the left hand is where a woman puts her wedding ring and so it stands for love and that's where the “my” went. That was something the boy never forgot.
Are you in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? Is that relationship growing ever more intimate? If not, why not? Don't let anything get in the way of that!
2. Tenacity. The idea of having a god as your shepherd was apparently not an unusual one in the ancient near east. Other gods were proclaimed as shepherds too. David, however, is clear - The LORD is my shepherd. There is no other, there can be no other. If we go back to the story about the boy with his hand wrapped around his third finger, the end of the story tells how one night some time after the circuit riding preacher's visit the boy died and his parents found him the next morning with his hand wrapped around his finger. They didn't understand it but when the preacher came by again he explained and they saw that he had been holding on to Jesus as we all need to do.
Are you holding on to him? The circuit riding preacher was a Methodist I guess and he might have forgotten that Jesus was holding on to that boy too but we need to remember both his holding us where no-one can pluck us out of his hand and our calling to hold on to him. How does Paul put it in Galatians 4:9? You know God - or rather are known by God.
3. Sufficiency. Thirdly, there is that profound conclusion - The LORD is my shepherd, and so I lack nothing. If the Lord is your shepherd then what could you possibly lack? Romans 8:32 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? Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Do you see that? Without Christ you lose all. With him all things are yours. You lack no good thing. Is the LORD your Shepherd? If he is, you lack nothing you need.
2. Does he pasture you, lead you, refresh you and guide you?
In verses 2 and 3 David takes up this picture of the LORD as a Shepherd and runs with it. He speaks, mostly in Shepherd/Sheep terms of four things the LORD does for him and the reason why. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. I don't think David is thinking of four distinct things the LORD does for him when he thinks of pasturing and leading and refreshing and guiding. Rather, I think he is calling to mind what he used to do as a shepherd and how the Lord does that for him.
As you know, sheep get fat eating good grass, good pasture.  I remember seeing a picture of sheep eating grass on a football pitch (F C Barcelona I think it was). They are good for keeping the grass nice and short. In Israel it wasn't always easy to find pasture but good shepherds knew where to find the grass they needed. They also need water to refresh them. They prefer quiet waters. Sheep can't always find such things for themselves. Indeed, as you know, they have a reputation for straying away. It is the Shepherd who guides them. Good shepherds keep their sheep in an orderly fashion, always provided for.
Now this is what the Lord Jesus does for the believer. He feeds us and he refreshes our souls. He guides us in the right paths. He shows us the way to go. By nature we stray. We wander off and get lost but he brings us back into the right paths and for his own glory he keeps us on track.
What a comfort it is to know that we have such a Shepherd who supplies all our needs and provides for us and leads us. He will bring us safe to heaven if we will simply trust in him. We can be confident in him.
3. Are you confident even in the darkest valley because he is there and comforting you?
Then in verse 4 we have one of the most famous parts of the Psalm - Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Again he is using shepherd imagery but with application to the every day life of human beings. Notice too how he has turned from third person to second person – from him to you. This leads into what he says about God being near.
Sometimes the shepherd would need to lead his sheep though dark overhanging valleys, through mountain passes where the cliffs rose high above the sheep on both sides and where the sun didn't shine very much. Animals are often instinctively fearful in such situations and become nervous.
There are things we have to face in this life that can also be thought of as dark valleys. Sometimes death and danger come very close. Someone very close to you – a mother, a father, a brother or sister, a child even – will die. You yourself may be at death's door, as we say, or you may know a setback – you lose your job or someone let's you down very badly – or you may suffer some sort of depression that just will not lift. The dark valley comes in various forms.
Now listen to what David says here about such times once again. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, he says – boldly, almost defiantly. $ The Anglo Welsh poet Dylan Thomas has more than one poem that rages at death and resolves not to be afraid – one repeats the phrase “And death shall have no dominion”. Another ends “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Another is called A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London”. What he never gives is a reason not to mourn, some proof that death shall not have dominion. David does not do that here. He says not just Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. He is not merely whistling in the dark to give himself courage. No, he has reasons for confidence. For you he says are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
So first of all he is not afraid because his Shepherd is with him. If you go through the Old Testament you will find many references to God being with his people. While he is with them, they need not fear. In the story of Joseph we read how God was with him when he was sold as a slave down into Egypt (even Potiphar could see God was with him) and even in the prison. That is what made the difference. God does not promise us a life free of trouble even though some claim he does. He does promise to be with us in our troubles, however, and that counts for a lot.
There is also the shepherd's equipment. $ Every job has its own tools. I met a man last week who was a joiner or carpenter. Carpenters use saws and planes and chisels and such things. I also met an artist, a painter. They use brushes and mixing palettes and easels to put the canvas on. What about shepherds? Their staff or crook (as the end is usually crooked) is well known. Shepherds still use them today – usually still of wood but they can be made of light metal. They use them to walk with and to keep the sheep in line. Sometimes the hook is used on a horn to pull a sheep in line. Shepherds also carry weapons. Here a rod is mentioned. This is in case of attack by a wild animal – a bear or lion, say, or a wolf.
The Lord has his ways of keeping us in line and of defending us from the wolves and other marauders. Jesus tells us that the Good Shepherd even lays down his life for the sake of the sheep. That is what Christ has done – he has died in order to defeat our enemy Satan and set us free. He is now busy destroying all our enemies that we may escape hell and know the delights of heaven forever.
You may be going through the dark valley at the moment. If you are trusting in Christ he is with you.. You are not on your own. He will defend you. He will gently push you in the right direction. Don't be afraid. And if you are not in the dark valley, you will be some day. Keep these things in mind then.
4. Are you confident that the LORD will always provide for you?
Finally, verses 5 and 6 David says You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Once again we have pictures and ideas. There are five altogether. David says that the Lord prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. He has possibly dropped the sheep imagery here or better superseded it. A good shepherd will feed his sheep even when wild animals that may attack are near. David jacks things up and has God preparing the table in the midst of such dangers. It's not just that I can catch a bite to eat here and there, says David, no God prepares a feast for me. That is how it is for the one who trusts in Christ.
He says too that the Lord anoints his head with oil. Maybe the poor could not waste olive oil in that way but the rich could and David is rich because the Lord is his shepherd. Indeed his cup is not just full, it overflows. That is how it is for the person who puts his trust in Christ.
That is why I want to urge you to trust in Christ always.
And then there are the sheep dogs. Sheep dogs, you say, I see no sheep dogs. Their names are goodness and love and they belong to the Shepherd. David says of them that they will follow me or better pursue me all the days of my life. They are always there. If you are a Christian you cannot get away from God's goodness and his faithful love. Strangely, very strangely, we do sometimes. The devil convinces us that we might be better off somewhere else. It is crazy to think so.
The final line is and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. David anticipates not just a wonderful life but something beyond that – to be in God's house forever. The shepherd imagery is completely gone here. What shepherd would ever dream of taking a sheep home with him? But that is what the Lord does fro his sheep – for each and every one of them. He brings them safely home. What a future lies ahead for all who will simply trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust in him. He will never fail you or forsake you.

Seeing people as we ought to in Christ

Text 2 Corinthians 5:16 Date 27/05/15 Place Childs Baptist Church
It's half term this week so I thought we'd take a break from Philippians and look at a verse that has been on my mind, recently. I'm not quite sure why. The verse is in 2 Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 5:16. Paul says So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
The verse is found in the first part of 2 Corinthians where Paul talks about his God given ministry of reconciliation. He talks first about the glory of this ministry (3:9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!) but then also of the frailty of those who minister it (4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.)
From 5:10 he begins to talk about the ministry itself and its message of reconciliation.
We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, he reminds us so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Knowing this, Paul seeks to persuade others of the truth in a very plain and straightforward way. Christ's love compels us, he says because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
This Christ perspective means that his whole outlook on life has been transformed. As he says in verse 17 if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Paul goes on to speak of how reconciliation to God is through Christ and what he has done on the cross and how We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
There are lots of interesting things here then but I want to just focus on this one verse, 5:16, So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
There are two things we can say from this verse
1. There are two ways of regarding Christ – no longer take a worldly point of view
In the second half of the verse, which is where we want to begin, Paul explains the first half. He says that we once regarded Christ in this way, from a worldly point of view but, he says, we do so no longer. A change came about in Paul's life it appears. There was BC (before Christ) and there was AD – after Jesus became his Lord. His experience on the road to Damascus was amazing and life changing in a unique way, of course, but every true Christian undergoes a similar sort of change. Let's talk about these two ways of regarding Christ then.
1. Consider regarding Christ according to the worldly point of view
We once regarded Christ in this way says Paul, from this worldly point of view – literally “after the flesh”. Whether Paul ever laid eyes on Jesus while he was on earth we do not know and we cannot know. The most we can say is that it was possible and that it is likely that Paul saw him in the distance or heard about him but never had a personal encounter before the Road to Damascus. Paul's point is more likely to be that when he thought of the Messiah in the past (he uses the word Christ not Jesus) he thought of him as a Jewish temporal Messiah, one who would overthrow the Romans and give Israel political supremacy. This was an entirely wrong way to think of Messiah. That is not what Jesus was like or what he came to do.
Today you have people, I suppose, who have pictures of what they think Jesus looked like. Some of them carry crucifixes and so on. We could describe it as knowing Christ from a worldly point of view. Similarly there are all these ideas of Jesus – Jesus the teacher of morals, Jesus the healer, Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the best friend, Jesus the freedom fighter, Jesus the Socialist, Jesus the wise man, gentle Jesus meek and mild and so on and so on. What all these different ideas have in common is that, like the idea of Jesus as a political King of the Jews, these are all worldly points of view and they are wrong ways to think of Jesus.
2. Consider regarding Christ according to the spiritual point of view
No, we must come, as Paul had come, to see Christ as the Lord Jesus Christ the Messiah who is Lord and God and who is man and who died to save sinners from their sins and from everything else that stood against him. Verse 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. That is the way to understand Christ. He had no sin. He was perfect in every way. Yet God made him to be sin or to be a sin offering. He was put to death on the cross. He did that, says Paul to the Corinthians, for us. He died instead of us so that in him by trusting in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Is that how you think of Christ? That is how we ought to think of him – as our Saviour, as the one who sacrificed himself that all our sins may be forgiven. Once we accept that then it will affect the way we think of everything else. We will never think in the same way again, as is clear from this verse.
2. There are two ways of regarding other people – no longer take a worldly point of view
So that's the first thing – how we regard Christ. Now it is on the basis of this realisation that Paul says So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Just as there are two ways of regarding Christ so there are two ways of regarding everyone else; everyone we meet, everyone who exists. We either regard them from a worldly point of view or a spiritual one.
1. Consider regarding people according to the worldly point of view
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view says Paul. What does it mean to regard someone from a worldly point of view?
Many examples come to mind. When you see a person or meet them, it is very easy to fall into thinking of them in a worldly way.
Perhaps the first thing you notice is their colour, whether their skin is darker than yours or lighter. May be it is their accent. Are they British or from overseas? Are they from London or elsewhere? We can think of them on racial or provincial lines.
You notice if it is a man or a woman, an adult or a child, an old person or a young person. Do you make certain assumptions at that point?
Do you take in whether this is a beautiful person, a handsome person? Perhaps you can't avoid seeing certain blemishes. Again, it is easy to make judgements.
Perhaps this person is in a wheelchair or has some other disability. Again, it is easy to make assumptions.
Do you notice what sort of hat is worn? A turban showing he is is a Sikh, a yarmulke or kippah that shows he is Jewish. Perhaps it is brimless and you wonder if this man is a Muslim. Perhaps the red in his beard gives it away. Or is there a red spot on the forehead suggesting Hinduism? We can think of people on religious lines.
May be you notice the cut of their clothes, their shoes. Is this a rich person or a poor person? Does their jewellery tell you how rich they are and does that influence your attitude?
I am not suggesting that it is possible always to ignore these things. Sometimes they just jump out at you. It is important, however, that when we find ourselves noticing such things that we do not fall into worldly ways of thinking. I'd like to get to know her, she looks nice. He's from my home town so I'll be nice to him. He's Muslim so I won't talk to him. She's a poor person, I'm not interested in her.
Every now and again a survey comes out telling us that people get ignored because they are overweight or elderly or unattractive. Such things no doubt do happen.
I am not suggesting that we try to ignore such factors but that we stop thinking in such simply worldly ways. Remember what James says in 2:1-4
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
2. Consider regarding people according to the spiritual point of view
So what should we think of people we encounter if we are not going to think of them from a worldly point of view? Clearly what Paul expects is that we see them as made in the image of God and more than that, being convinced that one died for all we therefore believe that all died all are sinners who by nature deserve God's wrath but who may be saved if they trust in Jesus Christ. That is the way to see people – as sinners but as potential recipients of the grace of God. What a transformation it would involve if we could always see everyone we meet and have that sort of attitude. When Jesus himself saw the crowds he saw them as sheep without a shepherd and he had compassion on them. We ought to be filled with compassion too.
Dale Ralph Davis has a nice story about how he and his wife and his children went over to a football field one evening and practised field goal kicks. He reckons that his wife, Barbara, to the amazement of his boys, proved to be very adept at field goal kicking. This was an aspect of their mother that they had never really contemplated before. According to Davis they never thought of her in quite the same way again.
Once we know Christ we should really never look at any human being in quite the same way again. We should see each one as a sinner and as perhaps one for whom Christ died that they might be forgiven. It doesn't come easily, at least not with everyone, but we can work at it. We must.