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In Psalm 23 we see the sufficiency and security that arise from a relationship with God as our Good Shepherd. He not only provides us peace amidst the storms but also restores us when we have strayed. In every season of life, we can rest assured that we are never alone, for our Heavenly Father is always present. He guides us, protects us, and abundantly provides for us. Christ came into the world not to condemn us, but to erase our sins, reconcile us to God and restore us to a place of wholeness and abundant life.
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Let’s take God’s word and turn again to the book of the Psalms. I want to begin a two-part sermon this morning, Psalm 23. We are continuing in our series of sermons called Statements of Faith. We’re looking at Psalms of trust. These are familiar words, but I hope that maybe these two sermons will help you and I reset the button that you and I will come to appreciate this Psalm with greater freshness and understanding. John McNeely, old Scottish writer, said of Psalm 23, he felt that he wrote it himself. This is a psalm that we have identified with, speaks to life, it speaks to death, it speaks to life beyond death and so follow along.
I’m reading from the New King James’s translation of holy scripture. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down and green pastors, he leads me besides still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in 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 you are with me. You’re rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
I want to begin a two-part sermon entitled More Than Adequate. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, if you know God personally, you are more than adequate for any circumstance in life. In fact, in his book Mastery, the missionary E. Stanley Jones said this, “The art of living is the least learned of all arts. Man has learned the art of existing, of getting by somehow with the demands of life, of escaping into half answers. But he knows a little about the art of living, about being able to walk up to life with all its demands, humbly conscious that he has within himself a mastery that is able to face this business of living with adequacy.”
I mean that’s a striking statement, is it, there at the end of that quote, the ability to face the business of living with a sense of adequacy. If you think about it, that’s the quest and the conquest of humanity across history. Men and women everywhere want to be able to face the business of living with a sense of adequacy. They know it would be a wonderful thing and I think you and I would agree this morning that it would be a wonderful thing to get up in the morning to wake up to life on a daily basis, unafraid of the prospect of anything that life might throw our way, to know that as we rise to meet a new day, that it will never dwarf us, that we can handle anything that the day brings.
E. Stanley Jones is right. Learning the art of living with a sense of adequacy is indeed the Holy Grail of each and every serious minded man or woman alive today. In fact, as I thought about that, I thought about some words by Adrian Rogers, the great Southern Baptist pastor and preacher who’s now with the Lord. He said this, “When I ask Christians how they’re doing, they typically answer, ‘Well, I’m doing pretty well under the circumstances,'” and then he said this, “And what I want to say is this, ‘How did you get there?'” It’s a great insight. God doesn’t want us living under the circumstances, burdened by the circumstances, overwhelmed by the circumstances. God wants us living in the midst of the circumstances with a sense of adequacy. And since that’s the quest and the conquest of humanity across history, I want to turn you to Psalm 23 this morning and on the other side of Easter.
I want to turn our attention to this familiar psalm because here we find a man who needs nothing, a man who lives with a sense of adequacy a man that has his needs met and more. In fact, he describes life like a cup that overflows. This man is brimming with blessing. This man is indeed swimming in confidence. “I shall not want,” he says. “My cup over flows,” he says. He’s living with a sense of adequacy. In fact, here’s what he says in verse one, “I shall not want,” and here’s what he says in verse four, “I will not fear.” That’s a wonderful thing to be able to say, is it not? To get up every morning and say, I shall not want and I will not fear. I can handle what life throws my way.
In fact, what he talks about in those two phrases is what we call sufficiency and security, provision and protection. The two things that people the world over want. I know that we’re in a presidential election year, although it’s been suspended because of the coronavirus, but I’m sure that President Trump and Vice President Biden when they’re back on the trail will promise those two things. Politicians are always promising these two things, sufficiency and security. They want to raise your wages, they want to bring better health benefits. They want to lower your taxes. They want to give you a sense that your life is going to be far more prosperous and then they’re going to promise not only sufficiency, but they’re going to promise security.
They’re going to promise to lower the crime rates, they’re going to promise to deal with international conflicts and be party to world peace. Did you notice that men and women are always searching for, and leaders are always promising those two things, but David has them in spades, “I shall not want and I will not fear,” and he can say that in Psalm 23 because his adequacy for life has been rooted in a relationship with God as his shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. And though I walk in deep darkness, I will not fear for this shepherd is with me.”
David understood the life of a shepherd. He once was a shepherd himself. Psalm 78:70-72 tells us that God took him from the sheep folds of his father Jesse, and made him the king and the leader in Israel to Shepherd Jacob and David knew that a good shepherd cares for provides for, leads and defends his sheep and not only does he do that by his actions and his demeanor, he wants to gift the sheep a sense of sufficiency and security so that they can lie down in green pastures and they can come alongside the still waters and they need not fear.
You see what David was to his father’s flock early in his life, God was [inaudible] to David throughout his own life. God was a wonderful shepherd. In Psalm 95:7, and Psalm 100:3, God is described as a shepherd, the people of God are described as a people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. What David was early in life to his father’s flock, God has been to him throughout life. God has been a wonderful shepherd. In fact, I would say that this idea of sufficiency and security is reinforced when we understand. When David wrote this psalm.
It’s my conviction, I think a number of the commentators agree with this, that David probably wrote this towards the end of his life. This is a testimony to how God has shepherded him through life. This is not the reflections of an naive youngster. This is the reflections of a mature man who has lived long enough to make enemies. This is the reflections of a man who has walked through very dark experiences, but he has come out the other side of it, safe and sound, sufficient and secure, because of the shepherd.
I like how one of the writers puts it. This was probably written towards the end of David’s life. It makes a lot of sense to think of David writing this psalm at the end of his life when his children’s disloyalty was a distant memory, when the kingdom had been firmly established against the unfriendly nations, when his own personal sins had long been forgiven and almost forgotten, and when he was ready to hand over a peaceful kingdom to his successor and son Solomon. Out of that rich legacy of life and faith, he looked back and reflected on the Lord’s goodness. I love that thought. I think that’s true that the confidence with which David speaks, he’s brimming with blessing. He’s swimming in confidence, comes because he has lived long enough to know that God is enough. He’s an adequate man. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.
You’ll notice in your English Bible, the word Lord is in capitals. That means this is the covenant name of God, the one who is the I am. Yahweh. A word that has at its heart the verb to be this speaks of God’s self-sufficiency, God’s self existence, the fact that God exists virtue of the fact of his very nature, God always has been, always will be and he is constant in his love, unbending in his holiness, relentless in his mercy, long in his patience. That’s what he is. He’s the I am. God has existed without our help. God is apart from the creation. God is dependent upon no one. While everything and anyone is dependent upon him. That’s our word.
And David is kind of making this argument. I don’t want you to miss it because verse one is really a set for the rest of the psalm.
As G. Campbell Morgan said, when this is said, “All is said, the Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want, I won’t want for peace because he makes me lie down. I won’t want for guidance because he leads me along the right path. I won’t want for protection or comfort because he’s with me in the darkness. I won’t want for provision because he spreads a table before me in the presence of my enemies and his goodness and mercy follow me all the dares of my life and I won’t want for hope because Heaven is my final destination.” When this is said, all is said and the reason David can say this, “I shall not want,” because the one who has no want is his shepherd. It’s beautiful, wasn’t it R. C. Sproul who said so wonderfully, “God doesn’t need me to be me, for him to be him, because he’s the I am, but I need him to be him, for me to be me.” And that’s what he was to David.
Wasn’t it Paul who said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Speaking of life and ministry, he says, “But our sufficiency is from God and God makes all Grace abound to us in all sufficiency.” That’s why I gave this sermon the title More Than Adequate. That’s why among the nations right now in the middle of this coronavirus, Christians are more than adequate for the stresses and the strains and the fears that accompany this virus. And where the world finds itself today, I hope you’re not under the circumstances. I hope you’re living victoriously in the midst of the circumstances because the shepherd is with you.
Now, we could immediately start Psalm 23 and I want to do that. That’s why I decided to stretch this out over a couple of sermons because before we actually look at three things about the shepherd this morning, I do want to remind you we’ve already acknowledged that David wrote this psalm. David was himself a shepherd. God took him from being a shepherd to his father’s flock and made him a shepherd to the people of Israel and God shepherded David, God cared for the people of God by caring for the caretaker of the people of God and God was to David what David needed to be for God. I love that thought. Understand that you were a shepherd, now be a shepherd to my people and I’ll shepherd you. And highest in that thought is. God is always to us what he wants us to be for him. Whatever God calls you to do, whatever God asks you to be, you realize you don’t have that, but you’re not sufficient in yourself. Your sufficiency is in God. And whatever God asks us to be, he will enable us to be. Where God’s finger points, God’s hand provides. So it’s written by David, but secondly it’s written to us.
I want to squeeze this in. I don’t want to jump over the introduction to this psalm written by David but written to us. This is a psalm of trust. This is like Psalm 46, Psalm 16, Psalm 11. These are psalms that express trust in God. In fact, this is a radical psalm of trust and the reason I say that is because there is no prayer in this. There is no petition in this. There is no protest in this. This is a radical psalm of trust. It’s just a lively statement about living realities. It’s about what God is. It’s not about what God was. It’s not an appeal to God to be something in the future. It’s what God is. The Lord is my shepherd and here’s what he does. Here’s what he’s doing and David wants us to embrace that.
This is a radical psalm of trust. This is a call to trust God. This is a call to swim in confidence that God is enough, that you need not fear and you shall not want. You won’t want what you need to do God’s will. JJ Perone, the French commentator said, “This psalm breathes throughout a spirit of the calmest and most assured trust in God. It speaks of a peace so deep, a serenity so profound, that even the thought of the shadows of death cannot disturb it.” Don’t you want that kind of peace? Don’t you want to live with that calm confidence?
In an interview several years ago, the author Larry Crabb told of how his brother died in a tragic airplane accident. In that interview, he shared honestly about his struggle, his struggle to embrace the mystery of God’s providence. He wondered what good was in the bad, although that’s promised by Romans 8:28. In fact, here’s what Larry Crabb said. He cried out to God and these are the words he cried. “I know you are all I have, but I don’t know you well enough to be all that I need.” Just pause a moment and chew on that for a moment. Listen to his words. “I know you are all I have, but I don’t know you well enough to be all that I need.” That’s honest. That’s human. Here’s what he’s saying. God, I don’t know you well enough to be able to trust you and rejoice in you and treasure you when all I have left is you. I think often that’s where we’re at. But Psalm 23 wants us to move beyond that wants us to find God alone as our treasure to express trust in him that he is enough when life turns south and when life turns sour.
Okay, keep hanging in. Written by David written to us. Thirdly, and finally now we’ll get to the text written about Jesus. Written about Jesus. This is a wonderful part of Psalm 23. David was the author, we’re the audience, but in the foreground, in the background is the message of the gospel. This psalm points us towards the Lord Jesus Christ who said what? “I’m the good shepherd,” John 10. “I’m the great shepherd,” Hebrews 13. “I’m the chief shepherd,” 1 Peter 5.
Look, I was taught in my earliest days as a Christian. The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The Bible is one whole story and fundamentally it’s about Jesus Christ. It’s about God’s rescue mission toward a world that had turned its back on him, a world that had gone astray like sheep and turned away from God and made a God of their own desires and allow their world to be sovereign in God’s world.
The message of the Bible is that God has set about rescuing a broken world, a rebellious planet, and he has set about doing that through Jesus Christ. That’s the message of the Bible. That’s why when Jesus is on the other side of his death and resurrection, having paid for our sins and having defeated death, he helps his disciples make sense of that and in Luke 24:44, he says, okay, you can find this in Moses. You can find what I just did in the prophets and you can find what I just accomplished in the Psalms. Think about that. Jesus is saying, you can find me in the Psalms. I’m in wonderful display in the Saulter. And you know what? That’s true of Psalm 23. In fact, it’s true of Psalm 22, 23 and 24. They form a trilogy on Christ the shepherd. Now in John 10, he’s the shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep. And in Hebrews 13, he’s the great shepherd brought back from the dead, who equips us to do the will of God.
In 1 Peter 5, he’s the chief shepherd who comes back to reward true and faithful pastors and shepherds of the church. You can overlay those three titles on Psalm 22, Psalm 23 and Psalm 24. This book is inspired by God, my friend. In Psalm 22, you have the words that Jesus will take upon his lips on the cross. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This is a psalm that anticipates the suffering of the Savior on the cross, the good shepherd that lays life for the sheep. In Psalm 23, he’s the shepherd who takes care of the sheep like the great shepherd who equips us to do God’s well. And in Psalm 24, he’s the king of glory who’s coming back in glorious power to establish his kingdom on the earth. And in 1 Peter 5, he returns to reward his people. How beautiful is that?
And you know what? It reminds us something very important and why I have slowed my introduction down to show you that David wrote this to us about Christ because you must come to Psalm 23 through Psalm 22. If you’re going to know Jesus, the great shepherd, who meets your needs, who guides you in life, who protects you in the midst of evil, you need to embrace him as the good shepherd who laid down his life for you. I hope today I’m speaking to an audience of people who know and love and follow Jesus Christ and are living in the security and sufficiency of his love. You must come through Psalm 22 to get the Psalm 23. You must embrace Jesus the Savior if you’re to enjoy Jesus the shepard.
In fact, I was thinking about that this morning and I went back to a pastor of mine in Northern Ireland, Ivan Thompson who remember in a sermon one day said, “I want to make the gospel simple.” He says, “Here’s the gospel in a nutshell,” Isaiah 53:6 is the gospel in a nutshell. “All we like sheep have gone astray and turned everyone to his own way, but the Lord has laid all of our iniquity on him.” And here’s what he said. So profound but so simple. If you’ll go in the first all and come out the second, all, you’ll be saved. That’s what it means to become a Christian, to acknowledge that you are a sinner, that you broken God’s law, that you’ve exalted your will above his will, that you’re like a sheep that’s gone astray and you’ve turned away from God. You’re living with your back to the Almighty. If you’ll acknowledge that, you’ll win that first all and then come out the second all and acknowledged that God in an act of love and substitution, put your sin on his son who was sinless and Jesus died on the cross for you, just for the unjust of you will embrace Jesus atonement on your behalf and embrace the thought that is conquered death and promised you eternal life. That’s yours for the taking my friend. Go in the first all and write the second all.
Okay, long introduction, but I hope a helpful one. I hope there’s still edification in all of that. God wants us to learn the art of living the business of life with adequacy and that indeed is the inheritance of the child of God. This is a psalm written by David to us about Jesus. Now let’s start to look at the Psalm itself and as time allows me, I’m going to cover a few things this morning and we’ll pick this up, as I said, on the other side of Easter. There’s several things I want us to see, remember verse one, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” When that is said, all is said, everything that comes after that, we move from the general to the specific. We actually get to see what the shepherd does.
Here’s the first thing. If you’re taking notes, I hope you are, you got your Bible open, following along. The shepherd stills, the sheep, the shepherd stills, the sheep, he brings peace and a sense of security to the sheep. Look at verse two. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures and he leads me beside the still waters. See, it goes without saying that a shepherd will find food and water and rest for his sheep. He will lead them to green pastures. See, the image here is of sheep lying down in green pastures and from what I can tell in my research, sheep will not lie down while they’re hungry. And so here’s the picture of the shepherd leading his sheep to greasing ground that satisfies their need and they lie down, satisfied and sufficiently fed and at peace. He makes them to lie down in green pastors and he leads them beside the still waters.
Sheep will not lie down when they’re hungry, but sheep will not drink water from a fast flowing stream. They’re not good swimmers. They live in mortal fear of fast flowing streams or gurgling water. I don’t know if they sense it, but we know if they were to fall in with the wool on their coat, getting saturated will weigh them down and the stream might pull them under. All of that is a phobia to the flock of sheep, but a good shepherd takes care of that. In fact, here’s something very interesting. Your English version kind of misses. You might have it in a marginal note on your Bible. He leads them or he leads me beside still the waters. The Hebrew can be read as stilled waters or waters of quiet or waters of rest.
Now let me get the image behind that. Knowing the sheep’s fear and phobia and concern for running water and the threat that it poses, my research tells me that an eastern shepherd would often one with the staff, he would might dig a little channel off the side of the water or the stream and then he would dig a little pool and the water would flow into the pool and be stilled, be still be quiet, and the sheep would gather at the side of the water but drinking stilled water. Or sometimes he would take his staff and dislodge some rocks or boulders and he would build a little dam, a little wall of stones on the edge of the river or the stream and the water would collect in there and be still, and the sheet would come. Even in the midst of the running fearful stream of water and find stilled waters and they’d be at rest. What a beautiful picture. What a wonderful promise that in the midst of life’s turbulence, in the midst of life’s troubles, God can bring his people to a state of rest, to a place of peace, to an experience of tranquility.
And here we are in the middle of a global pandemic. We’re in the middle of a national crisis here in the United States. We’re doing things we’ve hardly ever done in our history. We’re not sure what the outcome is. We know the threat that this is not only to life, but our economy and the quality of life is always tied into the economy. So those two things are not separated. These are turbulent times. But God is saying in this psalm to you and to me and to our friends, that he wants to provide stilled waters. He wants to refresh us. He wants to bring rest to us in the midst of it.
I mean, think about David, the author, right? David wrote this to us about Jesus. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and he leads me besides stilled the waters.” David knows this experience. David has known trials. His life sadly has been marked by murder, incest, betrayal, adultery, civil war and the killing of his son. It is telling us now at the end of life looking back, having gone through all of that stuff, he led me beside stilled waters. In the midst of that, I caught my breath. In the midst of that, I knew the hush of Heaven. In the midst of that, he gave me refreshment when everything was draining my strength and resolve. Friends, that’s the image. Have you ever been threatened by a set of circumstances like sheep beside a flowing stream of water? Have you ever been threatened by a set of circumstances that causes you to draw back in fear? Because you get a sense that if this keeps going or you get any deeper into this, this will pull you under? That’s the image. And yet God was able to provide peace for David.
This was written by David to us about Jesus. What about Jesus in the midst of Galilee, in the midst of a storm in the boat in which he’s in, he’s asleep at the back of the boat. His disciples are pulling on the oars, the seals are ripping a little and the wind, there’s been a sudden storm that’s come upon the sea of Galilee. They’re frightened. Jesus doesn’t seem to be disturbed. They’re disturbed that he’s not disturbed. And so they waken him up and say, “Lord, don’t you care?” And we read that He stands up and he says, “To the wind and the waves what? Be still.” He can do that for you.
God’s peace is not having a life without storms. Let me say that again. God’s peace is not having a life without storms. It’s having Jesus in the boat who’s able to bring peace in the midst of the storm. You know what? 1555 Nicholas Ridley about come another Protestant martyr. That’s the famous incident between Hugh Latimer and Master Ridley back to back, about to be burned for their Protestant faith under Bloody Mary, play the man, Master Ridley says Latimer. Well, the evening before his death, according to some of the records, records that I have read, his brother comes to his prison cell and offers to stay with him to keep vigil during the night. And amazingly Ridley says, “No. Thank you, but no.” And he says this, “I intend to sleep tonight as any other night.” Come on, aye, that’s striking. Is that possible? In the shadow of death to put your head on a pillow and know that it’s well with your soul to know that when you go through that valley of the shadow of death that he’ll be with you and you need not fear it is possible. And he did. He slept that night like a child and the next day he played the man and gave his life for the gospel.
Well, my friend God wants that for you. God’s peace is not having a life without storms, but it is being in the company of the storm chaser, the Lord Jesus Christ. Before I leave that thought, I want to come back to it. See, remember in this picture the shepherd leads the sheep beside side stilled waters that haven’t yet been stilled. Okay, keep this image in mind. He will maybe dig a channel. He maybe will create a pool or he maybe will build a small dam around the edge of the water. But when they’re brought to the side of that river, that stream, it’s still flowing. It’s threatening. They haven’t yet been stilled, but that water will be stilled and the shepherd will make them rest beside stilled waters.
And that environment that seems so threatening and so scary will become a means of rest and refreshment because the shepherd has a plan. I love that thought. Listen to these words by [inaudible] and Robinson. “Have you ever drawn back in fear when it seemed that life like a rampaging river would suck you under and drown you beneath its flow? Often as such times Christians utter that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to its purpose. But even as we repeat those words, we’re afraid, then the shepherd comes and works in those events that we feared most and makes them a place of rest and refreshment. Beautiful. That’s worth grabbing a hold of. That’s worth trying to live out this morning. That that which threatens you right now, even the coronavirus and it’s this circumstance ends unpleasant and it’s generating fear and maybe we’re muttering it under our breath. All things work together for good, but we’re not really believing it. We’ve got to believe it.
The sheep were frightened, but the shepherd that brought them there would provide for them there and protect them there. We don’t have time to turn here, but if you’re taking notes, why don’t you write down Exodus 14:1-2, that’s the story of the people of Israel and the crossing of the Red Sea and the great miracle of the parting of the waters where Moses lifts the staff and says, you know, to the people of God, “Be still and see the salvation of the Lord.” But I want you to understand as that staff is lifted and that promise is made and that act of obedience and trust is asked for, the Red Sea is full and behind them there’s a cloud of dust as the Egyptian army pursues them.
And if you read Exodus 14:1-2 you’ll realize that God gave them specific directions to turn here and to turn there and he brought them to the Red Sea. They had followed the pillar of could and the pillar of fire. It was God that brought them there and there before them was the swelling of this massive body of water preventing their escape. Around them were mountains and behind them was the Egyptian army. But I want to remind you that God brought them there and the point I think of that text would be when God brings us into a set of circumstances that seem threatening, God has a plan to get us out of that circumstance that seems so threatening and you and I need to grasp that. We need to live in the good of that.
Let me tell you a story behind a hymn. God moves a mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. That him was written by William Cowper, a friend of John Newton, the writer to a hymn we just sang a few moments earlier, Amazing Grace. His story is a checkered one. In fact, his life is a sad one. John Piper says that William Cowper’s life quote was, “One long accumulation of pain.” He lost his mother when he was six. He had a broken relationship with his father. He was bullied at school. He was given to severe seasons of depression. He wondered if he had committed the unpardonable sin. He wondered if God had rejected him. On several occasions he tried to take his life and God in his marvelous providence had prevented him from taking his life. If my memory serves me right, on one occasion the knife broke, he fell. On another occasion, he went to drown himself in the River Thames and got lost in a fog in London.
He comes to know Christ in the midst of all this darkness and in the midst of all its despair in a hospital. He was a frequent patient in hospitals and asylums. And one day he read Romans 3:25 and he came to see that his redemption was to be found in redemption offered by Jesus Christ. And the clouds lifted to some degree, but even throughout his life he still struggled. Newton was a friend to him and helped him get through many a dark season. In fact, he kept company with a Calvinistic wing of the evangelical church. Although he didn’t fully understand it, although he didn’t always make sense of what God had done or allowed in his life, he came to this view that God’s goodness and mercy had followed him all the days of his life. And that’s why he wrote this hymn. God moves in mysterious ways. His wonders to perform. He plans his footsteps in the sea and he rides upon the storm.
But I want you to notice a verse in this hymn that I think plays into this thought. Keep in mind we’re thinking about stilled waters by rushing waters, finding peace in the midst of a circumstance that continues to threaten finding peace in the experience of things that are scary and things that God seems to have allowed or had a direct hand in. Here’s what William Cowper says to fearful saints like that, “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take. The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break with blessings on your head.” It’s beautiful. That’s exactly the experience of the sheep. The water they so much dreaded, the shepherd used to bring blessing.
And my friend, whatever circumstance you’re in, maybe you’ve got the coronavirus and your life is under threat. Maybe you’re on the front lines of medical relief. Maybe your business is tottering on the edge of failure. I mean I can go on. These circumstances are threatening but fearful. Seeing fresh courage take. The clouds you so much dread will break with blessing on your head.
So here’s the first thought. The shepherd stills the sheep. For the time that remains, I’ve got one other thought this morning and then we’ll pick this up on the other side of Easter. The shepherd sees the sheep. Okay, verse two, the shepherd stills the sheep. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. And here’s the next thought. He restores my soul, the shepherd saves the sheep. Another ministry of the shepherd is to rescue and restore fallen, wayward sheep. That’s just what shepherds do, don’t they? And that’s an image that we find throughout the Bible. Shepherds are often cast as those who are on a search and rescue mission. That’s Isaiah 53:6, which we just mentioned a few moments ago. “All we like sheep have gone astray, turned everyone to his own way.” And then we find in Jesus tells a story, doesn’t he? Luke 15:1-7 about a shepherd who had 100 sheep and he went out to find the one that was missing.
Sheep have poor eyesight. Not only are they frightened of running water, they’re directionless. They can put themselves into predicaments of great danger. They tend to go astray. Remember the little nursery rhyme? Little Bo Peep had lost her sheep and didn’t know where to find them. And someone advised her, leave them alone and they’ll come home with their tails bobbing behind them. I’ve got two things to say about that nursery rhyme. Number one, Little Bo Peep wasn’t much of a shepherdess and number two, who ever give her that advice didn’t know anything about sheep. Sheep don’t come home. Sheep stray. In fact, dogs can come home, pigeons can fly home. Cats can come home. There are certain breeds of animal that seem to have a homing instinct. Okay?
When I was growing up in Northern Island, some of my friends had pigeons and they would go and race them many, many miles away from home and then the pigeons would come home to the coop in the backyard. Amazing. Sheep don’t do that. Sheep don’t come home with their tails bobbing behind them. The shepherds got to go and find them. The shepherd seeks the sheep. That’s what our text is saying. Like a shepherd, God has restored my soul. A shepherd will do that.
Again in my research reading material on eastern shepherds and the shepherding world in general, sheep have a tendency to get lost and then after a while they recognize they’re lost. Takes a while sometimes. They’re feeling good in their freedom and their rebellion. But after a while they come to realize it comes crashing down upon them, I’m lost and I’m in danger. And they begin to bleat and cry. Then sheep will find a bush to hide beneath or a rock to hide beside. Then at this point, they’re in great peril because there’s the stink of fear in the air. There’s the noise of the sheep bleating in distress. And the other animal kingdom will come for a nice tasty supper. But once the shepard who knows his sheep by name finds that one of the 100’s missing, he’ll go looking for it. And he’ll often find it shivering beneath a rock or beside a hedge.
And one of the books I read said, the sheep can be in such a st of trauma and panic that it’s unable to walk. And so the loving shepherd lifts the sheep up and puts the sheep across the shoulders and carries them home. That’s one of the images of God, by the way, in the prophecy of Isaiah. How beautiful is that? In fact, one other thought, if there’s a sheep that’s a repeat offender, shepherds would often take that lamb, which is more the case, that hasn’t been trained. The shepherd would deliberately break the leg of the lamb. He would then splinter that leg and he would carry that lamb or that sheep on his shoulders for a while, making that sheep utterly dependent, breaking that sheep’s will, bringing a greater relationship and bond between the shepherd and the sheep. Those are the images that lie behind this text. By the way, this text would be better read like this. He brings me back. That’s the literal Hebrew. He restores my soul or he brings me back. It’s the idea of returning something to its original steer of health or quality.
My friend, as we kind of wrap up this morning. That’s a beautiful picture and with it comes wonderful hope because we are like stray sheep. We’ve already established that. All we, like sheep, have gone asray. In fact, the man that wrote this very psalm in another psalm, Psalm 51 acknowledges that he strayed and he strayed far. He was party to adultery, he was partied to murder and yet he came to know the mercy, the multiplied mercy of God. And in the midst of Psalm 51, I think it’s verse 12, what does he say? “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation. And then transgressors will know your way.”
Lord, bring me back. Don’t take your spirit from me. Bring me back to a place of intimacy and closeness where I know your smile and I enjoy your presence. Oh my friends, we are like strange sheep. Morris Roberts said this, “Christians cannot fall away, but they can fall far. Good men can lose great mercies through their falls. Some have lost their authority as witnesses of Christ. Some have eclipsed their reputations forever. Some have left ugly stains on otherwise bright ministries. Noah fail through strong drink. Lot through worldliness. Moses through impatience. Samson through women. David through lust. [inaudible] through arrogance. Zechariah through unbelief. And David through self-confidence. The list does not end there. History shows that the good and even the great are liable to sad lapses.
We’re like the strange sheep, but the Lord Jesus is like the loving shepherd. See, it was written by David to us about Jesus. He tells the story on himself in Luke 15:1-7. He’s the good shepherd that goes and finds the stray sheep and brings them home with great rejoicing. John 10:11-15, he’s the good shepherd at lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus loves to rescue the sinning unbeliever. And Jesus is quick to restore the sinning believer, Peter, our pray that your faith doesn’t fail. And when you are back on board, feed my flock, serve my kingdom.
One of the great truths of this image of the shepherd is the fact that the sheep always have a shepherd. Think about that. It’s very simple, but it’s very profound. The sheep always have a shepherd. Remember the sheep don’t come home. The shepherd goes and finds them. My friend, wherever you are this morning, at a distance from God, whether you are a sinning unbeliever or you’re a sinning believer, Christ wants to bring you back. Maybe these circumstances have been set by him to break your will. Maybe it’s through the rebuke of a friend. Maybe the goodness of God is calling you to repentance. But in some way, in some measure, the shepherd is on your heels and he wants you back and he’ll take you back because the sheep always have a shepherd. There is more grace in God’s heart this morning for you than there is sin in your life. Jesus Christ didn’t come into the world to rub it in. He came into the world to rub it out.
Let me finish with another story about a hymn and the man that wrote it. “Come thy find of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy greatest streams of mercy. Never ceasing call for songs of loudest prayers.” We sang that this morning. It was written by a man called Robert Robinson. And later in life having wrote that he got away from the Lord. He stopped going to church, he stopped serving. He was at a bad place. And according to a story I read one day, he was walking the streets when he waved down a carriage, a taxi of that day. And he was about to get into the taxi when he realized there was a well-dressed woman in the taxi who looked like she was going to church. And so he waved it by. But the woman graciously invited him in, was willing to share the taxi cab that horse drawn carriage with him. And as he come in and get into a conversation with her, the woman asked him his name and he said, “My name is Robert Robinson.” And she said, “That’s so funny. You wouldn’t… It couldn’t be true, but you wouldn’t be the Robert Robinson who wrote the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing?
And kind of putting his head down he said, “Yes, that’s me.” But he says, “I don’t live that right now. That’s not where I’m at. To my shame I admit that.” And he says, “I would give anything to enjoy that joy. The wounds was mine but prone to wonder, Lord I knew it and prone to leave the God I love.” And that young woman turned to Robert Robinson, “Ah, Mr. Robinson, streams of mercy never ceasing. Call for songs of lightest prayers.” Offer him your heart. He’ll take and see it for his courts above. Oh my friend, come back to the shepherd this morning and let him make you adequate for life and for death.
Lord, we thank you for our time. Begun this morning in Psalm 23. We hope we have hit the reset button. We hope that this psalm by the help of your Holy Spirit has dawned on us with a freshness, perhaps the circumstances we’re in during this crisis across the world would make this Psalm live and allow the book to speak with freshness to us this morning. Oh God, as we look out on our world, we can almost imagine the Lord Jesus in Heaven right now, looking upon that world and saying, as he said in his day, they are sheep without a shepherd in his heartbreaks to gather them in and to bring a sense of sufficiency and a sense of security and to offer them salvation.
Oh, God, we thank you this morning. You are the shepherd that stills the sheep. You are the shepherd that saves the sheep. Still the hearts of man today. Save of the lives of man today through your one and only Son, Jesus Christ. In these things we pray and ask in his great name, amen.