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As a child of God, we have comprehensive care of the Shepherd. His grace for our sin, His strength for our weakness, His riches for our poverty, His faithfulness for our moods, His wisdom for our confusion. Wherever we are and whatever we're facing, Jesus Christ makes up the difference. What we don't have, He has. What we need, He can give. We have found that we have all that we need in Him - security, sufficiency, provision, and protection. This Psalm shows us how the Shepherd stills, sees, steers, safeguards, serves, and seeks His sheep.
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Take your Bible and turn with me to Psalm 23. We’ve started a series called Statements of Faith. We’re looking at some of the Psalms of trust that we find in the Bible. We’ve looked at Psalm 46, we’ve looked at Psalm 16, we’ve looked at Psalm 11. Before Easter we’ve started to look at Psalm 23, a message I called more than adequate. I want to come back to that. Open your Bible, Psalm 23 and follow along. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the path of righteousness for his namesake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anointing my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. So reads God’s words.
John Newton, the slave of trader, turned Church of England, minister, he wrote a letter to one of his congregation who was going through a time of trouble and here’s what he said, “Like sheep, we are weak, destitute, defenseless, prone to wonder, unable to return, and always surrounded by wolves. But all is made up in the fullness, ability, wisdom, compassion, care, and fullness of our great shepherd.” I love that. Whatever we’re facing, whatever deficits, whatever difficulties, whatever sin or situation you and I find ourselves in Jesus Christ can make up the difference for you and me. I love that phrase, but all is made up in the fullness, ability, wisdom, compassion, care and faithfulness of our great shepherd.
His grace for our sin, his strength for our weakness, his riches for our poverty, his faithfulness for our moods, his wisdom for our confusion. We have a strong and sufficient shepherd. I want to come back to Psalm 23 to remind us of that wherever we are and whatever we’re facing, Jesus Christ makes up the difference. What we don’t have, he has. What we need, he can give. If we get enemies bigger than ourselves, he’s bigger than them. What a wonderful reality and it’s played out here in Psalm 23, because that’s the message of Psalm 23. David writes, towards the end of his life, it was written by David, written for us about the Lord Jesus Christ. We covered that last week. David’s looking back on his life and he wants to leave a testimony to the fact that God was a great and glorious shepherd that through faith in him he was more than adequate for the enemies he faced and for the valleys he walked and for the needs he had.
In fact, there’s two statements here that jump out in Psalm 23. I shall not want verse one and verse four, I will not fear. David says that I find through trust in my God, for us as new covenant believers, we would say we have found through trust in the good shepherd who laid down’s life for the sheep, the great shepherd who equips us under every good work and the chief shepherd who’s coming back to take us to glory. We have found that we have all that we need in him. We’ve got security and we’ve got sufficiency. We’ve got provision and we’ve got protection. Listen to what the Psalm is really saying. Beneath him, green pastures beside him still waters. With him, the shepherd and his rod and staff. Around him, his enemies after him, goodness and mercy. Ahead of him, the Lord and his house forever.
Let’s come and pick up where we left off. We covered two thoughts. The shepherd stills the sheep and the shepherd sees the sheep. Here’s the third thought, if you’re taking notes, I hope you are. The shepherd steers the sheep. The shepherd guides and leads the sheep. This is verse three. He restores my soul. He brings me back. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his namesake. As David glanced over his shoulder, he looked back on the years in which he guided and guarded his father’s sheep along the hills of Judea. As he thought about that, his heart skipped a beat in excitement at the thought that that’s what God has been to him. God has led him. God has guarded him. God has guided him. God has led him along the right paths, the paths of righteousness or the right paths. Did you notice the movement of verse three, he brings my soul back and he leads me in the right paths. God is always bringing us back and leading us forward. Bringing us back and leading us forward.
Now, the picture here is striking. If a shepherd was out on the hills or traveling with his flock, he would be face with the well-worn paths of travelers. In fact, the Hebrew is here [inaudible], paths have been trampled by a flock or by human feet or by wagon wheels or whatever. The clearly marked ruts or paths. But that wasn’t always easy to find because there were some paths that had been created by winds and then there were paths that had been created by thieves and robbers and wicked man who wanted to lead the shepherd and the sheep away so that they might kill the shepherd and steal the sheep. The wise shepherd has to navigate, he has to know what are the well-worn paths and ruts, the old paths which are the right paths to take his sheep along.
You notice he doesn’t drive the sheep, he leads the sheep. He did that with his voice. Remember John 10, Jesus taking that image of the Eastern shepherd, my sheep hear my voice and they follow me. Sometimes he would use a little musical instrument, a pipe, a little kind of flute that was made out of a reed. Sometimes, beautiful picture here, as he led the flock, he would sometimes pull fruit off some bushes or trees and as he led the flock, he would hold his hand behind him with the fruit and he would feed the sheep as he led the sheep. In some ways he was leading the sheep by feeding the sheep. Beautiful.
You know what? This is a promise to us. God will be our guide even on to death. God wants to lead us through life. Life was not a choice for any one of us, but life is full of choices, some of them small, some of them large. Some of them paralyzing. Which is the right road? Perhaps if I make a wrong decision here, I could rail-road my life. We want to know that we have wisdom and guidance for the choices we make. I like the story of the American who etched and embroidered on his tie, the letters BAIK. When he was asked by friends what the letter stood for, he said they stand for boy am I confused. His friend said, “But confused isn’t spelled with K, it’s spelled with C.” To which he replied, “You don’t know how confused I am.”
We can get confused. Life can be confusing. What’s the right decision? What’s the right course of action? Here we’re being promised that our shepherd, like a good shepherd, will lead his people along the right path. What are the means to that? I don’t know if time to develop this. I’m going to focus on one that makes the most sense. We know that conscience is a means of guidance, right? God has given us a conscience where we can tell right from wrong. Unless we have seared that conscience or deliberately turned its volume down or off, that helps us.
It’s that old statement, when in doubt don’t [inaudible] the advice of friends and family. God has put parents in our lives. God has put wise and mature leaders and pastors in our lives. God has put really good friends who come alongside us and life and advise us. Providence is another means of guidance. Circumstances can kind of push us in a certain direction, but the one that is the most important, the one that is truly sufficient and clearer than any other is the word of God itself. The word of God is a light onto our path and a lamp onto our feet, Psalm 119 verse 105.
Remember, It’s the voice of the shepherd that is one of the clear means of leading the flock. My sheep hear my voice and they follow me. Any shepherd could say that and Jesus said that of his people. People who are Christians follow the voice of Jesus. Not an audible Voice but just as real a voice That you’ll find in the living, powerful word of God. The Bible speaks what God speaks. We have in this Bible all that we need for life and godliness. It’s called the word of Christ, isn’t it? In Colossians 3, 16 and 17, The Bible is the word of Christ. It’s his voice. He wants to guide you through it. You know what? He’ll use precepts Which are commands and imperatives and he’ll use principles, proverbs and parables.
I think it was Charles Wendall who said the difference between a precept and a principle or A proverb is that a precept is the road sign that says, “You know what? Speed limit 30.” It’s clear You’re not to go above 30. In no circumstances are you to drive above 30 miles an hour. That’s a precept. There’s no negotiation. There’s no adaptation. You know what? God doesn’t have a command for everything in the Bible. You’ll find that out soon enough. So he gives us, Alongside precepts, principles are Proverbs, that allow us to take a principle or a proverb, an insight and we can adapt that. With prayer and counsel and the leading of the spirit, we can adjust to a certain set of circumstances.
In fact, Charles Wendall says that is the road sign that says, “Drive carefully.” You might be able to drive At 40 miles an hour. You might be able to drive at 20 miles an hour. There’s not a 30 mile an hour limit. It’s not that easy in some circumstances. As you look at life, you realize, hey, this principle or this proverb helps me here and I’m going to apply it this way and make a wise decision. I love that. God’s word is a lamp onto our path and a light onto our feet. It equips us onto every good work, doesn’t it? I mean we have the inspired word of God.
In second Timothy 3: 15-17 and the Bible is profitable for what? It’s profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction, and righteousness. Doctrine is what is right. Reproof is what is not right. Correction is how to get right and instruction and righteousness is how to stay right? Isn’t that wonderful? The Bible will tell you what is right and how to get right and how to stay right and it’ll warn you about what’s not right. It’s a wonderful thing to get up in life. Life was not a choice for any one of us, but it’s full of choices. We come to crossroads and intersections all the time and we have here some driving instructions for life. Beautiful. In some situations it’ll be clear; speed limit 30. In other situations as we look at patterns and principles and insights of wise men in the Bible, it might be drive carefully.
I quoted from Psalm 119, I just would remind you of the importance of God’s word by reminding you that throughout Psalm 119, the word of God and its counsel is stated and restated again and again. Psalm 119 in verse 18, here’s what we read. Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things from your law. Verse 24; your testimonies are my delight and my counselors. Beautiful. Psalm 19 and 198, we read this instruction. Oh, how I love your law. It’s my meditation all the day. You, through your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than my teachers for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep your precepts.
Think about this, folks. The book of Psalms is the largest book in the Bible. That’s significant. The largest Psalm in the largest book in the Bible is Psalm 119 with the repeated message to trust the council of God’s precepts and principles. In fact, there’s an interesting little kind of insight. Psalm 119 you’ll see in your English Bible is broken up into stanzas, paragraphs, whatever you want to call them, verses 22 of them. There’s 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. You know what? If you look at your Psalms, the very first stanza begins with the letter [inaudible] and goes right through to the end of the Hebrew alphabet. As someone has said, it’s as if the Bible is saying that the word of God is the A to Z when it comes to life or to my friends back in Britain, the A to Z of life.
That’s what the word of God is. It’s a sufficient rule for faith and practice. It’s the final authority on life. You know what? When you and I need its wisdom, it’s there. This kind of wisdom does not come by neglecting the word of God until a crisis hits. Very important, you recognize that the word of God is there for you as a guide, but it’s not some lucky dip that you just go to in the middle of a crisis, so you ignore it. Then in your ignorance you need it and you go to it and you pluck a verse out of thin air, or since you haven’t read it and you haven’t developed the tools to read it, you read it wrongly which will bring you to a wrong conclusion, which will take you down an erroneous path. Get the danger? This wisdom that’s being offered to you is one that you must seek day in and day out, not just when a crisis hits and you open it in emergency. That’s dangerous.
Reminds me of the man who find himself in a bit of a crisis and so seeking God’s will, he just randomly opened his Bible and the verse he came to was a verse in the New Testament, Judas went and hanged himself. He didn’t like the look of that and so he said, ‘I’ll try again.” He just closed this Bible and randomly opened it and the verse came to was this go thou and do likewise. Not liking that any more, he opened his Bible for a third shot and he came to the verse that said, “What thou doest, do quickly.” It’s a dangerous thing to just flt this Bible open and play Russian roulette with the life and death message of the Bible, being the word. Let it instruct you.
As my friend Steve Farar says, when he came to [inaudible] he lives his life out of a red leather chair and a black leather Bible every day of his life he comes down early in the morning, he makes himself a cup of Joe. He grabs his coffee and his Bible. He sits in his big red leather chair and he opens his black leather Bible and he allows God to direct him, to decide his decisions for him.
Okay. Let’s move on. We see here that the shepherd stills the sheep. The shepherd sees the sheep. The shepherd steers the sheep. Now, we see that the shepherd safeguards the sheep. Verse four, ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you or with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. This is beautiful. The shepherd protects the sheep in perilously threatening environments. That environment is described as a deep, dark threatening valley. Here’s what many of the commentators believe is the background to that.
I think there’s a lot of merit to this and it sheds a spotlight on the meaning of the text, because at the end of spring, maybe the beginning of summer when the snow is melting on the mountain caps and neither sun is going to begin to burn the grass and the grazing ground and the low lands, the shepherd usually at that time of the year leaves the low lands for the highland lands. He wants to take his sheep up to higher groin for grazing, but invariably that journey takes them through valleys, ravines that have been cut by wadis. We’ve been in Israel now twice in the last four years. You see this. Ravines and valleys cut through the Judean hillsides. There may be at the bottom of that valley or that ravine a fast flowing river. There may be some forestation that can block out the sun making it dark and shadowy. That area can have mountain lions and predatory animals that scare the sheep. That’s the picture.
Now, remember the shepherd’s taking them through this shadowy, shady place to a better place, but as they go through it, it’s a frightening experience. David looks back on that and he says, “What I was to my father’s sheep, God has been to me.” You know wat? Life isn’t all sunshine. Life isn’t all green pastures and stilled waters. Sometimes the lights get lowered in life, externally and internally. Some people are caught in the dark moods of depression or oppression. Others in life circumstances are robbed of certain sunshine in terms of loved ones or certain provisions in life. The lights can go out, can’t they? I think you know that. You’ve got your own story of that. Maybe right now you’re not in a green pastor, you’re in a valley. David says, “You know what? I was to my sheep. God has been to me.”
I want you to notice two things about the text. You have the near presence of the shepherd mentioned and you have his rod and his staff. That’s what comforts the sheep. That’s what stabilizes the sheep and the flock. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. I want you to notice something, for you are with me. There’s something very important here because the psalmist who has been speaking about God in the third person, he leads me along the right paths for his namesake. He causes me to lie down in green postures. He’ll later say he prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
He’s speaking about the shepherd, but I think this is a beautiful thing not to be missed. In verse four in the valley, in a threatening set of circumstances, he speaks to the shepherd. The Hebrew grammar goes from the third person to the second person. You are with me. He senses the shepherd’s nearness. I love that. Here in a moment of greatest danger, the shepherd is nearest. You know what? In my study this week I came across a verse I’d never found before. You want to write it down. It’s Deuteronomy four verse seven. It speaks of God’s covenant love for Israel, his ministry to the nation, to the Jewish people, but what’s true of them is true of the believer in the new covenant.
Notice what God says through Moses in Deuteronomy four verse seven, for what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us. Beautiful little phrase. So near to it. So near to you. What nation has got this special love, no other nation. God has a particular love for the Jewish people. That hasn’t been suspended or superseded in the new covenant and in the age of the church. God is so near to the people of Israel sometimes when they’re so far, but it’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it?
God is so near. His omnipresence allow for that. Where shall we flee from His presence? He’s not far from any one of us. Acts 17. The Lord is at hand and he’s at your elbow. That’s always true. Then, in the new covenant, in the gospel we find Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us something new. The God who’s around us is now among us. The word made flesh. God erected his tent in our neighborhood. If that wasn’t enough after Jesus’ life, death, [inaudible] and resurrection, he goes to heaven and sends the Holy Spirit, the one who was with them, but according to the upper rim discourse would now be in them. We are now indwelt by the presence of God that once shun so gloriously over the tabernacle and over the temple.
My friends, among all the peoples of God’s green earth, God is so near to the people of God. That’s beautiful. That’s comforting. That is strengthening. You’ve got to believe that in the darkness, when it’s not so clear. The darkness should drive us closer to the Lord, because I think we often meet him the most in the darkness. Then, you’ve got the idea of the rod and the staff. They comfort me. I want you to understand the one who is present in the darkness, in this deep dark valley … Although we have translated it the shadow of death, but in the Hebrews it’s just a deep dark valley. It speaks about life’s darkness and certainly the shadowy realm of the dead.
Either way, the shepherd’s nearby. I want you to notice how he looks. I think coming with a western mindset, we misread this text. When I read shepherd, I think of some man in my first ministry at Car Baptist in Northern Ireland had several farmers and several of them had flocks of sheep. I can think of their tweed caps and their Range Rovers and their land rovers and their staffs. It was a beautiful pastoral picturesque look. That’s not what’s going on here. You’d be better thinking about a western cowboy with a couple of six shooters stuck down their belts spoiling for a fight. That’s the eastern shepherd. These guys were tough hombres.
Remember what Jesus said, the good shepherd lays done his life for the sheep. David himself had fought lions and bears, right, but he had fought all kinds of animals to protect his flock. The rod and the staff were used. The rod especially was an offensive weapon. The staff tended to be one that hooked the sheep back or dug up the grass or lifted them from where they had fallen. But the rod, you need to think of a mace. This is an ugly weapon. That’s what I’m saying. Get away from this kind of English countryside, Scottish hills, the green grass of Ireland. No, no. These guys were cowboy like figures. They carried weapons and they were always on their guard. They were willing to go to war for the sheep.
Love it. The rod was a mace-like weapon at the end of maybe this wooden weapon was a knob. Embedded in it were pieces of metal or sharp objects. It was used to beat animals to death or to throw at an approaching predator. Then you’d have the sling which is not mentioned, which again the shepherd could use with deadly accuracy. Point made. The shepherd is willing to go to war for the sheep in the dark valley. Oh, my friend, find the faith and the trust to trust him in the darkness. He’d go to war for you. He’ll fight on your behalf. The battle is the Lord’s. The battle is the Lord’s. It’s beautiful. He’ll meet you in the darkness.
I was surprised when Jen and I were in Italy last year, which was a wonderful trip. We’ve both said many times it may be one of our most memorable trips. Fred showed around Rome for several days and he took us to a CC and in the [inaudible] ministers in northern Italy. I saw what God had accomplished over decades of faithful preaching, a vibrant evangelical protestant church. When we were in Rome, he took us to the catacombs, the burial place of Roman Christians. You know what one of the repeated symbols was? It was the shepherd. Etched on the tombs of the Roman Christians was the image of a shepherd who would beat them in life’s emergencies, who would be with them in their darkest moments.
Just recently I came across a story about the Reverend Gardener Teeler. He was 42 years the pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, one of the great African American preachers. He was called the Dean of American preaching by some. He loved to tell this story when he taught at Beeson College or university. He liked to tell the story in his early days when he was a young pastor, he was preaching just in a country church and he was kind in the throes of his sermon building up ahead of steam and the lights went out. They went out for a while. He was thrown off his game, didn’t know what to do, you can imagine, fumbling and stumbling. Couldn’t see his notes. Got kind of out of rhythm a little bit, not sure what to do. In the middle of all that, an old deacon somewhere in the darkness shouted up to that young preacher, “Preach on, Pastor. Preach on. We can see Jesus in the dark.” It’s good.
By faith we can meet him in the dark. The shepherd safeguards the sheep. By the way, can I give you a little statement? I forget who I stole this from. I’ll admit I’m a thief in regards to this. The sheep are safer in the valley with the shepherd that on the mountain without them. Just write that down and meditate on that. Even though you want to get out of the darkness and you want the battle to end, but wouldn’t you rather be in the valley with the shepherd, than on the mountain without him? Wouldn’t you rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to dwell in the tents of the wicked? So precious is the shepherd. So glorious is the savior.
By the way, it’s through the valley. We’ve got to circle that. I love that. You know what? He leads us into the valley, remember. He brings us back and leads us forward and sometimes he leads us into the valley. He doesn’t push us in there and leave us alone. He leads us and stays with us and goes to war for us. Always remember, he’s bringing us from one green pastor to another green pastor, there’s just a bit of a corridor in between that’s not that enjoyable. It’s through.
God doesn’t promise us a problem free, pain free life. Don’t go looking for it. It will be one of your greatest frustrations in life. Jacob walked with a limp. Life will have its challenges. We will have our fair share of fears and tears. There’s no promise to take us around the valley, but there is the promised presence to take us through the valley. Think about this verse three and then verse four, what’s the movement? He restores my soul. He leads me in the path of righteousness or the right path for his namesake and I walk through the valley.
Sometimes the right path in life will take you through the valley. The valley is the right path. It humbles us. It leaves us tattered of our own resources and tired and throws us upon the grace of God. The experience isn’t good, but the outcome’s good. I like what Max La Cato writes in his book on Joseph. Out of the lions den for Daniel, the prison for Peter, the wheels belly for Jonah, Goliath’s shadow for David, the storms for the disciples, disease for the lepers, doubt for Thomas, the grave of for Lazarus and the shackles for Paul. God gets us through stuff. Through the Red Sea, under the dry ground, through the wilderness, through the valley of the shadow of death and through the deep sea. Through is a favorite word of God.
Then he quotes Isaiah 43 verse two, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned nor shall the flame scorch you.” Through is one of God’s favorite words and he specializes in getting us through.
I think you know my love for old Vance Avner, an old country evangelist, revivalist among the Southern Baptist churches, now he’s with the Lord. Taught almost annually at the Moody Pastor’s Conference and founder’s week. He lost his wife late in life, 36 years of marriage. It bothered him. He didn’t know how he could live without her. I think he wrote about it in a book called In the Valley. There’s this quote that is attached to that time in his life. He says this, “I’m still in the valley,” speaking about the fact that she has died. He’s now alone. He’s adjusting to that which he doesn’t want to adjust to and he says this, “I’m still in the valley, but thank God I’m walking through it, not wallowing in it.” Love that. You need to write that down. I’m still in the valley, but thank God I’m walking through it, not wallowing in it.
Let’s move on quickly. Look at verse five. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. This is beautiful. The shepherd serves the sheep. The shepherd serves the sheep. I want you to notice he ministers to them in the presence of their enemies. He guides them through the valley. I like what [inaudible] says about this Psalm. Depth and strength underlie the simplicity of this psalm. It’s peace, it’s not escape. It’s contentment, it’s not complacency. There is readiness to face deep darkness and imminent attack. This isn’t escapism, this is real. This isn’t the reflections of someone naive and young. This is the reflections of a man old enough to know that God is enough, he has fought his enemies and he has walked deep dark valleys, but God has served him.
Let me get into the image here and move on. In terms of this idea here, you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. I love that. The picture here is of the tireless, good and caring shepherd who enters a field, or we might call it table land and prepares it for the sheep and then prepares them for it. He goes into the field and with his staff he digs up any poisonous plants and he puts them on stone, to wither or he burns them. He then finds out where there might be some little viper nest or the little snakes, the adders that are in a hole and he pours oil around the hole from what we can tell, so that they don’t come out. They don’t like that, because you know what, if a sheep went over to that hole and kind of peered done it, the adder would jump up and nip it on the nose and poison it.
Then, as the sheep gets prepared to come into the field, he anoints their head with oil. He takes that oil, he rubs it on their nose and their face to be a repellent against bugs and parasites and insects. By the way, did you notice he says he anoints my head with oil. This is singular. It’s an individual. The shepherd knows his sheep by name. He deals with us lovingly and individually. Here’s the point, the sheep go into a place that’s prepared for them. You know, God not only leads us, he prepares the path and the destination that he’s leading us to.
We have a go ahead God. When you step into tomorrow, it’s a God prepared tomorrow. Every step you take in life … Listen to this, it’s beautiful. Every step you take in life, you are walking in his footprints. He’s ahead of you. You read about that in John 10, verse three. The shepherd goes ahead of the sheep. We have a go ahead God. You have nothing to fear about the future. He’s already there. It’s already prepared. Goodness and mercy shall follow you all the death of your life. It’s a wonderful thing. Listen to what Joseph said, remember maybe the best example of this, just in terms of real life. Remember how his brother sold him into slavery, he’s imprisoned. Then through a set of circumstances, he rises the poor in Egypt, seven years of plenty, seven years of famine. He has the keys to the granary and the storehouses. Eventually, his brothers come down because where they live there’s famine and they soon discover to their horror the Joseph is in charge of it all and they go, “Well, that’s it for us. We’re toast. This guy’s going to wreak revenge.”
Notice what Joseph says in Genesis 45 verse five, “But do not be grieved or angry with yourselves,” amazing, “because you sold me here for God sent me before you to preserve your life.” Amazing. He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. He goes before us, prepares the way. That’s a wonderful thing. Some years ago I preached for the Evangelical Baptist missions in Europe at their retreat in Walgreen, Austria, just a beautiful part of the world. Walgreen is famous because the hymn Silent Night was written there. It’s beautiful. One of those Austrian towns that nestles at the foot of the Alps. Just beautiful.
I took away many memories from that trip. The beauty of it, the history that surrendered. We were just outside Salzburg. I remember I took a memory about falling off a mountain bike, nearly breaking my neck on a world-class mountain bike track that was in Walgreen, Austria. The thing I remember most was a talk given by Paul Jackson who was the head of Evangelical Baptist Missions. In his talk that night he said this, that a missionary he said to him, “Paul, I want to tell you that I’ve never [inaudible] or stepped on the foreign soil, but I have found that God got there first.” I went back to my room and wrote that down. Paul, I want to tell you that I’ve never [inaudible] or stepped onto foreign soil, but I find that God got there first.
Have you not found that? The clouds you so much dread are loaded with blessing that will fall on your head. When you get to where you’re going and when you get to where you do want to go, you don’t find that God’s there first? Not only does he prepare the field and prepare the sheep for the field, their cup runs over. This is another element of the shepherd serving the sheep. We don’t have time to develop this, but the image is probably of a well. If they can’t find running water, if they can find a well they’ll go there. This well could be a hundred feet deep and the shepherd has to draw the water up with a rope and a leather bucket that can hold about three quarts. If he’s got 50 sheep in the searing sun, it could take him maybe two or more hours to satisfy the sheep.
The idea of the cups is around some of these wells, there were large stones hollowed out that became like stone cups and the shepherd would take the water and put them into the cup, so to speak. Now, the good shepherd would cause that cup to overflow, the [inaudible], well, he’s not going to tire himself out taking care of the sheep. Just give them enough. The good shepherd gives more than enough. The cup overflows.
My friend, the Christian life is a life of abundance. I am come that you might have a life and that more abundantly, John 10:10, Ephesians three, verse 20. He can do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think. Second Corinthians nine verse eight, God will make all Grace abund to us in all things with all sufficiency so that there may be an abundance of good works. I mean, God wants to serve you to a point where you’re brimming with blessing. I’m not talking about dollars, cars, houses, clothes. He might throw that in, because he can be that good, I’m just talking about all that we have in Jesus Christ; forgiveness, comfort, security, a book that’s alive for life. God wants that for us. He wants us to enjoy an abundance.
I like the words of Raymond Brine speaking about that scene in John six where Jesus feeds the 5,000 with just some loaves and some fish from a little boy’s lunch pale. It says that there were 12 baskets of fragments left over. It said that the people had as much as they wanted. Here’s what he says about that scene. He always gives more than we need. What he offers is not simple life, but abundant life to the full. John 10:10, he promises not peace, but peace which transcends all understanding. Philippines four, seven, his love defies adequate definition, it surpasses knowledge, Ephesians three 19. His riches are glorious riches, Ephesians three 16, his par is all surpassing par, second Corinthians four verse seven. His grace is sufficient, second Corinthians 12, verse nine. This is the gospel of lavish abundance.
My friend, when you’re in his care and under his leadership, there’s an abundance that he wants to give to you. God’s blessing is not like a bag of potato crisps, or as you say here, chips. I like potato chips, especially like salt and vinegar. You know what? I might just treat myself sometime to done buy one of those big bags of layers, salt and vinegar potato chips, and it feels like it’s full of chips. Then I open it and boom, this rush of comes flying by my face.I look back into the bag and the chips have all settled at the bottom, it’s half empty. God’s blessing’s not like a bag of Lay’s potato chips, which are tasty, but in terms of abundance, very disappointing. No, the cup overflows, he’ll keep filling it. God’s sufficience in eternal imperfection is just an open faucet for his people.
Okay. For the last few minutes, what about the shepherd seeks the sheep? This is wonderful. He seeks the sheep. He constantly pursues the flock in life and then death, bringing us safely to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Goodness and mercy was there before we got saved, bringing us to salvation, guarding us so we didn’t die before we trusted Christ. Goodness and mercy is what brings us to faith in Jesus Christ. God and his sovereign grace, having chosen us brings us to faith. Goodness in mercy follows us all the days of our life of those who have come, the repent of our sin and trust Jesus Christ for eternal life. Then after life, there’s more goodness in mercy that follows us in the father’s house.
The shepherd seeks the sheep, constantly pursues the flock, corralling them, chasing them, coaching them. Sometimes he has to pursue the lost sheep, as we noted in the first study. Most often he’s simply pursuing the greater welfare of the sheep, leading them to green pastures, causing him to lie down besides still waters, leading them along the right paths, taking them through the dark valley and protecting them through that experience, preparing fields for them, causing their cup to overflow.
By the way, the English translation here, at least in my Bible, the New King James, shall follow me, is far, far too weak. It’s actually should be translated pursues. Same word used for Pharaoh pursuing Israel in Exodus 14 versus eight to nine, used for Israel pursuing the Midianites in judges 7: 23 to 25.
Now as we wrap up here pretty soon, this man is not without his enemies. David had his enemies. Saul pursued him, his own son, Absalom. Then he had foreign threats. This man was not without his enemies, but here’s the point, and it’s beautiful, but God’s goodness and mercy pursued him with greater tenacity to enhance his life, than his enemies did seeking destroy him. It’s wonderful. Goodness and mercy. Goodness for our steps, mercy for our sins. Goodness to provide, mercy to pardon. In the one God gives what we don’t deserve and the other God withholds what we do deserve. Not mercy alone for our needs are more than just to have our sins forgiven, pursued.
Maybe because he’s from Northern Ireland, but I’ve always been partial to Liam Neeson movies. He’s from Ballymena, Northern Ireland. If you watched the movie Taken, you know that he was a kind of former special serviceman out of the military, got a certain gifts. In the movie, Taken, his daughter is kidnapped in France. Eventually he gets a phone call from those who have kidnapped her, they’re going to ransom her. If you remember that scene, we all remember it. He’s on the phone, he says this to the kidnappers who are about to speak and having just shortly spoken, “I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. What I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go, now that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t …” Then remember these words, “I will look for you and I will find you and I will kill you.”
As we close, I’m going to reverse that. I want to think about God and the pursuit of his goodness and mercy in your life and mind. God has a certain set of attributes and abilities. God has a panoply of glorious and abundant gifts and abilities that he has possessed forever, which are a blessing to people like you and me, his people. Wherever we are and whatever we’re facing, he will look for us, he will find us, and he will bless us.
Father, we thank you for this richest of passages in the word of God. We agree with old John McNeil of Scotland, sometimes I feel I wrote it myself. We can identify with it. It’s images, it’s pictures, its metaphors are so potent. We’re definitely like sheep, defenseless, a danger to ourselves, unwise, disobedient, in need of a shepherd. Lord, we thank you. You’re definitely like a shepherd. You love and care for your flock. You’ve purchased them at great price. You go to war for them and fight their enemies and guard them and guide them even onto death. Lord, your generosity of grace is astounding. Our cup overflows. You delivered up your own son and with them, you’ve given us all things to enjoy. Lord, as we close today, we marvel that you will seek us and you will find us and you will bless us and enhance our life through your son Jesus Christ. For those who are sheep without a shepherd today, may they find Christ, as he seeks them. May they come to know him, whom to know his life eternal for we pray and ask it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.