Psalm 23: The message of the shepherd
|Published: 05-02-2021 4:01 PM
Psalm 23 reminds us that in life or in death — in times of plenty or want — God is good and worthy of our trust. The psalm uses the metaphor of a shepherd’s care for his sheep to describe the wisdom, strength and kindness of our God. It gives voice to the sheep who are always eager to share what they know to be true, that staying close to the shepherd is always the safe place to be, for there can be nowhere He leads that does not, in the end, result in that which will be good for His flock.
Tell me, little lamb, about your shepherd ... “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all I need. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even 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 anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
In the New Testament, Jesus reveals Himself to be the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23, and at the graveside of his friend Lazarus, this is especially evident. For there, as we learn from John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, that “Jesus wept.” Two words that speak volumes of what Psalm 23 means when it declares, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Here is Jesus — our Lord and Shepherd — not merely looking down on our sorrow from a distance and feeling for us with sympathy, but coming alongside and entering into our suffering as one of us and in empathy He is with us.
But even more than coming alongside us, our Shepherd steps up for us with the strength of the Almighty Rescuer that He is, able to defeat our most terrifying enemy. For we read in this same chapter Jesus announcing: “I am the resurrection and the life whoever believes in me, though he may die physically, yet he will live again eternally.” (John 11:25)
Because of what the Shepherd has done for His sheep, death does not win; even though, for now, we stand in the valley of its dark shadow and often, like Jesus, weep at a graveside feeling as though the hole in our heart inside us is bigger than the hole in the earth in front of us. Even in that hard place — and especially there — the Lord is with us; our Shepherd has gone before us and opened up the way for us to follow. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:11, 27-28)
This message of the gospel is what I teach from the Bible at our church in Northfield. There is more to say about the gospel, but I will leave that for another conversation, if you are interested. I would count it an honor to show you the beauty of Jesus from Scripture — his uniqueness as the true and living God, the Creator of all that has been made and the source of love — so that you might join the flock as one of His little lambs and be able to say even in the face of the difficulties, uncertainties, confusions and great losses of this life — “the Lord, is my shepherd, I have all I need.”