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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Title:The Good Shepherd
Text:Psalms 23:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 270 - Gladness in Worship
Psalter 55 - The Good Shepherd"
TH 599 - Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Psalm 23 is probably the most sung, most-loved, most-recited Psalm in Scripture. It’s well-loved because it speaks to our hearts - to shows us how much Christ loves us. That he’s our good shepherd; he cares for his people - who are so prone to going astray. And when we are tired, sinful, discouraged, it’s a psalm that comforts us. As the title reveals, David wrote the Psalm. Before he was king, he was a shepherd. And he translated his knowledge into this psalm, giving us a beautiful picture of our relationship to God.   There’s a marvelous little book by Philip Keller, I’d encourage each of you to own. It’s entitled “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”. It gives insights that we might not necessarily see at first glance. This evening, we’ll see 4 truths from this psalm. Firstly, Jesus gives us freedom from all want.  Secondly, Jesus gives us freedom from exhaustion. Thirdly, Jesus has given us freedom from fear of difficulties and death. Fourthly, Jesus frees us from self. May the Lord use this message to draw you closer to Christ - to gain further insight from this Psalm. And hopefully, your knowledge will deepen of him.

Firstly, Jesus gives us freedom from all want. He supplies all we need so that we have no lack. The first verse establishes something important – that the Lord is my shepherd.  This metaphor is seen all over Scripture. Isaiah 40:11 says that the Lord “shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” This is how Christ has been described not only in Psalm 23, but also in Isaiah 40. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself used this analogy. This is how he described his relationship with his people. John 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” Psalm 23, long before Jesus was incarnate, spoke about how he would lead his people, restore them, comfort and anoint them, and lead them forever. And if the Lord Jesus is our shepherd, it means that we are sheep. 

Sheep are not the brightest animals. If you lead a dog away from its home and into the wilderness, it would probably be able to find its way back. But not a sheep. When a sheep is separated from its flock, it’s a sign that something’s wrong - either it’s sick or lost. In either case, it’s easy pickings for predators. And by pickings, I mean it literally – the sheep’s eye is especially favored by ravens and crows - it’s the first part they attack. And this tells us what we really are - when we’re sick and plagued with sin, when we’re away from Christian fellowship, we’re easy pickings for the devil, who seeks to destroy us. But our Lord continues to look for us and guide us. He leaves the 99 to seek us out. And that assurance alone should lead us to say with the Psalmist that “I shall not want.” When we are sheep under the care of our great shepherd, we are free from want. Those who abide in Christ, letting him lead us and supply our needs, will genuinely feel content.  

And the reason for that is because of how he supplies our needs. Verse 2 says, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” The shepherd knows that sheep will not lie down unless conditions are right. They will be restless if they are afraid; if flies or insects bother them; if they cannot find food; or if there is conflict within the flock. The shepherd takes care of these needs and makes sure there are green pastures for his flock so they will lie down. Verse 3 says, “He leadeth me beside the still waters.”  Sheep will not drink from a brook or a stream unless the water is absolutely still. In order to get still water, the shepherd will often put rocks in the stream to cut off the flow of moving water, or he may dig a well. Sometimes early in the morning, he leads the sheep to an area that is covered with dew and the sheep get their water from the dew. How does Jesus supply our needs? In the world there will always be poverty, even among God’s people. But God promises to give us contentment when we are godly. When we feed on the green pastures of the Scriptures, when we drink from the brooks of his Word, we will find rest, comfort, and fulfillment. It is through our continual cleansing and fulfillment from God’s word that he frees us from the wants of this world. Let us remember that any deep experience with the Shepherd can only be accomplished by time spent with the Shepherd. 2 Peter 1:3 reminds us that “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.”

Secondly, we see that Jesus gives us freedom from exhaustion. Verse 3 says, “He restoreth my soul.”  Sheep and chicken are the only animals that cannot get up should they roll over on their back. When a shepherd checks his flock, sometimes he finds a sheep that has died because it had become immobilized while lying on its back. If a sheep gets too comfortable, it might go to sleep and fall on its back and later die. Or a sheep that’s not sheared, can pick up sticks, mud, and insects that so weigh it down that the sheep falls on its back. Or if a sheep gets too heavy, it may turn over on its back and die. But when the shepherd is present, he makes sure the sheep are upright. Not only is physical sustenance provided by the Good Shepherd, but spiritual restoration is provided as well. 

When the soul becomes sorrowful, he revives it. When our spirit becomes weak, he reinvigorates it. God’s child can be so weighed down with sin, sorrow, and suffering that only the Good Shepherd can restore his soul. It’s the Lord that heals us. Here we are promised that God will free us from total exhaustion. He brings us back. Sometimes it can be painful. There are times when a lamb wanders and refuses to answer the call of the shepherd. This lamb is a threat to itself as well as to the whole flock. The shepherd will then, with tenderness, break the legs of the lamb.  He does this so that the lamb won’t wander off. He carries the lamb on his shoulders until the bones heal. If the shepherd didn’t do this, the lamb would grow up a wild sheep. But now, the lamb sticks close by his side and never leaves him. He’s spent time with the shepherd and knows no other life. Indeed, when we stray, and continue to stray willfully, the Lord will at times restore us through chastisement. It’s through these times that we see our flaws and draw near to God. it’s through these times, that we find the most comfort from God’s word as God restores us. Things that were dry to us in the past are now pregnant with meaning.

Verse 3 continues to say, “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.” The shepherd knows that it’s important that he lead the sheep to new pastures at the right time. Large sheep ranches have been wiped out because shepherds failed to move their flocks. Pasturelands have been overgrazed, and food is in shortage. But the Good Shepherd always leads His flock in paths of righteousness found in the Word of God. After the Lord restores our soul from the sins and sorrows; after he has freed us from the things that exhaust us, he will feed us and lead us into new paths that are fresh.

Thirdly, Jesus gives us freedom from the fear of death and destruction. Verse 4 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” When the shepherd moves his flock to higher ground, it is because he might sense danger. Therefore, to protect the sheep, he will climb to the top of a large rock and give a special call. Immediately, the sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice and come together as one flock, and should a wolf be caught in the middle of the flock, the sheep will suffocate the wolf with their wool.  However at times, the shepherd may actually lead the sheep through dark valleys, for he knows that these paths have the gentlest grades climbing to the top of the mountain. And these valleys have the best pastures and sufficient water for the sheep. But because of the dark, the sheep become afraid. These valleys are overshadowed by high cliffs. But these places are actually good for the sheep.

In the same way, when we Christians face our own shadows, as in our trials and temptations, how much do we fear the unknown? We realize that trials in our Christian walk are necessary. The lessons, should we choose to learn them from our shepherd, are deeper, richer, and they lead to greater maturity. We’re told that in order to grow into maturity, God prunes us. He allows us to go through difficulties that we might bear fruit. When God lets us go through trials it’s not because we have been disobedient but because it’s good for us. That’s why we count it all joy. James 1:2-4 t- “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Trials have their purpose in our lives – they purify us; separate that which is good from that which is bad. And God is there to see us through. What’s required is patient obedience. If the sheep didn’t listen to the voice of their shepherd in time of trouble, the sheep would probably perish. That’s why as we go through trials, let us also not fear.

The shadow of death is nothing to fear. As the shadow of a sword cannot kill, the shadow of death cannot destroy. Because the Lord Jesus Christ has taken the sting out of death, we can say with the psalmist – I fear no evil. Why is it that we fear no evil?  It’s because the Lord is with me. He has given us freedom from fear and from the fear of death. Can Christ ever allow us to fall so deep into our trials that we can never climb out of them? Can Christ, our shepherd, allow us to go away from his presence?  No.  We should find comfort in that.  

We find comfort because “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The shepherd shows his presence in those dark valleys with his rod and staff. The rod is a sharp goad. It’s for protection and discipline. The staff is the shepherd’s crook - it’s for guidance. When the sheep walk through the ravine the shepherd will use his rod to guide them by nudging them. If they stumble, he scoops them up with the crook. Once again, it’s the word of God that comforts us. The word is referred to as a rod, to show us the error of our ways. But how is that relevant to us when we go through trials? When we go through difficulties, we often despair.  But the word of God tells us “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” When we go through difficulties, we often find ourselves so weak and helpless.  But the word of God tells us “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” When we go through trials, we often find ourselves sorrowful and so alone, but Christ tells us “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  What are we to fear? We are sheep, and that's why we need a shepherd. We don't know what tomorrow brings, but Christ is already there.

In times of financial difficulty, or fearing retrenchment, or fearing scandal - how do we take the trial to be from God and trust him to get us through? We believe his promises. We trust in him. It’s through the valleys that we can grow the most.  It’s there that we have the greenest pastures and the freshest water. And while we have no desire to go through trials, because of the heartache, God is gracious to lead us through. We’re not alone. And there's a promise as well. We will in the end be vindicated.

Fourthly, Jesus gives us freedom from self. Verse 5 says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” The shepherd will go ahead of the sheep to a level place to clean out wild plants which are poisonous to the sheep, and to chase out animals that would harm the sheep. Imagine that. The Lord prepares a way for us to succeed despite the many challenges and enemies coming our way, hoping to destroy us. And often when such things come our way, self tries to assert itself and we want to give into the flesh. And that’s a reality. But can’t live as they live, even though we want to. David was tempted to kill Saul - even cutting off a portion of his skirt, but he was smitten in his heart with guilt. Vengeance is not ours -“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.”  We want to put others in their place - but “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves.”  We wish that we wouldn’t lose out all the time - but “the first shall be last, the last shall be first.” Let us leave the fight to the Lord. He goes before His children to defeat their enemies. 

And Christ smoothens conflicts too. Verse 5 continues to say, “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”  Near the end of summer, the sheep need the anointing oil of the shepherd. As flies invade and irritate the sheep, the shepherd’s oil soothes and sheep and kills the flies’ eggs. When a contagious disease afflicts the flock, the shepherd pours oil in their sores. He will always carry a small flask of oil also to anoint the scratched face of sheep that had to find their food among the thorns and thistles. But more so, the oil is especially used during mating season. Rams begin to butt one another during spring - in competition for females. The shepherd will oil their horns in order to keep them from really injuring themselves.  

Oil of course, is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Spirit to be our comforter – it is He that teaches us all things. And by the fellowship of the Spirit, we should be of the same mind. Are we all Christian here? Are we all lovers of Christ?  Do we all possess the Spirit? Why then are we at odds with one another? Why then are we always in strife? It’s because we’re not yielding to the Spirit. But when we do, “our cup should be running over!”  The happiness we have in our lives ought not simply to be full, but to be overflowing! Our joy in our unity and fellowship should be full - like even the oil that overflows from the head of Aaron, down his robe to the hems. That’s unity.

With these blessings, the Psalmist concludes “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” When Christ is our shepherd, we are free from want. When he leads us and restores us, we are free from exhaustion. When he leads us through our darkest times, we know we should be free from fear. When we have the promise of his spirit, we are free from self. With these assurances, we should be able to conclude as the Psalmist does. We ought not to have fear of desertion, for Christ has promised to always be with us. If we are assured so many things, how truly blessed are we?  

And it’s a reminder to us dearly beloved of what the Lord Jesus had gone through the great shepherd of the sheep to purchase these benefits for us. He went through 40 days of destitution to purchase provision for us who deserve no such thing. At the cross, he thirsted so that we can be filled with the Spirit to overflowing. He came down from the splendors of heaven to be placed in a manger, having no place to lay his head, so that we can have mansions above. At the cross, he was exhausted, taking upon himself the sins of all his people, weighed down, and under the full force of God’s judgment, so we can be restored. The cup that he wished to pass from him, was given to him with all the bitter dregs, so that we wouldn’t have to drink it. Though no bones of his were broken, he was bruised for our iniquities and pierced for our transgressions, so that we would be welcomed by God. And he went through death, faced the realities of death, suffered hell itself at the hands of his enemies, anointed not with oil but with the cruel crown, and was buried so that we might have life. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

And the Good Shepherd has promised us never to leave us nor forsake us - even though we go through the deepest valley, he will be with us.


Sermon Outline:

1. Jesus Gives Us Freedom from All Want

2. Jesus Gives Us Freedom from Exhaustion

3. Jesus Gives Us Freedom from Fear of Difficulties and Death

4. Jesus Gives Us Freedom from Self

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Mark Chen

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