Summary: Concluding sermon of a series which sees the final verse as a statement of confidence and contentment in the shepherd.
Recently a teacher, a garbage collector, and a lawyer wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question.
St. Peter Address the teacher and asked, “What was the name of the ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made a big movie about it.
The teacher answered quickly, ‘That would be the Titanic.’ St. Peter let him through the gate.
St. Peter turned to the garbage man and, figuring Heaven didn’t “really” need all the odors that his guy would bring with him, decided to make the question a little harder: “How many people died on the ship?”
Fortunately for him, the trash man had just seen the movie on TBS. “1,228,” he answered.
That’s right! You may enter.”
Then St. Peter turned to the lawyer. “Name them.”
We’ve come to the end of our series on the 23rd Psalm, and with it that examination of this loved verse. This passage is often preached at funerals because of the assurance that we receive from the final clause “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Forever with God is a promise that we all love to hear. David begins and ends this Psalm by identifying the Lord as his shepherd.
It’s fitting that he ends the Psalm with a promise about the end of life’s journey, because this Psalm has taken us on a journey and that journey is ending. This Psalm is a journey, just like life is a journey. The first three verses can be said from one sheep to another in the home winter meadows. This is where the sheep spend most of their life. It is the home ground, and here one sheep could be heard whispering to a sheep in another heard. I want you to picture that sheep. On the one side the fields are lush and green. They have been carefully fed and cleared of dangerous weeds. The shepherd has been diligent to keep the heard moving every few days so that none of the fields are over grazed and they reflect his care along with the sheep. The sheep are free of parasites and infections because the shepherd cares for them and inspects them to keep them healthy. The result of this is the pride in the sheep’s voice as he says, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
But picture the sheep on the other side of the fence, the grass is sparse from over grazing, the fields rutted from lack of proper management. The flock infested with scab and other parasites and they look longingly at across the fence. As we read the 23rd Psalm together though I want you to reflect on this question, would these sheep follow the good shepherd if they had the chance?
Consider that as we read these words together. Psalms 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 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.”
It is a wonderful Psalm, a poem about what God does for us, the first three verses would best be fulfilled in the home range of the shepherd, the place where they would spend their winters. But then verses 4 and 5 are a turn. They talk about going through the valleys. This indicates the travel up through the valleys to the highland range, the tables that the shepherd has prepared in advance for the sheep.
Now as we come to verse 6 the scene changes again, now the imagery is that the time at the tables has come to an end and the sheep are on their way back home. As they start we get a statement of confidence. As they come back through those same valleys that held the threat and danger of the unknown, this time the attitude of the sheep is different because they have been through these valleys before. They know they will make it through because they know they say, shepherd will lead them through. And so they say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
We can be confident because of what the Shepherd has already done. Look back on it, the shepherd provides the green pastures for the sheep to lay down in. It’s not just that the shepherd gives them the food that they need but the security that they need to relax and rest. In the midst of the struggles of life, we can relax because our shepherd is near to take care of us. Those times that the sheep became cast, they can count on the shepherd to be there to restore them. Those times that life or our own weaknesses cause us to be down cast God will restore us. God is there to help us and to restore us. The process may not be easy, it may take time, but our shepherd will be with us every step of the way until we are restored. When the sheep go through the valleys even the valleys where the sunlight never hits the bottom, the shepherd is there to see them through. The greatest truth is that the shepherd reveals that the darkness is an illusion, in the presence of light darkness must disappear. As for the enemies that are there in the darkness the shepherd is there with his rod and his staff, they give protection from the outside world and guidance for the sheep. It’s interesting that when the sheep willfully go astray the same rod that fights of the predators may discipline the sheep, but the shepherd never uses it to bring permanent harm to the sheep, but to motivate them to get there feet back on the right path. And the shepherd uses those valleys to allow the sheep to complete the journey that they need to stay healthy and thrive as a heard. It is the trip to the summer pastures in the highlands. There the shepherd has prepared a table, the Mesa that the pasture is on, the one that the shepherd has cleared in advance. Left alone the plateau may be full of poisonous weeds, and predators, but the shepherd has cleared them. Our world is full of dangers. We have and enemy who wants to destroy us, we are surrounded by people who are friendly with us but their nature is different then ours and because of that, at times they may even become enemies, people who would lead us in paths that would harm or destroy us. But the shepherd is there and the shepherd cares for us and we can have confidence in Him as the sheep have confidence in the good shepherd.