Summary: God’s presence when life takes us in the valley
September 3, 2006
In the Valley
A couple of years ago, a church in Seattle, Washington was having a big kick-off Sunday. It was the weekend after Labor Day and they wanted to do something for their children’s programs. So they brought in Barney the Dinosaur. They learned, Kids like Barney when he’s on TV or in a stuffed animal. But when you bring in a six-foot tall life size Barney, he becomes a little intimidating to little kids. One kid absolutely flipped out. I mean he went bonkers. His mom was helping teach a class, so she couldn’t take him. So his dad took him. His dad finally got him calm. But this kid had absolutely no desire to be around that Barney. Barney did not go over very well.
In fact, the church had Barney scheduled for two weeks, they ditched him after the first week. But there he was. During the worship, the dad was supposed to help serve communion and take the offering. This church meets in a large warehouse and they had partitioned off several areas for their auditorium.
They have some dressing rooms and preparation rooms off to the side, just on the other side of a thin wall. So the dad said to his son, "You stay here in this little room. I am going to go help. I’ll be right back and you’ll be ok." But the dad didn’t know, that was also Barney’s dressing room.
Right in the middle of communion, Barney opens the door. This kid is trapped. He just goes wild. He’s screaming and everyone in hears him. Barney doesn’t know what to do, so he tries to help out by taking his head off.
The kid then starts screaming, "He’s eaten someone. He’s eaten someone!"
If we were to be really honest, we could make a huge list of things we are afraid of, including Barney. There are lots of things out there to be afraid of, isn’t there?
David picks out the thing we are afraid of the most. The valley of the shadow of death. Death is that last great enemy, isn’t it? Most people today are afraid of death. It used to be that we never talked about it. Now we talk about it all the time. But it is still a result of that same fear of facing our own mortality. That’s life’s last great enemy.
Death is Satan’s last weapon. David could face life, knowing death was always around him, because he knew the Shepherd. David could live life, even through death, because the good shepherd promises that when the moment in life comes for us to die, he will be with us in that dark valley. Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am, there you might be also."
We can struggle with other enemies like pain, suffering, ridicule, disease, and injury. But strength and courage cannot overcome death. It has the final word. Only one person can walk with us through death’s dark valley and bring us safely to the other side and that is our shepherd, Jesus, who has experienced death and conquered the grave. He’s been there.
The phrase, "The valley of the shadow of death" may even be an actual location.
There was an article in Readers Digest which describes an actual Valley of the Shadow of Death in Palestine, and every shepherd from the region knows of it.
It is south of the Jericho Road, leading from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, and is a narrow pass through a mountain range. Grazing conditions make it necessary for sheep to be moved through this valley for seasonal feeding each year.
The valley is four-and-a-half miles long. Its sidewalls are over one thousand feet high in places, and it’s only ten or twelve feet wide at the bottom. Travel through the valley is dangerous." (Fernando D’Alfonso is revered as a person who is a patriarch of the guild of shepherding.)
When you hear that, you can understand why David describes from a sheep’s perspective the valley of the shadow of death.
But David knew all of that. Paul acknowledged the fear of death by making sure that we understood death was conquered by and through the love of Jesus Christ.
That’s why in Romans 8:38-39 Paul writes, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
If you’re a Christian, when it comes time for you to die you have nothing to fear, for there is one who will protect you, walk beside you through that experience.