“Go in Peace: A Companion for the Way”
Ps. 23:1 (Jn. 10:11-15)
Who is responsible for your life? Who is responsible for your welfare, your safety, your direction in life? It’s important to know because whoever it is needs to have control of your life to carry out the responsibility. So who is responsible?
Your answer may well depend on your life stage. We enter life totally dependent on parents, or some other adults. We can do nothing for ourselves. But as we grow older we strive to become independent, to be in charge of our own affairs. Yet we still have basic needs that only others can meet – intimacy, family, friends, and social experiences. Then we hit a period where we are very dependent upon experts – doctors, lawyers, CPA’s, teachers, pastors. And once older age sets in, we become dependent again on others to help care for us as our bodies and minds weaken. So I ask again – through it all, who is responsible for your life? It’s easy to say “I am.” But are you, really?
In Psalm 23 David points us in the right direction. He had thought about his life and come to the conclusion that he was not ultimately responsible for it. David did not want to be totally responsible or independent; so he settled on an image. As he thought about whom he would want in charge of his life, he claimed that A SHEPHERD TAKES FULL RESPONSIBILITY. David was a warrior, a commander, and a king. Yet when it came to taking responsibility for his life, he used the image of the shepherd – an image that was very familiar to him since he had been a shepherd. As he had taken responsibility for the life of his sheep, he wanted someone to do so for him.
To desire a shepherd is to ACKNOWLEDGE WE NEED SOMEONE ELSE. While we like to be in control and think we can handle life by ourselves, we must face the reality that we cannot plan tomorrow, we cannot control the events of today or tomorrow, and we cannot meet all of our needs without help. If we’re honest, we admit that we are often helpless.
WE ARE, IN FACT, LIKE SHEEP. Sheep require more care than any other livestock. They have no sense of direction and go anywhere but the right way. They will leave good pasture for bad. They are prone to wander, and not run away from other animals that seek their life. They conform to the mob mentality and often follow other sheep into danger. They are stubborn and often refuse the shepherd’s direction. They are prone to illness and disease and are dirty animals. Sheep have many deep- seated fears, develop bad and harmful habits, and are basically defenseless. If sheep are to survive they must be dependent upon a good shepherd. To help put it in perspective compare a sheep with a horse. Put a horse out to pasture and it can survive for years; put a sheep out to pasture and it will soon either die of starvation or thirst, or be killed.
Like it or not, we are like sheep. We are sheep. God repeatedly calls His people sheep. Jesus makes repeated references to people as sheep. We are sheep. We are insecure and extremely dependent. WE ARE NEEDY AND CANNOT GO IT ALONE. We do follow the crowd, and try to conform. We do fear many things. We are stubborn and selfish. We do have bad and harmful habits. We worry about being defenseless. We don’t like to be told what to do, where to go. That’s why, in Mark 6:34, Mark said Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were “like sheep without a shepherd.” As an old hymn puts it, we are prone to leave the God we love. We can identify with Isaiah 53:6 - “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” If left totally to yourself, where would you be? Are you willing this morning to claim your identity as a sheep, to acknowledge your dependence? Say with me, “I am a sheep.”
That means WE NEED A SHEPHERD. We need someone to lead us, provide for us, protect us, heal us, and to bring us safely home. In Psalm 23, David was reflecting upon Israel’s relationship with God. Israel was the sheep and God the shepherd. The Israelites didn’t need to know the way through the desert; it was enough that their Shepherd knew. They didn’t need to know where the resting places were or where the food and water would come from; their Shepherd knew. And having been a shepherd himself, David knew that IT’S THE SHEPHERD WHO MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE SHEEP’S SAFETY AND DESTINY. WE need a shepherd who will take full responsibility for our lives, 24/7.
David said, “The Lord is my shepherd…” He reminds us that THERE IS A GOOD SHEPHERD WHO HAS TAKEN FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR LIVES. David calls God by the name God gave himself at the burning bush while conversing with Moses: Jehovah. “I am who I am, the One who was and is and is to come, the One who is able, the eternal one.” This is God, the creator of the universe, promising to care for His people. Through the prophet Ezekiel GOD PROMISED TO BE OUR SHEPHERD. (34:11-16) " 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” No wonder David said, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
And indeed, His people gave Him names because of his care. God has been called, refuge, shelter, provider, father, redeemer, shield, guide, anchor, rock, healer, peace, defender, protector, haven, and love. God had undertaken to be our shepherd; he has committed Himself to be responsible, to look after everything, to take charge and control. It is a reality upon which we can stand and depend.
Think about it. If God had not intervened in your life, what would you be like? Knowing we are sheep, God has been at work. We are, after all, here this morning, in worship. God has carried us through everything; the times we made decisions while not really knowing why, or were spared trouble while not understanding how or why, or experienced trial and grew while not knowing why. If not for God, we would not be here. We cannot go it alone; we are sheep. The truth is, THERE IS FAR MORE OF GOD’S HAND IN OUR LIVES THAN OUR OWN HAND. It’s like the little boy who prayed, “Dear God, please take care of my daddy and my mommy and my sister and my brother and my doggy and me. Oh, and please take care of yourself, God. If anything happens to you, we’re gonna be in a big mess.” How true!
But how can we be sure? What proof is there that God will be faithful to me – to you? JESUS IS OUR GOOD SHEPHERD. Listen (John 10:11-15): “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” What significant words for this season of Lent. Jesus – knowing he was on His way to the cross – used the shepherd imagery of laying down His life for the sheep. And that’s precisely what He did. He paid the price for you – HE HAS TAKEN FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR LIFE.
So we can say with David, “The Lord is my shepherd, I SHALL NOT BE IN WANT.” Let’s be clear: we may still want a lot of things, but ALL OUR NEEDS WILL BE SUPPLIED. We will have all we need.
As Today’s English Version of Ps. 23 puts it: “I have everything I need.” In Dt. 2:7 Moses told the Israelites that for the forty years they’d been in the wilderness they had not lacked anything! Even the shoes on their feet had not worn out! Psalm 34:9-10 states: “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Jesus (Jn. 10:10) says that He came that we might have life to the full.
Think about what the shepherd does for the sheep. He provides the finest of grazing land, the richest pasturage, ample clean water and food, and protects them from animals, insects, and infections. So David, in Psalm 23, says this great shepherd leads us to places of relaxation and peace, restores and renews us, heals and guides us, leads us into abundance, pursues us with mercy, and brings us to an eternal home. What more do we need? What more do we want?
SO WE CAN BE CONTENT. Life will still have its storms, we will still walk through dark valleys, we will still bump up against detours – but Jesus companionship transforms every situation. Storms will not overwhelm us, dark valleys will not destroy us, and detours along the road of life will not lead us astray. As God said through Isaiah (43:2-3)
“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” As Jesus promised (Jn. 10:28-29): “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Did you notice? It’s a double security. We are in Jesus’ hand and his hand is in the Father’s hand! And not only do those hands permanently and eternally protect us, they provide for us. As Paul writes (Phil 4:19): “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” All our needs, according to God’s riches in Christ Jesus! What more do we need? What more do we want?
Max Lucado wrote it with his usual eloquence: “You have a God who hears you, the power of love behind you, the Holy Spirit within you, and all of heaven ahead of you. If you have the Shepherd, you have grace for every sin, direction for every turn, a candle for every corner, and an anchor for every storm. You have everything you need. And who can take it from you? Can leukemia infect your salvation? Can bankruptcy impoverish your prayers? A tornado might take your earthly house, but will it touch your heavenly home?” As we saw in the video testimony earlier – life can take your sight but it will not cloud your vision.
But notice that David made this confession personal – He said the Lord was his personal shepherd – MY shepherd. WE MUST TRUST THE SHEPHERD. Ps. 23 is a confession of faith; it declares a commitment to trust our shepherd no matter what. It means more than just deciding “I will always be in a good mood.” To go in peace is to face the realities of life knowing “I shall not be in want.” As Paul wrote (Phil 4:11-13) “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
It’s amazing what happens in us when we GIVE UP OUR DESIRE TO BE RESPONSIBLE AND IN CONTROL OF OUR LIVES. The Heidelberg Catechism summarizes this trust poignantly (27): WE LEARN THAT WE ARE TO BE PATIENT IN ADVERSITY, GRATEFUL IN THE MIDST OF BLESSING, AND TO TRUST OUR FAITHFUL GOD AND FATHER FOR THE FUTURE, ASSURED THAT NO CREATURE SHALL SEPARATE US FROM HIS LOVE, SINCE ALL CREATURES ARE SO COMPLETELY IN HIS HAND THAT WITHOUT HIS WILL THEY CANNOT EVEN MOVE.
Scott Larson shared a personal encounter. “Annette and her husband were missionaries in Western Europe when she began to have pain in her back. When the pain became so unbearable that she could no longer function, even with muscle relaxants, X-rays revealed a tumor the size of a grapefruit that had attached itself to her spinal cord. Though surgery would need to be done immediately, the operation was considered somewhat routine and not a particularly high-risk procedure.
Something went wrong, however. Annette awakened from the surgery paralyzed from the neck down and in constant, excruciating pain. Not long afterward, she, her husband, and their five children returned to the United States where she could be cared for in more appropriate surroundings.
Several years later, Annette's husband invited me to their home for Sunday dinner. I had always admired her, having heard how she refused pain-numbing medications so that she wouldn't also be numbed to all of life. Yet I wasn't sure what to expect from my visit. Would she be bed-bound? Would we only be able to communicate a few minutes before she needed rest?
What I encountered when I entered their home was a beautifully dressed woman whose outward expression revealed little of her physical pain. During my five-hour visit, Annette served as a gracious hostess who shared her story with honesty. She told how when she first came out of the surgery, she and everyone else focused on praying for God to heal her. When that didn't happen and she was confined to 24-hour care at home, she became very depressed. Most people stopped connecting with her. Their lives moved on while Annette's came to a screeching halt. Bible college and missionary training had not equipped her to deal with a life tied to a wheelchair and filled with constant pain.
"I felt that I was left with three choices," said Annette. "To kill myself and end the unbearable suffering for all of us; to abandon my faith in God and merely exist on painkillers; or to put my energies to discovering God in the midst of all of this suffering."
Annette's face beamed. "I chose the third," she said. "And as I began slowly reading the Bible again through the lens of pain and suffering, what I saw was a God who was familiar with both. I thought my pain and suffering had taken me to a place where God could never be found; instead, it was a place where he became more real to me than I had ever known him to be."
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” So who’s responsible for your life? Can you say it with me? “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT BE IN WANT.”