Summary: The 23rd Psalm has been called the greatest Psalm. It is the best-loved, most-heard and most memorized.
From Frank Sinatra to Rock-and-roll, and from country classics to Christian hymns, everyone loves some type of music. We listen to it in our cars, in our offices, in department stores, in elevators and on our smart phones. Simply stated, music moves us. The Bible is filled with music. It’s the ancient Hebrew songbook we know as the Psalms. Today, we begin a nine message summer tour of some of our favorite Psalms to discover the music that moved the Hebrew people. Along the way, we’ll learn a lot about the nature of God and ourselves, and perhaps we’ll discover the power of music to move us just as it did the Hebrew people so many centuries ago.
We start with the most famous Psalm—Psalm 23. Psalm 23 is the best-known, and best-loved, of all of them, not to mention it is the most-memorized. It is read at funerals to comfort the grieving, and at hospital beds to encourage the suffering, and to those who have run aground on the discouragements of life. We read it because it is a song of confidence in God. This psalm is called the Shepherds Psalm because it portrays God as a good Shepherd, who cares for and looks after his flock. The Psalm is attributed to King David. If anyone was qualified to describe God in this manner, it was David. David had been a shepherd before he became a king. So David had a pretty good idea of what a shepherd is like. How often David must have gazed up at the heavens on those star-filled nights while he was out watching over his father’s sheep and pondered the very nature of God! There in the depths of his heart he must have pondered how much God was just like a shepherd. His years of shepherding had taught him a few things, and as he contemplated the shepherd’s work, he found a fitting description of what God does for his people.
There are a number of things David notes in this Psalm. The opening sentence really says all that needs to be said: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The NIV says, “I shall not be in want,” and the NLT says, “I have everything I need.” Everything that comes after the first sentence is unpacking what the Psalmist means by having everything he needs. Time doesn’t permit us to look at all of the things the Psalmist mentions. We could do an entire series about this psalm, so rich is it in imagery, and it’s imagery that needs unpacking because we, who are mostly urban, suburban and city folks, that the agricultural and religious language is lost on us. Because we’re headed into summer months, and folks are anticipating time off and vacations and days on the lake or the river, I only want to focus on one provision this morning—rest.
We don’t often rest well in this 24/7/365 culture in which we live. Rest is almost a forgotten art, but rest is integral to our human existence. We can’t wind the rubber band tighter and tighter. The tension has to be released, or sooner or later the rubber band will snap. When it snaps it will lead us to a mental failure, a moral failure or severe chronic health conditions. I used to use a lot of Andy Griffith illustrations in my sermons. I figured out, however, that younger generations didn’t know who Andy Griffith was. I don’t use them much anymore. Still, there’s one episode of the Andy Griffith Show that illustrates how we live most of our lives. The episode is entitled “Man in a Hurry,” and it’s about a business man from Raleigh (Mr. Tucker, I think is his name) whose car breaks down on Sunday. Of course, Wally, the owner of the filling station, isn’t available on Sunday, so Mr. Tucker convinces Gomer to try to fix the car. The man finds it imperative to get to Charlotte. No amount of coaxing will encourage the man to rest, relax, take it easy until Monday morning when Wally will be back and willing to fix his car. He’s a man in a hurry. At one point, Mr. Tucker says, “You people are living in another world. This is the 20th century. Don’t you realize that? The whole world is living in a desperate space age. Men are orbiting the earth. International television has been developed, and here, a whole town is standing still because two old women’s feet fall asleep!” Barney just looks at Andy and asks, “I wonder what causes that?” That desperate need to be on the run was broadcast in 1963—that’s the year I was born, folks. Things have only gotten worse since.
We need rest, and the Psalmist says that’s exactly what the shepherd offers his sheep. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” You know how it is, right? Living life with all these balls juggling in the air—you’ve got the work ball, the family ball, the church ball, the society ball. We run frantically around trying to keep all the balls juggling at the same time. Let’s take a look at one of those balls—the work ball. The average American works 47 hours per week. We can’t wait to get to the weekend, right? But then, we don’t rest because we have to keep the family ball in the air. There’s laundry to be done. The yard needs mowing. The hedges need trimming. The roof needs fixing. The kids have ball games. Juggle, juggle, juggle.