Summary: We may call ourselves Christians, but is Jesus our Shepherd? Are we really following him or merely using his name to excuse following a man, a tradition or our own stubbornness?
Intro: We often hear the 23rd Psalm read or recited at funerals, but did you know that it does not apply to everyone, only to the sheep of the Great Shepherd.
Goal: To really understand the most popular of all the Psalms.
Plan: We will go through Psalm 23 looking at some important details.
I shall not be lacking: When we look at that most famous of David’s melodies, Psalm 23:1, we begin to see healing in the midst of greed. The traditional translation of this verse is now moving out of use in everyday language. To not be “in want” is becoming strange terminology to our ears, when every advertisement encourages us to want more materialism in our lives. Yet that is not the original meaning. The Hebrew words "lo ehser" simply mean I won’t be lacking, or I have all my needs. We could call this a theology of sufficiency. In a world of lust for more, it is rare to hear people say that they lack nothing, that they are satisfied and need nothing more materially. Yet, that is the point of the Psalm, to be satisfied with life, and that is a truly happy life.
I lie down in green grass: When sheep are hungry or frightened they will not lie down. This picture from Psalm 23:2 is one of serenity and security. How can we experience peace and safety in the midst of terrorism and other world problems? Terrorists can kill the body but not the soul protected by God. This is not a promise to everyone, but it is a picture relevant to those who allow themselves to come under that rod and staff of the Great Shepherd. When we go to funerals and this Psalm is read, many people just assume that it applies to them, but it does not apply to those who cannot be bothered with the things of God. It only applies to the sheep of the one who is. The Lord’s sheep experience lush pasture and quiet waters in the midst of dangerous predators.
The right track: For most people the right track in life is one of the ways of the world. It may be a meticulous kind of political correctness, a particular gender bias, the quality of foods we eat or the way we teach our children. However, the ways of the world often deceive us. They cannot guarantee a full and happy life, but God can. The word righteous is not popular today, but it simply means the right track and there is only one who can lead us there. In Psalm 23:3 that is often translated as the paths of righteousness, meaning the right tracks picturing the ways of justice and fairness. Anyone who has experience with sheep knows that they create and follow well-worn tracks. As God’s sheep, if we follow the Good Shepherd, he will lead us down the right track.
His rod and staff: The two tools of shepherding mentioned in Psalm 23:4 were a rod and staff. A sling was not mentioned. The rod was a often a club used to protect the sheep from predators, but also to discipline them for their own good. Jesus’ rod is also a vehicle of comfort, even though momentarily perhaps a little painful. Discipline is for our good. The staff was a bent piece of wood that could be used to catch and rescue sheep. In our age of mass manufacture we imagine that they were all of the same model as pictured in our Sunday School books. But that is unrealistic. They were homemade and just about anything that would do the job was chosen. There are many times in life that we need Jesus to rescue us and he sees that as his job.