Sunday, March 09, 2008

Matt's Messages "The Shepherd Is Near"

“The Shepherd Is Near”
Guest Preaching at Crossroads Community Church in Duncansville, PA
March 9, 2008
Psalm 23

It is a joy and a privilege to be with you all again this morning.

It was a hot and rainy day in July when we were here last, and it’s now a cold and blustering day in March!

I want you to know that our church has been praying for you for the last couple of months–and especially over the last few weeks as you’ve been working through the candidating process.

We’ve been praying that you would be encouraged and strengthened and excited about what God is doing in your midst.

Up at church, we believe that your church has a strategic role in God’s Kingdom in Central Pennsylvania–and we’re excited to partner with you in achieving that role.

I’ve not yet met your candidate, but I’ve heard good things–and I am sure that God has a good and wise and loving shepherd for you.

And do you know why? Because God Himself is a good and wise and loving shepherd. In fact, that’s what I want to talk about this morning. From Psalm 23.

I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the 23rd Psalm. Probably the most famous psalm in the whole Bible. Psalm 23. And yet, very few of us have actually heard a sermon that actually unpacks the meaning of the psalm.

This psalm is so celebrated because it so beautifully expresses what our hearts truly long for–an intimate, all-satisfying relationship with a perfectly trustworthy, care-giving God.

The images are clear, unmistakable, simple, elegant, and absolutely appealing. This is our hearts’ desire. Let’s read it slowly, carefully, and twice. Listen closely as the metaphor unwinds, develops, changes, and comes near to your heart. Psalm 23.

[scripture reading, prayer]

When you and I bring ourselves to admit it, this is what we want. Deep down, this is our hearts’ desire–to know a God like this. To belong to a God who is completely trustworthy, completely satisfying, completely intimate, completely care-giving, completely safe–the perfect answer for every one of our needs.

When David wrote this psalm, he understood in perhaps the clearest way possible to whom he belonged. He says, “the LORD is my shepherd.”

The LORD. The God who made everything. The God who holds the world in the palm of His hand. The God who is sovereign on the throne of the universe. That God is the personal shepherd of David.

Did you catch the personal words in this psalm? My shepherd. He. Me. I. You. These are the words of personal relationship. David had an intimate relationship with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. A shepherd/sheep relationship.

This world that you and I live in can be so scarey. So confusing. So chaotic. So frightfully meaningless and terrifying. A world of uncertainty and turmoil.

What you and I long for (even if we don’t always admit it) is Someone to guide us through this scarey world. We long for Someone to care for us, Someone to watch over us, to steer us through the maze of choices and trials and hardships that make up our life. To provide for our needs and to draw intimately close to us at each step.

We all long for a Shepherd.

David knew that sheep are the most helpless creatures on Earth. They need constant care and attention.

Did you know that sheep can get lost in a garage. They wander in–it looks harmless enough, but then they get to the back wall–and they're lost. They don't have the sense to turn around and come back out the way they came in.

Sheep can lose their sense of balance, fall over, and not be able to get back up again– because they can't figure out how. It's not that they don't have the ability to stand up, with weak knees or something, they just can't always figure out how to shift their center of gravity again to get their legs under them.

Sheep, if not tended, can walk right into a fire. And not be able to get out of it because they are so bewildered. They can walk right into a fire and have to stay there and cook unless someone helps them.

Sheep, in a word, are helpless.

And David, from his long experience with sheep, knew that.

And David knew himself. David knew that he was exactly like a sheep–helpless and needy in every way.

And David knew that, in the LORD, he had found the perfect Shepherd.

That’s why he says, “I shall not be in want.” That means that this Shepherd never fails to provide everything that His sheep need.

What a sentence! What confidence! “I shall not be in want.” In the LORD, there is a provision for every one of our needs–if we will trust Him for it.

When David wrote these words, he had come to trust in the LORD for everything.


Is the LORD your shepherd? Trust Him and you shall not be in want.

This Shepherd is perfect and flawless in His provision. V.2

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.” It turns out that sheep will not lay down unless they are perfectly content. Sheep won’t sleep unless they are fed, watered, and feel safe. They have no natural defenses and the slightest thing can get them upset, scared, and sleepless. [Does that sound like you? It sounds like me!]

David is saying that the LORD is such a perfect shepherd that he can rest in His watch-care. He says, “He leads me beside quiet waters.” This is the only kind of water from which a sheep will drink–a serene pool. “He restores my soul.”

Do you need that? I do. “He restores my soul.”

In the harried, hurried, busy, stressful, confusing world which we live in, God is an oasis. He brings rest and peace and restoration to the hearts of His people.

David is saying that living in relationship with this Shepherd is the ultimate human experience. Every need is provided for. No matter what comes, you can rest in His care.

And He has wonderful plans for us. V.3

“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

God leads David toward righteousness, toward holy living; he guides his steps towards good choices, right-living, and holiness. Why?

For His glory. “For his name’s sake.” This Shepherd is out to make a name for Himself. He never leads towards sin or shame. He leads His sheep perfectly and when they step where He guides, He gets the credit, the glory as the greatest Sheep-herder ever.

He is committed to these sheep. They WILL walk in paths of righteousness because His name is on the line. Not perfectly, but consistently better as they reach the glorious, destination the Shepherd has in mind.


The Shepherd wants to guide your feet towards holiness. Away from that temptation. Away from that nasty habit. Away from that damaging relationship. For His name’s sake–for His glory in your life–the LORD wants to guide you in paths of righteousness.

Let him. Allow Him to guide you to holiness. Watch where He puts His foot and place yours there, too. Stick close to the Shepherd. Hug His leg. Go His way.

Even when that way leads through trial and tribulation. Even when the path He chooses is suffering. V.4

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me...”

That dark valley is the valley of trial. It may lead to death, it may lead through great suffering. It may mean cancer. It may mean a disastrous relationship. It may mean a difficult and trying marriage. It may mean family problems, church problems. It may mean hardship on a strange mission field. It may mean confusion and not understanding what is happening to you or to someone you love.

But if the Shepherd is present, it is the best place in the world to be.

You see, this psalm is not a pie-in-the-sky kind of promise. It is not “all fun things all the time.” David recognizes the dark places of life. The frightening places. The shadow of death.

But he does not give in to fear.

Not because David is so bold. Not because David is so strong. Not because David has all the answers.


Just because the Shepherd is near. He is bold. He is strong. He has all the answers. And He is near.

Notice how David’s song about the Shepherd becomes a prayer to the Shepherd when the dark valley presses in? “I will fear no evil for...You are with me.”

The path of righteousness leads through the valley of the shadow of death. But when the Shepherd is near, green pastures, quiet waters, and a restored soul are certainties for the trusting sheep.


What are you anxious about? Concerned about? Worried about?

Does it hurt? Is it death?

Jesus said to those who make disciples of all nations, “I will be with you always.” Hebrews says that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.

The Shepherd is near. Trust Him!

David says, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

The rod is comforting because it keeps back all the enemies of the sheep. The Shepherd has a strong arm that can whack the head off of a coyote or a cougar or a mangy dog. The safest place on earth is near the Shepherd.

The staff smarts when it crooks around the neck. And discipline is always painful for a time. But it is comforting to know that the Shepherd will keep me on track. It’s comforting to know that the Shepherd cares enough to discipline me to stay on the path.

It’s dark in this valley! And though I’m prone to wander, Lord I feel it, it is comforting to know that the Shepherd is committed to keeping me near to Him–even if His methods hurt a little.


He is protecting you from something much worse. Learn from His staff. Come back. Draw near to the Shepherd.

David changes his metaphor here in verse 5.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

David is no longer a sheep in this picture. He is now seated at a lavish, festive table. Food is piled upon food. And the cup placed before him overflows with juicy, satisfying liquid. His head is anointed in welcome by his Host.

And it is the Host whom David delights in. The Host is God Himself. (Still in the 2nd person.) “You prepare a table before me...”


I should serve you! You are the King of Kings. You are the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe. Mountains bow down and the seas roar at the sound of your name! And you lay out a spread for me?

God is the most gracious host in the world! Blessing upon blessing upon blessing upon blessing upon blessing flows from Him. “My cup overflows.”

My wife is a tea-snob. Hot tea, not iced-tea. She loves imported teas with funky names like: Earl Grey, Jasmine Dragontears, Lapsang Souchong.

And with a tea-snob, you try not to overflow the cup or the tea will get on the saucer.

But this isn’t tea he’s drinking! And the point is not the mess–it’s the abundance!

The picture here is of a fully-satisfying meal provided by the most gracious of hosts.

And nothing stands in the way of it. David says, “In the presence of my enemies.”

Satan. Demons. Death. Suffering. All my foes are powerless to stop God from blessing me. The world cannot take away God’s blessing.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.” (Romans 8:35-39)

Do we have enemies? Oh yes. But when we (by faith) sit down to the banquet table prepared by our Lord, they must look on with abject horror on their faces. And realize that they are ultimately defeated by our gracious Host’s powerful hands.

Jesus defeated all of our enemies at the Cross.

His death paid for our sins and forever defeated Satan.

If we turn and trust Him, we get all the blessing the world and no enemy standing in the way of it!


Look behind them. Raise your eyes. You have a big God.

Trust Him. He prepares a table for you in their presence. As they stomp their feet and scowl at you, they can do nothing more than look on as God blesses you. Trust Him. Your cup will overflow.

David changes the metaphor once again. V.6

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life...”

David is confident of these blessings. They will go wherever God leads him.

The word for “follow” here is a much stronger one than we normally think of. It often means to “pursue, to persecute, to chase.”

David is saying, “As I enjoy this kind of a personal, intimate relationship with God, He hunts me down with good things. With his love. With his loving-kindness, or mercy. God is hot on my heals with grace.

And David was a man who knew what it meant be chased. Saul hunted him for years.

But now He understands that this Shepherd is tracking Him down to give Him good things. Things he doesn’t deserve but he desperately needs.


If you belong to Jesus, He is hot on your heals with grace, too. Things you don’t deserve but desperately need are right behind you. Stop running. Turn to Him. And enjoy the goodness and love that will follow you all the days of your life.

Because the Shepherd is near. That’s David’s point in the last sentence.

“And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Not only does He invite us for a dinner of blessing in the presence of our enemies, this gracious Host wants us to stay around!

This relationship is permanent, lasting, enduring, eternal.

God wants us to draw close to Him and dwell with Him. Abide with Him. Enjoy this Shepherd/Sheep relationship for all eternity.

Death will not end it. Time will not tarnish it. Eternity will not diminish it. This relationship is forever!


A shepherd song?

A joyful song of a God who is your perfect care-giver, who meets every need so that you can rest in His arms. A hopeful song of a God who is committed to guiding you into holiness for His glory. A thankful song of a God who is completely trustworthy through the darkest times of your life even if He must discipline you to stay close to Him. A celebratory song of a God who blesses you unfailingly in the face of deadly but defeated enemies. A powerful song of love to a God who dogs your heals with grace, goodness, and love forever. A song of a shepherd who is near.

The shepherd is near. Forever.


That'll preach...Good word brother..Stay Strong

Together in Christ

Derek Wadsworth