The Lord Is My Shepherd
I preached the following sermon at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, October 8, 2017. It's the first in a series of three sermons on Psalm 23.
On Wednesday, the youth group started a new teaching series called I Believe. We're working our way through the New City Catechism - a series of 52 questions and answers - a month at a time.
Do you know what catechisms are for? Yes, to teach the Christian faith in a memorable way. Some of you were catechized as kids and you still remember it, right? On Wednesday, we looked at week 1 of the catechism:
Question 1: "What is our only hope in life and in death?" In other words, what can we hold on to in the storms of life, when the everything is shaken?
Answer 1: "That we are not our own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ." We belong to God so he will hold on to us when all else fails.
There's an old song that asks the question, "Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?" And the chorus goes, "We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll. Fastened to the Rock which cannot move. Grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love."
We need that assurance don't we? Life is often too hard to go it alone. We need an anchor so we don't get blown away. And that anchor is our Savior Jesus Christ. We belong to him. He own us, so he takes care of us.
A. INTRODUCING THE SHEPHERD METAPHOR
Psalm 23 teaches us exactly the same wonderful truth: Look at verse 1: "The Lord is my shepherd." King David pictures himself as a sheep who belongs to the shepherd.
David would agree with our catechism: He was not his own, he belonged to the Lord. Because of that, David experienced God's faithful love over and over again. So can we.
Today, we start a three week journey through Psalm 23. In our study, we're going to discover how God keeps us through the storms of life. We're going to say with King David, "The Lord is MY shepherd."
In Psalm 23, the shepherd is a metaphor for God - a very meaningful word picture that gives us fresh insights into the character of God and what kind of relationship he wants to have with us. The psalm tells us something so wonderful and I want you to see it - see all that it means.
So, what we're going to do now is a jet tour of the shepherd metaphor In the Bible. Ready?
B. THE SHEPHERD METAPHOR IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST
Shepherds and sheep were commonplace in the ancient near east. Huge flocks of several thousand sheep and goats were herded in the wilderness areas, places were food and water were scarce.
Shepherds were skillful at protecting and providing for their flocks. They knew where the watering spots were in pools and streams and springs. They endured hardship and were courageous defenders when wolves or bears or lions came by looking for lunch.
For this reason, "shepherd" became a metaphor for gods and rulers. When a man or god was called the shepherd, it meant he was the leader, the provider and protector of his village or people. For example, Amun-re, the sun god, was the shepherd of Egypt. The king of Ur was known as the herdsman who brought his people to rest in the grassy pastures.
C. THE SHEPHERD METAPHOR IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The patriarchs of Israel (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), all owned massive flocks of sheep and goats. They knew what it was like to lead and guide, protect and provide for their sheep. So, it's no surprise that they called God their shepherd, by which they mean that he was their leader and care-giver. Jacob professed that God was "my shepherd, all my life to this day" - Psalm 48:15.
In the Exodus, God was the shepherd who bought and rescued and provided for his flock (Israel) He guided them through the wilderness on the way to the promised land.
Exodus 15:13 is the psalm of praise to God for his salvation and deliverance. In verse 13, the language used is that of shepherd and sheep: "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling." That word, "dwelling," is literally "pastureland."
Psalm 77:20 says that in the Exodus, God "led his people like a flock."
In Isaiah 63:11, Moses is called the shepherd of Israel; God's under-shepherd. In the ancient world, the huge flocks were sub-divided among under-shepherds.
Later, kings were called the shepherds of Israel. David was the archetypal shepherd: "You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their shepherd" - 2 Samuel 5:2. This meant that David was appointed by God to lead, to provide for, and to protect the nation. He was the under-shepherd of God's flock.
Psalm 95 summed up Israel's faith:
"He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care." Psalm 95 is a testimony to God's supreme leadership over Israel, but it is also a words of assurance. It is saying, "Be confident, be courageous: God can be trusted. He is with us, taking care of us. He will to provide for and protect us!"
Unfortunately, the kings who followed David were corrupt and they abused God's people. They were bad shepherd kings. The people of Israel were "sheep without a shepherd" (see Matthew 9:36) because they had rejected THE Shepherd and were abused by their shepherd kings.
God sent prophets to condemn the kings. For example:
Ezekiel 34:1-5 "The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? ... You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd ..."
All was not lost, however. The Lord promised to send a good shepherd, a king in the line of David, who would care for his flock. Again, the word came to Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 34:23 "I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd."
This brings us to Jesus and the church and the new Exodus at the cross ...
D. THE SHEPHERD METAPHOR IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The Lord Jesus is the promised good shepherd of Israel.
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. ... 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" - John 10:11, 14-16
This shepherd language means that in Jesus a new Exodus was happening. A new Davidic Kingdom was ascending. A self-sacrificing shepherd was calling his sheep to follow him into God's new rescue plan, which includes people from every nation.
Today, the Lord's flock is the church - people like us who have turned to Jesus in faith. He has bought us and rescued us from sin. He is guiding us through the wilderness of this present evil age into the promised land of our eternal inheritance. He is our leader. He protects and provides for us.
"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." - Acts 20:28.
"Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" - 1 Peter 5:2-4.
Now that we know the whole story, that simple declaration, "The Lord is my Shepherd," takes on so much meaning. Jesus has revealed himself to us as:
Our ruler. The one who leads our lives. He leads, we follow.
Our savior. One who rescues us from slavery to sin and death and hell. He rescued us by laying down his life for us.
Our provider and protector. The one who will guide into his eternal pastures.
Amazing Jesus! Put your hope in him. Trust him to do good to you. Follow him.
Isaiah 40:11 was written about Jesus and his beautiful love for us:
"He tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers his lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."
I want you to discover the comfort and the confidence and the courage that comes from saying, "The Lord is my shepherd. I am not my own, I belong to God and to my Savior Jesus Christ." Take Jesus as your shepherd now. Follow him. Obey his voice.