This morning, as we return to worship in the house of the LORD that has served as our place of worship since the Linebrook Church branch of God’s eternal family began in 2006, I thought we would yet again take a break from our studies in the book of Exodus to commemorate this occasion. For as we gather together it’s good for us to pause and give thanks to our gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the privilege of worshiping him—not only here but, from July 19, 2020 to last Sunday, also in the Leslie House. Since it’s God’s presence and our relationship with him and one another that makes worship possible, this morning let us focus upon our LORD, the good shepherd of our souls, as we thank him for taking such good care of us both individually and as his family.
Now Psalm 23 may seem an unusual choice for this morning since its declaration in verse 4 of fearing no evil even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death has resulted, appropriately enough, in this psalm often being associated with funeral services—even as 1 Corinthians 13, with its definition of love, is often associated with weddings. But if we, as well, consider the other five verses of Psalm 23, we’ll be blessed for this psalm isn’t only about God being with us when we’re confronted with death. No, this psalm reminds us that God cares for us now; he’ll care for us when we die; he’ll care for us forever.
The psalm begins with an important statement: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” In the ancient Near Eastern world, shepherds were a widely-used metaphor for kings. So the shepherd being spoken of in this psalm is one who has power and authority. At the same time, a shepherd is someone who tends and rears sheep. We see in this that our gracious LORD is someone who gives us his attention. He brings us up and cares for us until we are complete in him: fully holy as he is, no longer weighed down by sin, sorrow, and sadness. What is more, as one commentator notes, “The shepherd stays with the flock…. His sheep are totally dependent upon him for food, water, and protection from wild animals.” It’s because of God’s tender and protective care that we’re able to declare: “I lack nothing.” For if our lives are in God’s hands, we can be confident that he is ever with us, ever watching over us, ever protecting us from our enemies. What more than this could we need? Indeed, we lack nothing—if the LORD is our shepherd.
Next David, the psalm’s author, notes some specific ways that our awesome Father shepherds his sheep. First, as stated beginning with verse 2, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Ron recently shared with someone that I often say how terrible we are at taking vacations—and we are! Yet here David is noting how the LORD, good shepherd that he is, makes us lie down. God knows that we need to rest. Therefore, he makes us do so. Not only that, but the place he makes us lie down isn’t just anywhere. No, he makes us lie down in the best place—“in green pastures.”
Now the LORD, having made us, knows best what we need in order to function and flourish in life. He knows we need not only rest but also water to live. Therefore, verse 2 goes on to state, “he leads me beside quiet waters.” Beside quiet waters our need for both drink and rest are met. For
it’s difficult to rest or relax in the midst of commotion;
it’s difficult to hear the LORD if we’re busy running around from one thing to another;
it’s difficult to hear him if there’s a lot of noise around.
There’s a reason people speak of having a “quiet time.” For in the quiet we’re able to think. In the quiet we’re able to hear. In the quiet we’re able to catch our breath. In the quiet we’re able to rest. Isn’t this why our kind LORD calls us to take a day of Sabbath each week in order that we might escape the noise of the world and recalibrate our lives in the stillness of corporate worship as together we learn to trust and rest in him? Knowing our need for rest, our gracious Father leads us beside quiet waters. He leads us to himself.
But the shepherd’s care over us has only begun. As the beginning of verse 3 states, “he refreshes my soul.” Have you ever felt in need of being refreshed? Have you ever felt so tired—or worried—or ragged that you longed for new strength or energy? We all have. Knowing this, our heavenly Father, our Shepherd, seeks to refresh our souls. He seeks to renew our strength. He seeks to revive us. He does so by making us lie down—and leading us beside quiet waters—and refreshing our souls. For he doesn’t want us to wear ourselves out. He wants us to be refreshed in him. By turning to him—and talking with him—and singing praises to him—and listening to him.
For, as stated in verse 3, God knows we function best when we live according to his ways: “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” To listen to God means not only hearing what he says but doing it. The “right paths” are those that are in keeping with God’s teaching as these are recorded in his Word. Again, because God who made us knows best what we need in order to function and flourish as he intended, we would do well to heed his teaching. We would do well to live according to his ways; to walk along the “right paths” where he guides. For when we do this, we are living in a manner that is not only for our good but also for his pleasure. When we follow his guiding, we honor him and live “for his name’s sake.” When we follow his guiding, we’re able to glorify him by the manner in which we live our lives.
And now we arrive at the well-known and much-beloved verse mentioned earlier, verse 4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” In stating this, David is acknowledging what we all know—that to follow God’s guiding (verse 3) doesn’t mean we’ll never encounter death and evil for we live in a fallen world. Therefore, even those who know, love, and seek to serve God will “walk through the valley of the shadow of death;” even those who know, love, and seek to serve God will be confronted with evil. But David is saying that when these hard times occur, we can say with him, “I will fear no evil.” Why needn’t we fear? Because the LORD, our shepherd, is “with [us].” And if God is with us, that is, if God truly is Immanuel which means God with us, then what have we to fear? If God is with us, then, as David states in verse 1, we truly lack nothing. As the Apostle Paul similarly said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” No one is the right answer for no one is greater than God who made everything that exists. As Paul further goes on to declare, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
David goes on to note at the end of verse 4, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” As one commentator notes, a rod is an instrument of authority “used also by shepherds for counting, guiding, rescuing, and protecting sheep.” A staff is an instrument of support. And, as another commentator notes, “The rod was used to fight wild animals and the staff to direct the flock.” Thus does the LORD, our shepherd, not only care for the basic needs of his sheep but he also protects them from the attacks of the enemy. He delivers his sheep from evil.
In yet another expression of God’s presence during difficult times, verse 5 begins by stating, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” This table represents “a banquet, a celebration of victory.” When enemies seek to harm us, God seeks to feed us. As was true with the Israelites when they were being pursued by the Egyptians, the LORD has won the battle our enemy wages against us. He has defeated our enemies on our behalf. And not only does he prepare a banquet before us in the presence of our enemies but, as David goes on to declare, “You anoint my head with oil.” As we recently noted when considering Isaiah 61, such anointing with oil was done on joyous occasions. As one scholar confirms, such anointing with oil was “customary treatment of an honored guest at a banquet.” Therefore, our gracious Shepherd is treating us as his honored guests! We see this practice continued in the New Testament period in the account of the woman of ill repute who, having poured perfume on the feet of Jesus, the honored guest, then wiped them with her hair and kissed them. In Psalm 23 this anointing with oil is a clear expression of the LORD, our shepherd’s lavish bestowal of good upon his sheep. Is it any wonder that David announces at the end of verse 5, “my cup overflows”? for his metaphorical cup cannot contain the many good things God is filling it with.
Next we see that David’s experience with the LORD, his shepherd, forms the basis for his confidence in God’s care for him into the future. Because the LORD is his shepherd
who makes him lie down in green pastures (verse 2);
and leads him beside quiet waters (verse 2);
and refreshes his soul (verse 3);
and guides him along the right paths for his name’s sake (verse 3);
and is with him even when walking through the valley of the shadow of death (verse 4);
whose presence removes his fear (verse 4);
and whose rod and staff comfort him (verse 4);
who prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies (verse 5);
and anoints his head with oil (verse 5);
and causes his cup to overflow (verse 5);
Because of all of these, David confidently concludes two things in verse 6:
First, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” As his Father, his LORD and shepherd, has bestowed his goodness and love on him in the past, so will do so for all of his earthly days;
But second, David states, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In this we see that David’s hope isn’t only for this life. His hope isn’t only for now, but forever. Even when his earthly life was past, David knew he would dwell in God’s house. So, too, the Apostle Paul later states with equal confidence concerning Jesus Christ, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But because of Christ, “the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality…. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” Paul, too, understood that God who is our Shepherd, God who cares and tends us, God who is eternal, is our Shepherd not only in this life—but forever.
Well as Psalm 23 presents us with a picture of our heavenly Father as Shepherd, so does John 10 present us with a picture of his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, as Shepherd. For though Christ certainly existed before the creation of the world, it is primarily the Father who disclosed himself during the Old Testament period. But, in the fulness of time and in keeping with Scripture’s teaching, God sent his Son to earth to take away the sin of all who believe and receive him. And though by trade Jesus may have been a carpenter, by his calling he followed in his heavenly Father’s steps. Like Father, like Son. As the Father is shepherd, so is his Son. And as the Father was acknowledged by David to be his shepherd, so does the Son, Christ Jesus, twice in John 10 declare himself to be not only a shepherd, but a good shepherd:
First, as recorded in verse 11, Jesus announces: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
And then in verses 14 and 15, he again pronounces: “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.”
By these declarations Jesus makes evident that he cares for his sheep—sheep he knows intimately—so much that he is going to lay down his life for them. For as John the Baptist similarly declared, in the Person of Jesus Christ we behold not only a shepherd but also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Now as often occurred with Jesus, his audience (which here was comprised of Pharisees, religious leaders) neither understood nor accepted what he was saying. Therefore, we see in verses 17–18 how Jesus, the good shepherd, reiterated and built upon what he had previously said: “17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” Upon hearing these words, two camps formed among those who were listening to Jesus. As noted in verse 20, many said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” But verse 21 notes how others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (emphasis added). Those in the second camp were no doubt referring to an event recorded in chapter 9 of John’s Gospel when Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. As religious leaders, they would have known that in the Hebrew Scriptures, the ability to give sight to the blind was ascribed only to the LORD. Not only by his words but also his deeds, Jesus Christ was clearly God. We see in this that when confronted with Jesus’ words—words that were backed up by his actions—people were forced to choose sides: would they believe he is the promised Messiah as he claimed to be, or would they disbelieve him?
Some time after this exchange, as stated in verses 22–23, “22 Then came the Festival of Dedication”—better known to us as Hanukkah—“at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” On this day, those who had been listening to Jesus continued to try and figure him out. As stated in verse 24, “The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’” “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” This is the crux of the matter. Either Jesus is the One foretold in the Scriptures to save his people from their sin—or he isn’t.
Jesus’ answer to them is found beginning with verse 25: “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” In word and deed Jesus had made clear that he is, indeed, the promised Messiah—as we’ve noted before, “Messiah” is the Hebrew form of the Greek title “Christ.” His works, done in the name of his Father, bear witness to who he is. But this is a truth that only those who are his sheep are able to embrace and believe. As stated in verse 27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” All who know Jesus—not know about Jesus, but know him in a personal, intimate manner—listen to his voice. All who know Jesus obey his commands even as he taught. For to love Jesus is to want to please Jesus knowing how deep his love for us is. And we please him best when we do as he asks.
That Jesus’ sheep hold a special place in his heart is evident throughout this chapter—and throughout Scripture. For he, the good Shepherd, lays down his life for his sheep. In doing so, as he proclaims in verse 28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” When Jesus laid down his life for his sheep, he went from being shepherd to being more than that for he became the sacrificial lamb who voluntary had the sin of his sheep, the sin of those who believe him, placed upon himself. This is how Jesus, the good shepherd, laid down his life for his sheep in order to give them eternal life; he laid down his life for his sheep in order that they might never perish; by laying down his life for his sheep he guaranteed that “no one [would] snatch them out of [his] hand.” This is how much Jesus loves his sheep.
And he’s able to accomplish these things on their behalf because, as he goes on to state in verses 29–30, he is one with God not only in purpose but he is one with God in essence, in his being: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” Jesus and God are one entity. Jesus’ Father, who is greater than all, is the one who has given him his sheep. Therefore, as no one can snatch the sheep out of Jesus’ hand as he stated earlier (verse 28), so no one can snatch the sheep out of his Father’s hand. As one commentator observes, “The hand of the Shepherd is also the Father’s hand, and the supreme power of God is the ultimate guarantee of the sheep’s safety.” As Jesus will never let go of his sheep, neither will his Father. Again, he and the Father are one. This is further made evident in what follows for in the eyes of those who were not his sheep, in stating this Jesus had uttered a blasphemy worthy of being stoned for he, “a mere man, claim[ed] to be God” (verses 31, 33). But this was no blasphemy. This was a declaration from God’s eternal Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. As such, no one comes to the Father but through him. And as he went on to reveal to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Therefore, to see Jesus is to see the Father.
Like Father, like Son. As the Father revealed himself to be the shepherd of our lives and souls in Psalm 23, so did he do by sending his eternal Son to earth to show us what he, the good shepherd, looks like in Person, in the flesh. Because he is our Good Shepherd, we lack nothing. For
He makes us lie down in green pastures;
He leads us beside quiet waters;
He refreshes our soul;
He guides us along the right paths for his name’s sake;
Therefore, we fear no evil even when walking through the valley of the shadow of death;
He is ever with us, comforting us, protecting us with his rod, guiding us with his staff;
He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies;
He anoints our head with oil—our cup overflows;
Therefore, surely his goodness and love will follow us all the days of our life
And we will dwell in his house not only this morning—but forever.
Dear sisters and brothers, all of this is possible for those who accept Christ Jesus’ teaching that he and the Father are one. For we, too, are faced with the choice of the Pharisees in John chapter 10: Do we believe he’s the promised Messiah—or do we not? If we do, then we know that to see Jesus is to see our Father in heaven. And what is more, to those who do believe in precious Jesus, he sends another shepherd, his Holy Spirit, to comfort—and care—and encourage us as we live out our earthly lives. For by his Holy Spirit, we are united not only to Father and Son but to all who similarly believe and receive Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf. As Jesus removes our sin by placing it upon himself, by his Holy Spirit, Christ’s righteousness is then applied to our lives as we are sealed by him and so guaranteed that he is Immanuel, God with us, not only now but even when we die.
Dear ones, as the Son is like the Father, shepherding those who are his, let us, too, seek to be good shepherds who ever care for one another;
Let us, too, seek to be good shepherds who ever share the good news of the Good Shepherd of our souls who was sent by the heavenly Shepherd to destroy Satan and all evil, and to take away the sins of all who believe in him, in order that those who do might dwell in his house not only now but forever by the Holy Shepherd who now lives within and dwells among us.
Let us pray.
Benediction: Hebrews 13:20–21 20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
 Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Psalm 23:1.
 Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Psalm 23:1. References include Isaiah 40:11: He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
 See Exodus 20:8–11: 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.; Hebrews 10:24–25: 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
 Isaiah prophesied the coming of Immanuel, God with us. Matthew declared that Immanuel had arrived in the person of Jesus Christ. See respectively Isaiah 7:14 (Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.) and Matthew 1:23 (“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
 Romans 8:31–32.
 Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Psalm 23:4.
 Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Psalm 23:4.
 Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Psalm 23:5. Emphasis added.
 Sermon preached on February 27, 2022, Christ’s Holy, Lavish, One-Sided Exchange.
 Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Psalm 23:5.
 Luke 7:38, 45–47: 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them…. “45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
 1 Corinthians 15:19.
 1 Corinthians 15:54. Paul is referring to Isaiah 25:8: he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.
 John 1:1–3, 10: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made….10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.; 1 Corinthians 8:6: yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.; Colossians 1:15–17: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
 See Galatians 4:4–5: 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
 John 1:29.
 As noted in John 1:1: Very truly I tell you Pharisees,….
 See Psalm 146:8: the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.
 Hanukkah is a Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after it had been desecrated by the Syrians. As also noted in the Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on John 10:22: The Commemoration of the dedication…of the temple by Judas Maccabeus in December, 165 B.C., after it had been profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes. This was the last great deliverance the Jews had experienced.
 John 14:15: If you love me, keep my commands.
 Reformation ESV Study Bible note on John 10:29.
 John 10:31–33: 31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” 33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
 See John 14:6–11: 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.