4th Sunday of Easter
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, dear friends, and especially you confirmands, what lies ahead for you in your life? What does the future hold for you? I think we’d all be able to admit that the world can be a pretty difficult and unpredictable place, right? If you watch the news, you’ll hear about this tragedy or that, about this natural disaster or that, about this wild fire, this drought, the rising price of gas or food, the world can be a pretty difficult and unpredictable place, right? Then closer to home, as we journey through life our own lives can be filled with plenty of challenges and difficulties. Bones break, cancer hits, sickness comes, jobs disappear, people we trusted aren’t trustable. So, we ask, “How can we make it through a world like this?” I’ve heard from people nervous about the future say that they fear what the world will look like in 20, 30, 40 years.
You know, that’s probably the same concerns people have had on their minds for many generations. And perhaps that’s at least part of the reason that throughout the ages this Psalm, Psalm 23, has been a favorite for so many people. In fact, I’d probably guess that this may be one of the most well-known sections of the whole Bible. And it makes sense. It paints for us a really cool picture. God is our shepherd and we are the sheep. God is caring for us the sheep through the thick and the thin, he’s caring for us in the good times and in the challenging times. Therefore, the sheep can rest securely.
But let’s think about this image for a little bit. God is the shepherd. We are the sheep. Jesus even applied this Psalm to himself when He said, “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” I’m not a shepherd, so I don’t have personal knowledge of what sheep are really like. So my knowledge of sheep is based on those who have worked with sheep and recorded their knowledge down. But apparently, sheep really aren’t the most impressive animals. The descriptions that I’ve found aren’t the most complimentary.
First of all, sheep are very skittish. One shepherd noted about how someone came to visit and their little dog jumped out of the car and caused an entire herd of some 200 sheep to stampede. Their only recourse in danger is to run. Sheep are also territorial and selfish. Usually an older bigger sheep would try to dominate and if it saw a younger sheep eating where it wanted to eat it would charge that sheep, lower its neck and butt the other out of the way. Sheep are also stubborn, rebellious and rarely content. One shepherd wrote about a certain sheep who was never content to feed in her own pasture, but would constantly look for breaks in the fence where she could sneak out. And not only would she do it herself but she led others to as well, putting herself in danger as well as others. Eventually the shepherd had to take her to the slaughterhouse just to protect the rest of the flock.
So, skittish, territorial, selfish, rebellious, rarely content. Sound familiar? Sounds an awful lot like us humans, doesn’t it? Selfish? We think first about ourselves and our own wants instead of others. Rebellious? We’ve often heard God’s Word about something and done just the opposite. And skittish? How many times have we worried or fretted about something that didn’t even turn out to happen?
And yet, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” God claims…you! God claims…me! God makes you and me part of HIS flock! What does that mean? That means God Himself is going to look after me, HE is going to keep watch over me. HE is going to be with my day after day after day.
And it’s the LORD who is my shepherd. The LORD – all capital letters- that special name for God that emphasizes His full, free and faithful grace, he will never leave me, he will never forsake me. Jesus used this Shepherd picture for Himself when He said, “I am the Good Shepherd. Who lays down His life for the sheep.” That means I have a Shepherd who was willing to go the cross and die for me. I have a Shepherd who thought I was worth it to shed His blood for me. I have a Shepherd who died and rose for me! That means I’m incredibly valuable and incredibly special to Him.
And yet, there remains one thing, we still live in this world that is so full of danger, disappointments, and difficulties. How do we make it? Glance at verse 4. . “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” One of the cool things about Hebrew poetry is that it’s kind of like climbing a hill. You begin on the bottom, you ascend to the top- which is the high point, then you descend back down. Often, the high point is found right in the middle of the poem or Psalm. So what is the high point of this Psalm?
In Hebrew there are 26 words before and 26 words after the phrase “for you are with me.” That’s the middle, that’s the top of the hill, so while the whole Psalm is important, the whole Psalm is beautiful, the high point is: You are with me.
Apparently, there is just nothing like the presence of a shepherd that will change the attitude of a flock of sheep. When the shepherd is around, the sheep rarely butted each other. When the shepherd is around, the sheep are less likely to wander away. When the shepherd is around the sheep are far less skittish. The presence of the shepherd did all those things for the sheep. The presence of the shepherd eliminated most dangers and difficulties and ensured security for the sheep.
Who goes with you in this world? Jesus does. The Good Shepherd does. Who is with you through the darkest, difficult, and most dangerous days of life? Jesus is. Who is with you in every situation, in every dark trial, in every dismal disappointment, in every distressing dilemma? Jesus is. It is Jesus and His presence who make sense and purpose out of life. It is Jesus who makes your life significant. It is Jesus who gives you endless attention and meticulous care. He’s never asleep, never lax or careless, never indifferent to your well-being, He always has your best interests in mind. He is with you as you go to high school, with you as you find a job, with you as you lose a loved one, with you in every dark valley and on every mountaintop. And finally He is with you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
What challenges and difficulties lie ahead for you? For me? I don’t know. But what I do know is Jesus will be there. Jesus will be there with his care, with his guidance. Jesus will be there with His power! Jesus will be there with His forgiveness. Jesus will be there with His love!
And so we can live our lives with continual confidence. No, God doesn’t promise us that things will be easy, that everything will go the way we want it to. But surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life – because Jesus is there. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever – with Jesus! Amen.
It is the alertness, the awareness, the diligence of a never-tiring master which alone assures the sheep of excellent care. And from the sheep’s standpoint it is knowing that the shepherd is there; it is the constant awareness of his presence nearby that automaticallhy eliminates most of the difficulties and dangers while at the same time providing a sense of security and serenity. The sheep owner’s presence that guarantees there will be no lack of any sort, that there will be abundant green pastures, that there will be still, clean waters; that there will be new paths into fresh fields, that there will be safe summers, that there will be freedom from fear, that there will be antidotes to flies, disease, parasites, that there will be quietness and contentment.