Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Shepherd's Psalm--------Psalm 23

Greetings in the lovely name of Jesus.

Today we begin a series of studies originating from Psalm 23, the most famous passage in the Old Testament.

As you study along with me on this blessed Psalm , keep before you at every verse the basic premise that the 23rd Psalm, rightly understood, must be looked at through the eyes of a shepherd. Keep in mind it was written by a shepherd.

As a sidenote, I would recommend anyone taking the time to read Phillip Keller's books , A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23 accompanied by A Shepherd Looks at The Good Shepherd and His sheep. (Taken from John's Gospel, Chapter 10.)

I) Background

Sheep and shepherds are favorite metaphors in Scripture.

Most Christians are familiar with "The Parable of the Lost Sheep" in Luke 15. In Isaiah we read, "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6). Psalm 100 reminds us "We are his people and the sheep of his pasture." (Psalm 100:3) 6 times in the New Testament Jesus makes the statement "Sheep which have no shepherd". Ezekiel 34 looks to the future when the true shepherd of Israel will fully care for his own.

Some of the greatest men of the Old Testament tended sheep at one time. Abel is the first shepherd of record; Jacob, Moses, Amos were all shepherds. And then there is David, often referred to by theologians as the shepherd-king.

It is an arresting fact that shepherds played such an unsual and important role at the Birth of the Lord Jesus:

It is to shepherds that the announcement of the birth of the Christ child (Luke 2:8-11) first comes.

It was these shepherds who came first to see the Christ Child (Luke 2:16) Dr. Luke records "They came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger."

These shepherds became the first evangelists preaching the Gospel of the Christ Child. Dr. Luke emphatically records "And when they had seen it, They made known abroad the sayings which were told them concerning this Child." (Luke 2:17)

This whole episode is an irony of irony's indeed. Here's why.

Shepherds were considered the outcasts of their society. They were at the bottom of the bottom of the social totem pole. Jewish shepherds were deemed to be ceremonially unclean. They were ostracized from traditional Jewish life; barred from temple worship and other privileges of Judasim.

The Egyptians really told us how they felt about shepherds. In Genesis 46:34 we read that the Egyptians considered them to be an abomination to society.

Outside of their own circle, shepherds were not endearing to the masses; could never expect to have any privileges in life and most often lived in virtual solitude from mainsteam society.

So what is the point? Several points really. (As a sidenote, have you ever known of a preacher to have only one point?) Not very often. I have several.

Jesus would one day take up the metaphor of shepherding during His ministry. "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." John 10:11

Peter calls Him "The Chief Shepherd" I Peter 5:4

The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus "That great shepherd of the Sheep." Hebrews 13:20.

I find it quite ironic that Jesus saw Himself as our Shepherd because He brings outcasts into His family. He is the champion of the ostracized. We who are indeed unclean, He makes clean.

What is equally amazing is that the Lord Jesus takes up the role of Shepherd at His own personal expense. He was not unclean, He was sinless. He is King of Kings, God of gods and Lord of Lords and yet He humbles Himself to the role of being our Shepherd. He treasures this because He treasures us.

The second point is this. Return to the shepherds for a moment. The announcement, their coming to Bethlehem and their subsequent sharing the good news of Christ's birth set a precedent and principle. The Heavenly Father could have dispatched the angelic host to the throne of Caesar Augustus, Cyrenius or King Herod. The news could have been broken first to the High Priest of Israel, the Sanhedrin or others in the religious hierarchy, or to the arisocrats of that society.

But the amazing, earth shattering, once in a lifetime event was heralded to those society would call low lifes.

This might seem paradoxical to us , but it was God's way of stating that His Son would be Savior and Lord to all and for All. Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances and the revelation of His coming was given to those who shared this commonality. Had He been born as a normal infant king; common folks like myself would question is He really Lord of all, or just Lord of the privileged. He is Lord of All. A Clear message to that fact is established at His birth.

A third thought emerges with the shepherds as well. Since they were deemed unclean by the Law of Moses it reinforces the simple fact: The Law of Moses was never meant to save anyone ; it was meant to do the exact opposite. It was intended to drive mankind to their need of the One who would indeed be their Messiah, the One who would and could forgive their sins based upon His own merit. The law was intended to show that we are all unclean and in need of the true Sacrifice for our sin. As Paul wrote to the Galatians "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24

This thought comes into bold relief when Jesus began His earthly ministry. He confronts a whole generation of people who held to the belief that keeping the Law of Moses outwardly rendered them fit for heaven. Sadly many today hide behind many forms of legalism, or fabrications of religion meant to touch any part of their being except their heart.

This is just my opinion and take it for what it's worth, but I believe that the flocks these shepherds were tending were destined for sacrifice at the time of the Passover. These sheep were in the sheep fold at the spring of the year awaiting the Passover. How provocative is it to think that the shepherds left their sheep to worship the One who years later would be declared as the "Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29 They came to worship the one whose ultimate sacrifice would indeed pay their sin debt. And yours, and Mine.

And a final thought. A sheep or a flock of sheep without a shepherd would be a disaster just waiting to happen. I see first hand every day individuals whose lives fit this description because of one reason: They have no shepherd. Everyone who lives, who ever lived or will ever live on this planet needs the Good Shepherd. No exceptions.

How appropriate that shepherds were so intimately involved at the birth of the Good Shepherd.

Now, on to the Psalm itself.

II) The Structure of the Psalm.

David begins "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." He ends the psalm with this statement "surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

I want you to notice what is said between v2 to v5. There are seven (7) activities of care that David sees the Good Shepherd conveying to His sheep. In order they are:

#1. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

#2. He leadeth me beside the still waters

#3. He restoreth my soul

#4. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness

#5. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me

#6. Thou preparest a table before me

#7. Thou anointest my head with oil

Bullinger considers the number seven (7) as the great number of spiritual perfection. I would add that the seven-fold care of the Shepherd for His Sheep is the perfect care. As you take each one individually, and that's the way it was intended, you will begin to focus clearly on the Shepherd's real care for His own.

It is my intent to share each of these seven (7) activities of care in greater detail. But to a final thought as we return to Verse 1.

III) The Personal Shepherd.

Our culture has popularized all kinds of personal relationships. It's common for a person to have a personal physician. Those into physical fitness have personal trainers. Some in Hollywood even have personal cosmetic surgeons. In the sports world fans have personal sports heros. On and on we could go.

Yet, you don't often hear someone say: I have a personal shepherd; but David said it. "The Lord is my shepherd. I stand with David on this and say "Jesus is my personal shepherd." I truly hope and pray you can emphatically say the same.

The Psalm opens with these words "Jehovah is my Shepherd." As Christians, we believe Jesus is my Shepherd, for Jesus is Jehovah incarnate.

The idea of incarnate could be understood by the phrase "putting a name with a face" for that is what Jesus did for us. He shows us the Father. The thought of incarnation brings to bear all the character and attributes of God that He willingly makes known to man.

Hebrew linguists tell us that when we speak of God as Jehovah, the Hebrew uses present tense language. Jehovah is outside time/space/matter that confines us. His existance is eternal. There is no need to argue that point. You either believe it or you don't.

He is eternal---------present tense. Past/present/future rolled into one.

David sees Him as the ever present shepherd. David lays out in the psalm His present tense care of His own. We will look at His care found in the remainder of the verses, but for now the point to establish is this: The Lord is My Shepherd.

There's another significant word in the opening verse. It is the simple word "MY". David sees himself in a role reversal. He had been a shepherd. He knew what it was to tend a flock. He sees himself here as a sheep. The role is reversed. Jesus is His shepherd. He is my shepherd.

Catch the emphasis here. Let me illustrate. If my neighbor's house burns to the ground, that's sad, that's reason to jump in and help them. But if my house burns down, that puts it in a totally different perspective, doesn't it?

If my wife has a toothache, maybe to the point of abscess; that's pretty close to home. You want to get her to the dentist for relief. But if the pain is mine, that totally changes the equation.

It is fine to say Jesus is the good shepherd (He is), others say he is our shepherd (He is); I have even heard someone say Jesus is your shepherd, but it is crucial that you can personally say He is MY shepherd. Is He?

Till next time!

Glenn Bentley

1 comment:

shane said...

thank you it hit home