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Psalm 23 |Sermon June 2, 2024

Updated: Jun 20

Psalm 23


Scriptures: Psalm 23; John 10:14-16, 27-28; Philippians 4:19


Good morning Strangers Rest. Last week I shared with you that of all of God’s creation He values us the most. This morning I will focus on how we in turn value God. We value God by understanding who He is in our lives and allowing Him to operate freely in His role. This morning we will examine “Psalm 23” as David lays out perfectly how our relationship with God should be if we truly value Him. This Psalm is probably the most recognized Psalm in the Bible, but if you do not understand the context from which it was written, it would be easy to miss some of the key lessons David expressed about our relationship with God. Let’s begin by reading it.


“(1) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (2) He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. (3) He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. (4) Yea, 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. (5) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. (6) Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:1-6) 


Psalm 23 was written by a man who had a very close relationship with God and held that relationship in high esteem. David, a man whom God said was “after His own heart” (First Samuel 13:14), was a shepherd. In this song he wrote about the relationship he had with God. He compared his relationship with God to something that he was very familiar with – the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. When you read this Psalm, it is important to recognize that David considered himself to be the sheep and God the Shepherd. To really appreciate what David was sharing, you need to understand a few facts about shepherds and sheep.


I asked this question in Bible study so for those of you who were there you know this answer. The question was this: how many of you would be offended if I called you stupid? How many of you would be offended if I just said you were stupid? Now how many of you would be okay being stupid if that enabled you to have a great relationship with God? Well, my friends, when you read and accept what David was saying in this Psalm, he was saying that he was stupid and that was totally okay with him. I will tell you that when it comes to being God’s sheep, I too am stupid and I am proud of it. By the end of this message I hope you will be too.


Let me share a few things about sheep and if any of these facts hit close to home when you think about your walk here on earth, just whisper to yourself, “He is right, I am stupid.” Now say it quietly so the person sitting next to you don’t try to take you to the doctor when you leave here to get you checked out for talking to yourself. But getting back to sheep – sheep are not the brightest or smartest animals on the earth. As a matter of fact, they are so needy that they require the constant oversight of the shepherd. Sheep are so timid that they have been known to flee from blowing paper. A thunder storm will actually send them into a panic. Now I know that one hit home for somebody after the storms we have had over the last couple of weeks. If a sheep is crossing a stream and gets scared, it will literally drown without even fighting for its life. If sheep are in a barn and the barn catches fire, they will burn to death without trying to escape because they will be frozen with fear.


Another fact about sheep is that the wool that covers their bodies is so heavy that if they fall down and are lying on their backs, they cannot get up. They are incapable of righting themselves and must lay there until someone picks them up or they die. Can you see the similarities between sheep and us? Now what I am about to share next is a sheep’s smart characteristic. Sheep only recognize the voice of their shepherd. They will not follow a voice that they do not recognize. Now here is where many Christians are not like sheep: many have not learned to recognize the voice of the Chief Shepherd – Jesus – because they are following the voice of a shepherd who is not following the voice of the Chief Shepherd. I will let that sink in for a minute. There is only ONE Shepherd that we should be following and if the shepherd over a Church is not following the ONE then you do not need to be following them!


Now let me share a few facts about the shepherd and then we will go back through the verses applying this knowledge to what David was actually saying. I want to look at the role of the shepherd first based on what Jesus said in the tenth chapter of the gospel of John. He said in John 10:14-16, 27-28, “(14) I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. (15) As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (16) And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd….(27) My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. (28) And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”


In these verses Jesus speaks of the shepherd as being critical to the survival of the sheep. The shepherd knows his sheep; understands their ways and their nature to stray; will defend their sheep against all attackers; rejoices when a lost sheep is found; willing to feed them and ensure their needs are met; is skilled at pasturing his sheep and will carry one in his arms if one becomes feeble. This is the relationship that David was describing when he wrote Psalm 23. David considered his role as a shepherd and the responsibilities he had for his sheep and thought about his relationship with God. He realized that God was his Shepherd and that he was one of God’s sheep. So let’s go back to Psalm 23.


Verse one says, “(1) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” David opens Psalm 23 with the true nature of our relationship with God – we are sheep and God is the Shepherd. Because God is the Shepherd, all the responsibilities that a shepherd has for his/her sheep, God has for us. Now understand that, as God’s sheep we are the ones who are stupid, whether we like it or not. Also, just like sheep, we often walk in fear and are sometimes paralyzed by that fear. Like sheep we sometimes fall down without the ability to get back up and thus needing God’s help to get back on the right track. So David paints a clear picture of our relationship with God – He is the Shepherd watching over and taking care of us. We are connected to God and, for this reason, we shall not want. God is the source of all our needs being met. There are a lot of Christians who live their lives believing that they are their source? They work long hours to move ahead because they truly believe that everything they accomplish is on their shoulders. We need to remember that no matter what job you do – that job can be there one day and gone the next. Not so with our Shepherd. Our faith should always be in God and Him alone. God will use our jobs to meet our needs and the needs of our loved ones, but our jobs are never – and I mean never – the true source of our needs being met.


Paul said in Philippians 4:19 that “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” I believe this and David acknowledged this when he said “because” the “Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The Lord anticipates our needs and has already made provisions for us. Isaiah 65:24 says “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.” God said that before we even ask He is already answering. That is the God we serve. David recognized that he did not have to want because his Shepherd anticipated and answered his needs even before he realized he actually had a need. God is not just waiting for us to ask Him for help, He anticipates what we need and makes the preparations for us even before we ask.   


Next David said, “(2) He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.”  Can we say God gives us rest? Can we say He leads us to a place of peace? Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Because we are in a relationship with God, we are able to receive rest. The shepherd leads his sheep to green pastures, not pastures that are barren. The green pastures offer the sheep food and rest. Once they have eaten their fill from the green pastures, they lay in those same fields and rest. When you are in your home at night, after you have eaten and are preparing for bed – that’s resting in green pastures. When you come home from a hard day’s work and you can relax in your easy chair – that’s resting in green pastures. Then he mentions the still waters.


Remember earlier when I shared with you that sheep are timid and how raging waters will scare the sheep causing them to fall in and drown without their shepherd? Because the shepherd understands this, he leads his sheep towards the still, restful waters so that they can be refreshed without being scared. When you look at what is going on in your life, are you in need of some refreshment? It is available to you because you have a Shepherd who cares about you. God’s way leads to peace – physically, emotionally, and especially spiritually. Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” When we keep our minds on our Shepherd versus all the other things happening in our lives, we can have that peace that we so desperately need. 


Next David says, “(3) He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.” God is able to bring back our lives from destruction; and converts our souls from sin that it may not eternally perish. Remember, our Lord and Savior died so that no one “has” to die and spend an eternity in the lake of fire. For those who choose Christ as Lord and Savior, our souls are constantly being restored as we grow in the One who saved us. David said that God “….leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.” If we are willing to walk in the steps God has ordained for us, He will lead us. David understood that God would lead him along the right path just as he led his sheep. A shepherd chooses a path that guarantees that his sheep will be protected from all danger. David took it a step further when he wrote in Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way.” God will establish our steps if we decide to follow where He leads. If we listen to God’s Holy Spirit, He will lead us. Jesus said in John 16:13 that “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…”  We are lost without God guiding our footsteps.


David says that God does this “….for His Name Sake.” When I was a child, I learned early to give thanks before each meal. When I would ask God’s blessing over my food, I would end the prayer with these words: “for Christ’s sake, Amen.” When I got older I began to think about what it meant to be saying “for Christ’s sake.” I was the one who would be eating the food and getting the nourishment from it so I was a little confused about what good Jesus would receive. Whenever you do something for the “sake” of someone else, you are doing it for their good. One of the definitions of “sake” is “motive, cause of or on behalf of.” In other words, it is doing something for the good, benefit or cause of someone else.


When we examine what David said in this verse, “….He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake” he is saying that when God is leading us, it is not only for our good, but for God’s purpose, for His cause. When a shepherd leads his flock the wrong way and his flock is harmed, he suffers ridicule from the other shepherds and is branded as a “bad shepherd.” This reputation follows him for the rest of his life. When God is leading us, He does so not only to ensure our safety, but also because that is the job that He has taken on for our benefit. In a sense, His reputation is on the line. Who would want to serve a God who made His people sick versus a God who provides healing for them? Who would want to serve a God who turns a deaf ear when His people call versus being right on time when they need Him? No one would want to serve a God who they deemed is not worthy. There is nothing about our God that is not worthy of all the praise we can give Him.


Next David wrote something that I believe came from his personal experience. He said, “(4) Yea, 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.” In the lands where David was a shepherd, there were valleys between mountains that often gave bandits a great opportunity to ambush the shepherd and steal the sheep. One author wrote that some valleys were so deep that to walk through them during the daylight you’d think it was nighttime. David, knowing this to be true, spoke as one of the sheep. The sheep would follow the voice of the shepherd through those valleys without being afraid because they were with their shepherd. David said that during those times when he would be in the midst of danger, he would not be afraid because he knew that his shepherd was right there, guiding and leading him. He knew that he was protected.


John made this statement in First John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”  What John was saying was that in our relationship with God, the love that we share with Him casts out fear. His love casts out fear of suffering (burning in hell) for eternity; fear of our situations; fear of our enemies; and any other type of fear. Because of our relationship with God, we have no reason to fear because we know God is in the midst and is working through our situations.


Then he says, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” One of the tools that were a requirement for all shepherds was a rod or staff. This staff was used to provide discipline when the flock needed it, but it was more so used to protect the flock against predators. The most common shepherd staff was curved at the top. This allowed the shepherd to use the staff to pick up one of his/her sheep if they fell down. The curved part of the staff could easily loop around the neck of the sheep and lift it up. The sheep in return were very comfortable with the staff being just another tool used for its overall protection.


For a Christian, the rod, the staff is the Bible, the Word of God. Second Timothy 3:16-17 gives us an idea of what discipline that we receive from God. It says, “(16) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And we know from Hebrews 13:5-6 that God is always with us, and we never have to feel any fear. It states, “(5) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you. (6) So we may boldly say: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" When we consider this in our lives, we know that God is faithful in all His interactions with us and for us. In everything that we face, we can be confident that He is by our side to forgive us and restore us.


Next he says, “(5) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.” I have come to realize that not everyone who smiles at me like me. Not everyone who walks up to you and shakes your hand really desires something good for you. We all have enemies that we recognize and those that are hidden. Although the sheep faced both enemies daily, David said “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Sheep sleep and eat in green pastures while their enemies circle the parameters waiting for an opportunity to attack. While the sheep are eating, the shepherd watches over them to protect them. The sheep can eat freely and peacefully knowing that if they are attacked they will be protected by the shepherd. Strangers Rest, we have a Shepherd that no matter who is planning an attack against us is there ready for battle. We cannot know everything that is being planned against us but our hope in God allows us to be confident knowing that they will not be successful against us. Although we have enemies all around us, God prepares a table for us in their presence.


David said, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.”  When we are giving our approval of someone entering into a particular area of ministry, we anoint them with oil and through the laying on of hands, to consecrate them for service. To consecrate means to “set aside as holy or sacred.”  God has consecrated us and deem us as holy and/or sacred to Him. Ephesians 1:3-4 says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, (4) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…” God chose us and He consecrated us unto Himself.


When David said, “my cup runs over” he is talking about abundance. Previously, when I would read this verse, I envisioned in my mind the oil running from my head into a cup and the cup overflowing with the oil. I like to think of the two as separate events. Yes, God anoints us, consecrates us and sets us apart for His will and because of this, He gives us abundance causing our cup to overflow. Some have taken this to mean that God is about making them rich, but I cannot find that anywhere in Scripture. Our life on earth is not about living to become rich, but it is about walking in God’s abundance in all areas of our lives. The abundance that we should be walking in allows us to do God’s work in helping others get saved and having their needs met – it’s not so that we can indulge ourselves. I want to have so much abundance spiritually that I can feed others and they become full. I want to have the finances available to give freely to God’s work everywhere He leads me. I want to be able to support missions and other ministries who are helping those in need. I want to be able to freely help others in need without once giving thought to something I might have to do without if I help them. This is my heart’s desire.  


Finally David wrote, “(6) 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 think about the word “follow” for a moment. To follow means “to come after or to pursue.” So we can actually think about this verse in this manner: no matter where we go with the Lord, goodness and mercies will pursue after us – they will track us down. Remember what I told you last week from the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy about all those blessings tracking us down and overtaking us? Well here is another confirmation! Not only are blessing pursuing us, but also goodness and mercy! We have no choice but to be blessed when we are in a relationship with God. Many are those who are actively “seeking” God’s blessings but when we understand our relationship with God we know that we do not have to seek what He has already given to us. They will chase us down and overtake us because that is God’s desire for us. We have a target on our backs and those blessings are just following us around aiming to hit that target. We cannot escape God’s blessings for us!!!


He ends with “.…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  First blessings will chase us down in this life and when we cross over to the other side we will forever be in the house of the Lord. I know we have all heard about the mansions in the sky – but that’s not what this is about. I do not know what your house will be like, but I do know that to be in God’s presence forever outweighs anything that we have here on this earth. Jesus confirmed our security in John 14:1-3 when He said “(1) Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (2) In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” God is making preparations right now for us to spend eternity with Him.


Strangers Rest, in order for us to be God’s sheep, we must decide to be stupid – willing to admit we do not know everything and therefore willing to yield to our Shepherd. This is one of the few times we can admit to being stupid and be proud of it. As sheep, we should have a dependency on Christ. That dependency can only come through our understanding and acceptance of the fact that we are sheep. As sheep, we are to be led and cared for. As sheep, we are to follow where the Shepherd leads. As sheep, we should be able to rest without being fearful for tomorrow because our Shepherd is keeping watch over us. As sheep we should not attempt to be the Shepherd. When we truly value our Shepherd, we have no problem being sheep.


Throughout history man has tried to be the Shepherd instead of the sheep. Satan convinced Eve to eat the fruit by telling her that by doing so she would “be like God knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5) When God brought the Children of Israel from Egypt, throughout their history there were some who refused to walk as sheep and tried to be the shepherd. When Christianity was born, throughout the age of the Church, there have been many who felt that the calling on their life elevated them to the role of Shepherd thus giving them the power to “change” God’s word to suit their own interpretation and doctrines – I will talk more about that next week. If we want the benefits spoken of by David in Psalm 23 to apply to us, we must walk in the role of obedient sheep. Anything other than this can be construed as rebellion as we may be trying to walk in the role of Shepherd, thinking we know what is best for us. As you reflect on Psalm 23 in the future, remember, when we value God as much as He values us, we do not have a problem being sheep and only listening to His voice as He guides us. May God bless you “real good!”


Until next time, “The Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.”  (Numbers 6:24-26)


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“Til all the ransomed church of God is saved to sin no more"

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