Prepare Our Hearts – April 24

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Friday April 24, 2020
Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.
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.
5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

vs. 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

The job of a shepherd is to provide for the needs of his flock.  In stating that “the Lord is my shepherd,” David, the Psalmist, is identifying himself in no uncertain terms as a sheep.  David of course was well acquainted with sheep, himself the shepherd of the family flock for many years.  While sheep are not the most intelligent of animals, they are also not the least intelligent.  Sheep make for ideal domesticated creatures because they lack the natural ability to properly protect and provide for themselves, necessitating the need for a shepherd.  In John 10:11, Jesus makes a revelatory statement by claiming, “I am the good shepherd.”  On seven different occasions in John, Jesus uses an “I am” statement – the name God gave to Moses in Exodus – to make a claim to His deity and reveal an aspect of His eternal character.   The sheep of the good shepherd Jesus will lack nothing, their shepherd will supply all that they need.  Of course, this does not mean that they will always receive everything that they think they want.  Mercifully, we often look back at the things we wanted and did not receive and see how the Lord provided by depriving us of that which would have brought us harm. 

vs. 2  He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

Sheep desperately need a shepherd, and the Good Shepherd knows what His sheep need.  The Good Shepherd knows the lay of the land.  He knows the location of the good soil and the green pastures, he knows where to safely find clean water.  And even though the sheep of the Good Shepherd have all that they need, they are still prone to wander.  Isaiah the prophet tells us that “we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us to our own way.”  As the saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side.”  Personal experience proves how true this cautionary adage is.  How many of us, having all that we need, eschew the peaceful security of the meadow for the exciting thrill of the forest?

vs. 3  He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

And yet, even though we are prone to wander, the Good Shepherd does not abandon His sheep.  Jesus tells us that the shepherd of a hundred sheep will leave behind the ninety-nine in the open country to search for the one who went astray.  Not only will he search for the wayward sheep, but he will rejoice when it is found!  While it has often been stated that a shepherd will break the leg of a straying lamb in order to keep it from wandering off in the future, that appears to be more myth than fact.  Instead, the beautiful picture Jesus offers is that of the Shepherd who risks life and limb in order to tenderly return the lost sheep to the flock.  The traumatic results brought on by our own rebellion rarely require additional injury, but rather call for the restorative care of a Righteous Redeemer.  For the ninety-nine who remained behind, their righteous fidelity is not credited to their superior ability, but to the name of the One who led them all the way.

vs. 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.

Aside from running away and tightening up in a circle, sheep have essentially no natural defense mechanisms.  There have been many well documented cases of sheep dying out of fear, and there is even a term for this: “sheep-worrying.”  Sheep are easily thrown into a panic induced state by loud noises or stray dogs, and hundreds at a time can die from heart-attacks or trampling while trying to escape perceived threats.  The shepherd does not abandon the sheep in moments of peril, promising to see them on the other side of the dark valley.  It is the shepherd who walks beside the sheep, providing for their protection with his rod and staff, ready to fend off the enemy and rescue the straggler.  The Good Shepherd does not  just walk through moments of danger with His sheep, in the second half of John 10:11, Jesus tells us, “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”  In our moments of fear and anxiety, we must remember that Jesus laid down His life for our sake.  

vs. 5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

Because He offered Himself in our place we no longer have anything to fear.  The sheep of the Good Shepherd is secure even in the midst of the enemy.  In fact, the Bible tells us that each of us lived as “enemies of the cross of Christ.”  It is because of the cross of Jesus, and only because of the cross, that we who walked as enemies can now be brought into the flock.  By His work on the cross, He ransomed us from our helpless estate, cleansed us of the filth and stain of our sin, and anointed us with oil, the promise of inheritance signifying an heir of the Kingdom.

vs. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
    forever.

When most of us think of the 23rd Psalm, the first thought that comes to mind is that of a funeral, and it is easy to see why so many people turn to this beautiful passage during times of sorrow and loss.  The Good Shepherd promises goodness and mercy for His sheep who desperately need both.  Goodness is often misunderstood as being the things we deem to be good, but the goodness Jesus has in mind is far different, and far greater.  God’s goodness is best viewed not through the lens of immediate gratification or instantaneous relief, but rather through the lens of His eternal purposes.  In His infinite wisdom and mercy, God at times allows us to undergo pain, hardship, and difficulty in order to secure for us a greater goodness than we could imagine.  Like despondent Joseph languishing for years as a slave and in prison, or the innocent Jesus enduring the horrific execution befitting a condemned criminal, the Good Shepherd can redeem even the most unspeakable circumstances in His perfect plan for His beloved sheep.  Our ultimate comfort lies in the glorious thought that no matter what this life holds for us now, the future is far greater than any we could dream or imagine for ourselves.  The sheep are secure in the arms of the Good Shepherd, and they will reside with Him, in His house, forever.

Prayer for Today: 
Lord Jesus, You are the Good Shepherd who passionately cares for Your sheep.  We thank You for Your provision and care.  You are the one who came to our rescue when we had hopelessly lost our way.  Forgive us for the times we spurn Your provision by seeking after greener pastures and new waters.  We admit that we often allow our fear and anxiety to take our eyes off of You and drive us to despair.  Our sin is more deadly than we could ever know and we need You more than we dare to admit.  We thank You that Your mercy cleanses us once and for all, and we long for the goodness that only You can provide, and the day when we will be with You forever in Your house.  In Your mighty name we pray, Amen.