This morning we have gathered back together after an enjoyable summer and we are looking forward to the next season of life, both naturally and spiritually. I was reminded of our mission statement as a focus point for our assembling this fall - “We are becoming a grace-full, loving, accepting and forgiving community of believers from all nations that celebrate each other and who are committed to bringing souls into God’s kingdom.” There are certain thoughts and Scriptures that pop into my mind as we journey together with God and each other. I am excited about our 50th Anniversary as a church and the opportunity to celebrate all that God has done. I am looking forward to this fall and having Pastor Norman and Fanny Doromal join us. God is doing a good work here in Courts of Praise.
As I was praying about today I felt the Lord direct me to share about the vision of the church from the perspective of the shepherd. The shepherd was a common worker in ancient Palestine and is commonly referred to in both the Old and New Testaments. Beginning with Abel, a keeper of the flocks, down through Abraham, Moses and King David, the shepherd played an important part of Jewish culture. Over time, because shepherds were the only source of provision and protection over their flocks, the term shepherd became descriptive of leaders both religious and political.
Jesus stated of himself “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). Jesus is called a shepherd as the leader and guard of his people - “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 (Heb. 13:20). One of Jesus’ own parables was about the lost sheep - “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue (Luke 15:4-7). Jesus often spoke of vision in the context of reaching out to people in need. Personally I am grateful that Jesus rescued me in my early twenties when I was like a little lost sheep.
Psalm 23 - A psalm of David.
Psalm 23 is a beautiful Psalm describing the relationship between the Shepherd and his sheep. One of David’s experiences as a young man was that of being a shepherd. Now later in life King David reflects back on his “pastoral life” (pun intended) as he describes the full vision that the shepherd has for his flock; providing refreshment, guidance, protection and abundance. Let’s take a brief look at the shepherd’s vision, verse by verse, and discover how we can find Jesus as our Good Shepherd.
Verse 1 - The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
In this Psalm King David is speaking from the perspective of a sheep putting trust in God as the Shepherd. Psalm 23 describes the Shepherds love, care and protection for the sheep of his flock. I can imagine young David sitting out in the fields at night watching the sheep and gazing into the heavens. The greatness of God is more that we can imagine and yet he is making himself known to us as our shepherd. What incredible news! The creator of the heavens and earth, which David was surrounded by with his flock, was his shepherd. He responds by saying “I shall not want”. Some have made this about material possessions but I believe King David was saying “if God is my shepherd, I shall not want any other shepherd.” I must remind myself that I belong to Christ. Just as King David said “The Lord is my Shepherd” - his “I shall not want” comes from his total surrender to God. In other words, I belong to Jesus and can trust him with my life. There is no other shepherd for me. From a sheep’s perspective - the vision is the shepherd. Later on in the Psalm King David speaks of God’s wonderful provisions.
Verse 2 - He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
King David settles the foundation for vision being that of the shepherd. Now in the following verses David begins to reveal the shepherd’s vision for his flock. The first aspect of vision that David describes is that of providing green pastures and quiet waters. What a beautiful place to envision. In the context of sheep there are several things that are required in order for sheep to find that place of nourishment. Sheep are very communal and like to stay in flocks (most of the time). In order for a sheep to lie down and or feed in green pastures they must be free from fear. The pasture must be a safe place, free from any predators. The sheep must also be free from friction with other sheep in order to find food and drink. Oftentimes the shepherd would have to separate sheep from this bad habit. As well, the sheep needed to be free from all the nasty “nose flies” and pests that were so prevalent in the summer months.
Thirst is something sheep all experience. Sheep need the still waters to grow and be healthy. The shepherd would lead the sheep to still waters in the early mornings before the heat of the day occurs.
Verse 3 - he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Another vision of the shepherd is that of restoration. I have often wondered what “He restores my soul” meant in the context of sheep. Sheep often end up on their backs; “cast sheep” are those sheep who have ended up on their backs and cannot get back to their feet. In other words, these helpless sheep need to be restored, they need help to stand again. Often times the sheep’s wool becomes entangled with debris and weighed down with stuff. These sheep can find themselves cast down. Another reason for a sheep being “cast” is that due to fat; so the shepherd puts these sheep on a diet so to speak so that that don’ t become easy picking for the enemy.
King David goes onto to tell us the Shepherd guides the sheep in paths of righteousness. This speaks to me of the shepherd’s vision to see his sheep on the right path, so to speak. Sheep can too easily follow the trails that become ruts that they get lost in. These trails often lead to a pasture that has already been grazed. So the shepherd is always leading the sheep to new pastures. The shepherd knows the sheep of his flock and we are told that the sheep can hear the shepherd’s voice. The shepherd would discover a lot about his sheep as he led them. Some sheep are bossy, some sheep butt heads, some sheep are sick or injured. As the shepherd would led the sheep would learn to follow his voice. Along the way the rod and staff come in handy for the journey.
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.
The valley of death is the half way point of the Psalm… The shepherd’s vision has provided, restored and guided the sheep in the good way. Now the sheep are in the valley of the shadow of death, alone, but with the shepherd. The higher grounds, the greener pastures, we all long for come through intimacy with the Shepherd but we have to pass through the valley of death. The same is true in life. In the valleys of life, we discover that God can lead us through. The valleys also contain the streams of water that are refreshing for the sheep.
We don’t have to fear because the vision of the shepherd is to protect his flock in dark times with the rod and staff. The Shepherd’s rod was a thick piece of wood used to protect the sheep from the enemy when they needed it. The staff was a longer piece of wood with a hooked end and would be used to “hook” the sheep near when in need. The staff was used with new born ewes to place the ewe back with its mother so as to not have the smell of the shepherd; sometimes the mother would reject the ewe if it smelled human. The staff was also used to bring an ewe together with the shepherd. The staff was also used to guide the sheep gently pushing or pulling this way or that. Sometimes the staff was used to rescue sheep who had fallen into holes… Both the rod and the staff are used to see the shepherd’s vision fulfilled.
Verse 5 - You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
One of the jobs of a shepherd in the spring time was to prepare the pastureland. The shepherd would make trips into the country side to “check out the land” and make sure the pastures were prepared. The shepherds removed the poisonous plants and checked for any dangers from spring run-off and made sure the predators dens were discovered. In other words, they prepared a pasture in the presence of enemies; they made the land safe.
As spring turned into summer, the sheep would begin to encounter “flies”, just like we have mosquitoes. The nose flies caused the sheep serious trouble both physically and mentally; blindness, madness etc. The shepherd would apply the anointing oil to protect their noses from the flies. The anointing oil was applied daily to protect the sheep. The summer time was also “scab” time; a disease transferred by contact, often by head butts. This disease also required an anointing of oil to heal and protect the sheep from illness. This anointing was liberally applied so that healing was full, complete and quick. Another aspect of the vision of the shepherd was to maintain the health of the flock.
Verse 6 - Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
One of the strongest visions the Lord our Shepherd has for his flock is that of relationship. God desires his presence, his goodness and love to follow and surround the lives of his sheep moment by moment. The Presence of God (the Shepherd of our souls) changes everything. I know that we live in a broken world and we all have struggles and temptations. It is in those dark times that King David tells us to find shelter and dwelling in God’s house. From the perspective of the Shepherd his goodness and mercy are never ending and must simply be received by the sheep.
The Lord has vision for his flock. He is our shepherd and this Psalm encourages us to think about his goodness. As we gather back together this fall for another season of community, our Shepherd has plans. Jesus is the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep by becoming the Lamb of God and who was worthy to take away the sins of mankind. Sheep are very dependent upon the Shepherd; in other words, they cannot save themselves. It is the desire of the shepherd to care for the sheep…
The Shepherd does so by providing all that we need for life and godliness - 2 Peter 1:3. We are told to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things (food, clothing and shelter - life’s basics) will be provided (Matt 6:33). The shepherd has a vision to restore and set right those sheep who have fallen on their backs. The shepherd also seeks to protect the sheep from their enemies and from themselves. The shepherd desires health for his flock. The shepherd wants the flock to know his voice and to enjoy his presence.
We have read through Psalm 23 today. As we have done so, what has the Holy Spirit been speaking to you about?
Maybe its the first time you thought of Jesus as the Shepherd of your soul… Today would be a great day to be like the lost sheep coming home.
For many of us we need to allow the Good Shepherd to “make us lie down” in times of rest and renewal.
I think the Holy Spirit is talking to some of us about being unruly sheep. Sometimes we butt heads and cause bumps and bruises among the flock; we need to let Jesus correct us and to let Jesus heal us.
Maybe you are struggling with the pests of life. Those little irritants that get under our skin. Don’t worry about it, just ask Jesus to anoint you with his healing oil.
Some of us here today maybe under spiritual attack from an unseen enemy. We need to learn to let Jesus our Shepherd fight our battles for us. The Scriptures becomes God’s rod – protecting us from the enemy and the things that are contrary to righteousness. The staff symbolizes the Spirit of God coming alongside to encourage us in the unseen war.
Dwelling in the house of the Lord forever is about fully engaging and enjoying the Presence of God in all matters of life. Let’s draw near to God and find rest for our souls.