We are starting a Shepherd Series in the context of the preaching this fall. As we move forward into another season in Courts of Praise, I believe the Lord led me to consider the life of a shepherd. Last week we looked at Psalm 23 and without a doubt it is the most quoted of all the Psalms. Many Christians know it by heart and it is often heard at funerals and whispered to people in their hospital beds. King David wrote it from his own personal experience as a shepherd boy who he was put in charge of tending his father’s flocks. David knew sheep, their needs and their weaknesses. And now as the head of a mighty army, King David was reminding himself of those good-ole days. Although we don’t know the context behind David penning this psalm, some believe he was lonely fugitive dodging the spear of King Saul. Or more likely he was running to stay alive when Absalom overthrew David’s kingdom. He drew great comfort in knowing that the Lord was his shepherd and that He would provide, protect and guide him throughout his life. The shepherd’s gaze was always on his flock. They were his vision and livelihood. The Shepherd would do everything to bless and keep his flock safe.
The same is true for us here at Courts of Praise. The Shepherd of our souls is looking out for us. Hallelujah. He is walking with us as we “become a grace-full, loving, accepting and forgiving community of believers from all nations who celebrate each other.” This is our flock here and God has great plans and purposes for us to anticipate, especially in light of our 50th Anniversary this coming Oct 30th. As well, another family of sheep are joining us here at Courts of Praise this December, Pastors Norman and Fanny Doromal. God is good all the time and all the time God is good…
This morning I will be speaking out of the Book of Isaiah and stay true to the theme of the Shepherd. The Book of Isaiah is one of my favourite Old Testament writings. It contains accurate historical events about the nation of Israel. It is also a significant passage of “prophetic Scripture”. Isaiah speaks of the depths of Israel’s sin and the heights of God’s glory and His coming kingdom. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah deal the punishment of God on Israel and its pagan neighbours because their sins we like scarlet (Isa 1:18). There is a dramatic shift that takes place in Isa 40. Oftentimes when we think of grace we think New Testament and the coming of Jesus Christ. However, Isaiah is one of those Old Testament books that highlights the grace and restoration of God on behalf of his people. This is a great encouragement to us.
There are many key verses, here are a few of my favourite.
- Isa 7:14 - Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
- Isa 9:6 - For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Isa 26:3 - You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
- Isa 40:31 - but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
- Isa 53:4-5 - Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
- Isa 61:1 - The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…
We are not alone as we journey through life, whether in good times or in the hardships and fears that Isaiah addressed in the first 39 chapters. Have you ever felt like your “circumstances” are a burden? Have you ever struggled with sin habitually? Have you ever felt like you have failed God? That was the experience of the people of God in Isaiah’s day.
Isaiah 40 rings loud and clear with God’s message of restoration and God’s comfort for his people. This chapter begins with:
- Pardon - “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa 40:1-2).
- Guidance - “A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God”’ (Isa 40:3).
- Promise - “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8).
The Shepherd of Grace
Each of these encouragements lead us to the key text this morning in keeping with the shepherd’s theme. It is all about a Shepherd of Grace. We have a great shepherd who knows us and who has committed himself to us. Let’s continue to look at the Scripture; turn with me to Isa 40:11 - He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. This verse is such a wonderful picture of grace and intimacy; the shepherd takes special care of his flock. In the NKJV it speaks of the shepherd “feeding his flock” and “carrying them in his bosom”.
The preceding verses speak of “good tidings” or good news. God was coming to set the nation of Israel free from Babylon and the captives were coming home. The Good News today is the defeat of sin and Satan by Jesus Christ and the salvation of all who will trust in Him; Isaiah preaches this in chapter 61:1–3. How does this “good news” take place in our lives today? It is in the loving arms of a Shepherd who carries his lambs home…
Here are a few of my thoughts regarding this verse:
1. There are times in our lives when we are in need of spiritual nourishment; the Shepherd tends and feeds his flock… We must learn to feed daily. We don’t want fast food any more; listening to snippets of the latest and greatest internet preachers. Paul warns Timothy of this, minus the internet; 2 Tim 4:3 - For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
What does true nourishment look like? It is allowing the Shepherd to feed you. It is learning to be directed by the Holy Spirit with regards to our spiritual growth. There is no greater feeding of our spiritual life that when we spend time in the presence of the Shepherd. This takes time on our part; devotions are foundational to a healthy spiritual diet. The reward of time spent with the Shepherd is grace. True nourishment fills our lives with God’s grace:
- When we are weak, grace strengthens.
- When we are tempted, grace overcomes.
- When we are attacked by Satan, grace defeats.
- When we are sick, grace heals.
- When we are in “need”, grace supplies.
- When we have sinned, grace forgives.
- When we are anxious, grace calms.
2. A famous poem describes God’s grace in a profound way - Footprints in the Sand.
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
This poem accurately reflects the Shepherd of Grace who “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart”. Grace sustains us when we are not able to walk ourselves. There are times in my own life when I have doubted my own salvation, struggled with fears, been betrayed, given into sin, been gossiped about, felt depressed and so on. In those times I have felt undone, at times troubled to the point that I feel like I am falling from grace. Then… my Shepherd… shows up… His grace carries me. Not like a sack of grain on his hip or a sack of potatoes slung over his shoulder. His grace carries me close to his heart. His grace restores faith in my heart, releases new courage, gives me hope for the future. Our Shepherd of grace cares for his flock. This reminds me of Matt 11:28-30 - Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message).
3. The Shepherd of grace understands our circumstances and our responsibilities. Staying in context with the shepherd - “he gently leads those that have young” - this speaks to me of another aspect of grace - gentleness. We all have responsibilities especially as parents or pastors; in other words, we care for our “little flock.” There are times when the burden of parenting or pastoring can become heavy, and in those times the Shepherd of grace is gentle. This is also a word of encouragement to us to be gracious and gentle in our interaction with one another. One of the thoughts that comes to mind in light of the shepherd and gentleness is his voice. I can not picture a shepherd shouting or yelling at his flock. This would scare them and cause them to feel unsafe. The voice of the Shepherd is gentle and gracious.
Isa 40 begins with the prophet speaking “comfort” to the Israelites. The good news was being proclaimed - “God is here” and the time for restoration has come. God will come to his people with majestic strength and goodness. He will care for his people like a shepherd, paying special attention to the weak.
There is tremendous encouragement in knowing the Shepherd of grace. The word picture of the shepherd carrying the sheep close to his heart is inspiring and comforting. I hope that we all find the grace of God as spend time daily and devotionally with our Good Shepherd. There are times when the struggles of life can overwhelm us, it is in those moments that the Shepherd of grace carries us along.
This morning “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).