Please read Psalm 23.
If you asked 10 church-goers what is the most familiar chapter in the Bible, I’d bet nine and a half of them would say, “the 23rd Psalm.”
Willem A. VanGemeren offered this explanation of the popularity of Psalm 23; “it permits each believer to take its words on his lips and express in gratitude and confidence that all the demonstrations of God’s covenant love are his, too.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, Zondervan, 1991, p. 215.)
The chapter begins with the first step and most important truth – to receive God, we must take Him personally and say with King David (the psalm-writer), “The Lord is MY shepherd.”
David knew about shepherds.
We learn in 1 Samuel 17:28 that David tended sheep IN THE WILDERNESS. In that verse, David’s older brother Eliab angrily accused him of having presumptions beyond those of a simple shepherd. However, there was nothing simple about being a shepherd.
The nature of sheep requires that they have constant care and supervision. Sheep are defenseless and foolish – they will stray from safety into trouble. When injured or sick, they require the shepherd’s care. Sheep are reluctant to trust new voices; they’re startled by unfamiliar sounds.
The remote and roving life of a shepherd meant that there was no one else to do it. The shepherd knew his sheep as individuals; he called them by name. “When H. R. P. Dickson visited the desert Arabs, he witnessed an event that revealed the amazing knowledge which some of them have of their sheep. One evening, shortly after dark, an Arab shepherd began to call out one by one the names of his fifty-one mother sheep, and was able to pick out each one’s lamb, and restore it to its mother to suckle. To do this in the light would be a feat for many shepherds, but this was done in complete darkness, and in the midst of the noise coming from the ewes crying for their lambs, and the lambs crying for their mothers.” (Retrieved from http://www.bible-history.com/links.php?cat=39&sub=414 on July 2, 2013.)
He did not drive his sheep, but called them to him by means of a deep, guttural call, distinctive from the voices of the other shepherds. In this way, even when mixed with other flocks, the shepherd’s sheep would recognize his voice and separate themselves to him. Should they be slow or unwilling to come, the shepherd would use his sling to get their attention without harming them.
In certain times of the year the shepherd had to seek pasture and water in places deeper in the wilderness, where predators were more likely to roam. The shepherd was literally the sheep’s only protection. At night, when the sheep were safe within the fold, the shepherd laid himself across the opening, becoming the gate to the pen. He never left them.
When a sheep wandered away, the shepherd searched for it until it was found. He laid it across his shoulders and carried it home.
One day, while looking at the flock in his charge, David must have reflected on the ways in which God was a shepherd to His people. Years later, David would give this image more thought and he would be lead by God to write the very words we read today.
There was a time in King David’s reign when his own son, Absalom, seized the throne and ruled in Jerusalem. David and his loyal followers fled for their lives and for the second time in his life, David was on the run and hiding in the wilderness. Some scholars speculate that David wrote the 23rd Psalm during that time of national and personal upheaval.
Jesus is The Good Shepherd.
That’s what He said in John 10:11-15 = “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD. THE GOOD SHEPHERD LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP. HE WHO IS A HIRED HAND AND NOT A SHEPHERD, WHO DOES NOT OWN THE SHEEP, SEES THE WOLF COMING AND LEAVES THE SHEEP AND FLEES, AND THE WOLF SNATCHES THEM AND SCATTERS THEM. HE FLEES BECAUSE HE IS HIRED HAND AND CARES NOTHING FOR THE SHEEP. I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD. I KNOW MY OWN AND MY OWN KNOW ME, JUST AS THE FATHER KNOWS ME AND I KNOW THE FATHER; AND I LAY MY LIFE DOWN FOR THE SHEEP.”
That’s what Paul wrote in Hebrews 13:30, where he called the Lord Jesus “THE GREAT SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP.”
From Genesis 4:4, where Abel sacrifices a lamb in worship of God – from very nearly the beginning of recorded history – sheep are sacrificed for the shepherd. What’s ironic about Jesus as our Good Shepherd, is that practice is reversed. The Shepherd is sacrificed for the sheep – us. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the shedding of His blood, brings an end to the sacrificial system, replacing the Great Shepherd with the sheep. The effect is eternal life for all who believe.
You could say that most people believe in a Shepherd. Americans who believe in the existence of God still outnumber those who don’t 9 to 1. Nothing special there. They would say, “The Lord is a Shepherd.” The kind of faith that accepts salvation is the kind that says, “The Lord is MY Shepherd.” Not “a Shepherd,” but “MY Shepherd.” It is a personal and real and vital kind of faith. Do you hear and understand the difference?
The first application of this personal truth is freedom from worry: “I shall not want.” There are two ways we apply this truth.
There is nothing I need that God cannot supply.
SO, don’t worry. Philippians 4:6 = DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING, BUT IN EVERYTHING BY PRAYER AND SUPPLICATION WITH THANKSGIVING LET YOUR REQUESTS BE MADE KNOWN TO GOD.
SO, be trusting. Proverbs 3:5 = TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND DO NOT LEAN ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING.
This truth does not require you to sit like a baby bird in a nest, with your mouth open, waiting for God to feed you. A trusting faith rests securely in the assurance that even if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, God will feed you. Worry comes from not trusting that the Shepherd is either Great or Good. Faith says that He is both and you don’t have to sweat it.
There is nothing I want that is contrary to God.
This is the “avoiding evil” part of being one of God’s people. There are two things that cause us to want things that are contrary to God.
– Our Sin Nature. This is the part that died with Jesus on the cross. If it lives, we can’t. It has an appetite for things that are always contrary to God’s will, the things that lead us into sin. Before Christ, this part of our nature controlled us; we were in slavery to it. Jesus set us free!
– Our Human Nature. In contrast, our human nature did not die on the cross. This is our physical body, what we are created to want and need. Because we exist in this world, our human nature continues after we receive Christ. It gets mistaken for the sin nature because our physical and emotional appetites are sometimes used to tempt us into sin. But Jesus’ people are not dominated by this side of our personality either. We live with it because we have to, but it serves our better nature.
– The one thing that causes us to want things in line with God’s will is our Spiritual Nature. Before Christ, our spiritual nature is manifest only as our conscience, our sense of right and wrong. Our conscience is like a moral muscle; we’re born with it, but it is only developed with training and practice. After Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. The Spirit’s presence guides, guards, and grows our Spiritual Nature. It is the part of our personality that most directly communes with God. It is the part of us that endures beyond the grave.
Being in Christ does not require us to be “sheeple;” folk who uncritically accept the currently popular teaching. Applying this teaching, personalizing our relationship with the Good Shepherd, does not require blind obedience. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to be part of Jesus’ flock and still be your own person.
1 = Determine what’s most important to you. Try an experiment on your own, to prove this point: ask ten people the question “What do you want?” You’ll be amazed at the incredibly low percentage of people who can answer it. Perhaps one in ten can answer with certainty. Followers of Jesus Christ ought to have a ready answer. It may be “To glorify God,” or “To be more like Jesus,” or something similar. The more certain we are of our first priority, the less likely we are to be lead astray.
2= Learn to take your time; to make intentional, full decisions. So many of our decisions are not well considered. Good decisions are made with our #1 priority in mind. They are connected like links in a chain that support what’s most important to us. Bad decisions, impulsive decisions, ultimately regrettable decisions are those made without considering what’s most important to us.
Make Jesus your shepherd and your daily decisions will be the building blocks of a godly character. You’ll be a wise sheeple, not a worldly one.