December 04 2022
Today, Sunday December 04
The Great Shepherd
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.
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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
The most familiar and read passage in all the Bible has to be the 23rd Psalm. Over the 48 years of being a pastor, I have preached well over 1,000 funerals and almost at every one of them, I’ve been asked to read the 23rd Psalm. Since the time it was written by David, about three thousand years ago, it has brought comfort and encouragement to millions of people in their time of great need.
Remember that this Psalm is a part of the trilogy on Christ the Shepherd in Psalm 22, 23 and 24. In Psalm 22, the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep (John 10:1-18). In Psalm 23, the Great Shepherd lives for the sheep and cares for them (Heb. 13:20-21). And in Psalm 24, the Chief Shepherd returns in glory to reward His sheep for their service (1 Peter 5:4).
It is interesting that in Hebrews 13, before we read about the Great Shepherd in verse 20, we are first reminded how that Jesus became the sacrifice for the people “outside the camp” in verses 11-13. “For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:11-13).
“Outside the camp” would be a familiar phrase and picture from the Old Testament to a Hebrew (Jewish) believer. They would remember that the tabernacle was in the middle of camp of Israel surrounded by the 12 tribes on each side. “Outside the camp” was a reference to where the strangers, the defiled, the lepers, the unclean, the prostitutes, and unwanted people had to live. They were not allowed “inside the camp”.
This is what Jesus did for us as He became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and suffered (Psalm 22) in our place. Then in Hebrews 13 we come to verses 20-1 and we read: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Psalm 23 describes how our “Great Shepherd” makes us “complete in every good work…”!
So, we find the “Great Shepherd” caring for the sheep in Psalm 23, sandwiched in between Psalm 22 (the “Good Shepherd” suffering for the sheep), and Psalm 24 (the Chief Shepherd coming again for the sheep).
This is the Psalm of the Great Shepherd who lives for the sheep today as our "great High Priest" (Heb. 4:14), and who "ever lives to make intercession for us" (Heb. 7:25). Certainly, this Psalm has a message for the sorrowing, but it's unfortunate that it's used primarily at funerals, because Psalm 23 focuses on what Jesus does for us "all the days of our life" and not just at death (Ps. 23:6).
It's also unfortunate that people tend to spiritualize the psalm and fail to see it in its true setting. They see David, a "young shepherd boy," lying on his back in the pasture and pondering the things of God, when he probably wrote this psalm late in his life, possibly during the rebellion of Absalom (2 Sam. 13-19). In it, David deals with some of the difficult things he experienced during his long walk with the Lord. While people of all ages love and quote this psalm, its message is for mature Christians who have fought battles and carried burdens.
It is my prayer that you will be greatly encouraged and comforted by this Psalm as we study and meditate on it over these next few days!