The Love of a Shepherd

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Introduction

God loves you.

No, he really does. God loves you

I was sitting in a service in St. Louis listening to a man talk named Tom Lytle. He was a veteran youth pastor and now professor at MidAmerica Nazarene University. I was at this service in the fall of my sophomore year of college as part of a singing group that represented the university.

After the message during the response time I went forward to pray because I really needed to know and believe that God loved me. No matter what my past, no matter what my choices, He loved me.

I think that it has gotten increasingly difficult for us to accept love and to see God for who He really is. Many times our view of God is shaped by our own earthly fathers and can distort God’s heart. I believe that our view is also shaped by pastors, faith leaders, and other churches. I wonder where we would be today if it wasn’t for a church named Westboro Baptist.

That seems to be the opposite of the loving God that scripture talks about.

Last week, we continued talking about faith. Our individual faith in God and our collective faith as the body of Christ.

I shared this quote by…

William Loader: “No priestly manipulations, no religious powerbrokers, no secret or ceremonial rites, no works prescribed in biblical law are required. It just needs us to believe in this love.”

But what is this love?

Movement 1

Our text comes this morning from a psalm that is one of the most well known passages of scripture around the world.

One writer says, “Its literary beauty and spiritual insight are unexcelled…in the course of the centuries this psalm has won for itself a supreme place…all who read it, whatever their age, race, or circumstance, will find in the quiet beauty of its thoughts a range and depth of spiritual insight that both satisfies and possesses their souls.”

King David wrote Psalm 23 and most often this passage is used for comfort, peace, and encouragement in some of the difficult times of our lives.

Lets stand together and lets read it aloud together.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters,

He refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths

for His name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

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 overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Movement 2

What kind of memories did reading this scripture spark in your heart and mind?

It’s hard to read this psalm and not be transported to some of the most difficult moments in life. This past October my grandpa passed away. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had been fighting it for 17 years. He had conquered heart disease and melanoma but he could not overcome Parkinson’s. I had the honor to oversea the celebration of his life and I can honestly say that it was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. Reading this psalm many times this week brought me back to those moments last fall as I read these words in comfort to my family and at the graveside.

It is ironic however, that this psalm is really one of the most hopeful ones written. But perhaps this is the exact reason that it has been so well received around the world; because people are in desperate need of this hope.

The idea of God as shepherd is prevalent in scripture and we see this eloquent poem use it to help us see something very important: the love of God (picture). There are seven sufficiency’s of “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” outlined that are important for us to embrace.

He Makes: “He makes me lie down in green pastures”

It is known that sheep do not lie down until they are satisfied with their grazing. I mean for some of us in the room, if we could, we would just keep standing and walking around the buffet, or sushi, or pizza line until we were done rather than waste the time to go sit down and then have to get up and go get another plate. Sheep would rather save their energy I suppose.

This picture is one of utter restfulness in the complete satisfaction given by the great Shepherd. To not be in want because you have been given peace and are “satisfied”. That satisfaction is in stark contrast to the restless commotion of the world.

He Leads: “He leads me besides still waters”

The poet continues the idea of provision and that Christ provides guidance to us. The eastern Shepherd does not drive the sheep, he always leads his sheep.

He Restores: “He restores my soul”

The Lord revives, renews and refreshes us. We see this frequently in the New Testament.

“The inward man is renewed day by day” 2 Cor. 4:16

“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” Eph. 4:23

“And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge” Col. 3:10

In Christ is the grace that sustains the soul.

He Guides: “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His namesake”

The scriptures that God has given to us serve as “instructions in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) God not only calls us to have freedom from the sin and evil in the world, He guides us in righteousness – he guides us in finding that freedom. And it is not so that we can boast, but that we can bring honor to what God has done and is doing in our lives. That is what “His namesake” means. It is supporting and giving validity to the kind of God that he is – God whose name is holy and desires for His people to also be holy (1 Peter 1:14-16)

He Is With Us: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me”

In this passage, evil is a broad term for any kind of harm or danger that may come. When we are faced with the most difficult things in this life, God gives us the courage we need when we rest in Him. He is the reason that we do not fear because he is with us. He has given us the Holy Spirit, His divine presence to provide strength, comfort, rest, and hope.

David uses the shepherd’s crook to illustrate this.  “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The crook served two functions. It is a rod used for protection and the staff upon which the shepherd leans. We can take comfort knowing that God will protect us and give us rest.

He Prepares A Table: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

This Psalm uses two different correlations – from shepherd to host, from field to home. Versus 1-4 bring to light being outside in the field journeying with a shepherd and then versus 5-6 bring us back inside being provided for by a host.

David spent much of his life embattled with enemies and others who were trying to take his land, his crown, and his life. But the power of God’s peace and protection is so strong that He welcomes us, invites us in to sit and to dine with Him in midst of those who seek to harm us.

He Anoints Us: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”

Oil is used throughout scripture as a symbol of healing and blessing. In this passage, the oil that is anointed is a symbol and mark of favor and hospitality. Because of the generous host, the guest is overcome with joy of the abundant provision given to them.

This psalm helps us to know that God is leading us to follow Him into the peace, comfort, rest, and strength that only He can provide.

Conclusion

We have talked about David a few times over the past month. We have looked at his life and biggest failure, and his ultimate redemption. But where it all began for David is an important piece in understanding the significance of the 23rd Psalm. The story appears in 1 Samuel 16.

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (NIV)

16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

If you have ever been around sheep or a shepherd (picture) you know that they stink. And not like your normal “I forgot deodorant today” but more like I haven’t showered for a week and wearing the same clothes stink.

Historically, shepherds lived apart from society, being largely nomadic. They were most often the younger sons of farming peasants who did not inherit any land. In other societies, each family would have a family member to shepherd its flock, often a child, youth or an elder who couldn’t help much with harder work. Shepherds would live in small cabins, often shared with their sheep, and would buy food from local communities. Less often shepherds lived in covered wagons that traveled with their flocks.

So Samuel is seeking out the next king and is going to anoint him. He goes looking for who he presumes to be the ideal candidate for king, Eliab in verse 6. But in verse 7, “… the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Samuel works his way through 7 of the sons of Jesse and still the Lord did not choose one of them. So Samuel asks Jesse if that is all of his sons and then it is revealed that there is yet one more son, young David who is out tending the sheep. He arrived and the Lord confirmed to Samuel that this was indeed the next king and he anointed him with the oil.

David was not socially or culturally the one that would have been chosen. He did not have the title, the popularity, or the “natural” look (although they called him handsome). He was smelly, living with sheep, and a dirty young kid who was anything but king material. But the Lord said to Samuel and says to us, “the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

When you get up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see a beloved child of God? Because that is what you are. Do you see someone who God loves and will never give up on? Do you see someone who God has great plans and a purpose for? I hope you do because He does love you, He will never give up on you, and he does have great plans for you.

Remember the service I was a part of in St. Louis? Tom Lytle, was the speaker who helped me to finally embrace God’s love for me, and he became a professor at MNU while I was still a student. He was my leading teacher as a youth ministry major and I got to know him and love him. We started seeing him be absent from class and then there were some longer stretches where he wouldn’t be in for a few weeks at a time. We weren’t sure what was going on but just that he was not feeling well. Soon he came to class and told us that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was cancer. Tom lost his battle to cancer shortly thereafter, leaving behind a wife and two young sons. But even though we grieved and still grieve, Tom taught many others and I truths about life and God that we will never forget. He was right. God loves me. God loves you. As the life of Job demonstrates, the trials, the heartache, the messed up stuff of our lives allows a greater testimony to God’s amazing work in our lives. He never says it will be easy, He just asks us to accept His love and follow Him.

Response

So where are you today? Maybe you just need to know that the God we speak of in scripture loves you.

Maybe you just need to know that wherever you are living, He is there. Perhaps you feel like King David and need to know that “the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Or maybe you are like me – someone who struggles to accept the unconditional love of our heavenly father.

Benediction

Eph. 3:17-19 – (May) Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

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