May 15, 2011

Jehovah/Jesus is My Shepherd - May 15, 2011

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Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from Jesus Christ, who died so our sins are forgiven, and who lives to give us eternal life. Amen.

In his youth, David learned how to tend sheep. He learned how to lead them to pasture and water. He learned how to protect them from formidable predators like lions and bears.

As a young man, David showed that he could also protect the borders of Israel. Armed mostly with a strong faith in God, David once killed a huge Philistine warrior named Goliath. You probably remember the story.

From that point on, David’s life was filled with conflict. First David had to run away from King Saul, who was trying to hunt him down out of jealousy. Later David had to endure his own sons trying to wrench the throne away from him. In one way or another, David was constantly running from conflict, or running into it.

This isn’t to say that David was a needlessly violent man. He wasn’t. He ruled justly in Jerusalem, and to this day He is considered the model king of the Israelite people.

First and foremost David was a man of faith. When he wasn’t in battle, or functioning as king, David wrote songs expressing his faith in Jehovah, the God of the Bible. Nearly 80 of David’s songs have been preserved for us in the book of Psalms.

In his songs, David’s expresses everything from praise, to heartfelt pleas for God’s help, to deepest regret and repentance over his own sins. He also express a confident hope in the Savior that God had promised to send.

Today we focus our sermon meditation on David’s most famous Psalm, Psalm 23.

King David wrote Psalm 23 roughly 3,000 years ago. It was written in a land thousands of miles from here, in a culture totally foreign to ours, and in a language that reads from right to left and has no vowels. And yet, this Psalm is just as meaningful for the modern Christian, as it was for the man who wrote it.

Psalm 23 (NKJV)

A Psalm of David.

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 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.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

David says the “LORD” is his shepherd. You’ll notice that “LORD” is in all capital letters. In this translation, L-O-R-D in all caps indicates that the Hebrew word “Jehovah” is found at this point. “Jehovah” (sometimes pronounced “Yah-weh”), is kinda like God’s proper name.

This isn’t a generic term for the supreme deity like “God”, or “Higher Power”. “Jehovah” is a name only used of the God of the Bible, never of any other.

The Hebrew name “Jehovah” means “I AM”. It’s kinda like those Native American names that tell you something about the person. One of Jehovah’s defining characteristics is that He is eternal. He Always has been, is now, and always will be. HE SIMPLY IS.

David claims that the eternal God watches over him like a Shepherd guards his sheep.

Now, lets make a connection here. Turn to John 10, verse 11. There Jesus, a carpenter by trade, describes Himself in a very intriguing way. He says…
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NKJV).
When Jesus says this, He’s not talking about His earthly occupation, He’s talking about His heavenly identity. He is Jehovah God.

The God of the Bible reveals Himself as ONE God, who has three PERSONS: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son.

If you read to the end of John 10, you’ll find a conversation between Jesus and some Jews in the Temple. Jesus ends one of His comments by saying, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 NIV). When the Jews start picking up stones to stone Him, Jesus asks them why. They respond…
“…for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33 NIV).

If you turn back a couple chapters to John 8, verse 56, you’ll find another instance of Jesus claiming to be Jehovah. (Remember that the Hebrew Word “Jehovah” means “I AM”, and at the time of Jesus, Abraham had been dead for over 2,000 years) In the middle of an argument with the Jews Jesus said…
“56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
59 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:56-59 NKJV).
The Jews understood the claim Jesus was making.

Okay, we have to make one more connection before we examine the rest of Psalm 23. The Psalm before this one begins with the words…
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1 NIV).
Jesus cried out these same words from the cross. These words, and the rest of the details revealed in Psalm 22 tell us WHY the Holy God can be the gentle shepherd of sinful human beings. He can be the Shepherd of sinners because when He died on the cross, He took the punishment for our sins on Himself. He was punished, so we stand forgiven.

Some people like to picture the God of the Bible like some white haired grandfather who just forgives sins because he’s a good natured. But this isn’t what the Bible says. God HAS to punish sin because He is a JUST God. Someone has to take the hit for sin.

But who? God didn’t want sinners to suffer an eternity of hell apart from Him. So He had to punish someone else. But He couldn’t punish any of the holy angels for the sins of man. That wouldn’t be just. In the end, God chose to take the hit Himself.

The eternal Son of God become human. Lived a sinless life. Suffered hell on the cross. Drained away OUR punishment so we never have to feel it. HE was crushed so that WE are forgiven.

Like it says in Isaiah 53:6
“6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NIV).
Psalm 22 is called the “Suffering Servant Psalm”. It’s fitting that it comes before Psalm 23. Without God’s Suffering Servant, we’d could have no tender Shepherd.

Back to Psalm 23. First of all, David describes his Shepherd as a leader who leads the way to peace.

Psalm 23:1-3 (NKJV)

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

We are part of Jesus’ flock because He died for us, paying the price to make us His own. Today He leads us to experience the peace we have through His sacrifice.

David pictures a shepherd guiding his flock into a lush green valley. It’s full of good things for the sheep to eat. This is a place of rest and peace.

This is what God’s forgiveness feels like. Peace. Peace with God.

The shepherd leads them to a place where the waters are not rushing and raging, but where they have pooled up quietly and are easy to drink from.

This reminds me of Revelation 22, verse 17
“‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17b NIV).
Forgiveness doesn’t come with a bill. It is a gift from God. Every time we come back to Jesus’ message of free forgiveness, we are drinking from the waters of life. Every time we bring a child to the faith creating waters of Baptism, we are approaching the waters of life. Every time we approach the Lord’s Supper to receive our Savior’s body and blood, we drink from the waters of life.

In the Psalm, David says that his Shepherd restores his soul, and then leads him in paths of righteousness. Restoration comes FIRST, training comes SECOND.

Forgiveness comes FIRST, learning to live the Christian life comes SECOND.

In verse 4, David describes how our Savior makes us feel: confident and secure at His side.

Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)

4 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.

Here David says, Okay I’ve described my Shepherd. Now let me tell you just how good He really is. He’s this good… even in the darkest of valleys, if HE is beside me, I’m not afraid.”

Sounds poetic. And maybe we’ve heard it so many times that it’s just a pretty piece of poetry to us. But this poetry arises from reality.

When young David stood before the nine-foot-plus Philistine giant named Goliath, he wasn’t afraid. In First Samuel records what little David said to the smirking hulk. He said…
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:43–47 NIV).
That doesn’t sound like a frightened little boy to me. With Jehovah at His side, David was more than confident. He was fearless.

Remember, the same Good Shepherd that protected David on that battlefield, is the Good Shepherd that protected us from hell by dying on the cross. He is the same Good Shepherd that is with us today as we worship Him, and He is the same Good Shepherd who will go home with us when we leave this building.

Dear Christians, live wisely, but live like David, without fear. Our Good Shepherd travels with us wherever we go.

In the last verses of Psalm 23, David departs from the sheep imagery that he’s been using. Instead he describes his God as a Host who has invited him for dinner, and who waits on him hand and foot.

Psalm 23:5-6 (NKJV)

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD

It’s like David is saying, “You want to know how STRONG my God is? He sets up supper for me right in front of my enemies. They can’t do a thing.

The anointing of the head with oil was apparently a common way of honoring a guest that you had over for a special supper. (See Luke 7:46 and context)

The overflowing cup, well that’s obvious. David is given more than can even fit in his mug!

Instead of being dogged by enemies all his life, David says that “goodness” and “mercy” shall follow him throughout his earthly life. And at the end, David is confident that he will leave this life to enter the house of Jehovah God for eternity.

The images that David uses in these last two verses have one thing in common - David isn’t serving the LORD, the LORD is serving HIM!

You know, much of the church community across the globe thinks being a Christian is mostly about what WE do for God. How WE serve Him. David knows that it really begins with what HE has done for us.

Remember how Jesus got down on His hands and knees and washed His disciples feet at the Last Supper? Peter didn’t like that at all. He figured that was below the Master to serve them in such a way. But Jesus said, if you don’t let me serve you, you can have no part with me. (John 13:8)

HE serves us.

Jesus served the sick during His ministry.
He served the disciples at the Last Supper.
He served all of us sinners when He died on the cross.
He still serves us in the waters of Baptism, in the bread and wine of communion and in the spoken message of the Gospel of forgiveness.

Not long ago, a pastor told me, “The reason we call it a worship ‘service’ is because in it, God serves US a generous helping of forgiveness.”

Maybe you’re not familiar with Redemption Church. Well, this is the message we preach each Sunday. Jesus is the Savior. Through Him our sins have been forgiven. By faith we receive the blessings of this forgiveness. This is the core message of the Bible. Point # 1.

David knew it 3,000 years ago. We know it today.

Jesus is our Shepherd. With Him at our side we have peace with God. Complete security in life. He served us on the cross, and because He did, we too will dwell in the house of the “I AM”, forever.


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