|Sunday School & Bible Class (Sept-May)||9:15 AM|
The Lord is My Shepherd
4th Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2018
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
The Lord is My Shepherd
Psalm 23 (NIV84)
A psalm of David. 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even 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 overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Dear Friends in Christ,
King David had it made. He was King of Israel and Judah. David had great wealth and lived in a fine palace. He was protected by a mighty army and a band of mighty men were loyal to him. David’s foreign enemies had been and were being defeated. He had servants to take care of every need. David had the best food of the land, the best drink, the finest clothes. What else could David possibly want? He had it all. Do you think it was easy for David to proclaim in this Psalm, “I shall not be in want”? He had it all – the green pastures of wealth and power, the quiet waters of peace and safety in this world.
It would be easy for someone who has it all to say, “I shall not be in want.” But what about the rest of us? What about the person looking for a different job, the person worried about the future? What about when we don’t have peaceful relationships or when there are real enemies in our lives? Can we still say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”? Though David was a king and had all the outward material things he could want, he had all the problems in this world too. His material success did not lead him to say, “The Lord is my shepherd.” David confesses this because it is the truth no matter the outward situation in our life. The Lord is My Shepherd.
By calling the Lord his shepherd, David places himself in the place of a sheep. David knew about the magnificent qualities of sheep since he had been a shepherd himself. He knew about the capability of his sheep to defend themselves. It was nearly non existent. When a lion or bear attacked, David had to fight off the attacker to save the sheep. The sheep were helpless to protect themselves. David had to take the sheep to green grazing land or they would starve. He had to lead them to good water or they would die of thirst. David had to guide them and watch them so the sheep did not wander off, get lost and die from the elements or predators. If there was not shepherd, his flock of sheep was going to die.
By saying, “The Lord is my shepherd,” David confesses that he is a helpless, wandering sheep who can do nothing for himself. He would die without the Lord as his shepherd. We are just the same. Without the Lord, we are helpless against temptation. The world invites us to seek our security and happiness in all the wrong ways. The world tells us that the way to say “I shall not want” is to get everything your sinful heart desires. Feed your desire for money and material things by neglecting family and the Word of God. Pile up enough stuff in this world and you will never have to worry about anything ever again! So says the devil, the world and our own sinful heart.
Our Good Shepherd comes to our rescue. When our hearts have been deceived and we follow the ways of the world that will lead to eternal death, the Lord points us to the cross. He stepped between us and the devil, that roaring lion who wants to devour us. Christ suffered the death we deserved and by his death has forgiven our idolatry of stuff. Christ, our Good Shepherd leads us into the green pastures and quiet waters of God’s Word. There, we can feed on his promises of forgiveness and peace and strength and protection now and forever. There we can drink from the living water and live forever. In God’s Word we have all that we need to nourish us for eternal life.
Yet, we are sheep and love to wander. We get our fill of God’s Word and promises and think we can make it on our own. We fed in the green pastures of his Word in Catechism classes. Why continue to read the Bible after that? We went to Sunday School when we were young. Why go to a Bible class now? I don’t need to be fed with God’s Word every week. I can stretch it out a few weeks or months apart. We would never say that about physical food. “I only need to eat every few days.” But we are sheep when it comes to spiritual things. We wander from the green pasture of God’s Word and sometimes we don’t even know we are hungry for his gospel until something else has falsely satisfied our hunger. The world is eager to fill our hunger with entertainment and activity, rest and relaxation, work and study. The nourishing food and living water of the gospel is soon replaced by things of this world.
When we have wandered remember: The Lord is my shepherd...he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
David wandered into lust, adultery and murder. The Lord, his shepherd, restored David’s soul. Through the prophet Nathan, David heard the restoring words of absolution. “The Lord has taken away your sin.” So it is with all wandering sheep who confess our sins to the Lord. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord has taken your sin away. The Good Shepherd restores your soul by the complete forgiveness of sin. The paths of righteousness are not of our own making. Our righteousness comes only through the Shepherd. We are considered righteous by the blood of the Shepherd who gave up his life for the sheep.
We have forgiveness, peace with God, the food of his Word, the water of his Gospel, a restored soul and Christ’s own righteousness. Truly we can say: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” We have everything we truly need. And maybe that is the time the enemy will intensify his attack. Maybe when we are confident in our Shepherd’s promises, the enemy will use danger and calamity in our life to try and kill our faith. He will attack when we are in the valley of the shadow of death, the darkest valley.
Martin Luther gave words to the person under attack in this way. That person might think:
“Why does He permit the devil to harm me so greatly with terror and doubts? Besides, I find myself quite unfit, weak, impatient, still laden with many sins. I feel no security but only doubt, no comfort but only fear and trembling because of God’s wrath. When will He ever begin to manifest in me that He is my Shepherd?” (Luther’s Works, volume 12)
Yes, where is my Shepherd when I am hurting? Why doesn’t he help? The devil would have us believe that God does not care. He would have us give up on God. Satan wants us to trust our feelings and emotions. But our Good Shepherd points us to his promises. David expressed the promise of our Good Shepherd like this:
Even 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.
Though we cannot see our Shepherd, he is with us. Though we may feel alone and scared, Jesus is with us. He who gave up his own Son for us will certainly not abandon us while we go through hardship and suffering. Trust the promises of the Christ who defeated death by rising from the dead. He is always with us...even when our enemies are in front of us.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Instead of building a fortress against the enemy, David is happy to eat a meal prepared by the Lord in front of his enemies. Instead of removing our enemies from us our Shepherd feeds us with his Word. Though the devil and the world attack we can confidently sit at the Lord’s table, strengthened by his promises. People in this world may try to remove Christ and his Word from society and from us, but our Good Shepherd will continue to feed us with his Word. Christ has made us his own and filled our lives with spiritual blessings. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
Martin Luther acknowledges that Christians will always face danger but listen to the comfort and confidence he expresses:
It must be so and it shall be so, that whoever is the Lord’s sheep will surely be assailed by the wolves. Be it with me as it may, let them boil or roast me, it shall be my comfort that my Shepherd has given His life for me. Moreover, He has a sweet, kind voice, with which He comforts me and says that I shall never perish, neither shall any man snatch me out of His hand; I shall have eternal life (John 10:28). And He will keep this promise, no matter what happens to me. If because of my weakness some sin or other fault by chance is still found in me, He will not reject me on that account. For He is a friendly Shepherd, who watches over the weak sheep, binds up their wounds, and heals them. (Luther’s Works, vol 12)
Luther says that Jesus is a “friendly Shepherd” several times in his commentary on Psalm 23. What a nice thought this is. He is a friendly Shepherd. He does not strike and punish with his rod and staff but guides and protects. He does not abandon the sheep but gives himself for us. Our friendly Shepherd will not let us depart from his love. He knows that we are like sheep and for that reason he will never stop chasing us with his love all of our days. He will bring us through this life into eternal life.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
What else could we possibly want?
The Lord is our shepherd and we are happy to be his sheep forever.