Over the last month, I have heard messages about the Good Shepherd. There must be something in this passage that I need to learn. The passage is from Psalm 23. I think we have all heard this passage even if we know nothing about God or Jesus. I think every funeral has this as the main message; shadow of death and all. Yet, do we really know what it means? Do we really reflect on the truth found there?
King David is attributed as the writer to this psalm. King David had been a shepherd when he was called by God to be the next king. He was just a teenager at the time and wasn’t even present when the Jesse’s sons were lined up in front of the prophet Samuel. God told Samuel to go to Jesse’s to anoint the next king. The first son passed before Samuel, and he thought surely this is the one. But God said no. The second was passed by as well, but no. By the end of the line, Samuel must have wondered if he heard God correctly. But Jesse had one more son out in the fields tending the sheep. David was called from the fields and anointed king over Israel. But he went right back out to the fields until the day, God called him to bigger things.
Young David had time to think in those fields. I’m sure he contemplated many things as he drove the sheep from pasture to water and then enclosed them in for the night. The Bible tells us that David was a man after God’s own heart. He had a greater depth of knowledge about God than most do. Maybe he realized God is a Good Shepherd. Maybe David even realized at some point, we are like the sheep – helpless without the shepherd.
Ben Stewart from Passion City Church mentioned we are referenced as the sheep over 500 times in the Bible. Okay – the point is we’re like sheep. My pastor said on Sunday, this is not a good thing. Sheep are stupid. There is not one instance where a sheep has been trained. However, a sheep learns their shepherd’s voice and follows it. They are smart enough not to follow another shepherd. They are also aware that the shepherd is their lifeline.
Okay, maybe we’re not as sharp as sheep. At least the sheep realize their need for a shepherd. We on the other hand think that we can live our lives without assistance. We are brought up to be independent. Yet, how much easier would life be if we lived as a sheep – following a shepherd – not just any shepherd, but a good one! One that we knew that we could trust; one that had our best interest at heart.
Jesus told us in one of his “I am” statements (found in the Gospel of John) that He is the Good Shepherd. In this day and time, at least in the US, we don’t get that reference. We are far removed from the fields. He also said “I am the gate.” At night, the shepherd always moved the sheep into an enclosure to keep watch over them while they slept. The shepherd positioned himself at the gate to keep the sheep in and the predators out. There is no way a sheep could sleep unless it felt safe. There is no way for a sheep to protect itself or find food or good water or anything else to survive. It relies solely on the shepherd.
Jesus said that “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Before young David faced Goliath, he said that he protected his sheep from a lion and a bear; he killed them in order to save his flock. He faced Goliath knowing that God went before him just as he knew that it was God who protected him as he killed animals that threatened the sheep. He recognized he couldn’t do it alone, but God was with him.
Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. Jesus died for all of us – no matter who we are, what we’ve done or what nationality or color of our skin. We all have an opportunity to follow Him. But not everyone follows. A shepherd stays with the sheep – it’s a full time job. Pastor Ben said that the quality of the sheep depends on the proximity to the shepherd. He also said that things make a great gift but lousy gods. If we are running after things, we will never follow a shepherd. We follow after those shiny things that keep us distracted and away from the shepherd who knows what we need. Peace, rest and lots of green pasture with lots of living water and one trustworthy shepherd that would lead us there if we would just look to Him and Him alone. In these uncertain times, it’s time to get our focus right. There’s no better time than the present to follow the Good Shepherd.
“Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice.” John 10:1-4 (MSG)