Vol. XI — No. 26 June 28, 1970
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth 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 thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Dear Friends in Christ:
Of the 150 Psalms, the 23rd Psalm is the pearl of them all. It is a Psalm that many learned in their childhood and cherished in after years as a precious possession. But even though it is widely known, yet its contents are not always well understood by all. Sometimes those passages of Scripture that are the most widely known are the least understood.
The 23rd Psalm is indeed a precious, comforting Psalm. It has dried many tears, it has dispelled many fears, and it has filled many hearts with confidence and hope in trying hours. It has sung more wearied souls into peaceful slumber than other hymns and songs of this world. It has comforted the sick, the widows, the aged, the troubled, and the dying.
When David wrote of the Lord, he was speaking of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When we think of that same Lord, we think of the Lord Jesus, who assured us: “I am the good shepherd.” As David of old, so we also can say: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” These first words are in fact the theme of our Psalm and shall therefore also be the theme of this sermon. In the next five verses the Psalmist tell us why he, a believer, a sheep of Christ’s fold, shall not want.
I. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” first BECAUSE HE PROVIDES FOR ME BOTH IN SOUL AND BODY. Although this Psalm refers primarily to the soul and its needs, it also refers to our bodily wants. One of the outstanding wants of both body and soul is nourishing food. And our Savior supplies this want. The Psalmist says: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
WHAT are these green pastures and still waters of which our text speak? IN SPIRITUAL THINGS they are the Word of God and the Sacraments to which our Lord leads us and upon which our soul feeds and drinks. Human philosophy about life is like un unfruitful, barren desert. It cannot nourish and refresh the soul of man so that it really is satisfied and can confidently and calmly face tribulation and death.
Many think that the green pastures are to be found in this world, its pleasures, riches and earthly wisdom. And yet what the world has to offer us cannot satisfy us for any length of time. It happens to such green pastures of this world as it happens to the green pastures in nature: In spring they bloom, in the summer they wilt, in the fall they are mowed down, and in the winter they are dead and covered with a white blanket.
But entirely different are the green pastures, the Word of God, to which Jesus, our good Shepherd, leads us. Although the world changes, the Word of God always stays fresh, and it gives strength, peace, and comfort to all who feed upon it. By reading your Bible how often did you not receive new strength, new courage, and new hope not only in spiritual problems but also in earthly afflictions? And how often did you come to church with a restless conscience, with a heart full of cares and worries, and how often did you come gloomy, despondent, and discouraged? But in church Jesus, your good Shepherd, caused you to find peace and rest for your soul in the green pastures and still waters of His Word. With new strength, new comfort, and new hope you could again return to your earthly calling.
But Jesus supplies the wants OF THE BODY as well as the wants of the soul. Of course the Lord in His great wisdom and for various good reasons may not bless us all richly with earthly goods so we can have all the luxuries we want. But nevertheless He will always provide us with food, clothing, and a roof over us. If He would frankly ask us: “Lacked ye anything?” would not we also have to answer with the disciples, “Nothing!”
II. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” secondly BECAUSE HE LEADS ME UPON THE PROPER PATHS. Our Psalm declares, “He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” He leads. Like a shepherd He chooses the path. You know how dependent sheep are upon their leader to lead them upon the proper paths and away from danger.
In like manner we, the sheep of Christ’s flock, are absolutely dependent upon Him in spiritual matters. All we like sheep have gone astray from God and would never be able to find the way back to God and to eternal life without His guidance. In His Word Christ has shown us the way back to God and to eternal life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” And in the parable of the good shepherd Christ says of Himself, “I am come that ye might have life and that ye might have it more abundantly.”
In order to reach this goal of abundant life our text says that He leads us in the paths of righteousness. But what are these paths of righteousness? It is the pathway of life in which He shows us what is truly a God-pleasing life and in that He causes us to lead such a life. Above all, the paths of righteousness mean the righteousness which Christ has gained for us by atoning for our sins on the cross. And since our sins have been atoned for by Christ, we through our faith in Him are declared righteous before God. And being declared righteous before God, our souls are restored back to God, as our text declares.
III. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” thirdly, BECAUSE HE COMFORTS AND SUSTAINS ME IN ALL TRIBULATIONS AND ESPECIALLY IN THE HOUR OF DEATH, as is evident from the words of the Psalmists who says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Here the Psalmist touches upon the gloomier side of life. He knows that for the Lord’s sheep, the believers, there will not always be continual sunshine, happiness, green pastures, and still waters. There are times when they must go through the dark valleys of tribulations, affliction, sorrow, and the dark valley of the shadow of death. The path to heaven often leads through dark valleys. Sickness visits the Christian, old age creeps upon him, and in death he must leave behind all that has been dear to him on earth.
But though earthly death is the king of terrors to the unbelievers it is not that to the Christian. Earthly death to the Christian is only a shadow—a shadow of the eternal death in hell. Our Psalmist does not say “valley of death,” but “the valley of the SHADOW of death.” As the shadow of a serpent will not sting, and as the shadow of a gun will not kill, so the shadow of death will not kill. Christians are not led into the valley of the shadow of death to stay but merely to walk through it. The Good Shepherd will not lose them in this valley, but will safely lead them to the other side, for He has robbed death of its sting.
What a comfort this is to the dying Christian! What we call death is for the Christian only the entrance into a new and glorious life above. It is only a change for the better—a laying aside of mortality to put on immortality, laying aside of imperfection to put on perfection, a laying aside of unrighteousness to put on righteousness, and a laying aside of misery to put on bliss supreme.
Since the Psalmist knew this, he could confidently say, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL.” And why will he not fear? Because “Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” In the darkest and loneliest valley the sheep are safe, because the shepherd is with them, guarding them from danger and protecting them from harm. The sheep are never left alone. Likewise the Christian is safe in life and death because the Savior is with him and is keeping him from all harm.
There is something in our nature which shrinks from being alone. In fact that is why God created Eve as a companion for Adam and that is one reason why God instituted marriage. How much less fearful the dark night is if we have but a companion. How much less dreary a journey is if we have some one with us. How empty a house is when we are in it alone. The presence of even a dog, a cat, or a bird is quite a relief.
But in the journey through the valley of the shadow of death not even our friends and relatives can accompany us, though they might be willing. They may stand at our bedside to comfort us and encourage us in our Christian faith, but they cannot go with us into the valley. We have to start that sad journey alone. Yes, alone, so far as the company and fellowship of men are concerned. And yet we are not alone—that is, the Christian is not alone. Our text says, “Thou art with me.” Christ, unseen to our human eyes, is there to support the dying. Jesus, the tender Shepherd, says to those who die in Him, “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name. Thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord, thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior.” Christ also said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me, and I will give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hands.”
When Stephen was dying, his face was transfigured and he saw heaven open before him. How many other believers have departed this life with the light of heaven bearing upon their faces, and the song of “Hallelujah” upon their lips? They have felt the nearness of the Savior and were comforted. But how different is the death or those who die without faith, without hope, without comfort, without God and without the Savior. Theirs is a death of despair, of fear, and of uncertainty.
Yes, a Christian need not fear, for Christ comforts and sustains him not only with His presence but also with His Word and Sacraments. The Psalmist says, “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” How much the dying have been comforted and encouraged in their dying hours by the Word of God and the Sacrament no man can ever tell. The Word of God and the Sacraments are truly like a rod and a staff to hold us up in our faltering moments.
IV. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” fourthly, BECAUSE HE MAKES ME VICTORIOUS OVER ALL MY ENEMIES, ESPECIALLY MY SPIRITUAL ENEMIES, as is evident from our Psalm which says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.” It seems as if The Psalmist cannot sufficiently describe the goodness and the providence of God, as he reaches for a second picture or example. It is the picture of a man who in the presence of his enemies is quietly and undisturbedly sitting down to a feast. His head is anointed with oil by the host which in the days of David assured the guest that he was most welcome. And in his hands is a cup that runneth over, showing that he had more than he wanted. The shepherd now becomes the host, the green pastures become a richly covered table, and the still waters become sweet smelling oil and a cup that runneth over.
When one studies this picture, one cannot help but think of the Lord’s Supper, which our Lord provides ror us as a protection against our spiritual enemies. Our spiritual enemies are many. They may be within us, such as the lust of the flesh, an evil conscience and evil desires, or they may be outside of us, such as the devil, the world, and the unbelievers. But our greatest enemy is our own sin which the devil uses to accuse us before God. But in the presence of all these spiritual enemies of our soul, our Lord has prepared for us a richly covered table in the Holy Supper. There he welcomes us with outstretched hands and forgives us our sins so liberally that our cup of spiritual blessings and benefits runneth over. Yes, the Lord blesses us above all our spiritual wants and makes us victorious over all our spiritual enemies.
V. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” fifthly, BECAUSE HE BLESSES ME RICHLY BOTH ON EARTH AND IN HEAVEN, as is expressed in our Psalm, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In these closing words the Psalmist soars heavenward. It seems as though he cannot find sufficient words to express his joy, happiness, and thankfulness.
The Lord is leading His Christians upon the path that leads to heaven. But He lets then look back now and then. What do they see? Nothing but the goodness and mercy of God throughout their entire lives. His goodness and mercy supplies them with all they need for body and soul. Although the path turns to the right and to the left, passes through dark valleys and over high mountains, the Lord’s goodness and mercy is always there. We grow older, sickness and weakness come, death approaches, but all the days of our life “goodness and mercy” follow us.
And after our Good Shepherd has led us safely through this life, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, where joys and pleasures shall never cease. There will be no dark valleys through which we must go, but there will be clearness and brightness. There will be no more enemies to threaten us and there will be no more grevious paths of suffering and temptation, for we will have already reached the goal of eternal bliss. For all eternity we can enjoy the house of the Lord, the paradise of heaven, the Father’s house with its many mansions.
“THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD; I SHALL NOT WANT!” May these words always bring you joy, peace, comfort, and hope on your journey through this life! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.