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Psalm 23:1-6 NIV

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. 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.

The Good Shepherd. At home at the end of the day we often come together to watch an old detective program such as Midsummer Murders. Of late I have become fascinated by the adverts, everything is advertised as being ‘Better’, ‘Innovative’, ‘New’, ‘Improved’, it seems there is no longer any place for a word like ‘Good’. It must surely be one of the the most devalued words in the English language. Some Christians have even stopped using the term of God which is an even bigger shame. When you say something is good it means there is nothing bad about it, it is good all the way through. 

The psalmist understood this more than most, Psalm 107:1 NIV Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Isaiah understood this, Isaiah 63:7 NIV I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us---yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

And do you remember the curious question Jesus posed of the rich man who fell at his feet, Mark 10:17-18 NIV

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good---except God alone. Here Jesus is really emphasizing that every good thing comes from God.

A good place for us to start to think about God’s goodness is the 23rd psalm. One writer says it begins with God, ends with eternity and in between it is all about the goodness of God. As David develops this psalm he is of course drawing heavily on his own experience as a Shepherd.

A good relationship. Psalm 23:1 NIV

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. The term used for Lord is the same special name revealed to Moses we considered a few weeks ago, ‘The Great I am’, we translate it Yahweh or Jehovah, but  what is extraordinary is that David declares ‘The great I am’ to be his Shepherd, his friend. 

A proper good relationship can be hard to come by, to some extent we spend are lives as human beings seeking such relationships. Now we learn that all the time God longs to be our Shepherd, someone who often knows us better than we know ourselves. 

A good providerPsalm 23:1-3 NIV

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.

The needs of sheep are not too complicated. Food (grass) and Water, however I am told they will not drink from running water, the Shepherd must guide them to a place of still water. They also need a Shepherd who will guide them safely to a place for rest. 

Although we often think our material needs are complicated, they too can often be simplified, food and water, shelter, and safety. But we too need a guide. We use our Sat Nav in the car, but I have always driven with a map in the car, for the shortest route can be full of unwelcome surprises.

The Dutch artist Anton Mauve whose painting we looked at earlier painted many variations on ‘The flock returns’ always the focus is the Shepherd, he will keep them safe, he will bring them home. In his book ‘In Pastures Green’, F.W.Boreham speaking of the Shepherd writes “Without his skillful leadership, the cleverest sheep would become hopelessly lost; following his footsteps, the silliest of sheep cannot miss the way”. 

A Good companion. Psalm 23:4 NIV

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. We have so lost the meaning of the word good that it sounds soft or safe. Following the good shepherd is far from safe, it involves a promise to stay with you and bring you home regardless of the dangers you face. In C.S Lewis’s book ‘The Lion, the witch and wardrobe’, the children learn that Narnia is ruled by a great Lion, worried they ask the obvious question, Is he quite safe? The reply they get says it all. “Safe?.....Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He is the King, I tell you”. There is an important lesson for us all in this living through a pandemic, or indeed Climate Change, of course it isn’t safe but we have a good King and we must rediscover that sense that there is more to life than death. 

A good carer. Psalm 23:5-6 NIV

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.

 For many years, the view held that David slipped out of his Shepherd experience at this point and is now describing some of his own personal challenges. That may be true, however, Shepherd customs of ancient times are now much better understood. Before moving sheep to new higher land, the shepherd would have to check the area for poisonous plants. At the sheepfold that night there would be a large earthen pot with water, the Shepherd would check the face and eyes of the sheep for injury and apply olive oil, they would then be encouraged to drink water if fevered. 

You can trust the Good Shepherd to bring you safely home, on the way it won’t always be safe but he will be your guide, you will have what you need, God’s goodness and love will be with you. 

Conclusion. Kenneth E Bailey in his wonderful book ‘The Good Shepherd’ demonstrates how all the shepherd references from psalm 23 onwards in the bible are all pointing towards one great moment in history the revealing of God’s Good Shepherd. John 10:11 NIV “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

 I pray and hope that you know this Good Shepherd as the one who loved you so much that he laid down his life for you. As the one who will stay with you forever. 

As a result of knowing the Good Shepherd I pray it will be an encouragement to all of us to be good to others. Being good friends, offering encouragement and direction, hospitality, and love. Amen.

 

 


First published on: 22nd August 2020
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