[Psalm 23] The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lordforever.
The Lord Is Your Shepherd
Throughout the Old Testament, God is shepherd of His people Israel. “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out… I Myself will be the Shepherd of My sheep…” [Ezekiel 34:11-16]. “Oh, save Your people and bless Your heritage! Be their Shepherd and carry them forever” [Psalm 28:9]. “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock. ” [Psalm 80:1]
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned… He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” [Isaiah 40:1,11]
And in the well known Psalm, God’s people pray, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
In our Gospel reading this morning [John 10:11-16], Jesus says of Himself, “I am the Good Shepherd” [John 10:11,14]. Jesus that Shepherd in Psalm 23 and throughout the Old Testament. He is the one who shepherded His people Israel like a flock generation after generation. He is that good Shepherd.
All others will flee and run away and leave you to the wolves - but He is “the Good Shepherd - The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” [John 10:12]
Jesus is and always has been shepherd of His people. And now He has gone through the valley of the shadow of death ahead of them and for them. He is risen and lives forever to Shepherd His people all the way through that valley to the other side, to the resurrection and eternal life in His house forever. Therefore, His people need not fear.
You are His people. You are His Israel that He shepherds. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” - not of the house of Israel by nature; gentiles; all the nations; you - “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd”
One new people. A true Israel, not by race, but by faith. Those who hear the Shepherd’s voice, His Word, and believe Him - “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”[Mark 16:16]; “My sheep hear my voice… and no one will snatch them out of my hand” [John 10:27-28]; - One flock from many peoples; one Shepherd.
Our Jerusalem is the “Jerusalem above”. On earth “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” [Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 13:14]. It is those who are of faith in Christ, the one in whom Abraham trusted, who are Israel and children of Abraham [Galatians 3].
In this one flock, from every people and nation, but one in faith in Christ - in this one flock, you have the Lord as your Shepherd who guides you through this world as “strangers and pilgrims” [Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11] and brings you through safely, no matter the danger.
The Lord, your Shepherd, is your Savior on the cross: “What punishment so strange is suffered yonder! The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander; The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him, Who would not know Him.” [Hymn: O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken]
Not by your own acts of righteousness - not by your merit or worthiness - but by His own mercy you stand forgiven and washed of your sin in His blood. Counted righteous for His sake. Acquitted because He paid your sentence. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” [John 10:18] - “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
Because He has made you His sheep, He is your Shepherd, and this prayer is yours: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
• When the love and trust of your heart are in your Good Shepherd, you lack nothing and want nothing. When the love and faith of your heart are elsewhere, though you have everything, you always need the next thing more.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
• Jesus, your Good Shepherd, leads you to the food which gives eternal life. Where His Word is preached in its purity and truth - where His sacrament is given - there is the good pasture land.
• He also provides for every need of this body and life and uses all things for the good of those who love Him.
“He leads me beside still waters.”
• Literally, “waters of rest”. The world gets its bread in turmoil. Jesus gives you your food in peace.
“He restores my soul.”
• “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [Matthew 11:28-30]
• A deeper rest than any sleep can give. Rest for the soul, which also benefits the body.
“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”
• He leads me in “right paths”. He leads me not where I would go but where He knows best for me to go. He leads.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”
• The Shepherd sends His sheep nowhere where He has not gone. He died. He passed through that valley. He plowed the way ahead of you. He made it a safe passage. The sheep, with his Shepherd, need not fear it - for He is with you in it. He has already prevailed.
“your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
• The rod was a club, about two feet in length, carried by the shepherd to club the enemy - the wolves and the lions. The devil, the world, and your flesh are always after you. Jesus, your Shepherd, beats those enemies back so they cannot take you.
• The staff is a long, tall walking stick used to guide the sheep and to pull down leafy branches for them.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”
• No matter what is happening in the world or in your life, you have His table here. And His table goes with you to the hospital and to the nursing home. It meets you there. And you meet it here. Jesus spreads the feast of salvation before you.
“you anoint my head with oil”
• You are anointed with the Holy Spirit in baptism, who stays with you.
“my cup overflows.”
• Jesus gives an abundance of His salvation - through Baptism, through His Word, through His Supper, in Confession and Absolution - His forgiveness toward you overflows. It is greater than your sins.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,”
• His steadfast love and His faithfulness - these follow you through a long life.
“and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
• He has gone to prepare a place for you, and, where He is, He will take you there also [John 14:1-3].
• Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He has said so, and so it is. Therefore do not fear. You are in His care, and He cares deeply for you. Amen.