Jesus in the Old Testament is a sermon series on finding Jesus in the whole Bible. The Shepherd of Israel — The ancient king, David, saw God as his shepherd: One who leads us along the right paths. One who feeds and restores us. One who walks with us through the darkest valley. Jesus is the good shepherd — the true and ultimate shepherd of Israel. Recorded on June 20, 2021, on Psalm 23, by Pastor David Parks.
So all year, meaning, from July 1st 2020, smack in the middle of Covid, until now, we’ve been focusing on the Person and Work of Jesus. And I have to say, with everything going on in the world over the past year, it hasn’t always been easy to keep our eyes focused on Jesus. But the Lord was gracious to us. He helped us and carried us (and maybe dragged us at times) through it all. And for the last few weeks, we’ve been working through our last sermon series on the person/work of Jesus called Jesus in the Old Testament. And in this series, we’ve said that the three-in-one nature of God — this peculiar teaching that God is a perfect, loving community of Father, Son, and Spirit — that would become clearer by the time of the NT in the Bible, but even in the OT, we see certain people/places/things that prefigure/foreshadow the person/work of Jesus. Not only is God clearly at work in the OT, but he does so in such a way that’s like a big sign pointing forward to the coming of Christ. And that’s what this series is all about: finding Jesus in the OT. If you missed any of the messages of this series (or any series), you can always go back to watch on YouTube or listen to the audio podcast. But today, I get to preach on one of the most famous passages in the Bible, that is, Psalm 23. And in Psalm 23, King David says that the Lord is our shepherd, which gives us great insight into the person/work of Jesus. If you have a Bible/app, please open it to Ps 23.
Psalm 23, “1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4 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. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 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.”
Psalm 23 was written by David, who was the most famous/powerful king of ancient Israel. David lived about 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, or about 3000 years ago. David was a mighty warrior but he was also a prolific songwriter, responsible for almost half the psalms or songs in the Bible. Let’s jump back to v. 1 and work through this together.
Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” For David, the vocation of a shepherd was one that he understood well. Even though he was the king, when God called him to be the future king, when Samuel anointed him as a young man to be the next king of ancient Israel, David was a shepherd himself, watching the flocks of his father, Jesse. David knew what a good shepherd did and he likely knew what an incompetent/lazy shepherd did. For David, he saw the Lord, Yahweh God, and his person/work, through the lens of a shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd; I am a sheep in his flock. And if that’s the case — if the Lord is my shepherd, then what? I lack nothing; I shall not want. What good thing will I be denied? The Lord is a good shepherd; the sheep of his pasture flourish because of his work. And truthfully, the psalm could end here. Because the rest of Ps 23 simply unpacks what it means for the Lord to be David’s shepherd. If we simply meditated on this verse, we wouldn’t need the rest. But sometimes, we need a little more detail (and only one line would’ve made a really short song), so let’s continue with vv. 2-3.
Psalm 23:2-3, “He [the Lord] 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 first thing a good shepherd does is lead. David says the Lord makes me lie down in green pastures. Sometimes we don’t know or appreciate our own limits, our own boundaries. We want to keep working or we want to keep playing long past what is helpful/healthy for us. A good shepherd would make us lie down to rest for our own good. I would think a sheep would want to lie down in a nice green pasture where there’s food and rest. But then I think of all the times I’ve pushed myself way too hard, way beyond my limits, and I understand this verse. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. The Lord provides not only food and drink, what is necessary for life, but he restores/refreshes my soul. The Lord desires for us to not just survive, but that we might flourish. But, this is a broken world, one marred by sin and death and every evil thing. And sometimes our souls feel as if they are hallowed out and exhausted. You may feel that way this morning, even. Like you’re a shell of what you once were or what you could be. Well, you have a shepherd in heaven today. Hear his voice and follow his lead; he will refresh your soul, he will give you life once again, he will restore you. He makes me lie down, he leads me, he guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Now, to live a life of righteousness is to walk along the right paths. But we don’t always know what the right paths in life are, do we? Sometimes we simply don’t know what is right. But sometimes there are many roads to take that all might work in some way. What way will we take? What path will we take in a conversation with a difficult family member? What path will we take in deciding who to marry or where to live? What path will we take in choosing how to respond when someone sins against you? David says that the Lord guides me along the right paths, the paths of righteousness. He will go first, he will show me the way. And he’ll do this for my sake? Actually, for his name’s sake. Wouldn’t we want him to do this for our sake? The answer is no, this is actually far better. If the Lord is my shepherd, my treatment/life/path will reflect on him for all the world to see. His reputation as a good shepherd is on the line here. In other words, his work as a shepherd will reflect on his character and goodness — on his name. And there’s nothing higher in all the universe than the name of God. So our good shepherd leads/guides us along the right paths, for the sake of the most important thing in all of creation: the glory/reputation of God. And that is a sure foundation. That is a rock that will not be moved, no matter what storms may come. And again, that could be enough for us to consider this morning. But we haven’t even gotten to the best part, yet! Look at v. 4.
Psalm 23:4, “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.” Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I won’t be afraid. Why? For you are will me. A landowner may have flocks and herds that roam their property. But they aren’t necessarily out with their flocks and herds. But a shepherd has to be with their sheep. At the beginning of this series, we went through the encounter of Moses and the burning bush on Mount Horeb/Sinai. Do you remember what I said about the distance Moses had traveled to get there? He was following his flocks as a shepherd from Midian and was weeks from home. Where they go, he would go. What David says here, in the emotional center of this psalm, is that even on my worst day, even when I can’t see the sun, even when I am overwhelmed/discouraged, even if I face my own death…what? I will fear no evil. I will not be afraid. I don’t have to be crushed or fall into despair. Why? Because you are with me. The Lord is with me. And, again, who is the Lord? He is our great Father in heaven, the maker of heaven and earth, the one who formed the stars, the one who brought order/life/light by simply a word of his power, the one who sustains all things and gives us breath and life, the one who is eternal and immortal, infinitely powerful, wise, and good. He is with me! “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” In the presence of fear, I have the Prince of Peace. In the presence of doubt, I have one who has always been faithful. In the presence of defeat, I have the source of hope. Even in the presence of death, I have the author of life. What a statement of faith. What an ever-present help this would be if we only looked at our world like David. He says, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” These were the tools of a shepherd to guide their flock and correct them when they start running off in the wrong direction. They’re tools of discipline, and the Lord disciplines those he loves. The Lord’s leading/guidance/discipline should definitely be a comfort to us. Why? For they remind us day in and day out, he is with us. Praise the Lord. Let’s keep going.
Psalm 23:5-6, “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 person/work of God, our Shepherd, of leading/feeding/protecting us, the sheep of his pasture, is rooted (again) in his own character, in his own goodness and love. This whole next year, we’ll focus on the greatness of God. But we’ll also see that God is both great and he is good. You can’t read the Bible and miss that. God uses his greatness in accordance with his steadfast, loving-kindness. And the result is this: if the Lord is your shepherd, if you are a sheep in his flock, you’ll never be lost. You will dwell, not just in the fields, but in his family. The metaphor switches in vv. 5-6 from fields to family, from shepherd to Father. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Is there really any doubt why this ancient song is so famous? It’s a declaration of the goodness of God and a clear statement of love for and faith in him, and not just now, but forevermore. So how does this psalm point us to Jesus? I’m hoping that now that we’ve done a few of these sermons, you’ll start to make some of the connections yourself as you read through this text. But here’s the big idea today:
Jesus is the good shepherd — the true and ultimate shepherd of Israel. Some of the connections between the OT and NT are easier to make than others and this is maybe one of the easier ones, for several reasons. First, because the idea that God is the shepherd of Israel is a thread that runs all the way through the Bible. The first time in the Bible where God is called a shepherd is by Israel himself in Ge 48. Israel, who was also known as Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, says that God has been his shepherd all the days of his life. And this was hundreds of years before David. And from Jacob on down, we find several other notable shepherds that God chose to lead his people including, as I’ve mentioned, Moses and David. And so, though David says here that “the Lord is my shepherd,” in many places, God uses the same analogy for the people who were supposed to lead, feed, and protect his people as well. David was anointed/chosen by God to shepherd his people as their king, and his vocation as the king was similar to the work of God that we see here. Now, David was a good king. But in the history of ancient Israel, there were many kings who were wicked, terrible kings. Leaders who didn’t care at all to follow the Lord along the right paths for his name’s sake. And it wasn’t just the kings. It was also the spiritual leaders as well. In Ezekiel 34, the whole long chapter is an indictment of God against the priests of Israel who were supposed to shepherd God’s people. They were supposed to lead, feed, and protect the people who were entrusted to their care. Instead, they used the people to gain wealth and status. They didn’t care for the people, as God cared for the people. Instead, they saw the people as a means of personal advancement; they ate the sheep they were supposed to be caring for. No wonder God was angry with them. The conclusion is found in Eze 34:22.
Eze 34, 22-24, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” So who would this one shepherd be who would be of the house and line of David? Who would be the good shepherd over the people of God who would restore them and care for them? Who would be the one who would lead/feed/protect God’s people, both now and forever? Who else could it be? It’s Jesus. Jesus is the good shepherd — the true and ultimate shepherd of Israel. In the fullness of time, God sent his one and only son into the world, to seek and to save the lost, to rescue and redeem every lost sheep in God’s flock. In John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” So Jesus was the one who walked with David through the darkest valley. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people in Eze 34. And according to the gospel, Jesus was the shepherd who would lay down his life for us, his people, the sheep of his pasture. On the cross, Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead. And he ascended back into heaven where he lives and works even to this day as our good shepherd. We are not in his flock because of our goodness or our potential. But because of the grace and mercy of God. So today, the One who leads us and feeds us and protects us does so by his word and through the power of his Spirit. Do you hear his voice today? Will you follow him along the right paths? Will you trust him in the darkest valley? If so, then surely, his goodness and love will follow you all the days of your life. And you will dwell in his house forever. Please stand as we close in prayer.