By Bro. Kirby Figueras (exhorter, WSCAL M.Div Graduate)
The title of our sermon for this morning is For the Sake of His Name Who Knows Us by Name from Ps. 23:1-6.
“1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 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. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Let us pray… Our Good God and Father, in whom all fullness of wisdom and light is found, mercifully enlighten us by Your Holy Spirit in the true understanding of Your Word. Give us grace to receive it in true fear and humility. Teach us through Your Word to place our trust only in You, to serve and honor Your as we ought, that we may glorify Your holy name in all our living, to edify our neighbor by our good example, rendering to you the love and obedience which faithful servant owe their masters, and children their parents, for it has pleased You graciously to receive us among the number of Your servants and children, for Christ’s sake and in Christ’s name we pray, Amen (Adapted from Calvin’s prayer)
They say familiarity breeds contempt, which is true in some sense. But there is no other way for us to benefit fully from the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit apart from being reminded of God’s Word over and over again, individually and corporately as His flock. Ps. 23 reminds us that (Thesis) because God assures us His abiding presence through the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we ought to seek care and comfort from Him alone in fervent communion and full confidence through His Word. In times of adversity, when we forget that God is still the caring and comforting Father, and in prosperity, that God alone is the source of all the abundance that we are enjoying, the only way for us to be brought back to the path of righteousness is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who knows us and calls us by name, for He is the Good Shepherd. Two things I seek to remind each one of us today, as we meditate upon Ps. 23. First, He gives us everything that we need; second, He guarantees us eternal dwelling.
I. He Gives Us Everything that We Need
As the Good Shepherd, God gives everything that His sheep needs. David knew well what he was saying here, for he himself was a shepherd who took good care of the sheep entrusted to him. He calls to remembrance that whatever good he did for those sheep he took care of, it will always fall short of the abundance of God’s goodness expressed in the way God shepherds His people. God shows that He is the Good Shepherd both in how He provides and protects His flock. That’s why David is not ashamed to declare “I shall not want.” We ought to have the same full confidence in the fact that we shall lack nothing because the Almighty God is our Good Shepherd if we are indeed the sheep of His pasture. With this we are reminded that the very first thing He provides is the relationship that we have with Him: that we are His sheep and He is our Shepherd, reckoning us among the number of His flock, which is the ground or basis of God’s generous and gracious provision for all the needs of those who look to Him as their shepherd. John Calvin succinctly states: His choosing us to be His sheep, and His performing towards us all the offices of a shepherd, is a blessing which proceeds entirely from His free and sovereign goodness.
By the grace which the Almighty God freely poured upon us through the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we may be assured that God gives everything that we need, that we shall lack of anything that is good for us His flock. His provision includes everything needed for our care and comfort. He makes us lie down in green pastures, both to feed from the rich source of food and to rest under the reliable shelter, safe from the scorching heat of the sun. We ourselves may testify to God’s irrefutable goodness in the way He provides for all our needs, how He never fails to feed us, to cloth us, to shelter us, and even to grant us the privilege to enjoy the abundance of outward good things. David reminds us that the LORD as the Good Shepherd leads us His flock beside quiet waters where we may drink from gently flowing waters; for rapid streams are inconvenient for sheep to drink in, and are also for the most part hurtful (Calvin). Not only food, shelter, and water that the shepherd provides for his flock, but also cure for what disease that ails the sheep in order to restore it to full strength and wellness.
We don’t have the luxury of time to discuss each of the common sickness sheep are prone to for they are many. But most of the consequences the sheep commonly suffer through these diseases are restlessness, sluggishness, paralysis, and even death. Thus, the shepherd does everything to make sure that the right cure be given to his sheep, even if it is just one of the many sheep he has to watch over. He feeds the sheep, supports it, monitors its progress, and rejoices when the sheep is finally restored to its health and vigor. David speaks of God in such terms for God delights in doing exactly the same thing for us. He restores us, applies the balm of healing through His Word, reminding us the promises He faithfully fulfilled and those which He will fulfill according to His perfect will and wise holy counsel. God supports us, guides us, and leads us to the paths of righteousness. Calvin beautifully expresses this truth in this way: God is in no respect wanting to his people, seeing he sustains them by his power, invigorates and quickens them, and averts from them whatever is hurtful, that they may walk at ease in plain and straight paths. And for what reason? For the sake of name of the LORD Who knows us by name, for He is the LORD, the Covenant-Keeping God, the Almighty God who stoops down and condescends to our lowliness by His grace and mercy, to fulfill His promise I will be your God and you will be My people. Not by any merit of our own, but for the glory of God who is glorified in doing everything for the good of His covenant people, sealed with the name of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is the assurance the Word of God gives to us, that although as people likened to sheep, and that no creature will lose itself sooner than a sheep, so apt is it to go astray, and then so unapt to find the way back (Matthew Henry), it is God Himself our Shepherd who restores us and brings us back to the paths of righteousness. That’s why David can say “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Not only that a shepherd provides food, shelter, water, and cure for sickness, he also protects the flock, the sheep under his care. For this reason, let us all be reminded that God is a shepherd only to those who, touched with a sense of their own weakness and poverty, feel their need of his protection, and who willingly abide in his sheepfold, and surrender themselves to be governed by Him (Calvin). David testifies to the reality that although children and people of God as sheep of His pasture, we are not promised a life in this fallen and cursed world through sin a life that is free from any toil, suffering, persecution, troubles, dangers, and death. But God as our Shepherd protects us that even though we walk in the valley of shadow of death, we ought not fear evil because God assures us His abiding presence, that He is with us. Like a shepherd who walks with the flock through the deepest valley and the steepest ravine, He does not abandon his flock. He holds the rod and staff, ready to club and drive the deadliest predators away, to pull the sheep from imminent danger back to the right path, and to make sheep go under it as He counts them one by one. God also protects us from ourselves, from the dangers we stubbornly inflict upon ourselves and upon each other because of our disobedience, especially when we foolishly choose to behave not as sheep but as wolves biting and devouring one another. The LORD manifests and exhibits to us all these things with His abiding presence, through which we may have firm confidence and fervent communion with Him through the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, promised by the Father from the days of old, that He Himself will shepherd His own people, who will call upon Himself gather all His sheep into one flock, who shall lay down His own life for His sheep, who Himself shall pass through death and live to guide His flock through death in order to reach the land He prepared for His flock. This leads us to our second and last point…
II. He Guarantees Us Our Eternal Dwelling
David continues to show how God lavishly pours His favor upon His people, the sheep of His pasture. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. I do pray that we would really capture the beauty and wonder of this truth. The Sovereign LORD Himself commits to the work of preparing the table for us, welcomes us with tremendous honor as He anoints our head with oil and makes sure that our cup overflows, with heavenly royal wealth deemed fit for the children of the King, of those who belong to His house. God is so generous that He did not stop at treating us as mere guests. He has called us as His own, His own people, His own children, according to His promise. And how does God do this again? You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
In the presence of our enemies, where we see and behold the wicked stare of our enemies, even of our fiercest enemy, that is Death. It is only in the presence of the LORD our Shepherd where we may feast with full confidence, without any fear of trepidation, because we are assured that God has already won the victory for us. They may try everything to intimidate us, to make us believe that we are lost sheep without a shepherd, that we are just one bite away from certain demise. But the LORD our Shepherd silences them all with His loud voice, “It is finished!” The war has already been won, and the eternal dwelling which the LORD has promised to all who belongs to Him has already been earned and secured for us by the perfect obedience and sacrifice of the Good Shepherd who suffered as the lamb that takes away our sins, making us citizens of the city built not by hands of men but by God Himself. For this reason, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, calls us to a heavenly feast, that through the Holy Spirit who lifts us up in the presence of the Almighty, we feast upon His broken body signified by the bread and upon His shed blood signified by the cup, which we partake as the flock of the Chief Shepherd, called and gathered together by Him who knows by name. As simple and ordinary as the bread and the cup seem to be, God ordained these means of grace, together with the proclamation of His Word and the promise given through the water of baptism, to strengthen us, to revitalize us, to prepare us, and to lead us, as sojourners or pilgrims in this fallen world, awaiting the return of our Chief Shepherd, to finally take us with Him into the land or city where there is no more beast to endanger the sheep, where there is no end to green pastures where the sheep may feed upon, where there is that never-ending river of gentle waters where the sheep may drink from, where the scorching heat of the sun would never threaten the sheep for we shall all be under the shadow of the wings of the Almighty.
The LORD our Shepherd prepares a table for us, to feast with overflowing cup, in front of our enemies, God’s enemies, stirring them up to see how awful it is to fall upon the hands of the Almighty God, that they may desire to be also reconciled with Him, to be reckoned also among His flock, to become a member of His house, not only as servants, but also as His sons, according to His promise that He accomplished through His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
David knew well how to distinguish between the table which God had prepared for him and a trough for swine (Calvin), but David knew even better that the bountiful blessings He enjoyed through God’s provision for his earthly needs are but a shadow of the heavenly and eternal heritance graciously prepared for him by God Himself through the Good Shepherd He promised through His Word. That’s why he did not say surely green pastures, quiet waters, feast table, and overflowing cup shall follow me all the days of my life in this fallen world where I am content to dwell forever. Instead, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. The ultimate care and comfort David anchored himself upon are not the temporal earthly blessings he had, no matter how bountiful they were. Instead, he anchored himself upon the truth of God’s Word, that God is the Good Shepherd Who assured him of His abiding presence, whether in the darkest valleys or in the greenest pastures in this world. And what better promise can we hold on to than the promise of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who after He suffered and died on the cross for our sins as the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep, rose again from the grave, and that before He ascended back to heaven at the right hand of the Father, promised to us He shall not leave us as orphans, but that He will be with us until the very end of the age, through the Holy Spirit, with whom we are sealed as indeed true sheep belonging to the flock of Christ?
For this reason, the Reformed faith is not ashamed to confess this confidence, such as in Heidelberg Catechism. Q. 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from the powers of the devil, and so preserves me, that without the will of the heavenly Father not a hair shall fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him. Q. 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how shall I express my gratitude to God for such deliverance. Indeed, God shall provide us all things necessary for our soul and body, that He will make whatever evils He sends upon us, in this valley of tears turn out to our advantage, for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father, who shepherds His flock, upholding all things, that we may be patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity, that whatever may befall us, we place our firm trust in Him through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, for nothing shall separate us from His love, for more than the bountiful blessings He willingly shower upon us, He assures us His abiding presence, that we may seek care and comfort from God alone in fervent communion and firm confidence through His Word and Spirit. Goodness and mercy having followed me all the days of my life on this earth, when that is ended I shall remove to a better world, to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, in our Father’s house above, where there are many mansions. With what I have I am pleased much; with what I hope for I am pleased more (Henry).
Where do you place your trust and confidence? Where do you run to for care and comfort, for hope and assurance, for shelter and protection, for strength to your feeble knees, for water to quench the thirst of your parched throat, for food that shall satisfy your soul, for the balm of healing to soothe and cure our wounds, for the rod and staff to protect you from beasts and from yourself? Are you still running on your own, thinking that you may find the way to the everlasting blessedness with yourself as your own guide? Are you choosing the dry and weary desert of this sinful world over the green pastures our Good Shepherd provides for His church? Are you trying to have your own green pasture, built upon the approval of men and the wisdom of this fallen world? Are you still trying your best to make yourself more acceptable to God, to make yourself more worthy to earn a seat at the table of God? Are you trying to convince yourself that there is something you can do to hire God to be your shepherd?
Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, calling you and reminding you through the proclamation of His gospel, for He knows you by name, for the sake of the name of the Covenant-Keeping God, the Faithful One from everlasting to everlasting, inviting you “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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28). He shall never leave us nor forsake us and He shall never disappoint. We shall not lack of anything that is for our good, for the good of His people, the sheep of His pasture, for He promised and assures His abiding presence to those who have been sealed for Him by His own blood. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” (Ps. 34:8-10). May it be the intense preoccupation of our minds and our hearts, to meet our Good Shepherd together as His flock, His body, His church to sojourn together as sheep Christ leads towards our eternal dwelling, in the house of the LORD forever.