“MY SHEPHERD: THE PROTECTED LIFE”
Dr. Charles Allen, beloved Methodist minister, tells the story of a friend who came to see him one day. His friend was nervous, tense, and he had literally worried himself sick. The man’s physician had suggested that he see his minister. They talked for a while, and then Allen took a pad of paper from his desk drawer.
“If you went to see a doctor, he would give you a prescription, and that’s what I want to do,” Allen said. “Take the prescription exactly as I write it. Five times a day for seven days I want you to read prayerfully and carefully the twenty-third psalm. When you awaken, before each meal and at bedtime, read the psalm.” Charles Allen says that in a week his friend returned literally a different person. The power of the Shepherd’s psalm is a prescription for the problems and pressures of our day. One of the things that we certainly need if we are going to live the good life is a faith in something that is big enough for life. The psalmist begins where we always need to begin…with knowing God.
We begin today a six-week study of one of the most beloved Psalms… The 23rd. I have entitled the theme of these messages, “THE GOOD LIFE.”
The Psalm is a statement of a godly person’s outlook on life. It is an ancient piece of poetry. And yet it speaks to us in the 21st century as powerfully as it did to believers when it was written. It expands the total of a person’s life. It contains everything in our faith. It is loved by Jew and Gentile alike, and perhaps is the greatest portion of Scripture that is known. Just about everybody here could quote from memory.
I invite you to begin a journey with me that will take us six Sunday mornings to complete. We shall look in depth at the meaning of this blessed Psalm. And I believe that our lives will be enriched, and our spirits will be quickened, and our love for the Lord will be heightened. Today, we begin with a powerful statement, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23 is very personal. There are no references to "we" or "us" or "they," but only "my" and "me" and "I" and "You." This is David's testimony, his personal experience with God.
There are five great truths in this first verse. The first one is
I AM IN THE FOLD.
Those who trust in the Lord can identify with this and say, “Yes, I am in the fold.” For you see, it speaks of sheep and not of goats. The Bible says that there will come a day when He will divide the sheep from the goats… “the goats” being a synonym for those who do not know God, “the sheep” being those who know Him.
I am in the fold! I am a sheep! I am in Christ! I am in the church! I am one of the redeemed! And so, it starts out with an affirmation of who we are. We find our deepest meaning in Christ. I find my identity in my faith and it tells me who I am. This imagery taken from ancient Israel speaks to us of things that we and our modern culture can identify with – for we know what a sheep is and what a Shepherd is.
It is likely that David wrote this in his old age after he had viewed life from many perspectives. He was able to say, “As a young shepherd boy I cared for my sheep. Now, as I look at my life, I see that God cares for me the same way I cared for those sheep. David framed it in beautiful imagery that tells us we are in the fold. The second great truth is
MY FAITH IS PERSONAL. “The Lord is MY Shepherd.”
Throughout the Old Testament there is the imagery of the Lord as a Shepherd to His flock…the Lord is a Shepherd to Israel…the Lord is a Shepherd to His flock - the church. The Lord is not just a Shepherd, the Lord is MY Shepherd. I claim Him for my own. I claim Him in personal faith. In saying this, I am saying that He cares for me. He watches me. He helps me. He is mine! I am His! My faith is personal. I am one of the flock. I am part of the church. I am in Christ. I am part of that great hosts of people who are redeemed, but it is as if there was only Him and me. That is how personal it is. If no one else believes, I believe. If no one else is saved, I am saved. If no one else knows Him, I know him. My faith is not just faith in general, it is faith in particular. He is My Shepherd. I claim Him! Jesus taught us that His sheep would hear His voice. I hear His voice. He calls me by name, therefore I have a personal faith. The third truth is
GOD IS PRESENT WITH ME NOW. “The Lord is”
This speaks of the great present…the great now in my life. I don’t have to wait until I die to know God. I don’t have to wait until I learn so much about Him. I don’t have to wait until I have attained a certain level of spirituality. The Lord “is” in my life now. Our faith is that which is in the present… It is in the now. That is the reason we can take our faith and apply it to every circumstance of life. It is in the now – to give my life meaning now. The Lord is my Shepherd now! Isn’t that a great thing to be able to say?
"In his little book on the 23rd Psalm, published in 1899, the evangelist J. Wilber Chapman suggested we should learn to emphasize every word of this phrase. The LORD - literally, Jehovah - The Eternal, Self-Existent God, the King, Eternal, Immortal, Invisible. This Jehovah, this LORD is - present tense, right now, at this moment. The LORD is my - a personal pronoun; He is mine today and He is yours today. It doesn't say, 'The LORD is a SHEPHERD,' or 'the LORD is the SHEPHERD,' but 'the LORD is my SHEPHERD' - and what a difference that little pronoun makes. The LORD is my SHEPHERD."
When I need Him at any time of the day, I can say, “The Lord is with me.” When I fear, I can say, “The Lord is!” When I face uncertainty, I can say, “The Lord is with me now.” And there is something about the great presence of Him who said, “I am,” who gave this name to Moses saying, “Tell them ‘I Am’ is present with you now. And you can have God’s help NOW!
The fourth truth is
MY FUTURE IS IN GOD’s HANDS. “I shall not want.”
This has two deep meanings. The first is – HE PROVIDES. Just as the sheep know that the Shepherd provided for yesterday, He is going to provide for today and tomorrow. I can exclaim, “God is with me now and my future is in His hands.”
Tell me what you fear most. Many of us here would say, “What I fear most is tomorrow. I fear the future… I fear what might happen… I fear what is unknown… I fear what is ahead. But the great truth is that my future is in His hands. When I face illness, I know the Shepherd is, when I face uncertainty, the Shepherd is, and when I face the unknowns of death, the Shepherd is! Whatever the future flings at me, whatever the future puts in my path, I know that I shall not want. I shall not be without. I shall not be lacking. I shall not be empty. I shall not be in need. That doesn’t mean that God provides everything we want, but he does provide our needs, as everyone here who has followed Him in faith and testify. The fifth truth is
I AM SATISFIED.
This is the second meaning of the word “want.” I shall not need for anything because the Scripture says that those who seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to.” We can say, “I have finally found which will allow my soul to be at peace. I have finally come into that which satisfies my deepest and innermost longings. Therefore, I do not need to look anywhere else, I do not need to find satisfaction in any other kind of faith. I have found it in Christ. I am satisfied! How blessed it is when He satisfies our innermost longings.
This Psalm was a thousand years old when Jesus was on the earth. He knew it, loved it, and interpreted it to his day and said, “I am the good shepherd. The good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” Now, picture the fold, the pen. The Shepherd brings the sheep and puts them in the pen and there is a fence to keep out the wolves and the dogs and all that would come to devour the sheep. Across the door the fold, the Shepherd places himself at night to protect his own. It is the beautiful picture of Jesus putting Himself between us and that which would hurt us. He places Himself between us and sin. And he took upon Himself our sins. The blood of Jesus Christ is effective in working in the life of the Christian to cleanse sin today just as much as it was in the life of the person coming to faith when Jesus was on the earth. The Scripture announces that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. And the Shepherd puts himself between us and the death that would claim us. He has given to you and to me eternal life which is living in us now.
In Christ, you are protected from the judgment for your sin because he was judged for you. You are protected because your life IS in His hands. Your future is secure because He is your guardian Shepherd.
A Sunday school teacher asked her class if anyone could quote the entire 23rd Psalm.
A golden-haired, four-and-a-half-year-old girl was among those who raised their hands. A bit skeptical, the teacher asked if she could really quote the entire psalm. The little girl came to the front of the room, faced the class, made a perky little bow, and said, "The Lord is my shepherd, that's all I want."
She bowed again and went and sat down.
That may well be the greatest interpretation of the 23rd Psalm ever heard.
Do you want the good life? You can have it in Christ!
Praise to His Name!