Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. When God chose to communicate how He cares for His own, He gave the picture of a shepherd tending his flock. Shepherds do more than guide their sheep to food and water.
They take a personal interest in every sheep. Today we learn all about the Great Shepherd. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, perhaps the best loved of all the Psalms is Psalm 23. In your series on When God Shows Himself, tell us how He does that here. You know Dave, I have to say that everyone who's listening, if they have been saved for any length of time, probably they know Psalm 23 by memory. I cannot tell you how often I have quoted this Psalm.
Oftentimes when I get into bed at night and want to fall asleep, Psalm 23, though there are other Psalms also that I quote, what a marvelous example of a shepherd caring for the sheep. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. He guides us.
Of course, we also go to John chapter 10 where we learn He calls His own sheep by name. We're speaking about intimacy, guidance. We are the focus of His attention. Here at Running to Win, we delight in preaching the gospel. And I want to thank the many of you who support this ministry. And August is a very special month to us because some of our supporters have said that they are willing to match every gift given during the month of August dollar for dollar.
Well, you stay tuned because at the end of this message I'm going to be giving you some information as to how you can get in on this opportunity to maximize your gift. If people would just repeat Psalm 23 seven times every night before they go to bed, we very seldom, if ever, would have an emotional breakdown. Those are the words of Charles Allen, a Christian psychologist. If only we grabbed hold of Psalm 23. As we come to this wonderful Psalm today, let us not be fooled simply because we are so familiar with it. It is deep in its riches, and let us not be hindered simply because some of us have never taken care of sheep. I had to do a little bit of studying this week to actually find out what shepherds go through so that I'd be better equipped to be able to interpret this Psalm.
So you shall receive some of those insights as we go through the message. Jesus is known as the good shepherd. He said in John chapter 10, I am the good shepherd and I am known of mine. I know my sheep. They follow me.
They recognize my voice. He is the good shepherd of Psalm 23. How does a shepherd get sheep?
Well, unless he inherits them, he buys them. Jesus purchased us at high cost. And then what a shepherd does is he marks every sheep on his ear, putting his particular stamp on the ear of each of the sheep so that there's no question about identification. Jesus marks us with the cross. He gives us the blessed Holy Spirit of God.
Why, as a down payment, as a recognition that we belong to him and he follows us all the way home. What we're going to do this morning is to simply be blessed. Would you like to just open your soul today for God's blessing? You say, well, I feel unworthy of God's blessing. Believe me, you are unworthy of God's blessing. So am I. We all are.
But God has chosen to bless us. And today we're going to relax. I'm relaxed.
I want you to be relaxed. Then all that we're going to do is to soak in Psalm 23 and leave rejoicing and leave changed forever. The way I intend to look at this song is to list from it those responsibilities to which a shepherd commits himself when he has some sheep. What are those responsibilities that a shepherd takes over when he has sheep? Now I'm referring to those of you, of course, who are the sheep of Jesus. Some of you aren't, and I'm going to give you an opportunity at the end of the message to become one of his sheep.
But actually, it's just now for those of us who know him, though I want all the rest of you to listen in. What does a shepherd commit himself to do when he takes over responsibility for the sheep? Well, are you ready to be blessed? All distractions set aside, every worry about tomorrow, taken care of, every regret of yesterday under the blood so that we can be blessed. Well, first of all, you'll notice that he takes responsibility to provide for them. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. Sheep are very difficult to get to lie down. You cannot even cause them really to lie down unless they do so voluntarily. And they don't do that unless all of their needs are met because they cannot rest as long as they are restless. Very quickly, I'm going to list five different needs that a shepherd needs to take care of if he expects his sheep are actually going to lie down.
First of all, they have to be free from anxiety. I understand that a rabbit running among some sheep can distract some of them and a whole flock of sheep can become like a herd stampeding to nowhere, most of them not knowing why they're running, but they run anyway. You know, when God created sheep, I believe that he created them for the express purpose so that he would have a good illustration of human nature. He said, I want to create an animal that is as stubborn as human beings. I want to create an animal that is always tempted to go its own way. I want to create an animal that is essentially ignorant, though they think they know a lot more than they really do.
I want to create an animal that is always going his own way. All we like sheep have gone astray. We've turned everyone to his own way. So I'm going to create sheep because sheep are an awful lot like they are. In the Bible, sheep are not painted in a flattering way.
So first of all, they have to be free from anxiety. The shepherd has to interfere so that they can get some rest, free from distraction, pests, all kinds of things that may distract a sheep so that they can no longer concentrate on the rest that it is intended to give them. They have to be free from conflict. In every animal society, there is what is known as dominance. One animal wants to be dominant over the others. If it's among chickens, it's called pecking order. If it's among sheep, it's called butting order. And usually there is one sheep, sometimes an old, miserable you who wants to take over charge of the flock, walks around head cocked, eyes glaring, waiting for anyone to get some grass before she does, making sure that everyone is in line, taking care of everyone and causing irritation throughout the whole herd. And the only way they can begin to rest is when the shepherd begins to interfere and give that flock some rest and some comfort from one or two that want to dominate the rest.
And by the way, what ones are the most comfortable? The ones that lie down most easily. They are the ones who are further down in the butting order. They don't have anything to prove. They're not in competition. They're not jealous of others who have the best pasture lands, and they are the most contented.
But notice what the text has to say. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He takes care of all of my needs. He makes me lie down in green pastures. Another need that must be met is, of course, food. And so what the shepherd does is he will find a piece of land, maybe remove the rocks, try to sow some grass, try as best he can to water it to create the kind of pasture that the sheep will enjoy and benefit from.
And he will do that, of course. And the sheep afterwards enjoy it, but they aren't necessarily thankful. God gives us food. It's the food of his word that is to be absorbed into our soul. We're supposed to meditate in the law of God day and night, and then we find contentment. But many, many of God's sheep don't. They refuse the green grass, and they go somewhere else. They fill their lives with television, and it's something like a sheep trying to be comfortable and sustained by AstroTurf. It's just not working.
It's just not working. And then, of course, he says he leads me beside still waters. Sheep do not like running waters because then they get their wool wet.
So what he likes to do is to take rocks and so forth and create a little dam, a little place where the water can run, a little pool that is quiet. And God says, I take care of that myself. I feed you. I care about you.
And I myself am the water from which you can drink. What is the responsibility of the shepherd? First of all, to provide for the sheep.
He makes it available, but he can't force them to do it. If they don't want to, if they are interested in finding their own grass, their own polluted streams, all that the shepherd can do is work with them, and the sheep begin to face the consequences. Number one, the shepherd says, I'm going to provide for them. Secondly, the shepherd says, I'm going to guide them. You'll notice in verse three, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
He restores me. There are two different kinds of situations in which sheep need to be restored. One is when they have followed false paths. A sheep will go from one clump of grass to another to another to another. And pretty soon, you know it, they're a quarter of a mile from the herd and they don't know their way back. Sometimes also there are robbers and thieves that will actually create some false paths for the sheep, hoping that they will wander down those paths.
And oftentimes there are wind swept paths that look like sheep paths that sheep will follow. And so what the shepherd has to do is he has to go find one of those sheep and he needs to bring the sheep back into the herd or into the flock. And what happens if a sheep is particularly rebellious? A sheep that is simply unwilling to learn that it's a bad idea to get out of step with the rest of the flock. Well, what the shepherd will do, which seems very mean, is to actually break the leg of that sheep.
What he's trying to do is to teach him a lesson. That's why the Bible says in Psalm 119 verse 67, before I was afflicted, I went astray. And then he says in verse 71, it was good for me that I was afflicted. Now I have kept thy word. And what the shepherd will do is take that sheep and put them on his shoulders, plural, not just his shoulder, but shoulders, and we'll sling him over his neck so that the shepherd can really hold on to all four legs if he wishes to do that, so that the sheep is secure and he'll bring him back and he'll work with him and he will teach him a lesson. It is a bad idea to go your own way and to choose your own grass and your own water. You can't live alone if you're a sheep and you have to stay close to the shepherd. That's one kind. There are Christians who are going the wrong way and the shepherd has to pull them back.
We've all been there, haven't we? There's another kind of sheep that needs to be restored and that is the ones who have to be turned right side up, because what happens is some sheep will be resting in the sun and enjoying themselves, but they'll be along on the side of a hill. And so what happens when the center of gravity begins to shift of their body, they get turned upside down and there they are just like a turtle. And they can't get back up on their own. And they can paw all that they want. They can paw the air, but nothing happens. And they will be dead in a matter of hours if they're in heat, in the heat of the sun.
And if not, they can also die of starvation over a period of time. And what the shepherd needs to do is to get them right. These kinds of sheep are cast down sheep.
That's what they are called. And maybe that's what David had in mind in Psalm 42 when he says, why are you cast down, oh my soul? Why are you turned, turned upside down?
Why is it that you feel so helpless and all that you are doing is beating the air? God is there to help you. God is there to right you and to set you up straight and get you back into the path. You'll notice that he leads us, the Bible says, in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake. We sometimes sing, he leadeth me, oh blessed thought. And it is a blessed thought to know that God is the one who does the leading and we do the following. And he doesn't take us any place where he has never been.
The shepherd always goes to pastures ahead of the sheep and checks things out. And there's no trial that God will take you through, but that Jesus has been there. Have you been rejected? He was despised and rejected of men. Have you been a victim of injustice?
All of the injustices and the false accusations that were made against him he endured. Will the time come for you and for me to die? Yes, and he has died as well, he's gone on ahead, he's prepared the way, and now he asks us as his sheep to follow. In paths of righteousness for his name's sake, his reputation is at stake. Third, he comforts the sheep. You'll notice it says in verse four, 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. Most people when they read this, they think of a funeral, don't they? Because this psalm is oftentimes read at funerals and has comforted many of those who have survived. But actually there is such a thing in Israel as the valley of the shadow of death. I've been in Israel four times and only once did I see that valley. Most of the time people don't go to see it.
It's a little bit out of the way, the bus has to make some extra miles. But you see this deep valley, I'm told hyenas at night and vultures by day, beating sun also during the day and cold at night. And you look at how steep it is. There's no way that anyone would want to go in that valley.
It's known as the valley of the shadow of death, where many people have died. And so he says, even though you're going to lead me through that valley, he says, I know that your rod and your staff are going to be there and you are going to be with me. Do you notice in the text how he actually changes now pronouns? In the first three verses, he talks about the Lord in the third person. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. In verse four, it says, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.
Now he's into the second person. God walks with him through the experience. The shadow of a sword draws no blood. The shadow of a wolf does not bite.
Donald Gray Barnhouse was coming back from the funeral of his wife and he was trying to comfort his children as they were going along the highway, a truck came and passed them. And he noticed that the shadow passed the car and he said, children, were you hurt by the shadow? And they said, no, we weren't hurt by the shadow. Now we would be hurt by the truck, but not its shadow. In the very same way, he said, your mother has died, but she passed through the shadow of death and she was not hurt by it because the good shepherd was there with her on the other side to greet her.
And she made it to the other side. Oftentimes what shepherds would do to help the sheep in the summertime as they had to go to higher grazing elevations, they would take them through that valley and then up the other side. But the sheep didn't want to go.
Too steep, too many rocks, too many dangers. So what the shepherd would do is to choose a little lamb and he would put that lamb on his shoulder and he himself would begin the journey. Well, obviously, as you might suspect, the mother of the little lamb would follow. And once the mother began to follow, one or two other sheep would follow.
And once you got two or three others, you'd get all the rest. And pretty soon the whole flock would be going through the valley and doing their best, struggling up to the other side. See, that's what God does to us, doesn't he? There are some of you who are listening to this who know what it's like when God chooses a little lamb, the death of a child, a child that is born stillborn or perhaps dies after a certain number of weeks or years or months.
And your heart is just absolutely broken. And for the first time in your life, you begin to long for heaven and you begin to say, I want to follow my child all the way to glory. I want to follow that one who has followed the good shepherd. And the good shepherd takes us to the other side.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod, the rod, of course, which is a defensive weapon. The rod is about four feet long. It's like a club, keeps the enemies away. The staff, the shepherd's crook to take that sheep that's on its way off the path or that has fallen or that has experienced even a broken leg and the shepherd needs to bring him back. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Yes, the shepherd's crook sometimes hurts, but it's good because it gets me back. David who wrote this song, you remember, experienced the bitterness of sin, adultery and murder. And he knows what it's like for the restoring shepherd to come and to say, David, you're off the path. I have to pull you back into fellowship with myself so that I can continue to lead you, to lead you in paths of righteousness. So you'll notice that he comforts the sheep.
He defends the sheep in verse five. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows. Imagine the sheep is now on the other side of the valley. That's where the green grass is. That's where the table is prepared. And the shepherd has prepared it. He's gone on ahead. He's checked out the grass.
He's checked on the water to make sure that it isn't polluted. It's the best meal that the sheep can possibly ever have. And where does it happen? Right there in the presence of its enemies. If you can feel content in the presence of your enemies, you have won the battle with fear. If you can feel content exactly where God has planted you with people who are against you, people who are lying about you, people who would like to destroy you, people who would like to see you fail, and right there you are content. That is the provision of God.
And how does it work? You stay very, very close to the shepherd. The reason that the sheep can graze in the presence of enemies is because the sheep knows that the shepherd is close by and the shepherd is watching the sheep as he or she eats. The shepherd is there. My friend today, are you encouraged as a result of this promise?
Isn't it wonderful to know that we do indeed have a good shepherd? August is a very special month for us because at the end of August, August 31st, is the end of our fiscal year. And during the month of August, some of our friends have said that they are willing to match every gift given during this month, dollar for dollar, up to $90,000. Would you like to maximize your gift? Here's what you can do. Go to RTWOffer.com. That's RTWOffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. I do want to remind you that running to win is your ministry. We want to thank you in advance for your generosity.
Go to RTWOffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Help us get the gospel of Jesus Christ to even more people at a time when only the gospel indeed can rescue people from their sins. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you understand God's roadmap for your race of life.
Though named as king, David was pursued by a jealous King Saul for 10 long years. Still, he could say of God, you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Can you face trials with that kind of confidence? Next time on Running to Win, more lessons from Psalm 23. This is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-06 11:47:55 / 2023-03-06 11:56:44 / 9