“The LORD Is My Shepherd; I Shall Not Want”

(Psalm 23 – Easter 4 – May 3, 2020)

Psalm 23

  1. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  2. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
  3. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
  4. Yea, 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 runs over.
  6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Dear Redeemed in the name of our Good Shepherd and Savior, Jesus Christ:

Most of us have had little experience with sheep. Yet there are certain things we understand about them. They are weak and defenseless creatures, who would not last long in the wild among predators. Sheep can be foolish, and will sometimes eat what is not good for them, or wander off and get lost in dangerous places. Sheep are followers, who cannot see the big picture of life. Therefore, they need someone to watch over them for their own good, to lead them in safe pastures, to provide what is healthy for them, and to protect them from unseen dangers.

There is truly something comforting about this Psalm, which describes the Lord Himself caring for us as our Shepherd. For like sheep, how often haven’t we lacked of wisdom – not knowing what was best for ourselves, not knowing which path was the right one to take in life? How often haven’t we felt our weaknesses – finding ourselves defenseless and afraid in the face of unforeseen circumstances and dangers? Like sheep, on our own we cannot see the big picture even in the temporal matters of this life, let alone in matters beyond this life in eternity. Therefore this Psalm comforts us with a picture of how our Lord cares for us as our Shepherd, leading us in the best way, providing all our needs, and protecting us from dangers all around.

At the time when David wrote this Psalm, the image of sheep under the care of a shepherd was very familiar to everyday life. Before David became king of Israel, as a youth growing up in the house of his father Jesse, he was a shepherd in the hill country of Bethlehem. Even later, when David sat on the throne ruling over Israel, he remained a shepherd in a sense; for in those days, kings were often called shepherds of their people.

So when David wrote, “The LORD Is My Shepherd; I shall Not Want,” he spoke in terms very close to his heart. As one who had cared for his own sheep, leading them to green pastures, even protecting them from the jaws of wild beasts, David also expressed utmost confidence. For who could better provide for the needs of His own sheep, and protect them from all danger, than the living LORD Himself, the heavenly Shepherd-King?

By that name “the LORD” (Jehovah/Yahweh), He had revealed Himself as the personal God who had established His covenant of grace with His people. Not only was He their almighty King, who was fully able to provide for them and protect them. But He was also their gracious Shepherd, who loved them and led them, and would do everything needed to save them from their enemies, and give them the blessings of eternal life in His Kingdom.

Indeed, David looked forward to the day when the LORD would fulfill His covenant of grace to His people, and come as their Shepherd-King. For one day as promised, He who was David’s Lord would come into the world as David’s Son. As the LORD in our flesh, He would bare His almighty arm and do everything needed to save His people from their enemies of sin, Satan, and death. As their humble and loving Shepherd, He would even make the greatest sacrifice to save them. In John 10:11 we hear the LORD Jesus saying: “I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” By His sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead He won our forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in His Kingdom.

In light of the LORD’s fulfilled covenant of grace in Christ, in view of His almighty power to save us and His tender love to care for us, we can fully understand Psalm 23 and take it to heart for our personal comfort. We can say with David in verse 1: “The LORD is my shepherd.”

He is our Shepherd, not because we chose Him or made all the right decisions about which path in life to follow; not because we deserved to be called his sheep. Rather, it was by His grace alone that He chose us and called us to follow Him. By our inherited sinful nature, we all came into this world as foolish creatures, who could not rightly know our Maker or call Him our Shepherd. Romans 3:11-12 gives this rather unflattering picture of the natural condition of sinners, despite all their self-professed wisdom and goodness: There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” Or as Isaiah 53:6 puts it: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.”

So the LORD, our good and gracious Shepherd, had to seek and save us from our lost and wayward path of sin and unbelief. He had to call us to Himself as sheep who would know His voice and follow Him by faith (John 10:27) – the faith He Himself gives us as a gift of the Holy Spirit. So He came to us, calling us by His Gospel. He found us as sheep, who had muddied their coats in their foolish pursuits; and He baptized us, washing away all of our sin and shame. By the power of His death on the cross for our sin, and His resurrection for our justification, He raised us up as His new creatures. He put His saving Name on us as our Good Shepherd. So by the grace of God in Christ, we confess with Psalm 100:3: Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”

As such, as those who have been saved by God’s grace, through faith in His crucified and risen Son, we can join David in saying with utmost confidence: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” It is easy for us to worry about our wants and needs in life, especially in times when our future and well-being seem up in the air. Will we have the strength and resources we need? Will we be able to get by? But as our Good Shepherd, Jesus leads us as our very Strength and Provider. He who so loved us that He laid down His life for our eternal life, now by that same love continues to provide for us day by day. He who made us the sheep of His pasture will faithfully tend to every need, not only of our body, but our soul – our spiritual and eternal needs.

So we read in verses 2-3: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” It pictures a shepherd leading his sheep to pastures of new tender grass, green and full of life, like in the spring. He leads his sheep beside restful waters.

How does the LORD, our Good Shepherd, tend to our spiritual needs; how does He restore our soul? By His Gospel, tender and full of life, He provides the food to nourish and strengthen our faith. By His Gospel, restful and refreshing, He gives our souls to drink of His salvation and eternal life. Jesus said in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” And again in John 4:14: Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

Day by day, as our souls become weary with the troubles of life, and burdened with the guilt of sin, we hear our Good Shepherd’s voice in His Gospel, tenderly inviting us: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He gives us that rest by His Gospel, as He calms our troubled heart by His Word of forgiveness and love; restoring our soul, strengthening our faith for the way.

Verse 3 continues: “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” The path of righteousness in which He leads us is not our own righteousness. It is not a path we must walk to become righteous before God, not a righteousness we must earn by good works. It is a path of following Christ by faith, looking to Him alone as our Righteousness – trusting His perfect walk and work as our Savior, by which we are counted righteous in the sight of God.

Each day we depend on this gift of grace, which the LORD our Good Shepherd gives us! For even now as His sheep, sometimes we begin to think we knew better than to follow His lead. We think we see greener pastures, tastier food. Our deceptive hearts would turn again to their own way, and follow the temptations of Satan and the world, and partake of forbidden fruit.

So we count on our Good Shepherd to lead us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake – not because of our faithfulness to Him, but because of His faithfulness to us. And by the same love that led Him to lay down His life for us, our Good Shepherd calls us to daily repentance. When we stray He rebukes us by His Law, showing us the danger lurking in false paths – the ravenous wolf Satan and his false shepherds; the jaws of death and hell. But then, like a gentle shepherd picking up his lamb, He carries us to safety by His Gospel. He holds us close to His heart, assuring us that because He was the Lamb who was once slain for us, all is forgiven. Day by day, the Good Shepherd washes the sin-stained coats of His sheep by His Baptism and Absolution. He clothes us in His own righteousness as the sheep of His hand.

Because of His proven love and faithfulness as our Good Shepherd, not only can we trust Him to provide for us in every need; but also to protect us, no matter what may come. We can say with David in verse 4: “Yea, 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.” In the dark shadows of night, the cries of wild animals may frighten sheep; those cries threaten the worst, they threaten death. Yet the shepherd’s voice reassures his sheep; He has not left them. By his rod and staff, he protects them and keeps them close to himself in safety; and he comforts them.

When we are in the dark hour of tribulation, when the cries of Satan and the world tempt and taunt us, even when we come to the darkest shadows of death, yet our Good Shepherd has not left us. Even then we hear His comforting voice. He who goes ahead of us, who has faced all the evils of this world, all the fiercest temptations and threats of Satan, and even the blackest hours of death on a cross – He has come through victorious for us. The LORD almighty, who is our Shepherd, laid down His life for us and took it up again in power (John 10:17-18)! Therefore He lives to protect us by His almighty power; He lives to carry us through death itself – yes through that valley; and beyond, into the greenest pastures of life and joys without end.

Even now the LORD, who is our Shepherd-King, lets us share in the victory He has won over our enemies. He bestows on us all the lavish blessings of His Kingdom. This is pictured in verse 5, as we say: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.” In ancient times, as in the days of David, a king would provide a rich banquet at which the members of his court could feast. His guests were anointed with oil as a symbol of the honor and joy of being in the royal court.

So as our Shepherd-King, Jesus has brought us into His royal court. Despite the fiercest opposition of the evil foe, Jesus lavishes on us all the blessings of His Kingdom. He has lifted us up and honored us, anointing us by the Holy Spirit and faith, naming us children of God and heirs of His Kingdom. He sets before us a rich banquet and our cup overflows, as He ministers to us through His Word and Sacrament, letting us partake of His blessings of salvation. And finally, when He brings us into His heavenly courts, we will feast in the everlasting joys of His heavenly presence.

We may not have had much experience with sheep; but we know some things about them. In fact, we know the life as we follow our Good Shepherd. Through faith in Jesus, we can say confidently: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” When we consider how He lovingly laid down His life to save us from our wandering ways; how He graciously called us by the Gospel as the sheep of His hand; how He continues faithfully to lead us, provide for and protect us; and how He lavishes on us all the blessings of His Kingdom; we can join with David, and all the sheep of His hand through the ages, and we can say in verse 6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.