Perhaps one of the best known passages of Scripture is Psalm 23: The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
I can’t help but feel, though, that as (at least) western society moves further and further away from agrarian and in to industrial, the imagery of this becomes lost on us, and just how important Psalm 23 actually is. It speaks of the great love of God, and how He provides for His people, how He is the one who defends us from enemies, and prepares enough food and water for us to keep us satisfied. Few of us have probably cared for a single sheep, let alone a whole flock, but this is not merely about livestock: it’s an affectionate love letter from a sheep to his Shepherd. Let’s consider, a moment, what a good shepherd does for his sheep: he prepares pastures for his sheep, so that they can have good food to eat to keep them healthy; he provides water for them that is calm and still, as sheep tend to spook easily. He watches over his sheep, to protect them from their enemies, and cares for them as they’re sick. He watches over them, guides and disciplines them to make sure they’re making the best choices for themselves and the flock.
Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. He lays His life down for the sheep. He gives the sheep rest. He provides for them. This isn’t to say that the sheep will be out of danger’s path, hence He is laying His life down for them, but Jesus IS saying He will protect, defend, feed, provide for and guide them all the way home. Over the course of the next several days, we’ll take a look at Psalm 23, and it is my prayer for you that, as we do, you’ll approach God’s throne with awe and wonder as we consider the qualities of Christ as our good shepherd, and that our love for Him will grow more and more each day.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”