Psalm 23

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The below sermon on is on Psalm 23. These free inductive notes are intended as supplement to your own study, not a replacement. Feel free to copy, print, or share them. These notes can be helpful for individual study of the Word or for small group Bible studies. We hope your understanding of God’s Word is deeper from them.

Sermon on Psalm 23 – The Lord is My Shepherd

Psalms 23 – The Lord is Our Shepherd

Intro – A few weeks ago my son woke up from sleep around 11PM. He came to me almost in tears and said he had a nightmare. He was afraid and worried to go back into bed on his own. After talking with him, I asked him to read Psalm 23. After he read it, he said, “Dad, this is really helpful. Even when I walk in a dark valley God will be with me and protect me.” With the encouragement from this chapter, he went back to bed and slept calmly and peacefully through the whole night.

Psalm 23 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. There is a reason that believers around the world turn to this passage for encouragement and comfort during difficult times.

Today we continue our study of Psalms in chapter 23. Most of you are already familiar with this passage, but God has also brought you here today for a reason. I believe He has something important for you today, maybe even only a reminder of something you already know.

Let us come before the Lord and pray that He will lead us to a better understanding of this passage and a better understanding of Him.

Pray

Read

The Lord is my shepherd

This is a Psalm of David and David was a shepherd. He understood the special relationship and care a shepherd has with the sheep. So he calls the Lord his shepherd as a beautiful illustration of his own relationship with God. He does not just say that the Lord is a shepherd. But he said, “my” shepherd.

John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Sheep learn their master’s voice. And they learn to follow their own shepherd and not others. Sometimes two shepherds of two different flocks will cross paths for a while. The sheep intermingle behind them as they chat and walk along the road together. When the shepherds go their own way, their own flocks hear their voice and follow. An observer would see the sheep separating as they follow their own shepherd.

In the rest of the passage we will see all the things that God does for His sheep. But all of those things are conditional upon a basic premise. The Lord must be your shepherd as He was David’s.

Can you say like David did, “The Lord is my shepherd?” While sheep do learn to recognize their master’s voice, they don’t start off that way. Newborn sheep instinctively follow the flock around them. They go where the other sheep go. Only later on do they learn to follow the shepherd instead.

In the world today, people are like sheep. They naturally follow after what everyone around them is following after.

Illustration: Gymboree and early childhood development.

What do people in your country or culture follow after? In the US, it is degrees. The world has said that a person must pursue higher and higher degrees because then they can make more money. So people take out very large student loans to pursue these degrees because that is what everyone else is doing. This is a sheep mentality. You should not take out a loan and study more and more for advanced degrees just because that is what everyone else is doing.

Perhaps it is the idea that a couple must purchase a house prior to marriage. Your friends did this. Your parents tell you to do this. Your classmates say it is necessary. Who are you following? Who is your shepherd?

Perhaps your marriage has hit a rough spot. Culture all around is pressuring you to just look after your own interests and get a divorce.

Exodus 23:2 – You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.

Who is your shepherd? If you have never made the Lord your shepherd and committed yourself to following after Him instead of the world, then that is the application you need to make from the message today.

And for many, you have committed yourselves to the Lord before. But is there some area of your life that you struggling between following after the shepherd or the flock of the world around you? Think for a moment yourself. If there is something that comes to mind, then brother or sister, that is what you need to confess to the Lord and take the first step toward putting that area of your life under His wise shepherding hand. God wants to have that personal relationship too. All of the things we will look at in this chapter, He will do for you, but you must be willing to call Him, “My shepherd.” If you are willing to follow whole heartedly after Him then turn to your neighbor and say, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

The shepherd takes care of the sheep

I shall not want -In this verse “want” is a synonym for “lack.” God’s people do not lack any good thing. Whatever is good, whatever is beneficial, He will provide it for us.

Psalm 34:10 – The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger, but those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.

Our God in heaven is the Creator of the entire universe. Everything belongs to Him. The world came into existence by the force of His spoken word. Nothing is too difficult for Him to give to you. If He has not given it to you, it is because you do not need it.

I sometimes have the opportunity to share with new believers about prayer. And I ask them a question, “If you pray for a new car, will God give it to you?” Many of them immediately answer, “No.” Perhaps they think that such a prayer is selfish or unrealistic. Perhaps they think that God cannot move in tangible ways like giving a car, but instead only acts to give us peace or comfort.

What do you think, if you pray for a new car will God give you one?

The answer is: If it is good for you, if you need it, God will give it to you.

Illustration: Brother Andrew and his new car.

Application: Probably all of us have been around wanters, people who always want more and more things no matter how much they have. Most cultures in the world are like this today. Materialism breeds greed and discontent. Companies constantly market the need to upgrade perfectly usable products or electronics to the latest and greatest “must have.” Once someone asked Rockefeller, the richest person in the world at that time, “How much money is enough?” He said, “A little more.” And he lived that way.

Some people go through their life being discontent. They wish away their present while dreaming of the greener grass on the other side of wherever they are now.

  • If only I could get a promotion, then I would be happy.
  • Once I get my degree and get a job and reach independence then I will enjoy my life.
  • If I could just travel more, I could be happier in my job.
  • If I could just upgrade to the Iphone X then I would never need another phone again… until the Iphone 11 comes out.
  • If I could just get married and have a family, then my life will be perfect. For the singles out there, let me tell you something. I have four kids and a lovely wife. I love my kids to death and would not trade them for anything. I heard a few of our students tell me that their hobby is sleeping. After you have children, you can forget about this hobby. In the last week, about four different times my wife and I finally laid down very tired and started drifting off to sleep… like a perfectly set timer one or another of our kids woke up crying. Being single is wonderful and has its own challenges. Being married with kids is wonderful and has its own challenges.

Brothers and sisters, let me tell you, the grass is always greener on the other side. If you are not content with what God has given you now, you will not be content in the future either.

There are two options when you set your hope on a thing rather than on God:

  • Either you will not get what you hope for so you will be discontent
  • Or you do get what you hope for and it doesn’t satisfy you either so you are discontent

Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.

Next time you struggle with discontent, and we all do sometimes, remember that you don’t lack. God has already given you everything you need. Change your complaining into thanksgiving and count your blessings.

The Shepherd Refreshes the Sheep

Green pastures and quiet waters – A shepherd takes care of the well being of the sheep. That means providing nourishment, rest, and refreshment. All of these are pictured here. I assume that a sheep loves eating fresh, green grass rather than wilted, dry grass. At the same time a sheep must enjoy drinking from a calm stream rather than a dangerous, raging river.

These green pastures don’t just happen. Dry. Barren area.

The spiritual nourishment the Lord gives is good and satisfying. Jesus said that He is the “bread of life” and the “living water.” When God created people, He created us with a need for Him. When Adam and Eve sinned people became separated from God. Their relationship with God was broken. This created a void in people’s hearts. People feel empty….lost…lonely…depressed. They attempt to fill this void with all kinds of things. Pleasures. Thrills. Money. Achievements. Relationships. New age spirituality. False religion. While these things may cover over the feelings of emptiness for a while, they don’t take it away.

The only thing that can fill this void is a relationship with God. And when we have that He satisfies us spiritually.

When I was studying this passage I noticed something I had not paid attention to before. David says “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Why does he use the word “make?” Does the shepherd force the sheep to lay down in green pastures?

Sometimes sheep are uncooperative. Sometimes they may want to roam around. They may not be interested in going to the pasture or in staying there. So the shepherd makes them.

I am reminded of the story of Martha and Mary. Mary was at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching and enjoying being with Him. Martha was busy working and preparing the meal. She asked Jesus to make Mary help. Jesus told her that Mary was the one doing the more important thing. Sometimes we are like Martha.

Turn to your neighbor and ask “How have you been lately?” Now answer, “Busy.” Almost everyone is busy. There are so many things vying for our attention. Our lives are “go, go, go.” There seems to be so many things to do and so little time to do it. Our work is busy. Our study is busy. Our family life is busy. We need to shop. We need to pay the bills. We need to see the doctor. We need to prepare for the exams. We need to deal with visas, with house payment, with car paperwork. We have ministry responsibilities. The list goes on and on. Even when we take time to pray or read the Bible our phones are often right beside us. Do you ever feel like Martha? I often feel like that.

But you see, God does not want us to feel like that all the time. He wants us to be more like Mary. He wants us to enjoy the green pastures and quiet waters. He wants us to lay down there with no distractions. We are sometimes unruly sheep. And we don’t always take time off voluntarily. So every now and then he prods us or even makes us. I watched a video of a shepherd forcing a sheep to lie down and it looked really awkward and uncomfortable. While God may do this at times with us, it is still a lot more comfortable for us if we choose to take a rest. God made the world in 6 days for a reason. He showed people that He wants them to rest.

Application: Today I want you to think about your own lives for a moment. If you feel overwhelmed by business or distractions, you need to find a time to come before the Lord in a quiet place free of distractions. You need to set aside your worries. You need to turn off your phone so you won’t be tempted by the vibrations or red notifications. If you are a mother of little kids, you need to get dad to help or find a babysitter. And you need to have a rest. This rest is not primarily sleeping, although that is good too. It is a time to quiet your heart and come before the Lord to receive feeding from Him. To tell Him what’s on your mind. To meditate on His character and His blessings. It is a time to “Be still” before your Maker. It is like a personal retreat. Prayer, songs of praise, meditation, time in the Word are all good content for this personal retreat.

One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook [and Wechat] will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.
― John Piper

Chinese New Year is right around the corner. Maybe you have plans to travel, or meet up with people, or sleep a lot. That’s ok. But make sure to make a time to come to the green pastures and still waters. If you do, then He will refresh you. The first part of verse 3 says that He will restore your soul. I believe that there are many here today who are weary. Tired. Sick. Busy. Make a commitment today to come before the Lord and He WILL restore your soul.

The shepherd leads the sheep

He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

The land of Israel where David shepherded is for the most part a bleak and barren place. It is a rocky, desert terrain. In some places it is dangerous. Green pastures are few and far between. A sheep doesn’t know where to go. There could be many paths, but only one path to the destination the shepherd has in mind. This is why the sheep need someone to guide them. They don’t know the way.

We are like this too. The world proclaims many different paths. Each so-called expert says that their way is the truth and should be followed.

Illustration: In the US there are some huge bookstores. The tens of thousands of books are arranged by category. A person in search of marriage advice can find scores or even hundreds of books about having a good marriage. Each claims to be by an expert. Each claims to be THE way. But there are many contradictions. The same as true if you are looking for help in raising children or for depression or for self-help.

The reality is that while there appear to be many different ways, there are only two. Jesus referred to these as the narrow path that leads to life or the broad way of destruction. Our good shepherd guides us in the path of righteousness through His word which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. And notice that the verse says He does this for “His name’s sake.”

Here is a interesting piece of theology. God does these things for our good. It is good for us to go the pastures. It is good for us to follow Him down these paths. At the same time, when we do this, it brings glory to God. It is a good testimony for Him. It attract peoples to our Lord. Our ultimate purpose in life is to bring glory to God. At the same time, when we bring glory to God we are at our very happiest. Repeat both.

PPT slide: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
― John Piper

The shepherd stays with His sheep (There is no promise that our life will be easy or smooth)

Read verse 4:

A shepherd may have to lead his flock through dark, gloomy, even dangerous places. In a similar way God’s people also have to go through dark valleys in their life. Think about David’s life for a moment. David was anointed to be king of Israel at a young age. But even though he had God’s favor, his life was far from easy. Saul attempted to kill David 14 times. Fourteen times. David was on the run from Saul for years. He lived in the desolate wilderness. He struggled to have enough food. He had to hide in caves. He pretended to be an insane person in order to save his life. He fled to live with Israel’s enemies.

God loved David. He called him a “man after his own heart.” He gave an eternal covenant to David and his descendants.

But this did not mean that David’s life would be easy. God does not promise us an easy life. He does not promise us a healthy life. He does not promise us a physically prosperous life. It is almost certain that you will go through some dark valleys. Maybe you even are in one today. It might be physical pain. It might be the loss of family. Some of you may be facing discouragement or depression.

God does not promise that He will deliver you out of the difficulty. But, He does promise that He will be with you every step of the way. Amen?

Verse: I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 3:15)

When you face these things, do not fear them. Do not turn to the world around you for comfort. Your good shepherd is right there beside you. He is guiding you through it if you will follow Him. He still loves you. He still cares for you. He will not let one of His promises to you fail. (Joshua 21:45) Today instead of complaining or getting discouraged about the difficulties you face, I hope that you will look at these from another perspective. Instead of focusing on the valley of the shadow of death, focus on Christ. Thank Him that He is there with you no matter what.

Before we go on, we should also note that the shepherd has a rod and a staff. These are duel-purpose. He uses them to protect the sheep and ward off enemies. But he can also use them to give the sheep a good knock on the head of they aren’t listening to him. Turn to your neighbor and ask, “Do you need a knock on the head?” If anyone said “yes,” go ahead and give them one or ask one of the ushers to help.

The shepherd blesses His sheep

One time I was sharing the good news with an aquaintance. He asked me a question, “If I believe in Jesus, what can I get? Will God help me immigrate?”

If you follow the good shepherd, what do you get? You get victory. David had many enemies including King Saul who repeatedly tried to kill him. But God gave him victory. The imagery used is very striking. David is sitting at a feast which God has prepared for him and all the while his enemies are jealously watching. Here God is the one who prepares the feast for David to enjoy. It is primarily God’s victory, not David’s. But David can share in the spoils.

Although David walked through many dark valleys, he was able to say the words, “my cup overflows.” And he was able to recognize that these overflowing blessings were from the Lord and not himself.

While preparing this message, I was praying for you. My prayer is that each person in GICF will be able to loudly proclaim to anyone who will listen, “My cup overflows!” Not only would our outlooks change, but with hundreds and hundreds of overflowing cups, look out Guangzhou.

Conclusion: Jesus is the good shepherd. Follow Him.

We have seen in today’s passage the shepherd leads the sheep, takes care of the sheep, refreshes the sheep, stays with the sheep, and blesses the sheep.

David experienced all of these characteristics about the Lord. However, now we know even more about our shepherd that David did.

Jesus said in John 10:11 – I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Our creator loved us, His creation, so much that He sacrificed himself for us. This goes far beyond what any normal shepherd would do. This kind of love and sacrifice should inspire us. We have a leader worthy of following. He will never lead us astray.

If you are not yet a follower of Jesus, there is no better time to start than today. The things that you have been pursuing cannot bring you true happiness and contentment. They cannot take away your guilt. He can. If you would like to talk about this or if you have any questions, please come up and see me after the service.

If you have believed in Jesus, then today make the commitment again to follow after Him fully. Don’t turn away from Him when you are walking through a dark valley. Don’t try to find a greener pasture on your own. Don’t try to get victory through own strength. Instead simply follow Him one simple step at a time.

Final Close: If you believe in Jesus today and are willing to follow Him as your shepherd, please stand up. Let’s read the closing verse together. Read

Let’s read it one more time, with a little more conviction! Let’s close in prayer.

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