4th Sunday in Easter
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
In the small town of Washington D.C. is a museum called Museum of the Bible. In this museum is a Bible that was previously owned by Elvis Presley. In this Bible Mr. Presley had written notes and markings in the margins around certain verses. Can you guess the book of the Bible Elvis Presley marked the most? I’ll give you a hint. One of the three Grammy’s he won was for the song “How Great Thou Art”
That’s right. The book of Psalms is the most noted book in Elvis Presley’s Bible. It makes sense that a musician would gravitate towards the hymns and songs of the Psalm writers. And I bet, out of the 150 psalms in the Bible, I can name the psalm you probably know by heart – the 23rd psalm.
This psalm is known so well by Christians and non-Christians alike that it is second only to the Lord’s Prayer for being well-known. Today, I would like to walk you through the 6 verses of the 23rd psalm as we hear the greatest song writer of the Bible praise God.
God is great. God is all powerful and almighty. But do not take my word alone. Moses had this to say about God:
The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him; [Exodus 15:2]
Isaiah describes God in this way:
For You have been a strength to the poor,
A strength to the needy in his distress,
A refuge from the storm,
A shade from the heat; [Isaiah 25:4]
And the Lord’s faithful servant King David said this:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. [Psalm 23:1]
As a shepherd, God provides for all His people. He provides in times of wealth and plenty and in times of poverty and paucity. He does not leave His people or abandon His children. All those who look to the face of God will find solace, comfort and contentment.
In our own selfish desire, we may think we deserve better or we may think we need more, but in truth, we all receive more than we deserve.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters. [Psalm 23:1]
It is by His love we are given rest under His protection. We can recall God’s provision for His people during the travels after the Exodus:
For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” [Deuteronomy 2:7]
When Christ our Good Shepherd came into our world, it did not diminish his care for those placed in his charge. Here are his words to his disciples:
And [Jesus] he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” [Luke 22:35]
Through the still waters of our baptism, we are given the living water that never ends and slakes our thirst for all eternity. These baptismal waters bring us into the fold of our Father in heaven. The living water gives us the Holy Spirit to nurture and guide us all our days. Like the earthly water that refreshes and restores our bodies, this heavenly water restores our very souls.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. [Psalm 23:3]
What are these ‘paths of righteousness’? Some would have you believe they are dusty, narrow, winding paths overgrown with thorny bushes and blocked here and there by thick branches of trees growing together to thwart the light from the path. Others would describe them as those on the side of a high mountain, rocky and treacherous. One must know the way or risk coming to an impassable wall or a deadly fall from the cliff. Some may even claim to have reached righteousness by their own cunning and will and will gladly guide you for the right amount of money.
It is true that we lost our holiness and righteousness in the sight of God when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is true that we were cast out from the Garden to live our lives under the constant threat of sin and death. But the paths of righteousness were not covered up or destroyed.
God, the ever-faithful shepherd, gave us His laws and statutes for us to uphold so that they would lift us up. These commandments of God are as the heavy and solid steel rails of a train track. To move or change these tracks would destroy their function and condemn those who follow the false path to certain death.
This is our plight in this world. We have fallen from the mountain of God into the deep, dark valley of shadows. In this valley, surrounded by the darkness of our sin and every evil, is death. It hovers over us as the Devil himself, waiting for us to stumble so that he may snatch us up like a wolf snatches up a stray sheep wandering from the true path.
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. [Psalm 23:4]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need not fear this evil. We need not wander in darkness without hope because our Good Shepherd is with us. He calls us by name and leads us out. He knows us and we know his voice, we are his own. He goes before us and we follow. We flee from the voice of strangers for they are only thieves and robbers. [John 10:3b-5]
Jesus Christ walked this earth as a human being. He walked that lonesome valley as the shadow of death followed. He did not wander in the darkness or become lost in the evil. He followed the paths of righteousness perfectly. He did not stumble. He took our sin upon his shoulders and became the one and true pure sacrifice on the tree of death.
Yes, death did come to our Savior just as it comes to all humankind, but unlike you and me, death could not hold him. The seemingly all-powerful darkness could not contain the light of God. On the third day, that light shone forth from the tomb to cast out eternal death from all creation.
This is the True and Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for his sheep. [John 10:11] Through his death we are sanctified and made righteous before God once again. He now leads us on the true path to eternal life. We can see this path through the commands of his Father and Our Father in heaven. We see this path through his very body and blood of his great sacrifice.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over. [Psalm 23:5]
Here is the table he has prepared before us. Here is the bread of life and the cup of salvation overflowing with his holy blood. Enemies still surround us in this life. The great wolf, Satan, has not stopped his prowling and hunting. Do not be enticed to leave the safety of the fold or the security of the paths of righteousness. We cannot find our way home under our own power. We must follow the Good Shepherd.
It is only through Jesus Christ that we have a place in the heavenly kingdom. It is through His innocent suffering and death that our sins are washed clean with His blood. It is though His resurrection from the grave that we have victory over death. It is through His baptism that we are crucified with him and raised again with him to eternal life. St. Peter tells us:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
[1 Peter 2:24-25]
Our faith is continuously under attack from the evil one. While we are on this earth, we are not safe even within these walls, because as sinners, we bring with us the seeds of doubt and unbelief. These seeds are sown by the many workers of the Prince of Lies. Jesus himself gave this warning to his disciples and to us:
Jesus said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.
And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” [Mt 24:4-5; 10–12]
Have faith and believe. Listen to His voice and follow him. Jesus Christ is the truth, the light and the way. He is our Good Shepherd. Have faith and believe so that like Peter, when asked who is the Lord of our salvation, we may answer, “You are [Lord] the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[Matt. 16:16]
Have faith and believe. You are truly blessed, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but our Father in heaven. Our Good Shepherd knows us by our name and no one can snatch us from his hand. Because of him, you can be assured that:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. [Psalm 23:6]