Shepherd and Overseer

Text: Psalm 23

Outline: Alton F. Wedel[1]
Date: Easter IV + 5/11/14

“One of Holy Scripture’s most appealing portraits of the Savior is the theme that underscores His tender mercies: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’” Interestingly this Psalm tends to be heard mostly at Christian funerals. Yet “the valley of the shadow of death” is where threats to our life and faith assail us in this life before the grave. It is believed that David of old composed this psalm during the time of the rebellion under his third son, Absalom who intended to take the inheritance of kingship by force.

“When we follow Christ, the Shepherd, we walk in paths of righteousness, in green pastures, and beside quiet waters. There is a full supply for every need, an overflowing cup, goodness, mercy, and finally the everlasting habitation in the house of God forever.”

This psalm “is probably the most loved portion of the Bible. It has dried the tears and calmed the fears of countless numbers through the centuries since David, shepherd king of Israel, composed it. It has inspired confidence in fear-filled hearts. It has brought peace to troubled people. But it comes to us with even greater meaning now, for it was Jesus, precious Savior, who applied the title to Himself: ‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.’”

What is most telling are the psalms that immediately surround this one. For the twenty-second psalm we hear on Good Friday every year as the altar, representing Christ, is stripped of its coverings even as Jesus was hung suffering in shame on the cross, praying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? …All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ …my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Ps 22:1, 7-8, 15-18). These words ring in Christian ears recalling their most perfect fulfillment in our Lord’s suffering and death for the sins of the world, the Lamb of God who takes them away.

But then the words of Psalm twenty-four follow, triumphant words announcing victory, the victory of the risen Christ. “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” (Ps 24:7-8).

And here, in between Psalm 22 and Psalm 24, in between Good Friday and Easter, as it were, the twenty-third psalm, the psalm of comfort and hope in the midst of battle. It is a certain hope founded on the fact that God, through His Son, has taken away the power of sin and death, and proclaimed with great promise that the victory is already won by the King of glory, the Lord, strong and mighty, risen and living.

So David prays under threats to his life, and we pray in all our troubles with these divinely inspired words of trust and hope, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” “Our Shepherd leads us in the paths of righteousness, but sometimes we insist on going our way.” Our ways are not God’s ways and we endanger ourselves all the way of falling back into the entanglement of our sins and the threat of death.

We therefore continue to pray, “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” (Ps 23:1-3). “Our Shepherd leads us in the rich, green pastures where we may enjoy life as He meant we should enjoy it, but sometimes we get ideas of our own.” We have our own ideas of what is rich and what makes for a comfortable, successful life. Yet we find ourselves enslaved to our possessions and irritated by the restlessness of our souls no matter the number or sort of accouterments of only physical comforts.

“That’s why He came in His compassion, for ‘the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’ He loved us with a perfect love. He came to find the lost, to give His life a ransom, to go down through hell itself for us. In the compassion of forgiveness He enfolds us in His everlasting arms again.

“And this great psalm of faith and confidence is more than just a pretty piece of poetry
to reach for when we walk the valley of the shadow or to sigh as a pious wish on Sundays. It is our theme in life, and with this theme we walk with confidence and boldness, secure in every desperate hour.”

King David prayed these words because he needed to hear them, he needed to remember God’s promised protection, guidance and deliverance. Thank God he wrote these words down so that we too can be reminded of the Lord’s promises to us. Those promises became ours in our Holy Baptism where we were buried with Christ by baptism into death and born again to a living, eternal hope. Christ “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).

The promised care of the Good Shepherd is for your life today, strong enough to carry us through even our last day, which will be but the first day of our deliverance and entry into the eternal presence of the Lord’s house. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Comfort one another with these words.

[1] Alton F. Wedel, “Chin Up?” CPH 1969, 45-46.