Psalm 23: If You Have the Shepherd, You Have Everything
Without question, the 23rd Psalm is the best known chapter in the book. Its simple lines have captured the imagination of the faithful and the faithless alike. They are often recited at funerals (both real and on film), reshaped into hymns, set to classical music, and sampled in pop music from Pink Floyd to Coolio. What can account for their enduring legacy among such diverse audiences? Two things:
First, this psalm gives testimony to the vulnerability and fear common among all humans (i.e. “the valley of the shadow of death”). And second, it supplies a sufficient answer to that vulnerability and fear by directing our hearts toward our great shepherd, Jesus Christ.
After all, humans are in fact a lot like sheep: weak, needy, vulnerable to predators, and prone to wander. And when we come face to face with the reality of this weakness, there is an overwhelming temptation to give way to fear—fear of failure, fear of exploitation, fear of rejection, whatever the “valley” can throw at us. Gripped with fear, we redouble our efforts to control our worlds and protect ourselves, clamoring to prevent those fears from becoming realities. The irony in all this is as clear as it is unsettling: our sense of weakness moves us to trust in ourselves, despite the fact that we really are powerless to do anything about it (cf. Matt. 6:27).
But if humans are that much like sheep, then the obvious conclusion is that we need a shepherd. And that’s precisely what Psalm 23 says about God: he is our shepherd-king, who deserves our trust, and who supplies all we need in life to navigate the fears and dangers of this fallen world. And the ultimate way he exercises his care is through his eternal Son, Jesus Christ—the Good Shepherd, who lays his life down for the sheep to rescue us from our sin and weakness, and who is with us by the Spirit to provide for, protect, and carry us safely and triumphantly home.
If you’re in or near Boston’s MetroWest, join us Sunday, July 24, 9:30 a.m. at Westgate Church, where we’ll take a closer look at this beloved psalm.
Update: You can find the sermon manuscript here: Psalm 23 Westgate 7.24.11