What do you think is the most loved portion of Holy Scripture? It may well be that great Gospel verse "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16). Thousands of children over the centuries have learned it at their mother’s knee. I know I did and so did my children. What a wonderful statement it is. Many people down through the ages, since the Lord Jesus spoke these words, have received the peace and joy of eternal life through realizing their truth.
Perhaps one day I shall write an article on this grand old theme. But not today. Instead I want us to focus our attention on another great passage of scripture, almost as well loved, and dear to many since David, the shepherd king, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write its lovely words. The portion of the scripture to which I refer is, as you will probably have guessed from my title, the twenty-third Psalm:
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
A jewel is best appreciated in all its sparkling beauty when it is viewed against the setting chosen for it by a skilled artisan. This brilliant gem is no different in this respect although more precious than all the world’s lovely stones. What then is the setting chosen for this rare and beautiful rock of divine comfort? Well on the one side we have a prophetic picture of the Shepherd on the cross. See for example, Psalm 22:16-18. This is indeed an example of crucifixion written long before the awful death of crucifixion was invented by wicked minds. On the other side in Psalm 24, we are given a view of our Lord Jesus Christ Our Great Shepherd in His present glory and coming kingdom.
An old Irish preacher, James Irvine of Newcastle, Co. Down, used to explain it this way... "In Psalm 22, we see the Shepherd on the cross dying for His sheep. In Psalm 23, we have the Shepherd with His crook in his hand defending His sheep while in Psalm 24 we have the Shepherd with the crown on His head ruling His kingdom."
There is one who died for His people and now lives to reign eternally on the throne of the universe and I can call Him "My Shepherd". Is there anything more lovely, more comforting, more reassuring than this? If we bear this in mind as we study the depths and delights of the "beloved Psalm", its intrinsic value will be appreciated more and more.
Let us first look at the Person of the Shepherd.
Who is He, what is His character and what are His attributes? This world and the universe of which it forms a part had a beginning somewhere in the ancient past. This Shepherd of whom the Psalm speaks, entered this world of beginnings, yet He had no beginning. John’s gospel, chapter 1 tells us that in the beginning was the Word. That is, when everything that had a beginning, began, He already existed. He goes on to inform us that the Word was God and was with God and then, Oh glorious truth, we learn that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14).
Mary was given the inestimable privilege of becoming the virgin mother of the humanity of our Lord, but in His eternal being as deity, He had no mother, no birth, no beginning. He always was and is the second person of the Godhead. He is also "My Shepherd." He is and always has been absolute in holiness, unlimited in knowledge, power and glory. Yet if we are of His flock, we can say with full confidence, "The Lord is My Shepherd."
When our Lord walked upon the green hills of Israel in the days of His flesh, He said, "I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." (John 10:14). This is why it is so appropriate that the Shepherd Psalm is placed directly after a Psalm which prophesied the awful events of Mount Calvary.
You see, my dear friends, we cannot claim the wonderful blessings of the Shepherd Psalm unless, we have trusted Him in His life-giving death and are thereby counted among His sheep. The words of the Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in John’s Gospel, 10:26-30 are very important.
"But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one."
Have you believed in Him as your personal Saviour and Lord? He does not call on us to place our faith in anyone other than Himself. He does not tell us to hope in the apostles or any other persons, no matter how holy, blessed and exalted they may be. It is He who has loved us unto death. It is He who has borne our sins and carried our sorrows. It is only He who saves us from sin and to such as trust the good Shepherd, He gives eternal life, and they shall never perish.
Even if there were no other blessing to be found in Christ, this by itself would be wonderful news for sinners. Yet there are a multitude of blessings in store for all who come to Him for salvation from the penalty and the power of sin.
Many years ago, Thomas Kelly wrote a fine hymn which very nicely expresses the wonderful work that the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished in His role as "The Good Shepherd."