Weekly Word – 12.20.20

“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.
Even 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 overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.”
Psalm 23

Reflect on these thoughts from one of our Elders, Jerry Fonte:

As we come to the fourth Sunday in Advent, and before Christmas, we consider the greatest Promise of Jesus, or about Him, that He would Shepherd His People. This was the implication of the Announcement of Gabriel to Mary when she was asked to submit to the Lord’s will for a miraculous conception of the Holy Child in her womb. He quoted the Davidic Promise from II Samuel 7 that the Messiah would be given the throne of His father David, the Shepherd-King of Israel (Luke 1:32). This was also powerfully illustrated in the Appearance and Announcement of Gabriel to the Shepherds in the field of Bethlehem the night of Jesus’ birth in the place of the “Tower of the Flock” (Luke 2:8-20).

Indeed, the LORD, in reproving the false shepherds of Israel, be they Kings, Priests, and even Prophets, pointed to God’s ideal Shepherd who would come and guide, feed and heal the people (Study Jeremiah 23, and Ezekiel 34), a point not lost on the vision of Jesus feeding 5,000 Jews and then 4,000 Gentiles on the mountains, steeps and plains of Israel. One of my favorite portrayals of Jesus is the scene taken from Isaiah 40:11: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”

Our Preacher, then, will speak on this Sunday out of Psalm 23, as we gather the detail and hope of the Promise Kept of the Good Shepherd for the way ahead. I always begin Psalm 23 mindful of the words of Jesus in John 10, especially 11-18 which continue His thought of “I am the Good Shepherd”. John 10 and Psalm 23 should be meditated upon together. In the 23rd Psalm, written by David, a shepherd ordained to be the Shepherd of Israel, we find the following wonderful ideas to enflame our faith and our hope. It is a “pastoral psalm”, that is, the scene of a serene, natural setting as David knew during his days of keeping Jesse’s flock in the fields of Bethlehem.

A very personal confession is spoken, from David and from you, “The LORD is my shepherd”. You may say this because the LORD is your shepherd. Several great things apply: All provision shall be made. All great peace and relief from boiling turmoil shall ensue. Your soul will be perpetually restored and renewed. You will be guided into all things righteous and just. “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  (23:1-2) This is needed every day in our constant turmoil against the World and, its allurements, and its persecutions, the Flesh and all evil desires, and the Devil and his temptations and attacks. We especially are aware of the acute need of Jesus’ close, care filled and personal Presence in the lessons of 2020. The Good Shepherd is watching over us.

David knew great danger and turmoil both as a shepherd boy, as a warrior and as a King. From wild beasts, from giants and enemies, from “dangers, toils and snares” his life was “on the line” constantly. As ancestor of Messiah Jesus, he had a “target on his back” for the attacks of Satan and his hordes. The same applies to you in the World in which you live as the “seed” of Jesus. Notice, however, the hope of his soul: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (23:4) The Presence of the LORD as Shepherd takes us through all dark things, including the danger of death, and He is with us in the middle of it and through it to the other end. It is our hope that should persecution come because of the word of our testimony, or in the hour of natural death, the acute Presence of Jesus will be all the Sustenance needed (Romans 8:35-37 quoting Psalm 44:22). This constitutes both “living grace” as well as “dying grace”, known by many of the great saints of God, as portrayed in the famous Hymn “Amazing Grace”.

The Presence of the Shepherd and His Sheep with Him gets even greater: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows”. (23:5) Not only like a lamb in His fold (John 10:1-10), but also like a guest, yea a child at His table, all Sustenance and Hospitality, Protection and Provision are mine! (See II Samuel 9:1-7) We are told that in the Middle East, from ancient times Bedouin shepherds are the most hospitable of all people to guests. David knew this and Jesus taught it for us to know Him and to be like Him in our hospitality to other “guests” who come our way.

Finally, this Promise of the Good Shepherd is for all time and eternity, and forms the basis of “Eternal Security”, and even all “emotional stability”: “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”  (23:6) It has been said that the “saints persevere” because the LORD “preserves” them forever, and so we have the doctrinal formulary “The Preservation and Perseverance of the Saints”. Here is the affirmation, yea the bedrock faith, that the saints persevere in. I can live with the resolve, “He’s got me”, every moment of every day, forever and ever. He is with me, and I am with Him. He is in me and I am in Him, the Shepherd with His Sheep, a Promise Kept.