A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

The Good Shepherd

Rev. Doug Floyd

Easter 4 2023
Rev. Doug Floyd
Psalm 23, John 10:1-10

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”[1]He fulfills the role of shepherd for His people. He fulfills this role by laying down His life for the sheep. As the good shepherd, the true leader, He sacrifices Himself to rescue His wandering people.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I want to pause a few minutes over the much beloved Psalm 23 in light of the Good Shepherd. Psalm 23 might read as a description of different seasons in our spiritual pilgrimage. Jesus is leading into His fullness of life. I want to be cautious not to suggest the Psalm is suggesting a specific sequence in the life of faith, and yet we will walk through these various phases or seasons during our lives. We may repeat certain phases as well.

Our Psalm begins in infancy.

                        1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. [2]

The baby is completely dependent upon the gentle care of the parent. The babe has no wants and trusts the parent who provide food, comfort, shelter, and care. In the story of Ancient Israel, we see God rescuing the people from Egypt. They are completely helpless and can only survive by trusting in His complete provision. From crossing the Red Sea to drinking water from the rock, Israel must rest in God’s direct provision for their sustenance.

Like Israel, we begin in a place of complete dependence. We cannot safe ourselves. We are helpless, sinful, blind, and enslaved. In His grace, He draws us to Himself and feeds our soul. His love covers a multitude of sins. He showers us with grace. He heals us. Feeds us. And guides us.

This makes me think of my experience in college. I had a profound encounter with the Lord on a mission trip, and I became aware of God’s Presence when reading Scripture. It truly was like green pastures. I was feasting on it all the time, carrying my Bible to classes and reading before class began. Every time I read; the Word came alive to me. The Lord was making me to lie down in green pastures.

We may have this same kind of experience when we learn something new. It may be easy to immerse ourselves because we are learning new things and it us a bit exciting. It would seem to me that there are seasons of feasting in our walk of faith when we consume the Scripture, meditations, teachings, and more.

Then the Psalmist speaks of growth:

He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. [3]

Think of the baby growing into a child. By the age of four or five, the child becomes more aware of rules. They may repeat the rules to parents to make sure they are following rules. They learn obedience, they learn discipline, they prepare to become adults who will carry on the name of their family. The giving of the Law at Mt Sinai is the gift of God to transform the children of Israel into a kingdom of priests who will bring blessing to the world. The parent trains their child in righteousness, and in the same way, the Father prepares us to bear His name. We must grow up into Him, into the life He has called us.

We see this pattern with Jesus and the disciples. He spends time instructing them on the life of obedience. The Sermon on the Mount is a picture of this instruction. We call this kind of training catechesis. It may involve question and answer. The disciple is learning to internalize a way of life.

Now the Psalmist may specifically be talking about the Good Shepherd leading His children in the way of God’s absolute faithfulness. At the same time, we begin to learn what it looks like to live within the faithfulness of God. In Paul’s letters, he takes time to offer practical instruction for the churches. The handing down of Torah to Israel gave them specific instruction that played a role in them become a nation of priests and kings. We also see this kind of training in the Proverbs.

I was a rule keeper as a child. If you told me to walk a certain way, I would try to walk that way. At one point, my dad was trying to get his grass to grow, and I kept running through the lawn. We lived on a quiet street, so my dad said, “Doug stay off the grass. Go play out in the road.” I obeyed his command to the letter. A few minutes later my dad heard a car horn honking, and he came outside to see what was going on. I was standing in the middle of the road, crying, but I refused to move because me dad told me to play in the road.

There comes a point where we must learn that obedience requires wisdom and nuance. We learning to live by the Spirit of the law and not under the law. Consider the book of Job. It would seem as if the clear instruction of Proverbs is turned on its head. While familiarity with the way of discipleship is vital, we come to discover it is more expansive than we thought. The child must grow from mere knowledge to wisdom. They must learn when and how to apply certain rules.

Adolescence can be painful. The shifting from child to man is wrought with emotional and physical development that turns the youth’s world upside down. For some this season may shift from extreme joy to extreme anger to extreme sadness. I would suggest it might be like passing through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

In our lives, we will all walk through difficult seasons. I think our desire and prayer is often that we might by-pass these times of challenge. And yet, we know that Christ our Good Shepherd has gone before. He walk directly into the difficulty. He walked directly into the way of the cross. He has gone on ahead of us and prepared the way for our steps.

Notice the shift in Psalm 23 from third person to second person:

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. [4]

In the valley of the shadow of death, the Psalmist discovers a greater intimacy with the Lord. As we follow Christ in the way of the cross, we discover that His love, His grace, His peace is enough. As much as we would like to avoid pain and struggle and suffering, it is in these times that we come to know the love of God personally. We come to discover firsthand that our Lord is absolutely faithful.

This brings to mind an old Happy Goodman song. He sings,

“Well, I started out travellin’ for the Lord many years ago
I’ve had a lot of heartache and I met a lot of grief and woe
But when I would stumble, then I would humble down
And there I’d say, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now”

He repeats the refrain “I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now” because he has discovered that “there’s nothin’ in this world that’ll ever take the place of God’s love.” This is something we discover firsthand and often in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death.

It is in these places of great struggle that God reveals His glory in our own unique life. He created me to be Doug Floyd and not someone else. He created you to you and not anyone else. He reveals His glory in and through the very person you are becoming.

This leads us to a second image of eating in the Psalm.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. [5]

A feast is prepared by the Good Shepherd in the midst of the enemies. The Lord is our host. He not only feeds us but feasts us. He anoints us . Our cup overflows. The anointing is an image of kingship. He is anointing us and raising us up in the very particular way we are called to bear His image. He is delighted in you are and the way you are called to bear His image in the world. He often reveals that glory in the midst of great trials when you feel weak. Always remember that even when you feel weak and overlooked and even forgotten that Christ the Good Shepherd has embraced you and called you and is glorifying you. There is no lack in the kingdom. Only abundance. My cup overflows with the goodness of God in the land of the living.

As I come to realize His faithful love is unshakeable then I can walk through the valley of the shadow of death, knowing that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” [6]

Lile Job, I can pray for my friends, knowing God has made me a priest in this world to share the abundance of that goodness and mercy to a world in need.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 10:11.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 23:1–2.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 23:3.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 23:4.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 23:5.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 23:6.


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