Sermon April 5, 2020

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1439              Click Here for Audio Worship

April 5, 2020 Psalm 23

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“God With Us”


1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Even 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.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


  • Our Shepherd


It is not surprising to us that Psalm 23 is one of the most, if not the most, beloved Psalm of the collection. Believers and non-believers alike have used it in time of need: in grief, in sorrow, in hope, for a variety of situations. The metaphor of Shepherd is somewhat strange for us in our modern times and yet the metaphor continues to speak to our hearts. We know something of shepherds, not because we see them in our society, but precisely because of studying this Psalm. The shepherd leads the flock, protects the flock, even risks his life for each individual sheep if necessary. This speaks to some of our understanding of the character of God who leads us, protects us, and of Jesus Christ who gave His life for us. Jesus spoke of the sheep hearing His voice and knowing Him. I have shared this with you before but I remember a video on YouTube of a shepherd who was showing some visitors his sheep and he invited them to call the sheep over to the fence. After several tried and failed to get their attention, the shepherd gave a call and the sheep came running. They knew his voice and only listened to his voice. This is our goal with Jesus, to listen and obey only His voice.

The shepherd makes sure the sheep want for nothing. They lack nothing. All they have to do is be sheep. The shepherd provides. This is one of the main points of this Psalm. God provides for us, His flock and we lack nothing. All we have to do is seek God and seek His kingdom. Remember Jesus’ words to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The result of such seeking is God providing for everything we need. He is our shepherd. The Hebrew word for shepherd is related to another word – friend. Friends look out for one another. A good friend will provide for the needs of friends. Jesus himself spoke of being our friend in John 15.15. And He also spoke of no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15.13). The shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

Psalm 23.2-3 show all the wonderful things God does for us as shepherd and friend. He makes me lie down; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul, and He leads me in paths of righteousness. Now, notice who does all this. God makes, God leads, God restores and God leads a second time. This is why we lack nothing. God does it all. This is why we can just go about being sheep, metaphorically, but go about being human beings as God created us to be and that means human beings who seek after God and live in right relationship with God. And the reason we can even do that is because God has made it possible by sending Jesus to die for us that we might live. Jesus gave His life for His sheep, He forgave and forgives our sin and set us in right relationship with God. With all that God has done as our Shepherd and as our friend, now we can face any situation!


  • Our Situation


In the Psalm the situation is a valley. It is a particular valley described as a valley of death. It is a place of shadows, death lurks, and there is uncertainty. I would suggest that we are in such a valley right now all over the world. And what do we see? For those of faith, there is hope. There is concern, yes, and taking proper precautions, but there is something more, much more than those who do not have God as their Shepherd. There is hope for us. There is peace. There is no need for anxiety. There is no need for panic. Maybe for a moment we may experience those things, that is until we hear the Shepherd’s voice, then peace. Until we hear the voice of our trusted friend, Jesus. Then we find rest. Then our souls are restored. We know the fragility of life and yet we know who holds the future, who holds us in life or death, who leads us beside quiet waters. Jesus calms the storms of life. And the Psalm knows as well, that God is a friend.

Even though we walk through this virus valley, there is no fear. Why? The Psalmist tells us why. He is present. God is with us.


  • His Presence


We have no reason to fear because we know that God is with us. God with us is one of the names for Jesus, Immanuel. We think about that name at Christmas, but I’ll tell you this, right now is a great time to call on the name Immanuel! We don’t need to reserve that name for December. Let’s call on His name in April.

God is with us with His rod and a staff. These are the tools of His trade, rod and staff. God’s rod and staff are symbols of protection and leading. They are symbols of His love and care. The rod is used by a shepherd sometimes to protect by striking a predator, but the rod is also known as a tool to discipline. But think about that for a moment for to be comforted by a rod means that we might be protected or we might be disciplined. Both are measures of love. Parents protect and discipline their children because they love their children. Those who do not do either and not very good parents. The staff is a symbol of authority and it has a curved hook end that was used to bring the sheep back into the fold.

The rod and the staff are expressions of love and care and because God is with us and because God is loving us, He will sometimes discipline and sometimes need to pull us back into the fold. He leads and He restores.



  • His Preparation


The Lord makes preparations. He prepares a table, a feast, a reunion, one like we plan to have when we can all come together again in this place. Some believe Psalm 23 is an answer to Psalm 78.19 which says that Israel, in their rebellion against God, spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” They questioned whether God could feed them in the wilderness. Psalm 23 declares, “Yes, he can!” You prepare a table. Check out Isaiah 25.6-8; God is good at making feasts, preparing tables, feeding His people.

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.


God knows how to provide. That same provision is found in the anointing oil, oil of healing and symbolic of the coming Messiah. That same provision is found in the cup, Psalm 16.5 says, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” Or Psalm 116.13, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” We call on the name of the One who took a cup, “and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it” (Mark 14.23).

My cup, our cups have more than enough.



  • His Provision


The final provision of the Psalm is goodness and mercy. Goodness and mercy shall follow, that is, shall come upon us, shall follow in the sense of effecting everything and everyone around us. Here is why we need not be anxious or panic while in this valley, because goodness and mercy will come. It will follow. And we will be safe again in the house of God.

John 10 tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He fits every aspect of Psalm 23. He provides for our needs. He leads us in right paths. He disciplines with His word. He comforts with His Spirit. He is the living water. He is our cup that overflows.

Let’s take this Psalm out of the funeral context where it so often dwells. Let us now take it into our valleys – stuck at home, unsure about the future, praying for people to be spared illness, yearning to gather in groups again. Let us take it into our hearts in a new way, to combat all the negative effects of viruses and death and shutdowns and orders and read it again with a vision toward abundance and rest and comfort and provision. Let it build our faith and discipline our iniquities and hook us around the waist to bring us back to the One who is our living water. And He will lead, and restore, and comfort, and provide, and be with us through it all and forever more. This is the trust we can have and lean on in the valley. God is with you. God is with us. The great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ, gave His life so that we might see Psalm 23 today in a new light and all the benefits within. Amen.


Benediction -Hebrews 13.20-21 20Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.


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