God's Two Sheepdogs
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
"Goodness and Mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (Psalm 23)"
The Following is a condensed summary of the message God we delivered at Darlene’s Memorial Service…
We are all battling to survive life. And of course it is a hopeless task—none of us will win this fight. The death rate is the same the world over: one death for every person. In Psalm 23, however, David shares the secret of surviving life, of outliving our own death: we must have the right Shepherd. Our sister, Darlene, knew this Shepherd, do you? Let’s consider together the difference this Shepherd makes
When I’m hungry, He feeds me
The Hebrew is emphatic and literally reads, “The Lord, My shepherd He is, I shall lack nothing.” The Shepherds most basic responsibility is to feed the Sheep. This is not a job God is willing to delegate. He takes your care personally. Instinctively, the sheep know this, and as any Shepherd will tell you, sheep won’t lie down unless they feel completely safe (Psalm 23:2). As Jesus unpacks this metaphor of hunger (and thirst), of course, he reaches beneath our bellies to a deeper need, a more fundamental thirst. As Augustine said so well, “You have made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Have you found this rest? Has Christ satisfied the thirst of your soul? For what do you still thirst, this morning?
When I’m Lost He Finds Me
When you think about it, the Sheep metaphor isn’t very flattering. A friend of mine who cared for sheep (as a hobby) once told me, “Sheep are the only animals stupid enough to walk through a gate from a green field into a grassless wilderness, just because they can!”
Lee Marvin sang, “I was born under a wandering star!” This is our theme song as sinners: we are all born with wandering hearts. Which is one of the wonderful things about our Shepherd. He is an expert at finding lost sheep and bringing them home. Which is a tremendous blessing, because we have the nasty habit of finding ourselves locked in the worst kind of cages— the ones we lock from the inside. But He has a key to unlock the human heart.
“He restores my soul.” Literally, He causes my soul to repent. He turns me round, straightens me out (“Guides me in the paths of his righteousness”) and all for His Name’s sake. Having welded His Name to ours, His reputation hangs on our welfare. If Abraham slipped through the fingers of His care, God would no longer be the God of Abrham. If He loses us, He loses part of Himself.
When I’m scared, He’s with me.
A valley sounds almost friendly, but the Hebrew word is much more ominous: “When I walk through the gorge of death’s dark shadow.” As the Psalmist contemplates this place, notice how His words change. He stops speaking about the Shepherd (He restores my soul, etc.), and He starts speaking to the Shepherd, “I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me!” “The darker the shadow, the nearer the Shepherd (Derek Kidner).” Where there is no light, there is only darkness! Which reminds us, there is only a shadow in the gorge because there is light beyond it. In this valley, the Christian walks in the suburbs of heaven.
Notice also how the metaphor changes from a Sheep with HIs Shepherd to a host with an harassed pilgrim, hounded by enemies, hungry and thirsty. The Lord welcomes into a safe place with a prepared table, an overflowing cup, and refreshing oil. In the Ancient Near East such hospitality held tremendous significance: Once a guest, the host, his family, and his village were responsible to defend your life to the last man. This is powerfully illustrated in the true story, “The Lone Survivor,” in which former Navy Seal, Marcus Lutrell recounts his escape from the clutches of the Taliban. A Pashtun family found him grievously wounded by a river and took him into their home. When the Taliban came for him, the whole village surrounded the home as a shield. The message was clear: You can have him, but you’ll have to kill us all first! There are echoes of the heart of God here. For having extended hospitality of His people, God Himself will defends us to the death. He loves us at the cost of His own Son (Isaiah 53).
When I come to Die, He Brings me All the Way Home
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Follow is a rather anaemic translation of the Hebrew, which is much aggressive. In other contexts, the verb describes an avenger of blood hounding the steps of a murderer— someone who slayed a close relative. Think how you would chase someone who killed one of your children, or your wife? It describes a relentless, dogged chase. When I was ministering in Savannah, I heard of a felon who turned himself in after had been on the run for over a decade. When asked why, he replied, “I grew tired of always looking over my shoulder.” Well, Christian look over your shoulder, this morning, what do you see? Do you realize you are being hounded down by God’s goodness and mercy? Like two sheepdogs bringing up the rear of the flock they follow you relentlessly. When you wander to the left, goodness goes out and brings you back. When you wander over to the right, then it’s mercy’s job to bring you back, and quick as flash out to the right he goes. Whatever you face today, whatever life throws your way, whatever burdens you carry, whatever mistakes you make, goodness and mercy are following along to pick up the pieces. They are relentless, they stick like shadows to your tail. You can never shake them off.
Do you see how safe you are? We rightly translate David’s final words in the Psalm, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD.” But the Hebrew actually reads, “I have dwelt…” David is not exaggerating here, and he is not claiming to be already in the heaven while alive on earth. No, what he is saying is quite simply this: My arrival in heaven is so certain I can speak of it as if has already taken place. God will bring me home.
In studying this Psalm, this week, I stumbled across something I had never seen before. The verb, “Want” in the first verse of the psalm comes from an ancient Arabic word which means “to not be missing.” In that sense, you could translate the opening line, “The LORD is my Shepherd, I will not be missing”— for when the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!
Isn’t this a wonderful truth to remember as we walk away from Darlene’s graveside. Death does not have her. Cancer certainly doesn’t have her. Christ has her, and He will never let her go.