Charles Stanley - The Good Shepherd
Why do you suppose it's so difficult for us to believe with all of our heart that God loves us and that He cares for us as individuals? Well, there are probably several reasons, and one of them is that we can't quite picture the fact that God in all of His glory and majesty and power could be interested in little things, little simple things in life that concern us. I think another reason is we can't even imagine that God, who is this awesome God who's governing the entire universe, could even think about being concerned about something as insignificant as my personal individual need. Or it just may be that we feel so guilty about our own past sins and so forth. How could God be so caring and tender and loving toward us when we don't deserve it? And then I think sometimes people have the idea, "Well, God's just too busy".
I hear people say, "Well, God's too busy to be thinking about something as insignificant as my own personal need". Well, the only problem with that kind of thinking is this, and that is that we will go through life missing the joy of an intimate relationship with a God who loves us and desires to walk with us. We likewise will miss the sense of security and confidence that we have with Him moment by moment and day by day. We end up being a loser no matter how you look at it when we do not understand who He is, because you see, most people go all the way through our life never realizing that there was someone who desired to walk with them every step of the way, through the difficulties, through the hardships, through the times of joy.
And it's that person I want to talk about in this message. And I want you to turn if you will to the twenty-third Psalm, because the person who desires to walk with us every single day of our life is called The Good Shepherd. And the twenty-third Psalm, if you'll turn there for a moment, let's read these six verses together. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet or still waters. He restores my soul; He guides me or leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness or mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever".
Now, how many times have you read that passage of scripture? Where did you usually stop? When it says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I'll fear no evil"? Well, what about this table, and what about the anointing of my head, and what about goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life? This passage of scripture is God's Psalm to us, showing us and demonstrating to us how much He cares for us. It's very difficult for us to feel, to sense, to be aware and to experience and to walk in the very spirit of realizing that God has said, "I'm your Shepherd, and I'm going to treat you like a shepherd treats sheep". Well, what I'd like to do is I'd like for us to look at this passage of scripture in the light of that whole idea that God is a caring God, that He cares for us, and He cares for every single detail of our life. There's not anything about you that is not important in the eyes of God. There's nothing about you that He will neglect, nothing He's going to overlook. He is indeed a caring shepherd.
Now, let's begin in this first verse, when he says "The Lord is my shepherd". And what I'd like for you to do is to look at it in this light. What kind of shepherd is He? This is the kind He is. He is a personal shepherd. Look at this. "The Lord is my shepherd". He didn't say He was a shepherd, He is one of many shepherds. He's my shepherd. That's what David the psalmist said. And you see, knowing the sheep as he knew them and being a shepherd as he was a shepherd, God certainly inspired him to pen this psalm, which he knew would be a comfort and a strength and a help to people down through the centuries. Because you see, the truth is, it's not only the most quoted, but I think about the places it's been quoted.
Of course, it is quoted and people, when they're having their own private devotion; it is quoted, for example, in times of pain and suffering and sorrow. It used to be quoted and is still quoted some places in the classroom. And so, when they think in terms of God helping them, they want to quote the twenty-third Psalm. But here's the truth. The truth is, there's only one group of people who can say "The Lord is my shepherd". Only those who have accepted the good shepherd as their savior can say "The Lord is my shepherd," because Jesus Christ is the good shepherd. He said, "I am the good shepherd. My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. None shall be able to pluck them out of My hand. The Father which gave them to Me is greater than all. I and the Father are one".
Who can say "The Lord is my shepherd"? Just because somebody says, "Well, I believe in God". No, the Lord is my shepherd. That is a personal relationship. How do you have a personal relationship with the great shepherd? You have a personal relationship by coming to the realization that you're sinful, acknowledging His death on the cross, and receiving Him by faith as your personal savior. How can, listen, how can the one who's the savior of the world be your good shepherd, and you reject the savior? You can't reject the savior and have the shepherd. Now, there are lots of folks in their thinking, they say, "Well, you know, I don't believe in Jesus, but I believe in God, and yes indeed, I believe that twenty-third Psalm. That's one of my favorite passages". And they'll quote, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want".
But you know what? He's not their shepherd, and they are in want. What they don't realize oftentimes is that they're in want of the most important thing in their life. They don't realize that's what it is. They try to keep filling up their lives with other things and relationships and so forth, and what they really want, what they really desire, is the hunger and thirst that God has placed in the heart of every person for Himself. And so when they say, "I quote, I believe, I believe that twenty-third Psalm, my favorite passage, the Lord is my shepherd". If you were to say to one of your lost friends, "You can't say that". "Well, why can't I? I said I believe in God. Why can't I say it"?
They would probably take great, great offense if you said to them, "Until you receive the great shepherd, who is the Lord Jesus Christ, as your savior, you cannot claim the good shepherd or the great shepherd in the Old Testament". But my friend, that is the gospel truth. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd". God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the Trinity that makes up the Triune God, the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit. And when you think in terms of the creation, who's there creating the world? Jesus Christ. He is the good shepherd. You cannot pray this. And oftentimes this is a prayer: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want". That's the way people oftentimes, especially when they're in trouble, they will pray this as if it's a prayer. It's not a prayer. He's simply expressing his relationship to the Father.
So what I want to ask is this, two things. Can you honestly say, "The Lord is my shepherd"? Who are we referring to? Jesus Christ the Son of God, who went to the cross and died for your sins and mine. That's who He is. Can you say, "Yes, I know His voice and I follow Him"? That is the will and purpose and plan of God for all of us. So first of all, He says He is a personal shepherd. Secondly, He is a providing shepherd. Look at this. When he talks about, if you'll notice, he says here, "Makes me to lie down in green pastures". What is he talking about? That the shepherd, now listen, watch this, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want," why? Because He's my shepherd. What's He doing? He's carrying out His responsibility. His responsibility is to see to it that we have our needs met.
And so he says, "He leads the sheep," as David would certainly lead His sheep to the green pastures, those that are ripe for food. Leads 'em to green pastures. Notice what he says, and he says He leads them beside quiet waters, still waters. And so, when the sheep are being led by their shepherd, and they are being led into green pastures where they can feed, and beside quiet waters, not rushing waters, quiet waters, I mean, that's the best they can have it. There's the shepherd in sight for their protection. Here are green pastures, and here are still waters. What was David saying to us? Simply this, that the good shepherd has committed Himself to supplying our material and physical needs, and He has also committed Himself to supplying our emotional and spiritual needs. Quiet waters, still waters, peace.
Not only those physical and material things that we need, but peace for our life. And so as you think in terms of what your needs are, what your wants are, you see, the truth is, if I have a want in my life or some need in my life and that need's not being met, then what do I have to say? I might have to say, "Well, Lord, could You... I mean, is this just a Psalm? In other words, are You really committing Yourself to meeting all of my needs"? That's what He says. He says, "The Lord is my shepherd, and because He's my shepherd and He carries out His responsibility, He says I will not be in want". Third thing I want you to notice is this, and that is He is a pardoning shepherd. Look at this. He says, "He is my shepherd; I shall not want. Makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul".
I think there are two things here when we think in terms of having our soul restored. Well, let's think in terms of what happens to sheep. What do they do? They wander. They can be behind the shepherd and around the shepherd and following the shepherd and keeping their eyes on the shepherd. He's always a symbol of protection for 'em. But sheep do what? They, by nature, just wander. Well, what causes them to wander? Well, they get their eyes off the shepherd, for example, and sometimes they look at what appears to be greener fields. Now, the good shepherd knows exactly where the sheep ought to be feeding. But once in a while those sheep get their eyes off the shepherd, and what happens? They look at something that looks like greener fields.
You know how we get out of God's will? We get out of God's will by taking our eyes off the good shepherd and looking at something that looks like it's greener and fresher and more inviting and better than God has provided at the present moment. That is, if we see something that looks better, what we are saying is, "Lord, good shepherd, thank You very much for leading me here, but I think I'm attracted to that over there, because that looks greener and looks more refreshing and more satisfying, and I think it'll have more contentment, so I'm going over there and feed". He says He restores our soul. So, what happens? When the sheep wander away, the Bible says the good shepherd goes after them. And what does He do? Here's what He does not do. He does not walk up to the sheep and take His rod and go, WHACK! "You knew better than that"! He knows that sheep are dumb.
So, what does He do? When...Yeah! And God knows how dumb we act sometime, doesn't He? So, what does He do? Picks the sheep up, puts it in His arms, carries it back to the fold or to the rest of the sheep, puts it down, moves on. No scolding, no beating because the sheep wandered away. He is a tender, loving shepherd. Now, it's difficult for us to visualize an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all-knowing, holy God acting like a shepherd. But you know what? We act like sheep. Does He not say, "All we like sheep have gone astray"? We have. And so, what happens? He says, "And the Father has placed upon Him the iniquity of us". Who, who, who has suffered for our sin? Jesus, in order that we may be forgiven and taken into His arms and brought back into the fold and restored. But I think there's something else involved in this restoration when he says, "He restores our soul".
All of us, for example, have our lifestyle. All of us are probably busy to some degree, and you have responsibilities in your home and your family and your business and all the rest, and so all of us at times get tired and we get weary and we get a little faint-hearted, and what happens? We get sorta worn out. And when he says, "He restores our soul," what is He talking about? Not only is He restoring me when I sin against Him and disobey Him, but He restores these souls and refreshes our weariness and our tiredness. He knows that we face situations and circumstances that are emotionally tiring and emotionally draining, and knowing that, what does He do? He desires to restore our soul. How does He do that? It is in fellowship with Him.
And you see, if I am wise enough to understand that spending time with Him alone is the greatest soul refresher there is, there is nothing that can take the place of it. I'm not against vacations, I certainly love to take them myself, but I'll tell you this. When it comes to restoring the soul, restoring and replenishing the emotion, there is no place that you can go, listen, any closer than right here. And there's no place you need to go to get your soul restored, your spirit restored. Now, the body oftentimes may need restoration and rest from your daily duties and so forth, but when it comes to restoring my soul, how is it restored? Intimacy, intimacy with the good shepherd, with Jesus. Intimacy with Him, listening to Him and letting Him put His arms around you and hold you tight and remind you that He loves you with all of His infinite divine love He pours out upon us.
Listen to what He says. "He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness". That is, the good shepherd is only going to do what? In restoring us, He's only going to take us and do what? Set us back on the right path and lead us in paths of righteousness. That's right living, right doing, right conduct, right behavior; why? Here's the reason: because He knows what is best for us. I can tell you one thing that is best for everybody. Doesn't make any difference who you are, I know one thing that's best for everybody. Obeying God. That's always the best way. He says, "He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name's sake".
Now, what does He mean by that? Simply this, that you and I, who are followers of Jesus Christ, we bear the name of Christian. We bear the name of saint. So, when we live a godly life, what happens? God is glorified. We live disobedient, get out of God's will, make a mess of our life, what happens? It is to some degree a slam upon God and what He offers mankind and what He says in this Bible He can do. That is, He can transform our life and sanctify us unto Himself and teach us how and enable us to live a holy life. And we get out there living in sin, he says, "Leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake". His name is to be honored. The life that we live either honors the name of Jesus or it dishonors Him. His purpose, His plan, His will, His goal is to lead us in paths of righteousness.
Now, listen to what he says in this next part. He says He is a protecting shepherd. Look at this. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me". Now, the rod and the staff. For example, the shepherd would count his sheep by putting the rod out, and the sheep would go under the rod. That's how they counted them, the rod. The staff, for example with a crook on it, when they got in trouble, grab 'em by the neck and gently pull 'em back in. Likewise, used rod and the staff to defend the sheep against wild beasts or wild animals. Rod and staff. That rod and staff was a symbol to those sheep. It was a symbol of protection. He says, "Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me," where? "As we walk through the valley," look at this, "of the shadow of death. Even though I walk," not run, "through the valley," not in it, on my way somewhere.
What was the shepherd doing? Leading the sheep through the valley from one mountainside to the other where the best grain, where the best grazing is. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil". Now, when we think in terms of the shadow of death, first of all, if you've got, first of all, if you've got a shadow, it means you've gotta have light. When he says "the shadow of death," you can't have a shadow unless you've got light to shine on something to cast a shadow. He says it's a shadow of death. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death". Okay, first of all, let's just make it as if it, we're talking about death. Even though we walk through very, very difficult times in our life, and a person faces death, he says, "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me".
Here's what He's saying. He says this is the reason you and I don't have to fear evil no matter what's going on: "Thou art with me". The fact that the good shepherd never leaves. What does He say? He says, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you". Yes, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I'll fear no evil. And the reason I won't is because the good shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, is with us. He said His rod and His staff are there to protect us. What do we have to protect us? The omnipotence of God. Here's what He says. "The angel of the Lord encamps". Listen, here's what it's like. Here you are. "The angels of the Lord encamp round about those who fear Him," and does what? "And delivers them".
We have His divine protection. He's my shepherd, He's a personal shepherd, a providing shepherd. He's a shepherd that cares. Every single facet of your life and mine, He's interested in it. Now, I want you to notice something else about Him. Not only is He a personal shepherd and a providing shepherd and He's a protecting shepherd, I want you to notice something else about Him here, and that is He is a preparing shepherd. Listen to what He says now. Here's the part that oftentimes we stumble with. He says, "Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever".
Now, I want you to go back if you will just for a moment and look at that word, when he says, "Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me". The word comfort is two Latin words, which means "strength through companionship". What is it that comforts me? Relationship, intimacy with Him in those difficult times. Now, He is a preparing shepherd. What has He prepared? Now, watch this. What in the world does he mean by this? He says, "Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies". Well, when he talks about preparing a table, he's talking about preparing our needs. He never comes up short. God is never late. There are no surprises with Him, so what? No matter what we are doing and where we are in life, He has already prepared every single thing we need. Now he says, "In the presence of our enemies".
Well, we think, "Well, listen now, who are my enemies"? No, you see, in those days, when he was talking about this, he was talking about natural enemies. I mean, he had lots of 'em. Not just wild beasts around his sheep, but you'll recall that David also had many enemies in his lifetime, King Saul being probably one of the most vicious ones of all. He said, "You set a table for me right in the presence of my enemies". Now, how would we apply that today? Well, more than likely we don't have a lot of enemies. Maybe most of you don't, anyway. So, what are my enemies? What are your enemies? Poor self-esteem, feelings of rejection, feelings of loneliness, feelings of despair, feelings of discouragement, and we could just go on down the list; feelings of insecurity, feelings of being unloved, feelings of being shut out, feelings of being isolated, fear of the future.
There are many, many enemies that you and I have to deal with. And so he says, "He's prepared a table for us". That is, He says, "I am prepared to meet every single need you have right in the midst of all of these things that you see trouble you and try you, and they're like enemies to your peace and enemies to your rest and enemies to your soul". He says, "I'm there". "Thou prepares the table before me in the presence of mine enemies". Now look at this next phrase. He says, "Thou anointest my head with oil". Well, what in the world does that have to do with a good shepherd? Here's what he's saying. For example, in those days when people came to see you, you would have their feet washed by a slave and refreshing their feet because they walked through dry dusty roads. And then they'd pour a little oil on your head, and oil, that was a refreshing kind of thing.
And so, he says, "Thou anointest my head with oil". What does he mean? Here's what he's saying. He says, "I'm preparing a table before you. I have everything you need, right in the midst of all of these, all of these things that are enemies to your peace and the quietness of your soul". He says, "I want to invite you to them, and I want to invite you to the table". "Thou anointest my head with oil". You're inviting me to come to the table, cleansing me and refreshing me. "Thou anointest my head with oil".
That's his way of saying that the good shepherd always invites us. We're always welcome in His presence. He's always providing for us. "I shall not want". Always there to prepare for us, always prepared beforehand, listen, willing to refresh us. "Thou anointest my head with oil". Then he says, "My cup runs over". What is he saying? What's he prepared for? It's whatever his preparation is, it's in abundance. In other words, God doesn't treat us the way we treat Him. For example, He says we're to tithe our income, so somebody says, "Made two hundred dollars; He gets twenty, period. Not twenty and fifty cents. Twenty, twenty, ten percent". You know what? God's not stingy, he's not tight, and I don't believe God cuts the edges like that. He's a God who talks about the abundant life. He is a God who talks about plenty, about taking great pleasure in prospering His children.
So when he says, "My cup's running over," what is he saying? He says God is providing, God is providing so abundantly for us. In the midst of all of my needs, no matter what they are, He's providing and He's providing abundantly. My cup runs over. And then here's what he says. "Surely," that is, absolutely for certain you can bet your life on this, for absolute certainty, he says, "God's goodness, which he has stored up for those who love Him. And His mercy, His lovingkindness," will do what? He says, "Follow me". That word really means "pursue me". That is, God wants to be merciful to us. God wants to be good to us. He desires to be good to us. He wants the best for us. We're His sheep. Listen, I'll tell you how badly He wants it: He died for us. He says, "I'm the good shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep". He says, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever".
Now, let me ask you a question. If you've never trusted Jesus Christ as your savior, well, what assurance do you have? You don't have the good shepherd. You can't say "I shall not want". You can't say "I'm always led in green pastures and still waters". Does that mean He never leads us into difficulties? No, because you see, going through the valleys, the dark valleys where the shadow of death, those things that appear to be dangerous to us, listen, He's the one who's leading us through the valley. Now, sometimes you make your own valley; you get out of God's will. But what assurance do you have without Jesus? You can't say "He's my shepherd". You can't, you don't have His presence, you don't have His provision, you don't have His protection. You don't have His preparation. You don't have heaven as a home.
What do you have? My friend, if you'll be honest, you don't have anything. Well, you say, "But I just believe, I just believe that God is a God of love and He's not gonna..." You know what, you may believe that, but what you have to ask is, what am I gonna get judged by? By my opinion? No, I'm gonna be judged by this Book. This is how I'm gonna get judged. And so therefore, I have to ask myself the question, what's the truth? The truth is, if I want God's best in my life, I begin by accepting His Son, Jesus Christ, as my personal savior, who becomes my personal shepherd who will provide for me, who will protect me in every circumstance of life, who will prepare everything I need, and who will see to it to the last breath in my life that what He promised, He will provide.