Jack Graham - Table in the Wilderness
The problem with life is that it is so daily! And the daily grind can get us down. There's not one of us who does not struggle with stress. What we need to learn is how to turn our stress into strength. Now stress is the gap that exists between the demands upon my life and the ability that I have to meet those demands. Let me say that again: What is stress? Stress is that gap that exists between the demands of my life, what I want to do, what I need to do, what I must do, all the daily demands of life. It's that gap that exists between those demands and my ability or inability to meet life's demands. So do you know why we are stressed? I can tell you why we're stressed. We need a Shepherd. We need a Shepherd who will still our souls and strengthen us and restore us because Psalm 100 and verse 3 tells us that we as God's people are the "sheep of His pasture".
Now while it's interesting that God would call us sheep, it's also very revealing. Now I know sheep, little lambs especially are cuddly and cute and all of that but the fact is when little lambs grow up and become sheep several facts that shepherds tell us about the sheep: One is that is that sheep are restless. Sheep tend to wander. They don't stay put. They have a mass-mind mentality and yet while they're with the group they run like a herd, but at other times the sheep will get alone by itself and find itself in great danger, wandering around and finding itself away from the rest of the flock. And so, because sheep are restless, they're typically fearful and fretful. Even the sounds of rushing waters can frighten a sheep, and thus it's the task of the shepherd to bring a sheep to still waters so that the sheep will rest. And it's the task of the shepherd to bring that restless, wandering sheep back into the flock from time to time.
The Bible tells us that "We like sheep have all gone astray; we've turned every one unto its own way". Sheep are restless so they need a shepherd. We're restless so we need a Shepherd. I'll tell you something else, sheep are defenseless. Now most every other animal, even birds, can defend themselves. I mean cats can scratch and dogs can bark and bite and bears can hug and crush and lions can bite and eat, and birds can fly away, even skunks can stink you away. Everyone of these has some kind of defense mechanism but not the sheep. A sheep can't run very well, it gets off balance quiet easily. A sheep has no sense of where to be and what to do when they get there and so they are defenseless against the attacks of all kinds of predators, wolves, and lions and bears and vipers and all the rest.
So it is the shepherd's responsibility to protect the sheep, to lead the sheep, to guide the sheep and to protect each one. We live in a very dangerous world full of vipers of different kinds and we find ourselves in the presence of our enemies. We find ourselves in the presence of a dark world, valleys that are deep and shadows that are dark, and we need a Shepherd to protect us. I'll tell you something else about sheep. Sheep are not only restless and defenseless, they're helpless! Shepherds talk about a sheep becoming cast, C-A-S-T, a sheep is cast. Do you know what that means? That means a sheep finds itself upside down. There's a problem with the equilibrium and the balance of a lamb, a sheep, and therefore they're easily tipped over or if they roll on their back to you know scratch their back or whatever, they often find themselves not able to get up. "I've fallen and I can't get up".
And a sheep often finds itself in that condition. That means the shepherds finds that the sheep is helpless. It is cast down. No wonder David the shepherd wrote in the psalm, "Why is my soul cast down; why is my soul disquieted"? Restless within me. You ever find yourself down and can't get up? Beaten down? Broken? Life can be hard; life can turn us and our world upside down. We find ourselves flat on our backs and we can't get up! We can't go on! That's why we need a Shepherd to come and lift us, to put us back on our feet and then, having loved us and lifted us, to lead us. So all you sheep, (everybody say, "baa").
Listen up to Psalm 23, verse 1: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness (or right living) 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 mine enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs or overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever".
The 23rd Psalm, written 3000 years ago has so much to say to twenty-first century Christians. Sheep, like us, like you and me. And while this is a beloved psalm that is read at both funerals and weddings, at birth and at death, it is more than a romantic interlude in our lives. This is a strong and powerful word for stressed out sheep. The Bible tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. Jesus identifies Himself as this Good Shepherd in John 10 and verse 11: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep". This reminds us of the one who died for us, the Shepherd who gave Himself for us and therefore has saved us from the penalty of sin. "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord". The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep. "All we like sheep have gone astray; turned to our own way; but the Lord laid on Him all our sins, all of our iniquity".
And the One who saves us, then, who having loved us, leads us and He is moved with compassion for His own people. In the Gospels when Jesus saw the crowds He saw them and convulsed literally. He was broken by the harassment and the helplessness of the crowd, for He said they were sheep without a shepherd. That word compassion there, again, it's such a strong word. It means literally to break down. He was heaving with compassion. This word compassion is such a strong word. You know the word passion, the passion of our Lord at the cross, the passion of someone's purpose. That compassion means to have passion with, to suffer with. And He has shared our sorrows and our sufferings and He is moved with us, and by our great needs. "He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young".
What a beautiful and precious promise this is. That He leads His own. I am His and He is mind. He's especially attentive to those who are weak and those who are fallen; those who are hurting and those who are helpless. He picks us up and when we can't go on He holds us close and carries us through like little lambs. I think of some of the little lambs here in our church. You're a brand new believer. You're just getting started. You walk into this place and it seems like everybody knows everything about the Bible and you know very little, it seems. And you're trying to get started and you're trying to get going and you find yourself stuttering and stopping and not being able to get done. You find yourself face, you thought when you came to Christ all your temptations and trials were going to be over, and you discovered like the rest of us that the trials and the tests and, yes, temptations continued to attack us.
Satan: we have a very real enemy. There are enemies about us; there are predators that would devour our souls. The thief comes to kill and steal and destroy! And yet you have, little lamb you have a Shepherd that will carry you and get you through what you're going through. And make a way when there seems to be no way. He leads us. He is the Good Shepherd. You know why we are stressed? I'll tell you exactly why we're stressed. We're stressed because at some level we wonder, we worry that our needs will not be met. And in these tough economic times and difficult personal times in your life, if you're like the rest of us sheep, you begin to wonder are things going work out. You know, worry (which is a sin) is the fear that things aren't going to work out the way I want them to work out. Worry is assuming responsibility that God never intended for me to have.
Worry is fretting and fuming, wringing my hands regarding my future, my past, my present, but it's somehow the idea that God will not, or cannot, or does not take care of me. That somehow my needs will not be met. But God has promised a shelter. He has given us a Shepherd. He leads us, He feeds us, He protects us, He provides for us. He has given us all things in Jesus Christ richly to enjoy! He provides for His grace abundantly. And so He is not only the Good Shepherd; He is the great Shepherd. Hebrews 13:20-21: "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep". Not only did our Shepherd die for the sheep; He lives for the sheep. And therefore, He not only the Good Shepherd, He is the great Shepherd. He not only has died so that we might be saved from the penalty of sin; He now lives so that we can be saved from the power of sin! The grip of sin!
We are now free, and free indeed, because when God's grace moved in our guilt moved out. Not because of anything we have done but because of what He has done. The Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep; the Great Shepherd who gives His life for us. He saves us from the power of sin. He meets our needs. He leads us to quiet streams when we are restless to drink deeply of His presence. He restores our souls. When we wander and when we are broken by life, He finds us and brings us back. Why? Because everyone matters to Him. Jesus told a parable about a sheepfold of one hundred; one was lost. What did the shepherd do? What did the good shepherd do? He could have said, "I have 99 left. We'll let that one go. Too much trouble. It's dangerous out there. The sheep is too far gone". But, no, Jesus, the Good Shepherd says he leaves the ninety and nine and he goes and finds that one who is lost; restores that one, recovers that one, refreshes that one, brings that one back.
What a reminder that is to us; that no matter how far gone you are, your Shepherd will track you down. What a reminder that is to those of us who are under-shepherds of the church, pastors and leaders of the church, and those of us who are part of this congregation: that everyone matters to God. Sometimes we're asked "How long will we keep going? How much more will we keep trying to reach lost people? Don't we have enough sheep already? Don't we need to take care of the sheep we already have"? Indeed, but that is not to the exclusion of going after that one who is far from God. So we keep seeking and saving by the power of Jesus the lost. And we'll keep doing that until He comes. We will keep going after the least and the last and the lost. And our God who is our Shepherd, therefore, is our God who is our satisfaction.
"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want" which means He meets all of our needs. The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything that I need! God, our satisfaction. That's why we're going to focus for just a moment on this table in the presence of the enemy. You see it there right in the middle of this psalm? As the shepherd (verse 5) "prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemy; He anoints my head with oil; my cup runs over". The picture here is the shepherd in advance preparing a table land for the feed, for the flock to feed, for the sheep to find drink and sustenance. He goes before them and secures the land, making sure there are no insects that can attack those sheep, as best he can, to deal with vipers and wolves and anyone or anything that would harm the sheep. The shepherd goes in advance to prepare the table and a table land.
Now you know if you have a great meal at your house, if you're having guests over to your house, you typically don't get the cheap stuff out, or the paper plates. You probably set a table, especially if it's a great occasion. You set a table and you do your best to make sure that everyone is welcome, that there is hospitality because you're having family there; you're having friends in your house. And in this way our Shepherd, our Savior is our Host who provides for us all we need in a beautiful celebratory way. Have you ever noticed how many banquets and dinners and celebrations we find in the Bible? Times to celebrate even in the call of the church. Jesus says, "I stand at the door and knock, and if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and sit down and we will sup together". We will have a great meal and enjoy life together. He sets the table!
When our resources are inadequate... remember when Jesus fed the five thousand? The multitude? They ran out of food. There was nothing they could do. And Jesus took the lad's lunch and multiplied it and fed the multitude. It was a meal for refreshment and renewal because they were empty. And if you need a miracle in your life today, if you have inadequate resources as we all do, that gap that exists, you need a miracle, Christ will bring you to His table and sustain you and strengthen you. When Peter failed the Lord and denied the Lord, he ran away, he went back to his old fishing job apparently. Jesus tracked him down like a wandering lost sheep. He was cooking breakfast there on the Sea of Galilee there after the resurrection. Cooking breakfast there at the Sea of Galilee where we have been many times. And He said to His disciples, "Come and dine. Come to My table".
And there at the table He restored the big fisherman. He forgave him and picked him up and said, "Go, and keep doing what I've called you to do". The table of restoration, the table of replenishment and renewal. It's a table of remembrance, this table of the Lord. He gathered His disciples in the presence of enemies all around Him on the last night of His life He gave them the cup to drink and the bread to eat at the Passover that last time they would be together. And it was a table of redemption and salvation. "You anoint my head with oil". We have a new and fresh anointing with Christ. Have you ever noticed how everything in life gets old? The car gets old, the house gets old, your husband gets old, your body gets old. But in Christ everything is brand new every day! I'm telling you there is a fresh anointing!
The psalmist said, "You have poured over me fresh oil"! Again, Hebrews 1:9, "You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, therefore, God, your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companion". We are refreshed day by day with the sweet perfume of his presence. We are anointed. And as I was studying this just yesterday I was alone at the house, the family was away, and I was just there with the Lord and looking at this again and reflecting upon how new this still is to me. This calling, this life in Christ never gets old to me. I never get tired of doing what God has anointed me and is anointing me to do! His mercies are new every morning!
Do you believe this? "He anoints my head with oil"! the oil of gladness. He has made me glad! Glad all over more than anywhere else! There is joy, and strength in that joy! In all the experiences of life, both valleys and victories we can all say who have followed our Shepherd, who have been anointed by His fresh oil. We can all say, "Our God is a good God! A gracious Savior"! He is our Provider, He is our Protector, He is our Peace. And the stress is turned to strength when we realize and recognize that in our weakness we are made strong. And then when our Shepherd enfolds us and embraces us we can overcome life's demands and pressures and breaking points because He is our Shepherd and He is our satisfaction, our cup runs over. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin.