Psalm 23: 1 (“Jehovah is my shepherd”)
John 10: 3-5 (to “stranger”), 14-15, 27-29
I wanted to speak, dear brethren, about the Shepherd. If you look at the psalm, David just says, “Jehovah is my shepherd”, and he pauses. What David is trying to impress upon us is that the Person that does it is greater than what He does. We may dwell on His kindness and grace, but it all centres on who He is. It is the Lord that is my Shepherd. The disciples in John 21, those weary fisherman, after a night’s fishing, feeling helpless, go on the shore, and what do they find? They find a fire of coals, v 9. It must have puzzled them. They had been all night and they come to the shore and there is everything they needed. And John had said, “It is the Lord”, v 7. And that changed everything for him - changed his whole life, and changed the life of Peter. What would they have done if they had not had that experience, “that it was the Lord”, v 12? You see the power these men had in the beginning of the Acts because they realised that this our faith is not only in what He has done but in who He is.
We learn that gradually in our lives, even in our very young lives; very early we learn that there are things that even our parents cannot help us about: we come to find the only Person that can help us is Jesus. Did you not realise that when you felt you were a sinner? Did you not realise that when you were convicted by the awfulness of your condition as one of Adam’s race, born in sin? Did you not realise that nobody else could help you, until you come to see that the Lord died for you?
But what David is speaking about is that He lives for me as He is made room for; and so you find that in the psalm as you go through it. These beautiful pastures; how pleasant they must have been: the Lord had been there. It was the Lord who watered those pastures. It was the Lord that set up that table, that gave glory to all that He did. We need to be impressed with that, dear brethren. He is not only a Priest - there were many priests - but He is the great High Priest, Heb 4: 14. He is not only the Mediator, but there is only one Mediator of God and men, and that is Christ Jesus, 1 Tim 2: 5. I would like to leave that impression upon us, that He is greater than all that He has done. We learn these things, as I have said, through our experiences. And the earlier we learn them and take them to heart the better.
It reminded me of Jacob. At the end of his life he was at his best, because he came to see that Joseph was still alive (Gen 45: 26), and he speaks of “the God that shepherded me all my life long”, chap 48: 15. He must have gone over his history, and seen the sorrow of those years that he spent with Laban, chaps 29-31. But he came to see that Joseph was still alive. He said, “I will go and see him”, Gen 45: 28. And what he saw was not only what Joseph did but he saw Joseph, the Saviour of the world, the Sustainer of life, the Revealer of secrets, chap 41: 45, note. Typically, he saw the greatness of the Person.
Well, these are experiences, and the Psalm is full of experiences. As I said, there are these green pastures. He restores the soul; who could do that? Only the Lord. We prove through the experiences that we have that, but behind all that He does is the Person. And if we only live on what He does, we are only on the perimeter. It has been said, ‘We have not come to a circumference without a centre’. There is a lot in that expression if you just think about it. There are people who are living on the circumference but the circumference only takes its stability from the centre. It all leads back to the centre: the Lord is my Shepherd.
Well, David says, “He restoreth my soul”. It is the Lord that does that. You can never go back on it. That is what He did to those fishermen that I spoke about: He restored their soul. “He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”, v 3. Then he goes through the valley of the shadow of death. We often speak about that at burials, but it is more than that. David learned these things in his experiences. I may say he learned them when he was very young - that the shepherd was the Lord, and the Lord was his shepherd.
But you think of David, a youth before Saul, having heard Goliath roaring at the Israelites, 1 Sam 17: 23, 32. Saul says to him, ‘You cannot go; you are only a youth’, v 33. Well, David says, ‘I know a God that delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear’, v 37. He knew the Person that did the work, and his confidence was in the Person as he picked those five stones out of the brook. Did the stones kill Goliath? One did, but it was the Lord’s doing. It was the Lord that pulled David’s arm when he fired that stone. David was very convincing to Saul. Saul says, ‘You go; just go’. And he went and the stone brought the whole thing down. It was the Lord that did it.
Well, as you go through David’s experiences you can see the sorrow that filled his heart when Jonathan left him, 1 Sam 23: 18. It says they wept “until David exceeded”, chap 20: 41. What was it going to be? There was the man that he loved - he was left without Jonathan, but he found the cave of Adullam, chap 22: 1. The safest place on earth that day was in the cave of Adullam. Saul was on the way down, Jonathan lost the way, but in the cave of Adullam there arose six hundred men in a very short time, chap 23: 13. David was on the road to the throne through his learning God and proving Him in the circumstances. So he says, “goodness and loving-kindness shall follow me all the days of my life”, Ps 23: 6. What confidence he had. That is what I would like to impart, confidence not only in the work but confidence in the Person.
That is what you get in John. He commends the Person, the good Shepherd. “To him the porter opens”. “He calls his own sheep by name”; He makes it very individual; He knows your needs. The shepherds in this country drive the sheep. The Shepherd here, He goes before them. He was there before David, and He is there before us. In exercises we pass through, He says, “he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.” He leads them out: it is very fine to hear Him calling you by name. Difficulties you may pass through, sorrows that you can hardly meet: He says, ‘I know, I know’. Well, that is what He does here. What kind of sheep are we? “All we like sheep have gone astray”, Isa 53: 6. Is that still our history? No, that is not John’s sheep, you know. It has often been said that John’s sheep do not go astray. “My sheep”: they belong to Him, and He is never going to let them be led astray. He says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know those that are mine, and am known of those that are mine, as the Father knows me and I know the Father”. What wonderful thoughts we are brought into. What a great gathering they are.
But I wanted to speak about this: “My sheep hear my voice”. Well, dear brethren, that is something that we have to learn. “My sheep hear my voice”, and they will not listen to others. Some of us carry the sorrow of that; we listened to other voices. But is your ear attuned, are your feet on the path? “My sheep hear my voice”. We recently had that verse, “thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it”, Isa 30: 21. But here the Shepherd is in front. May our eye be kept on the Shepherd, dear brethren. Will I be one of his sheep? Perhaps no animals wander more than sheep, and when they get away from the fold what a state they get into. You see them on the roads sometimes. They do not know where to go; they are run all over the place. You have to keep in the fold; you have to keep within His voice. “My sheep hear my voice”; and He says, “I know them, and they follow me; and I give them life eternal”. What a Shepherd He is! What a flock John is speaking about! He will give them life eternal, and they will never perish. And I think of these words, “and no one shall seize them out of my hand”. What confidence it would awaken in our hearts amid the many voices there are. A lot of things are said that should not be said; but, “My sheep hear my voice”. “My voice”; the Lord is saying it, and He is saying it loudly and clearly, and would have us to have our ears attuned. That would test the voices; where are they coming from? Where is the source of it all? Well, it is coming from the Shepherd. He has provided for us, in all the circumstances. May we be among those that hear His voice. “And no one shall seize them out of my hand”. And He says more than that; He says, “My Father who has given them to me…”. How He regards the sheep: the Father’s gift!
Thou gav’st us, Father, in Thy love,
To Christ to bring us home to Thee, (Hymn 88).
Think of divine activities. The Father gave Him the sheep; He knew where to put them. Persons often speak of the fact that the Lord died for them: marvellous, glorious fact. But it is equally wonderful, if not more so, that He lives for me. He has gone into heaven itself now to appear before the face of God for us. You will be tested; the devil will test you often as to how bad you are. You can always point and say, ‘There is a Man, my Shepherd, who has gone in’. Our great Forerunner - we will see Him there in all His glory.
Well, may our hearts be stimulated to have confidence, dear brethren, confidence in the Shepherd. And know something of the Father’s love. The Father has given us to Him. He has placed us in good hands, while “no one can seize out of the hand of my Father.”
May we be among those sheep that hear His voice, for His Name’s sake.
Word in Ministry Meeting at Kirkcaldy
19th April 2016