Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
The 23rd Psalm is perhaps the most beloved chapter in the whole Bible. It is a simple and beautiful picture of our relationship with our loving Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We read it, we recite it, we pray it, we meditate upon it, and still we never tire of the Psalmist’s imagery, poetry, or ideas. And why would we? The 23rd Psalm is about peace and comfort and goodness, and don’t we all want those things in our lives? Of course we do. In a small Bible study at our church, we have been studying this psalm (just one verse per week), and so as I was reading it again yesterday morning, a few thoughts occurred to me that I would like to share.
Something that we must always remember about the Bible is that God has ordained the order of the words, the verses, the chapters, and, yes, the books themselves. While men may like to take credit for compiling the various writings of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, it was really God’s Spirit that guided that process. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Knowing that, I was led to reflect on Psalms 22, which begins with those heartrending words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” That poem is a picture of the Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, depicting the last day of our Savior in striking, prophetic words. The Crucifixion is the Lord’s ultimate act of love for His sheep.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
It is the Crucifixion that has purchased our redemption from slavery to sin. The Crucifixion is the one act that gives us peace with God, and that peace is truly the prerequisite for all other peace in our lives.
1 Corinthians 15:1-5
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
The whole of the Bible is a testament of Jesus Christ, a picture of the gospel of our salvation. Therefore, if we think of Psalms 22 as the poem about how “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” then Psalms 23 is the picture of what we receive for believing in Jesus Christ as our risen Lord and Savior. We “stand” in the Lord’s Resurrection, having been sanctified by His blood on the Cross, and now we are able to enter into the peace of God.
As we look at the verses of the 23rd Psalm, we see that Jesus goes before us, He stands beside us, and He covers us from behind with blessings unnumbered.
•We follow our loving Shepherd, and because He has paid the price already (Psalms 22), we lack nothing regarding our salvation. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
•We accept Christ as our Lord, and so we allow Him to make us lie down in green pastures. (Matthew 6:33)
•We believe in the gospel of peace with God, and so we follow Him while He leads us beside the tranquil waters. (Isaiah 49:10)
•Our faith in Him restores our souls when nothing else can. (Philippians 4:13)
•If we will but follow our Lord and Savior, He will lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. (Philippians 2:9-11)
•Even when our path in this life may take us through temptation and the threat of death, we need fear nothing because He is with us, comforting us with protection and discipline. (Matthew 6:13, John 14:15-18)
•This risen Lord who once drank the bitter cup of Crucifixion, He now prepares a table for us even when we are surrounded by enemies–a table set with the Body and Blood of Christ our Savior. (Matthew 26:26:29)
•He anoints us and seals us with His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14), and our cup of life is always full. (Isaiah 44:3-4)
•Because we have followed behind our Lord, because He has always been beside us, we will find our steps directed as He wills (Isaiah 30:21), with His goodness and His mercy pursuing us all the days of our lives. (Matthew 28:19-20)
•At the end of this mortal life, having been loving sheep of the Lamb of God, we will dwell in the house of God FOREVER. (John 14:2-3)
That “Forever” is OUR resurrection. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ brings US to resurrection, too, and to eternal peace with our Father in heaven. The length of our days shall no longer be numbered as mortal men but as children who dwell in the house of our Father God.
David knew what it was like to be a common shepherd, and as he grew into being the King of Israel, he came to understand what it meant to be a shepherd of people, too. Because of His devotion to the Lord God, David also saw that the coming Messiah would be the ultimate Shepherd, the One who truly gave His life for all of us. David’s faith gave him a heavenly hope that would only be fulfilled in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, faith and hope that we and David’s forbearers and his descendants would ALL know the blessing that came through the seed of Abraham. (Hebrews 11) David’s vision of the Cross in Psalms 22 was followed by his vision of the Resurrection and the Life in Psalms 23, and so despite the dark places through which the king of Israel walked, he still had hope. Like Moses before him, David knew that the people he shepherded would depart from God’s ways, and yet he also knew that if but a remnant held fast to the hope of peace with God, then they would be blessed just as this 23rd Psalm shows. David had to wait to be perfected in Christ, but having waited in faith, he will be perfected along with all the faithful and he will dwell with the Lord forever. (Hebrews 11:40)
This mortal life is not easy. We have disease and deformity, war and violence, greed and oppression, natural disasters and unpredictable accidents. All of this can be traced back to when the Lord God cursed the very ground because of the sin of Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3:17) At every turn, we face the result of that curse of the world through sin. But despite our sinful nature, we sons and daughters of the first man can cling to this hope:
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,
21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grace reigns in us through the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that righteousness is not simply for this life but for ETERNAL life. Therefore, let us follow our loving Shepherd and submit to His lordship. Let us allow His Holy Spirit to dwell within us to bring us to truth and peace. Let us seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, knowing that goodness and mercy shall follow us all our days. And finally, let us hold fast to the faith that has come to us through the gospel–a faith in the grace and mercy and love of God–so that we, too, like David, may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Heavenly Father, Your grace still astounds me. How could You see who I have been and still wish to forgive, still extend Your mercy to me, still offer me eternal life through Your Son? Such love cannot be measured, for its depth is beyond the depth of the sea and its height beyond the heavens. I cling to that love, O Lord, and I cling to the hope of Jesus Christ. I ask, dear Lord, that You renew my faith daily, that You will help me be a better follower of my Shepherd, that Your Spirit will come alongside and comfort me, that only YOUR goodness and YOUR mercy shall be the treasure of my days. I do love You, O Lord my God, and I desire nothing more than to dwell in Your house forever. Amen.