It is the beginning to a familiar passage from the bible. The Lord is my shepherd. What does that mean for us? What does it mean that the Lord is our Shepherd? If we have a shepherd does that mean we are the sheep? Psalm 23 speaks about things that our Shepherd does for us. While other parts of scripture make the imagery of having a shepherd richer.
W. Phillip Keller writes about sheep in his book A shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. He gives insight to what sheep are like.
“Sheep do not just take care of themselves as some might suppose. They require more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care.”
Sheep are the animals that God choose to compare us to. He also wanted us to know that in spite of the fact that we are dumb sheep who are constantly looking for a way out of the fence, following other sheep instead of the good shepherd, consuming things that should not be consumed, and not able to find adequate water on their own or drinking contaminated water.
The prophet Ezekiel tells us about what the shepherd does for his flock. Ezekiel 34:11-24 is filled to the brim with phrases that start out I WILL. If you have the time go and look up the verse. If you have more time write it out. As you write it out begin a new line each time the phrase I WILL appears.
This statement sounds so much like the first commandment. “You shall have no other God’s” and “I myself will be the shepherds of my sheep” is the first commandment in the form of a promise.
We are like sheep. We look for things or people other than our Shepherd for protection and peace. We look to our bank accounts, we look to how others see us, we look to how our kids behave, we look to our own abilities, we look to the people around us and we are anxious.
In Luther’s small catechism the explanation for the first commandment reads “What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.”
Instead of God I fear what others think of me, I love when my children behave exceptionally well, and I trust that I will get my daily bread (and coffee) because of how much money we have at the bank.
The Large Catechism speaks even more about what it means to have a god (idols) or the God. “A god means that from which we are expected all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true.”
There is no way that we, on our own, can keep the first commandment BUT our good Shepherd keeps us in his care. Our good shepherd kept the first commandment for us. A sheep does not make the decision on who will be the shepherd. A sheep can not decide to hop the fence and be a part of another flock. The sheep may hop the fence but the shepherd will go and seek out the wandering sheep. He will pick the sheep up and carry him back to be with the flock.
God tells his people that he will be the one who seeks them out. ‘I’ He says ‘I myself’. He will not send in a surrogate when things get tricky. He will be on the look out for each of his sheep at all times. We can know that he gets in and does the dirty work. How can we know? He took our sin on himself. He became the sins we commit and that he never committed. He died for each and every way that we have sinned, each and every reason we were separated from Him. Not only did he die he did just as he said he would He rose again. His body laid in a cold tomb on Easter weekend but when the ladies went to find him on Sunday morning there was not a body. He not only died but he rose.
Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd in the book of John chapter 10 verse 11-18
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it form me, but I lay it down on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again, This charge I have received from my Father
I am leaving you with this prayer from the book of Hebrews…