The Shepherd Psalm
I have not read this Psalm because it happens to be an old favourite, nor with any idea of attempting to re-cut this old gem; but rather that God may be graciously pleased to make it sparkle afresh before our admiring gaze as He sheds His light on three or four of the most striking facets of this precious jewel.
The Psalm itself has often been spoken of as “The Shepherd Psalm”; this, I suppose, because it begins with “The Lord is my Shepherd”: but I think this little group of Psalms—22, 23 and 24—are all Shepherd Psalms. Psalm 22 gives us the outward journey of the Good Shepherd as He seeks the sheep that was lost. Psalm 23 is His homeward journey as He bears it on His strong shoulder, and Psalm 24 is His joy “when He cometh Home!” In fact, these three psalms we might almost call the Psalmist’s version of Luke 15:4-7 in four parts—The sheep lost, looked for, lifted and landed.
There is no title the Lord ever gave Himself that is more expressive of His tenderness than this title of Shepherd. It is this that appeals most to the children, you will have observed, and we may be sure if it appeals to them, it is because there is something very appealing about it. If you hear a child say its go-to-bed prayer in all probability it will be,
“Jesus tender shepherd hear me!
Bless Thy little lamb tonight.”
Who has not been touched as they have heard the children thus learning to know something of the tenderness of Jesus; this being the one great feature of His Shepherd care.
The Scriptures give in a threefold way His Shepherd title—“The Good Shepherd” (John 10:14); “The Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20); and “The Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4), and Psalm 23 brings Him before us in the second of these characters.
I would like you to notice the expression “for His name’s sake, ” in Psalm 23:3. Every feature of tender solicitude and care that that name implies, for the sake of that name, He will make good to the objects of His care.
In Psalm 22 we have depicted for us His outward journey as the Good Shepherd. As His blessed willing feet tracked us all the way that our wilful wayward feet had carried us away from God, we may read something of the depths of darkness and desolation that lay in that path ere He could find a sinner like me. Oftimes I find myself singing
“But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed,
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord Passed through
Ere He found the sheep that was lost!”
He shall never hear the end of that story for all eternity!
We have been hearing a good deal the past few days about patterns, and have been urged to study the “pattern book.” We have been told about The pattern of the House, the pattern gospel and the pattern preacher: and we may thank God for the patterns.
When God gave instructions to Moses as to the construction of His first dwelling place on earth, He was very particular to give him the pattern of it and say, “See. . . that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount” (Heb. 8:5).
Then it was required of all those who had anything to do with its actual construction that they must be characterised by two features. First, they must be wise-hearted, and second, that they must be willing-hearted (Ex. 35:22-29). They must be wise-hearted enough to understand the pattern and willing-hearted to carry it out.
It would be well for us and for Christ’s glory if we, who live amid the confusion of the House of God on earth today, were characterised by these two features, and not be doing every man that which is right in his own eyes.
What is instruction for the House of God in the brightest day is light for us in its darkest day.
I am to ask your attention for a few minutes now to The “Pattern Shepherd, ” and see the touching and perfect way in which He carries on His work, particularly in this case as “The Great Shepherd of the Sheep, ” so that we need not have the lament of the little girl, who had been given a pattern of very pretty crochet work, and who was trying, but with poor success, to follow the pattern. At last she cried, “Oh! I wish I had asked her to do it for me. I should have liked to have seen her do it: then I think I could have managed it better.”
She was glad to have the pattern to learn from, but she would have preferred to have learnt it of the one who could work it out perfectly.
The Lord does not say, “Learn from Me”—but “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). He says, as it were, I will be both pattern book and Teacher to you. He now gives us some concrete cases in which He shows us how to practice the divine art of “Shepherd care.”
It was on the morning of resurrection, when “The God of peace. . . brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus” that He became “That Great Shepherd of the Sheep” (Heb. 13:20).
The prophetic word of Zechariah 13:7, had received a terrible fulfilment “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, . . . .saith the Lord of hosts: smite the Shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered.”
That blow fell with all its crushing weight upon the Good Shepherd.
“Jehovah lifted up His rod
O Christ! it fell on Thee.”
When that blow fell we know what happened! The words of our Lord Jesus, as well as of the prophet were fulfilled. “Ye shall be scattered and shall leave Me alone” (John 16:32). The wolf, too—the outside foe of the flock—did his work of scattering on that sad day, and Christ was left alone in His sorrow.
However, on the first day of the week came forth from the dead that “Great Shepherd of the Sheep, ” and at once began His work as the Shepherd, and for His own name’s sake He became the Great Gatherer of those whom Satan had scattered.
What a busy day the Lord had that day, from early morn till late at night, gathering up the scattered remnants of that little flock, and whilst He does this He gives a practical demonstration of the work of the Shepherd as it is outlined for us in Psalm 23.
The first to get the Great Shepherd’s attention on that day was a woman—Mary Magdalene. We do not find much of Mary’s previous history recorded, but evidently she was like the rest of us in this respect—she was made to appreciate Him. John Bunyan used to say, “No ship ever entered the harbour of Free Grace unless it was driven in by stress of circumstances.”
All that is said of Mary is summed up in one short significant statement, “Out of whom He had cast seven devils” (Mark 16:9).
At one time she had been possessed, controlled, dominated by seven demons. Then Christ crossed her path, broke up the power of Satan over her, delivering her from the grip of the great destroyer and turned her heart, once a veritable citadel of Satan’s power, into a shrine for His own love.
This is the woman who on this memorable day is found by Him, a desolate, homeless, and broken-hearted creature by the side of His empty grave! She is now to prove that He who brought her deliverance as the Good Shepherd will, as the Great Shepherd with a tenderness all His own, heal her broken heart. That early morning found her at the sepulchre—the spot to which she had last traced Him on that day of days. She could well have said with us what we sometimes sing,
“His presence is our home.”
And now He is gone, her home is gone! It maybe said of the disciples, They “went away again unto their own homes” (John 20:10), but she had no home to go to if He were gone, thus she stood there a disconsolate though devoted woman, seeking Him “whom her soul loved, ” even if it might be only His dead body. It is written “He that seeketh findeth, ” but she found infinitely more than ever she sought for. She sought a dead Christ and found a living Lord!
It is true she saw a vision of angels, but angels could not meet her need. They might say, “Woman, why weepest thou?” but they could not dry her tears or appease her heart-hunger.
She answers their question with a sob, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” As she turns from them in her hopelessness she saw another standing by whom she supposed to be the gardener! However, He could touch a deeper spring than the angels; and He said, “Why weepest thou? WHOM seekest thou?” Why did He repeat that question with the addition of this personal touch? Was it not, think you, that He might have the joy of hearing her say over again “My Lord!” Have you ever been near enough to the Lord to look up into His blessed face, even though it be through your tears, as did Mary, and say to Him “My Lord!”
It is the Great Shepherd who stands there! and “calling His own sheep by name, ” said, “Mary!” Instantly, two hearts are together and at once her heart-hunger is satisfied, her want has ended, and you can almost hear her take up the opening words of our Psalm and say, “The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want!”—not that there is no want, for the whole world seemed full of want to Mary, but for her her want was over, and she lies down in green pastures, and her once poor perturbed spirit is led beside waters of quietness! Shall we not for ourselves say to Him more earnestly than ever
“Be Thou the object bright and fair,
To fill and satisfy the heart.”
The next person to get the attention of the Great Shepherd that day was Peter. “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34). Why should He go to Simon so soon after that terrible break-down? Had He gone to cancel his commission and dismiss him from His service? It is said when an officer is cashiered in the British Army, the King writes across his commission, “No longer an officer of mine.” Who of us would be left standing in His service, if through our unfaithfulness, across our commission He had written, “No longer a servant of Mine!” That would have overwhelmed Peter—and many another beside—in over-much sorrow, but that was not the object of the visit of “Jesus, the tender Shepherd.”
Prior to this, the last that had been seen of Simon was when the Lord turned and gave
“The look that melted Peter, ”
and He left the High Priest’s house in a flood of tears! I have learnt to have a soft place in my heart for Peter! He had, alas! learned by bitter experience the reverse of “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1). He became a moral coward, quailed before the storm and—denied His Master.
We may thank God for a broken heart, even if the process is so horrible, if only it will remove our hardness, and give us more tenderness. All this was part of a preparation to fit him for the service of “Under Shepherd.”
It simply says, “He appeared unto Simon, ” and not one word is recorded of that interview. I think He was the balm for that broken heart and not so much His words. But why this hurry to meet Simon? Some one has said, “Because He wanted to get Simon ready for the evening meeting”! Indeed, the whole day’s work seemed to be in view of that wonderful gathering that night.
Was there one, think you, out of the whole company in that upper room that could have said with more pathos than Peter: “He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
The attention of the Great Shepherd is now directed to the recovery of two whose feet were straying from the place He would fain have them occupy, as we heard it so sweetly put this afternoon.
They were going in the wrong direction and their minds were full of reasoning and their hearts full of sadness as they went. They were very evidently walking through the valley of the death-shade. In their ignorance they imagined that the cross had blasted all their hopes as far as Christ was concerned, and the garden sepulchre had buried Him out of sight for ever, but the Psalm goes on, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me,” and it is said in apparent fulfilment, Jesus—The Great Shepherd—Himself drew near, and “went with them.”
What an astounding action! “Went with them!!” In the wrong direction? Yes. Some of us would probably have suggested that they should get back to the right path before expecting any ministry. He rather intimated that the reason for their feet straying was that they had not rightly understood and interpreted the Scriptures, indeed, were themselves slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken
Thereupon, He gave a sample of true shepherd care as He gave that wonderful exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures of “things concerning Himself” till “their hearts burned within them as He talked with them by the way”! Would you and I not like to have been at that gracious unfolding of type, shadow, analogy and figure, yet I want you to notice one remarkable thing about all this; in spite of glowing hearts and precious ministry it never altered their course one little bit. On and on they went, all in the wrong direction, every step of which had to be ultimately retraced. All this ministry was to prepare them for the journey when the moment came for Him to reveal Himself to them.
They had reached their objective—Emmaus—but He had not reached His! He made as if He would have gone further until they constrained Him to abide with them.
This done, He who went in with them as the Guest at once became the Host, and He took the bread in His hands to bless and break, and then He opened their eyes! His work was done. He vanished out of their sight! He made Himself known in the breaking of the bread! Had they seen the nail marks? We are not told save that He made Himself known. It is a service that He did not commit to anyone He did it all Himself.
I am sure what we are all needing is a fresh revelation of HIMSELF! It was this that altered their course and would in all probability alter ours too. Let us get to Him in secret, and seriously, earnestly pray,
“Lord Jesus make Thyself to me
A living bright reality,
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen.”
Had He not verily prepared a table for them in the presence of their enemies, and anticipated the work of the coming Comforter, giving them an anointing, and taking of the things of Christ and revealing them to these sorrowing hearts, till they could cry aloud, “My cup runneth over”?
The Evening Meeting
Now we come to that memorable evening meeting! The scattered sheep are all gathered in that upper room, and the doors shut for fear of the Jews. Then came Jesus and stood in the midst. He did not wait to be invited into their presence, or till some ultra-spiritual person would open the door and call Him into presence, which, as some would fain have us believe, is the proper modus operandi.
The doors were shut, and most evidently He wished them kept shut, for He did not open them Himself. Outside those closed doors was the world characterised by hatred: inside was a little company characterised by love. Thank God, for the grace that gives us our place in the inside company.
Now please note He is the first to ask for something to eat on this occasion. In Emmaus He did not eat.
This eating is expressive of identification and communion. In Emmaus He did not eat. In the Upper Room He did.
He might minister to them to get them into the moral condition necessary to take the journey to the right centre, where He could come into their midst and eat with them.
What a blessed foretaste of the time when they “shall dwell in the House of the Lord for ever.”
“And Christ the Centre of that throng
Shall in His glory shine,
But not an eye those hosts among
But sees that glory Thine.”
What stories will then be told of the “Goodness and Mercy” that has followed us “all the days of our life; and “we shall dwell in the House of the Lord for ever.”
May we each study more closely the methods of “The Pattern Shepherd” both in His wisdom and tender compassion that can satisfy a devoted heart as well as heal a broken heart and gladden a sad heart.
“What will it be when dangers all are past?
And led by Thee, we reach our home—the Father’s House’—at last,
To dwell with Thee.
How loud the chorus which we then shall raise,
And sing for ever to Thee in Thy praise.”
Extracted from “Ministry of the Word”