shepherd-sheep-10Read Jn. 10:1–11 and Ps. 23

Introduction

When I wrote “Sin Enslaves, But God Is in the Emancipation Business,” I quoted 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Today we learn that Jesus came to earth for another reason: to give abundant life to his people. These two reasons Jesus came aren’t in conflict with each other; they compliment one another. Jesus didn’t come to earth for just one reason. He came to earth for several reasons, and we need to read the Bible to understand all of them, because all of them are important.

The Shepherd

In John 10, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd and his people, the church, to sheep. Our Lord leads all his sheep (Jn. 10:4), and they know his voice, and they follow him. He goes to the ultimate length to care for his sheep: he sacrifices his very life for them. All shepherds who preceded him were false shepherds. The sheep will never follow a false shepherd. They know the Shepherd’s voice, and he’s the only one they’ll follow.

God doesn’t economize in salvation

The Shepherd came to bring the sheep abundant life (Jn. 10:10). I’m focusing on that fascinating word today. That term abundantly means “excessive, more than is necessary, superadded” — superfluous, or even wasteful, we might say. This is a striking idea. It means the life that Jesus came to bring us is not economical.

We wouldn’t consider it economical to pay $12 for a loaf of bread with a sticker price of $3. We must economize because we have finite resources. But God’s resources are infinite. Therefore, God doesn’t economize in salvation. He didn’t come to give us life merely to survive. Jesus is intentionally “wasteful” in the salvation life he drenches on his people. Salvation life is meant to be lavish. It’s not carefully parceled out.

Sometimes I’ve heard this verse applied to mean that Jesus came to grant lavish material possessions. There’s a whiff of the health and wealth gospel in this idea. Now, I agree that any material blessings that obedient Christians enjoy are God’s gifts. But I’m convinced that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. Why? Because it has nothing to do with the life of sheep, and that’s the figure of speech that Jesus specifically selected. Where, then, would we find the kind of life that God sent Jesus to bestow on his sheep? The chief answer is Psalm 23.[1] Please go there. I’m not going to offer an exposition of this chapter, but simply expound a few vital highlights in light of God’s wasteful salvation.

The Sheep

Right at the beginning we might get the idea that Jesus is only interested in giving us just enough life to get by: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want [or lack anything].” That sounds like David is saying, “The Lord takes care of just when I need — and not a thing more.” But if we look more closely the chapter, we find that he saying much more than that.

The life of a sheep

Think of the life of a sheep. The sheep is a simple, defenseless animal. It has many predators. It’s easily startled. For a sheep, the abundant life is the life of provision and security and rest. And these are precisely what the Shepherd gives the sheep.

Peaceful rest

Now, let’s think about us human sheep. We’re weak and vulnerable in this world. We’re subject at any time to misfortune, illness, disease, heartache, and death. One morning we awake on top of the world, and by evening that entire world can have come crashing down. God knows the future, but we do not. The fact that we can’t anticipate the future leads us to unsettledness and anxiety. This is why one of our greatest needs is peace. And that is precisely what the Shepherd gives us. He makes us to lie down in green pastures and waters of rest[2] (Ps. 23:2). That’s a lovely metaphorical picture of peaceful rest.

Now, it’s interesting how often the Bible speaks about peace. It doesn’t just talk about peace with God, vital though it is (Eph. 2:14–17). It also talks about the peace in our own hearts that God alone can give (Rom. 15:13).

And as we read the rest of Psalm 23, we can understand how he does that. It’s quite simple, and equally powerful: the Shepherd is sovereign; he has everything under control. He does the leading (v. 2); he does the providing (v. 5a); he’s the one that protects us against all enemies (v. 5c).

Our present eternal life

Now here’s a striking fact we often don’t consider. When we trust Jesus, we don’t merely trust that he’ll take us to heaven in the future. We trust our present life to him. When we trust Jesus, we entrust our entire life to the Shepherd. It’s remarkable that we often can trust Jesus the Christ to take us to heaven when we die, but we have difficulty trusting him to protect us and comfort us and to minister to us in the difficulties of this life. But eternal life isn’t just something that we have in the future. It’s a gift we have now — in the present. And when Jesus promised his disciples abundant, superfluous, “wasteful” life, he means right now.

And that’s why, no matter what the circumstances, we can live a peaceful life. Not a peaceful external life. God never promises there will be no hardships or difficulties. In fact, he even promises right here in Psalm 23 that there will be hardships (read vv. 4–5). But he promises the life of lavish peace to those who simply trust in the Shepherd.

It’s when we overcomplicate and over-analyze matters that we begin to worry. We’re anxious about how we will respond, about what God is doing, about how other people will respond — when all we really need to do is simply to trust the Shepherd.

A rejuvenated life

When David (the assumed writer) says the Shepherd restores his soul, he means his life. That’s what the word “soul” in the Old Testament means.[3] Now to see how this makes our life abundant, let’s consider “soul” and “life,” even using those terms the way we often do.

When we say the musician put real soul into his music, what we mean is that he put his full force into it. When we attend a concert and we charge that the musician “mails it in,” we mean that he just goes through the motions; he doesn’t put his vital life into his music.

Think about this in another way. Sometimes when our relatives and friends endure tragedies, we say, “They lost some life.” A little of their internal vitality slipped away. Something about the joy and fullness of life was lost.

Please note, then, what David is saying. He saying that the Shepherd can restore that lost vitality, that lost life. We Christians sometimes hold the naturalist idea that life is like an hourglass. It slowly ebbs away. But that’s not true. Time ebbs away, but time is not life, or soul. Just as God reverses the effects of sin, God reverses the effects of the loss of our vitality. He “restore[s] … the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25).

So, if you’ve lost the vitality of life, don’t despair. Don’t assume that it’s gone forever. Maybe it’s problems in your family or marriage. Maybe it’s a financial hardship. Maybe it’s an illness. Maybe it’s a long-time vexation or grief. Appeal to the Shepherd who restores our life. He gives us back our vitality.

The peaceful, righteous road

I can’t help but point out something in the last part of v. 3 that’s especially pertinent in our own culture — and today’s church. The Shepherd leads us down roads of righteousness, and the roads of righteousness are the roads of peace.[4] Did you get that? Rebellion and fornication and pride and gossip and pornography and laziness and covetousness do not give us peace. Mick Jagger is 100% right: you just can’t get “no satisfaction” in immorality. If you want peace, you can have it. But you must have it God’s way — by following the Shepherd on the road of righteousness.

No fear

If you’ve driven around Santa Cruz, you have seen lots of bumper stickers that say only, “No Fear.” For an unbeliever, that’s simply a lot of bravado. They fear all the time; they simply put on a good front. I’m sure that some of them put the “No Fear” bumper stick around their car just to get up enough courage to get through life.

But that’s not true of our Lord’s sheep.[5] At least, it shouldn’t be. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we won’t fear evil. This passage doesn’t necessarily mean that we needn’t fear death, though we shouldn’t. It means the valley of darkness, as dark as death.[6] ”Darkness” means gloom, no surrounding joy, no external light giving direction. This means a very dark, harsh valley. Some of us of have walked through that valley. For some it’s been the loss or waywardness of a child. For others, it’s a destructive disease. For others, it’s divorce. For still others, it’s complete financial loss.

Notice that David had just said the Shepherd leads him in “paths of righteousness.” And then he immediately says that he sometimes walks through a dark, gloomy valley. This can only mean that Jesus the Shepherd is the one who leads us into that gloomy valley. By the way, do you remember John 10:4? Jesus said that he leads the sheep by going before them. He leads us; he doesn’t drive us. Notice again in Psalm 23:4. David doesn’t fear the gloomy valleys of life because the Shepherd is right there with them: the Shepherd doesn’t send us into the valley; he leads us into the valley. In no tribulation of life that we endure is Jesus anywhere else. When we are thrown into the fiery furnace of affliction, the Son of God is there with us (Dan. 3:25).

In the first part of the Psalm, David rejoiced that the Shepherd led him into peaceful, calm circumstances. But now he says the Shepherd leads him into hard, gloomy circumstances. This point in both cases is comforting. In each case, the Shepherd is providing for us abundantly. When we’re grazing peacefully with all provision, the Shepherd’s goodness is abundant. When we’re enduring the great hardships of life, the Shepherd’s comfort is abundant. The reason we feel internally more secure during the externally calm, peaceful, bountiful times is because our security is misplaced. “[C]ertainly, the reason why we are so terrified,” writes Calvin, “when it pleases God to exercise us with the cross, is, because every man, that he may sleep soundly and undisturbed, wraps himself up in carnal security.” But our security isn’t in circumstances. Our security is in the ever-present Shepherd.

The Shepherd is not the variable

Here is a great key, in fact, to our assurance. We are not somehow less secure when we walk in a gloomy valley, or more secure when we rest on a peaceful riverbank. The Shepherd is guarding and protecting and governing and preserving and comforting us in both situations. Our life situations fluctuate; his care for us doesn’t fluctuate.

God’s retaliation against Satan

The picture in v. 5 is riveting. All of David’s enemies are surrounding him in a valley, but God is right there preparing for David a great feast. And because God is present protecting him, all that his enemies can do is watch in frustration and resentment. God’s is lavishing his blessings on David in the very sight of his enemies who want to do him great harm. It’s as though the Shepherd is preparing a great meal for the sheep as all the wolves are looking on hungrily — but there’s nothing they can do about it.

David, of course, is talking about his personal enemies, but behind all of then is Satan. In the Garden of Eden, Satan seduced man and woman in the attempt to overthrow God’s good earth. And now God’s grace retaliates against Satan, publicly humiliates him, graciously providing for his people — in Satan’s full view.

Conclusion: Our Wasteful God

I said that God doesn’t economize in saving us. Jesus taught that in John 10, and he teaches it here, in verses 5–6. Here David says, “My cup overflows.” When your cup overflows, you’re wasting liquid. Some of it won’t get used.

That’s precisely what David is saying about his and our salvation. God gives us too much. He wastes provision on us. Goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. God doesn’t just provide; he lavishes. His mercy isn’t stingy; he drenches us in it. Know that his goodness and mercy will follow us. We don’t simply ask for them; his goodness and mercy chase us down.

The false, stingy God

In reading Psalm 23, do you recognize that you might have a very false conception of God? Do you get the idea that God might be economical and stingy with his people? That’s not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible loves to waste his salvation on his people. Just when we think that he’s given us all that he can or should, he gives more. God is constantly surprising his people with his goodness.


[1] See also Ezek. 34:11f.

[2] “[W]aters of rest” is a literal translation. See F. Delitzsch, “Psalms,” Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 5,1:330.

[3] Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? (Berrien Springs, Michigan: Biblical Perspectives, 1977), 51–58.

[4] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Kindle edition (no loc.: Osnova, n. d.), commentary at Ps. 23:3.

[5] Actually, the writer drops the shepherd/sheep metaphor in v. 4, but of course the underlying truth abides.

[6] F. Delitzsch, “Psalms,” 5,1:330.