Theme: “I Shall Lack Nothing”
In this week’s lessons we see how Jesus, as our shepherd, gives us everything we need in this world as well as in the world to come.
Scripture: Psalm 23:1-6
Yesterday we concluded by saying that Jesus took up this Old Testament idea of God as the shepherd of his people.
In Luke 15 Jesus defended his mingling with tax collectors and “sinners” by saying, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:4-7).
Even more remarkable is Jesus’ teaching about himself as a shepherd in John 10: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it…I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:2-4, 11, 12, 14-16).
We are part of that “one flock,” composed of believing Jews and Gentiles. So we are not stretching the twenty-third psalm to see Jesus as our shepherd and to apply the lines of the psalm carefully and in detail to ourselves.
It is not only the first half of the first line that is important, however. The second half is important too. It says, “I shall lack nothing.” This statement goes with the first half. Left to themselves, sheep lack everything. They are the most helpless animals. But if we belong to the one who is self-sufficient, inexhaustible and utterly unchanged by time, we will lack nothing since he is sufficient for all things and will provide for us.
What is it that those in the care of the good shepherd shall not lack? Verses 2-6 are an answer to that question.
1. I shall not lack rest. This is because “he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (v. 2).
Phillip Keller is a pastor and author, who for eight years was himself a shepherd. Out of that experience he has written a helpful book entitled A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. It throws light on this and other statements. Sheep do not lie down easily, Keller says. In fact, as he goes on to explain, “It is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. Because of the social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.”4
Fear. Friction. Flies. Famine. Sheep must be free from each of these to be contented. But the interesting thing, as Keller notes, is that it is only the shepherd who can provide the trust, peace, deliverance and pasture that is needed to free the sheep from them.
It is interesting that the psalm begins at this point. we might expect it to begin with motion, either on the shepherd’s part or the sheep’s part, with some kind of activity. But strikingly, it begins with rest. It is a reminder that the Christian life also begins with resting in God or Christ. Along the way there will in time be many things for us to do. But we begin by resting in him who has done everything for us. Are you resting in Christ? Have you found Jesus to be the perfect provider of all your many needs? Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes on me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
Before he was crucified he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
What do we learn about Jesus from his use of the shepherd image?
What four things do sheep need in order to rest? How does the Lord meet those needs for us, both physically and spiritually?
From the lesson, what is the significance of the psalm’s beginning with rest? How is Jesus said to give this rest?
Application: In what ways do you need to admit your helplessness before God?
For Further Study: For a more detailed look at how Jesus is our shepherd, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “I Am the Good Shepherd.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
4Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 35.