Scriptures: Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.With your rod and your staff that give me courage.
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.
Jesus said: I am the Good Shepherd…the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice… He said once again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
HOMILY Sometimes it just fascinates me that a 3000 year old poem-song, called The Twenty Third Psalm, of the Bible, as done by Hebrew King David, is still so popular and right on target for our spiritual life. It is our Psalm on this Good Shepherd Sunday, paired with the Gospel of John account of Jesus calling Himself as “The Good Shepherd,” likely referring to that Lord and Shepherd of the psalm.
Jesus was referred to by many as a “new David.” He was born in the same place—Bethlehem. Most famous in the same place—Jerusalem. Buried in the same area—for David it was the spot right below the Upper Room—and it was chosen for that reason by Jesus. For Jesus, He would be put out of the city for His crucifixion and burial, due to the rejection of Him and thus being cast outside the walls for execution. Then Jesus will appear as Risen from the Tomb at that Upper Room spot, where the apostles had assembled that first Easter Sunday.
Jesus is the same One of whom David prayed to—when young David was a shepherd boy. Jesus as the Lord in Heaven, but preparing to come as THE Lord’s Anointed: THE CHRIST.
David was chosen to be anointed as the Hebrew next-in-line king, as the inspired choice so told to the prophet Nathan at the time. David would be filled with gifts of God at his anointing, and it filled his soul with praise. He takes his field wandering background and begins a prayer: “The Lord is My Shepherd…maketh me to lay down in fresh fields for green grazing with the sheep…to quiet streams to drink in refreshment to the soul.”
Jesus will come and be born about a millennium after David, in a cave near those shepherd fields of David. He would grow up and begin ministry and say: I AM the Good Shepherd.
So let us look at Psalm 23 and its image of shepherd. When we think of a shepherd, back to those old days, you think of a man who spends his whole life with his sheep, taking care of them, raising them, loving them, healing them and, most of all, protecting them from all harm. That’s the way the original shepherds were.
I should add that Psalm 23 isn’t the only well know Jewish Bible writing with this shepherd theme. God says to the prophet Ezekiel, He says, “I am tired of your leaders being so bad in their tasks of guiding you to Me. I am going to take my own sheep and shepherd them myself because you neglect them, you don’t care for them, you don’t love them. Thus, one day, I will send a shepherd and He will be God Himself…. He will sprinkle you with clean water and heal you; you will have a new heart by Him.”
Thus, again, Jesus saying that He was the I AM person, a God title, and then His pairing it with a shepherd who is very good, ”I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD,” is Jesus claiming to be someone forecast in the Hebrew Testament. “My sheep will know Me…know My Voice…as I call to them.” Jesus goes on to say that “He would never leave us, nor forsake us, that even He would lay down His life for us.” That is some serious shepherd talk.
You know, in the old days, the animals roamed the hills, they went wandering where the grass was, or the water was—and they might be gone for two, three, four weeks before returning home. So that meant that the shepherd had to make a place for the sheep to gather where they would feel safe. And wherever he found a few stones that were set around, he would make a little area for them, a little protection against the wild animals. And he would leave the front area of its guarding spot, the gate. You see, the sheep were not just in one sheepfold all the time—these are wandering animals in nomadic times. It goes back the Abraham and his time of flocks and herds there in Judah.
The gate place wasn’t made of iron that you carried around. The gate was just an opening among the rocks that he had piled up all around to protect the sheep. Maybe there were gathering branches and other blockades up, or use of tents too.
And that’s why Jesus can say, “I am the gate,” because the gate isn’t a thing, the gate is an opening into the sheep fold. And the sheep when they’re inside the gate feel secure and feel happy and feel content. And, of course, they know that the gate opening was just about five feet. And it was only five or six feet because when the shepherd got them all in, you can imagine there’s no electricity and it’s getting dark and all the sheep are in there, and he’s afraid maybe one is going to be late or two is going to be late, so he is the one who lays down in the space and sleeps as the gate so that the late sheep can kind of nudge him and get in or, which is even better, that the wild animals that are very anxious to get these lovely sheep, they would have to walk over his body in order to get in to the sheepfold. Very courageous.
So David the shepherd boy was a good shepherd, even while young. He supposedly had fought off big wild animals that tried to devour the sheep. When David, later as a young man, volunteered to fight Goliath, they said, “You’re only a teenager. You’re not worth anything. What do you know? You have no experience.” He says, “No, at the sheep gate, I defended my sheep from lions and tigers and leopards and wild dogs and thieves, and I drove them all away and they knew they were safe with me.” And it was true.
So now when Jesus says, “I am the gate,” He is saying more, “I am the Good Shepherd, the one who defends and takes care of and makes his sheep feel secure, and never loses them and lays his life down for them,” which Jesus does.
All of this and the two stories can be bound up into one basic idea: that when Jesus comes, the Son of God, He comes to give us life, to protect the life that God Himself gives us.
Jesus is our protection now, and He also is our Way into Glory and Heaven later.
Jesus wants to be first in our lives and placed at the cave opening of our heart. He more that wants us, He knows that He needs to be the Lord of our lives, if we are to be safe, or saved. We the sheep learn to come under Him and find our Good Shepherd, rather than roam around without him. The fold here on earth would be the Church and we have come in here for the Lord and His salvation. We feed near Him, gather, and look for guidance. He will offer us freedom to roam, but teach us that we must keep coming back to Him. He is our Good Shepherd, and we cannot trust living in this world without Him.
Then, by learning to listen to Jesus and follow Him, we will learn His voice. That Shepherd’s voice will one day say our Name as our upward call to Glory. It will be time for our soul to go home. He will say: John, can you hear your Good Shepherd? I call you by name. Come. You have learned to come and trust me, now come into Glory for I am the Sheepgate.
I did a funeral for a woman this week and she lived a “fearless life” as described by her husband and daughter. Sometime in Mrs. Pat Kmetz’s life, she caught on to the real meaning of the lines in Psalm 23. Like, “Though I walk through the dark valley, I shall not fear, O God, for thy shepherd’s rod and thy staff are there as your signs of being with me, and I shall dwell one day in your Heaven forever.” Pat knew how to apply those verses, and it gave her the same kind of spirit described in King David or of Jesus—of being fearless. Mrs. Kmetz had some things in life that she could have been captive in fear about—and the family described some of them, which I had never known about in the woman, whom I had for almost six years. She was a most pleasant lady to me, and at 91 in 2023, but she had overcome a number of things, by her Psalm 23 trust in the Lord. By recognizing Jesus in her life, and welcoming Him warmly and trying to be close to Him, and to serve Him with her being—she did not need to be in fear. It was surely in her calm face, and I never knew the trials she had faced—because it did not overwhelm her, and the finish to her life is that she can now soon be seated at the Lord’s Supper in Heaven, rightly overcome her enemies, and be seen with The Lord.
Victory! Her cup will overflow, as it says in Psalm 23, overflow in victory, in Jesus’ life.
What will be our own story of living Scripture and the promises of God and overcoming all?