“Surely Goodness & Mercy” Psalm 23

“Surely Goodness & Mercy” Psalm 23

He is not too glorious to become a shepherd. He is not too powerful to care for the weak. His glory may be great, but his head is not swollen.


The text for the sermon today is Psalm 23. These are the words of God:

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. 
He leads me beside still waters. 
3 He restores my soul. 
He leads me in paths of righteousness 
for his name’s sake. 
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me. 
5 You prepare a table before me 
in the presence of my enemies; 
you anoint my head with oil; 
my cup overflows. 
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me 
all the days of my life, 
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD 
forever. (ESV)


Psalm 23 is without question the most famous of the Psalms. Even if you are not a Christian it’s likely that you know something of this Psalm. You may have heard some of it in a movie or a song. It’s also likely that you have heard this Psalm read at a funeral.

Psalm 23 is one of the most comforting passages in the Bible. It’s pastoral in the truest sense. Meaning that it speaks of the pasture. It’s down to earth.

And, during this season of Advent—this time of waiting and expectation for Christmas we’re going to take this Psalm about the Shepherd and we’re going to consider how it is that in the birth of Jesus Christ, God has sent the true shepherd of the sheep.

The Psalm breaks down into two parts. In verses 1-3 we see that the Shepherd provides for his sheep. In verses 4-6 we see the Shepherd who protects the sheep.

Yahweh (The LORD), the great I AM is David’s shepherd. And because of who this shepherd is. David knows his need will be met. (v. 1) The good shepherd brings the sheep into green pastures so they can eat, quiet or peaceful waters so they can drink, and he does all this by leading the sheep on the right paths. (v. 2-3)

Even when these right and straight paths lead through deep ravines full of darkness, the sheep are comforted that the shepherd is walking alongside them. The rod and the staff are tools of protection and guidance. (v. 4)

In (v. 5), Yahweh, is no longer a shepherd, but a host. He’s set a banquet table full of food—and he’s done it when the house was surrounded by enemies. Not only does the Lord prepare the meal, he prepares David to eat the meal by putting oil on his head and fills his cup to overflowing (v. 5)

David ends on a note of quiet repose. Because the Lord is his shepherd and host, he’ll never lack for anything, and he’ll never have to leave this party. (v. 6)


Although Psalm 23 brings incredible comfort, it’s important to note that calling us sheep is not meant as a compliment. While many kinds of livestock can be left to themselves, sheep are virtually helpless without a shepherd.

Unless the shepherd leads them, they won’t find food. Unless the shepherd protects them, they won’t defend themselves from predators.

David reminds us of our utter helplessness if the Lord does not look out for us, provide for us, protect us, and guide us.


We should also note that in calling Yahweh the “shepherd,” he assigns to God a title of humility that the Lord is willing to accept. The great I Am is not put out or diminished by serving helpless creatures. He is not too glorious to become a shepherd. He is not too powerful to care for the weak. His glory may be great, but his head is not swollen.

Ezekiel 34 tells us that Psalm 23 is no mere metaphor, but prophetic:

22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey… 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

And, of course, John 10 brings about the fulfillment of Ez. 34:

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

It’s also important to note that the valley that we walk through isn’t the valley of death. It’s the valley of the shadow of death.

Donald Grey Barnhouse, who was a pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for many years, lost his wife when his daughter was still a child. Dr. Barnhouse was trying to help his little girl, and himself, process the loss of his wife and her mother.

Once when they were driving, a huge moving van passed them.  As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car. Barnhouse had a thought. He said something like this, “Would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?” His daughter replied, “By the shadow of course.”

Dr. Barnhouse replied, “Right. If the truck doesn’t hit you, but only its shadow, then you are fine. Well, it was only the shadow of death that went over your mother. She’s actually alive ⎯ more alive than we are. And that’s because two thousand years ago, the real truck of death hit Jesus. And because death crushed Jesus, and we believe in him, now the only thing that can come over us is the shadow of death.”

The gospel of Christ is that even though we had broken God’s laws and deserved to be cast headlong into the valley of death—Christ, though he was innocent walked death’s valley in our place.

• Christ was condemned that we might be pardoned.
• Christ died that we might live.
• Christ was cut off that we might be brought in.

Here’s what that means—if you will come to Christ by faith—trusting in his life and death then the only valley you can walk through is the valley of the shadow.

Think about that for a moment. The valley that you are in today—if you are in Christ, it can only be the shadow of death.


Have you ever noticed, in those moments when you are impatient and freaking out, that the Lord is calm and patient? When you are losing your head because you’re surrounded by enemies, do you know what the Lord is doing? He’s not losing his mind with you. He doesn’t join in on your fretting fit? Our bad attitudes never rub off on him. Instead, when we are losing our minds, what’s he doing? He’s getting out the China and the goblets. There’s a roast in the oven, and wine is being served.

USS Massachusetts
• Okinawa, Gilbert, Marshall Islands.
• 700’
• Bristling with guns.
• Some 16’ shells weighing over 1,500 lb. which are hurled 15 miles away to bombard beachheads.
• Ice Cream Parlor

The Lord has prepared a feast for you. The table is laid with bread and wine—the body and blood of Christ. It’s the only bread, that if you have eaten it in faith, will satisfy the hunger of your soul. It’s the only cup that, if you drink it with faith, will quench the thirst of your spirit.

And, as one preacher said:

“In the darkest valley, in the shadow of death, with enemies ranging themselves on the ridges on either side of the valley, as you walk there with the Lord, together with your companions, one of you might hear footsteps behind you. And if you whisper to a friend that you have heard these footsteps, be prepared to receive the encouragement. “Don’t worry. That’s only goodness and mercy.” What is that that follows you in the dark? Do not fear not. Goodness and mercy. And you will come safely at the end to the house of the Lord, where you will dwell forever and ever.”

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