Best for Last. THRIVE, #50
I’ve never been good at good bye.
They say all things have to come to an end, but I’m not ‘they’.
Look off in the distance with me and see the dust rising up . . .
what is moving, what is all the commotion? Alas, it is a scraggly flock of sheep, one animal scurrying along the far side and yet another bringing up the rear. As they come into focus, a lone figure is with them ... talking to them all the time, coaxing the four-legged animals, staff in one hand and rod in the other. Can you visualize this with me?
Whilst traveling in Israel, it excites me most to spy the sheep, and then the shepherd, from the bus. In an instant, I become the ugly tourist doing whatever it takes to catch a picture of them. Is it possible, can it be that shepherds still guide and guard their flocks like we read about in the Bible, like is pictured in this 23rdPsalm? It is indeed possible!
And so we look back at where we have been, [and again, i invite you to read this aloud]
and remember that:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. i shall be content.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. i shall know rest.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. he heals my broken places
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. he shows me holiness
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. i am never alone
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. you invite me into your salvation
and i must be careful not to give my enemies a seat at the table!
Then the psalmist closes with this:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
David likely wrote this as king while looking back at having been a shepherd, knowing what it was to be pursued, to have his life threatened - several times actually. And now there’s you, now there’s me, several millenia later.
Notice that in this great psalm is the prayer of our hearts for the Lord to be our Shepherd, to grant us rest, to heal our brokenness. He goes before us - so that we can follow him - and in the middle, he promises that no matter what we are walking through, we will never be alone -- he will be with us.
The Shepherd before us, leading us . . .
The Shepherd going through ‘it’ with us, as he said in the valley,
he will never leave us alone
And then the rear guard is two angels following behind us: goodness and mercy. Some translations say ‘kindness’ instead of mercy. I’ll take mercy, please. Imagine with me that our Shepherd - our good Father - leads us, guides us, stays ever close to us, and when we act out of our humanness, he is yet good, he extends mercy. Mercy is kind of like compassion combined with forgiveness - it is being given a pass when we just don’t deserve one; it is extending a pass to another, when we could choose to hang onto a grievance. Hmmm.
And then, when we draw our last breath, we will be forever with the Lord -- forever in his kindness, forever in his goodness, forever in his love. We will have a seat at the table as an honored guest of the Lamb of God. Oh. My. Goodness. Jesus himself said of that time, “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Luke 11.29
As we come to the end of this beautiful psalm, there is so much to grab a hold of . . .
There is so much to stand upon,
There is so much we can feel comforted by,
There is a Savior we can apprehend.
Do you love him . . . your Good Shepherd?
O, I pray you do.
Because not only has he promised that goodness and mercy we will follow us,
but that we will live with him forever . . . in. his. house.
And there is no place better to be. Amen.