Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
If you are young and healthy, we often feel that death is far away. When we don’t feel sick, we often think that not much can happen to us. There is a natural tendency for each of us to push thoughts about death far away. But death can just suddenly come close and become very real to us… I write this at a time, when in our area a little boy of two years has suddenly passed away. Each one of us are called to consider what happens when it is our time to die. What would happen to me, when I would be called to go into the valley of the shadow of death?
This well-known and beautiful Psalm -Psalm 23- begins with the words: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… Our Lord is a good Shepherd, who calls us to follow Him in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Remember, He is the Good Shepherd, who knows what death is all about. In John 10:15 we are reminded of this amazing truth: I lay down my life for the sheep. Christ, the Good Shepherd Himself went through the valley of the Shadow of death! He did so to conquer sin, death and hell for each of His sheep. That’s the only reason that you and I can sing along with this verse, in the darkest of circumstances: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.
As a good Shepherd, Jesus went before His sheep through this valley, that’s the most important reason not to fear. Only when we trust Him, we can be ready for death! Only as we follow Him can we go through the darkest of valleys, even the valley of the shadow of death…
Why? Because He has promised to be with us there, when the Lord calls us to go through it. Only when we trust Him; trust His Word, will we be able to go through the valley. Yes, questions can fill our minds… “Why did this happen? Why did the Lord allow this?” We might never know the answer on this side of the grave…
How important therefore to listen to the voice of the good Shepherd. In times when questions can arise in our hearts. We might need to strain our ears, when you are in the dark valley of doubts, fears or mourning. There is comfort when we can hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who promises: I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:20)
When our trust is in Jesus Christ, we don’t need to fear evil, we do not even need to fear the valley of the shadow of death. As we listen to and trust in our Good Shepherd we can find comfort. He only went through death Himself, but He tells us that all power is given to Him in heaven and earth! What can go wrong when He is such our Almighty Shepherd? Can anything separate us from His love and care? No, not even death can! (Read: Rom. 8:32-39)
But there is something more that can calm the hearts of helpless sheep. It is the fact that our Good Shepherd carries a rod and a staff. Through His Word, He guides us and if necessary gently corrects us. Yes, He leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (vs. 3). Through His Word and Spirit He leads us into the right way; His way.
But perhaps someone is reading this and says: “Pastor, that is all good and well, beautiful, but I don’t know if I am one of His Sheep. How can I know?” Well, what did Jesus say about what sheep do in John 10:27? My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…
So the first thing is that you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Are you listening to the voice of this Good Shepherd? Have your ears become attentive to His Word? Are you yearning for His nearness? Are you wanting Him to speak to your soul and say: I am with you?! That is a sign that you are one of His sheep. Because by nature we all like sheep have gone astray! (Isa 53:6) But when we are saved, Christ’s Words will begin to speak into our lives.
And secondly, what is the result of listening in our lives? True sheep follow Jesus! That is how you may know that you are a sheep of His! When we who -by nature- all turned every one to his own way, become obedient to His Word! When we desire to obey and submit to Him, although we lament that our obedience is so imperfect. Yet, we desire to go in the paths of righteousness. We want to be led into the green pasture of His Word and beside the still waters where our souls are refreshed! Then the good Shepherd says: I know you!
Now if you must honestly say: I miss this listening ear, and this new beginning of obedience in my life. Then it is high time to say: “Seek me Lord, I am a lost sheep, carry me on Thy shoulder to the fold!”
But, if you by grace know that you are one of His sheep, we may trust that He will lead us all the way home! We may trust that beyond the valley of the shadow of death, there is a home prepared. We can say: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Why? Because Jesus our Good Shepherd says in John 10:28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. You see, that is the comfort of every sheep of Christ, eternal life, so that we can say: I fear no evil! He is with me! And with Him as my Shepherd I shall not lack anything!