Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (April 17, 2016)

PSALM 23

I WILL FEAR NO EVIL, 
FOR YOU ARE WITH ME.

M:     Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     Hebrew poetry is not concerned with rhyming.  The word play in Hebrew poetry is often in parallels.  For example, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)  Lamp is parallel to light, and “my feet” is parallel to “my path.”  Sometimes the parallel is a contrast.  For example, “Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, but sin overthrows the wicked.” (Proverbs 13:6)  The contrast there is obviously between sin and righteousness, the blameless and the wicked.  The word play in Psalm 23 is not in parallels, but in its design.  In English, when we want to emphasize something, we usually make it the first word or the punch line.  In Hebrew, the main point is put in the middle.  The words which come before and after that phrase either prove support it or are the consequences of it.  The very middle of Psalm 23 are the words: “For you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)  
     The LORD is my shepherd.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:1,4)  The Psalm does not say that there is no evil.  You would have to be willfully naive to think that there are no evils around us.  We see them, hear about them, and experience them all the time.  In particular, we think of the evils which can destroy us and condemn us.  For as bad as some evils are, such as a car accident, car accidents do not damn.  Sin does, and sin is always there.  We are seduced by the sinful attitudes and actions which are common around us.  And we are enticed by the sinful desires that spring up from our own hearts.  If our way is not blameless, our sins will overthrow us.  Death, of course, is always out there.  We know that the grave will one day claim us.  And the devil does all he can to pull us away from our Lord.  He tempts us, convincing us that we deserve the very things God forbids.  And then, when we have sinned, the devil taunts us so that we feel miserable in our guilt and shame.  There is plenty of evil out in the world and down in our hearts.  Therefore, let us keep watch, stand firm, and pray.
     We cannot escape the evil around us, but we need not fear it.  The LORD is my shepherd.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:1,4)  The Lord Jesus does not abandon us or forget about us amidst the evils that we know and feel—whether they are pesky and inconvenient, or wicked and damnable.  The Lord Jesus is and remains our Immanuel.  That is the central point of Psalm 23: “For you are with me.”
     A good shepherd always is with the sheep.  In the Judean community, every family would have had a few sheep.  A youth from the community would be hired to shepherd the flock for everyone.  He would know where to lead the sheep to make sure they got fed.  They did not go into fields protected by barbed wire fences.  They went out into open wilderness.  Predators would have pretty easy access to the sheep—unless they had a good shepherd to defend and protect them.
     Sheep are also prone to stray.  They pay attention to the little tuft of grass in front of their snouts.  Soon, they drift away, caring only about the next tuft of grass.  They are not even aware that they head right into potential death.  Therefore the shepherd calls to them so that they hear his voice and stay close where it is safe.  Likewise, we are prone to stray.  We devote ourselves to what is next on our schedules.  We fail to give head to our Shepherd's voice and end up wandering away from him, unaware of the danger we are in.  The problem is not our schedules anymore than the sheep's problem is the tuft of grass.  The problem comes when the sheep neglect the shepherd's voice.  With the shepherd, there is no danger.  Apart from the shepherd comes certain death.
      The LORD is my shepherd.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:1,4)  This Psalm was well known to the people in Jesus' day.  So, when Jesus declared, “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11), they knew that Jesus was proclaiming that he is the Lord who shepherds his sheep.  And then Jesus went on to say what makes him the good shepherd.  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)  As a good and faithful shepherd, Jesus takes his stand between us and between all the evil that would threaten or destroy us.  With the shepherd, there is no danger.
     I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)  Jesus Christ protects us from every evil.  You do not need to fear your sins.  Jesus Christ has taken your sins from you.  Jesus suffered the wrath of God in your place.  Your shepherd has taken the blows and let his body be rent apart so that you would not suffer.  Instead, you are forgiven.  You need not fear the devil, either.  Though he prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour you, Jesus Christ has overcome him.  When the devil taunts you about your sins and tries to smear you with the shame of what you have done, Jesus speaks a more powerful and more soothing word.  To the devil, you are prey.  You are meat to be devoured.  To Jesus, you are precious.  You are the lamb he has redeemed with his life.  And he lives to claim you as his own forever.  The devil does not have you.  The devil cannot have you.  Jesus reminds you, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)  With the shepherd, there is no danger.  Therefore, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)  
     The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)  For now, it may seem that death is winning; for we are all going to die.  We have watched loved ones die.  Death overlooks no one.  But you do not need to fear even death.  The Psalmist reminds us, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)  Your Good Shepherd has already gone into death for you.  Death had swallowed Jesus up, but death was forced to spit him up when Jesus burst forth out of the grave.  Jesus Christ is risen, and he lives as your Immanuel.  Jesus lives to serve you as your Good Shepherd.  Even though you will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will walk through it.  Not even death can separate you from Jesus.  Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades, and when he comes again at the Last Day, he will deliver you from the grave to life everlasting.  Even in the face of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)  
     And it gets better.  If you are in Christ, you do not have to live your life like you are barely escaping evil all day long.  We do not cower behind walls, peak out of blankets over our heads, or tremble at the sound of everything.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  ...You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies... (Psalm 23:4,5)  We feast with our God.  Even though sin, death, and the devil are always around us, the Lord Jesus prepares a feast for us right in front of their faces.  We get to rest in God's presence and rejoice in God's care.  The table is prepared for the feast, and here Jesus Christ fills you with what you need for your salvation.  Here are the body and blood which were given for the forgiveness of your sins.  Here are the body and blood which have conquered death and the grave.  Here are the body and blood which Satan could not destroy.  Here they are—for you.  It is the feast of the Lamb given to the lambs of God.  In the face of our enemies, Jesus is with us and is given to us.  In the midst of evil, Jesus restores our souls.
     I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)  Our Good Shepherd leads us with his words of comfort and encouragement.  And he guards us from behind with goodness and mercy following us.  Jesus knows you and loves you.  He guards you and keeps you.  He feeds you and strengthens you.  And since he shepherds you for your everlasting good, you shall not want.  You lack nothing.  For, you are his, and he is yours.  Since he is your Immanuel, you shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:6)

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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