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TEXT: Psalm 23:1
SUBJECT: Matthew Henry on Psalm 23 #1
Tonight, with God's favor, we'll begin a new Puritan study called Matthew Henry on Psalm 23. Henry is a name you know-and ought to admire. He was an English pastor and writer who lived from 1662 to 1714. Today, he's best remembered for his Commentary on the Whole Bible. This is the book we're using to guide us through the 23rd Psalm.
We'll start with a quote and spend the rest of our time thinking it through. It is his first paragraph on the Psalm and it's full of good things. Henry has a real knack for stating the obvious and making you wonder why you didn't see it for yourself!
"From three very comforting premises, David, in this Psalm, draws three very comforting conclusions, and teaches us to do so too. We are saved in hope and that hope will not make us ashamed, because it is well-grounded. It is the duty of Christians to encourage themselves in the Lord their God; and we are there to take that encouragement from the relation wherein He stands to us and from the experience we have had of His goodness according to that relation".
THE BIG IDEA
First, he gives the big idea. What is the 23rd Psalm about? It's about comfort-the believer's comfort grounded in something real and unmovable.
David's life was hard and perilous, but it was not eaten up with anxiety. He had peace and encouragement even when things were not going his way.
Why did he feel this way? He was not born optimistic. Some people are; nothing gets them down-they're just that way. I've known unbelievers who are this way. They had no reason at all for their hope, yet it never flags, not in sickness or loss or even in death, it seems. Yet this is not so of David. Read his life and Psalms and you'll know he was aware of danger and felt fear and guilt and other dark emotions. He was more than an upbeat guy.
What he was was a believer. Not just a man who said he believed in God or still held on to the Bible stories he heard as a boy. No, he believed in what God said about Himself and he believed that he-David-had a part in what God said about Himself.
David's comfort came from his hope. And his hope was not built on wishful thinking or on stupid fantasies. His hope was built on something solid-on God's character and grace.
We tend to think of our problems as really real and of God's grace as being somewhat less real. The problem is as hard and solid as concrete, but God's grace is more like a mist or smoke or something. It's there, but it's not solid-and it's nothing compared to the problem.
In his little book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis saw things differently. The book's about a bus ride from earth into heaven. The passengers expect heaven to be something like a cloud, but-in fact-everything is harder than a diamond and heavier than an elephant. The grass in heaven is like needles in their feet; the strongest man cannot budge a leaf. What Lewis is getting at is this: life on earth is real-and so are sorrow, disease, unemployment, and death. But these things are less real and solid that the things above: less solid than God and His promises.
This is where David found his comfort: in the reality of God's character and promises.
We Christians have hope! And because the hope is set on something real, it will never disappoint us. The Bible says "Put no confidence in princes". Why not? Because most leaders don't mean what they say, and those who do, often cannot deliver on their promises. Eighty-five years ago, millions of hungry Russians put their hope in Communism, but their hope let them down: the promises were phony and so were the men who made them. The hope itself was real, but it was set on lies and deceit which are not real.
Our hope, however, is fixed on something real: the character of God is unchangeable and His promises have never fallen to the ground-never has one proven false! Nor is it possible, for God cannot lie and His wisdom and power are so great that everything He wants to do, He can do. And will do. Because He said so.
WHAT GOD IS-TO US
The hope we have in God is supported by two pillars. The first one-Henry says-is
"The relation wherein He stands to us".
What is God?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says:
"God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth".
This is true, of course, but it doesn't do me much good because it doesn't say what God is to me! To a sinner, an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God is not an altogether pleasant thought. But Psalm 23 isn't about what (or who) God is, but who and what He is to us.
What is the Lord to the Christian? He is our Shepherd. He is the Shepherd of all His sheep and also the Shepherd of every one of His sheep.
Being our Shepherd means four things:
Because I have no interest in sheep, I can't tell one from another. But the shepherd can. He knows the sheep by name and the peculiarities of each that we miss, he doesn't. Thus, the Lord knows all who belong to Him, but not just all of them, but each of us. For example, He keeps a running tab on how many hairs each of us has on his head!
The shepherd's job is not only to know His flocks, but also to provide for them. You don't have to feed a pack of wolves or help a herd of buffalo find grass. They know how to take care of themselves-but sheep don't. They're the most helpless animals in the world and that's why they have shepherds. And so the Lord, knowing how needy we are provides for us in body and soul.
Sheep are not only unable to fend for themselves, but even they're even less able to defend themselves against the predators who want to eat them. Thus a shepherd has to have guts-the guts to fight off dangerous animals-dangerous to him too-like wild dogs, mountain lions, wolves and coyotes that would like nothing better than to have lamb chops for dinner tonight. Thus the Lord stands up for us against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Good shepherds love their sheep. The love a man can feel for an animal is great, to be sure, but it is also limited by the nature of the beast. I hope you love your dog and love your wife, too. But I hope you don't love your dog and your wife in the same way! Dogs cannot receive the love a wife can and that's wasted on them. But man-remember-is made in the Image of God-and thus, we can receive the higher love of God. Which He is happy to give us to overflow.
The believer can live in hope and have comfort even when times are bad because The Lord is my Shepherd. Not may be or will be as long as I don't mess up, but He is. By His choice, He has become my Shepherd and will never give up the job until we're all in the fold.
This is the first support for our comfort: what God is-to us.
OUR EXPERIENCE OF WHAT GOD IS-TO US
The second support for our hope and comfort is our experience of what God is to us. Underline the word, "experience". Henry says
"It is the duty of Christians to encourage themselves in the Lord their God.from the experience we have had of His goodness".
The Lord is our Shepherd and has promised to do us good. But, not only has He promised His goodness, but He has given it to us in the past-in numbers out of mind.
If a friend helped you out of a jam four or five times in your life, he would be a very good friend! But compare those four or five times to the times God has obviously helped you. The needs He has met-often without being asked. The prayers He has answered. You can't number the times He has been good to you. And then, think about His goodness you never saw. You remember when you nearly missed being killed in a car wreck-and you thanked God from the bottom of your heart for His mercy. But what about the other wrecks you might have been in? How many times have you changed lanes without looking? How many times have you backed up with hardly a glance? How many times have you not paid attention while driving?
Last week, I went to pick up my sons at school. I knew kids were around, of course, and so I backed up very slowly and with great care. Yet, even then, I nearly hit a little girl. Thank God I didn't! But how many times have I backed up a lot faster and with far less care? And yet, after driving for almost thirty years, I've never hit anyone. How great the is the goodness of My Shepherd! How kind He is to the ignorant, the careless, the stupid, and the sinful!
My own experience tells me I can trust my Shepherd. That my hope in Him will not be disappointed. And yet, how weak my faith is in Him. My hope is so shaky.
Is my experience unique? Has no one here felt the goodness of God over and over again? No, all believers have known that goodness a million times in their lives-and that's only the tip of the iceberg. Most of His goodness is under the water line: it's there and it's solid, though you can't see it.
The last thing to note here is Henry's use or application of Psalm 23. The Psalm is a record of David's life-not yours or mine. Yet, Henry says, it is there to encourage you and me to the same hope that David had and to feel the same comfort he felt.
Unlike David, your name does not appear in the Bible, nor has God audibly called you The Apple of His eye and so on. But David is no closer to God than you are-if you're a Christian, I mean. The grace God had for him came through David's union with Christ. Which every believer has.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ".
"There has been given to us all things which pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue".
"In Him you are complete".
This means God is not only David's Shepherd-but your Shepherd too! And not just also yours, but equally yours. David is way ahead of us in gifts and calling and other things, too. But he is not ahead of us when it comes to God's love. For the Shepherd of God's Flock loves all His sheep, and died for every last one of them.
If the Lord is your Shepherd, then you have great comfort now and even greater hope for the future.
God bless you, everyone! Amen.
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