David in Psalm 23 continues:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)
I’m reading Tim Keller’s book, Preaching. In it he touches on some of the difficulties in reaching people in our culture. One of the difficulties is the resistance among some to the thought there is real evil. Keller writes:
You can quote Andrew Delbanco, a secular scholar at Columbia University, whose book The Death of Satan argues that “a gulf has opened up in our culture between the visibility of evil and the intellectual resources available for coping with it.” He argues that many secular people understandably attribute all human cruelty to psychological deprivation or social conditioning and, in so doing, trivialize the terrible wrongs people are capable of. — Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism
We cannot afford to trivialize evil. It hunts the vulnerable. It wants to rise within us.
In this psalm David is not afraid of evil even though evil is real. He is not afraid because the LORD is with him. This of course assumes that David is following this Shepherd, not fighting him nor trying to deceive him. Safety in the presence of evil comes from following the Shepherd, not from dabbling in duplicity.
So today remember Jesus’ words:
Peace be with you. (Luke 24:36)
Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37)
David’s Psalm 23 continues:
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)
Wherever there are hills there are valleys. If a shepherd is to lead the flock to the next grazing area, sooner or later there will be a valley to cross. In addition, a valley is more likely to hold water than a hillside. Valleys are inevitable, and sometimes beneficial.
There are more shadows in the valley than on the hilltop. The valley gets the sun later in the morning and loses it earlier in the evening. Depending on the climate that can be a good thing or a bad thing.
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep, and leads them to green pastures, beside quiet waters, and sometimes into valleys. If the sheep is in a valley because he has simply wandered off from the flock and the care of the shepherd, the shepherd will seek out the sheep.
Two things to keep in mind then if we find ourselves in an emotional or spiritual valley: If this is of my own doing, the Good Shepherd is already coming for me! If on the other hand I can’t see how I might have contributed to this sorrow, this difficulty, then perhaps the Shepherd has led us here for awhile and is already nearby.
Can you trust the Jesus our Good Shepherd in this valley right now?
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6)
It’s a new week! A bright, sunny, soon-to-be-warm Monday. Will this week bring trouble or peace?
We don’t know. But we do know this:
The LORD is our shepherd, we lack nothing.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
And though trouble may come, we can say this:
Even though we walk through the darkest valley,
we will fear no evil, for you are with us….
Same God, same guidance, same care. All week.
Today is the third Sunday in Lent, a time to gather and celebrate the security we experience in the care of God our shepherd.
An important part of following Jesus is that he gives us to each other as companions along the way. Sheep follow the shepherd not "single file" nor somehow all alone, but as sheep in a flock.
Come along! We’ll make room. And our Shepherd is always worth following.
Compare the two translations of Psalm 23:3 below.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake. (NIV)
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. (KJV)
What kind of paths? Right or Righteous? The answer is both.
"The ambiguity of language and context, however, allows a moral quality to creep in. If the shepherd and sheep are images of a life fully dependent and trusting on Yahweh, then 'paths of righteousness' take on the meaning of a way of life that fulfills God’s expectation for his follower. The sheep are not left to their own devices but are led by God himself to take the correct path—the one that gets the sheep where they need to go." — Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms Volume 1 (NIVAC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 433.
The righteous path is the right path.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13–14)
Following Jesus our shepherd is the most practical, healthful thing anyone can do. Look up and see where he is today!
Today begins Lent, our preparation for the joy of Jesus’ resurrection! We prepare by confessing our sin and contemplating our mortality. To do so is to begin to allow Jesus to make us whole and fully alive.
You may find our Ash Wednesday service tonight at 7:00 pm a strong start to our season together.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee, chocolate chip cookies, Apple products, small video projects, and the New England Patriots.