Do you see the Lord as your shepherd, and are you fully surrendered to Him with complete trust? As we continue our Playlist series, Jermaine Harrison walks us through Psalm 23 to show that we can trust God to be both a Good Shepherd and a Gracious Host.
God's Love Never Stops | Psalm 118
The Good Shepherd | Psalm 23
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made | Psalm 139
Jesus is Our Satisfaction | Psalm 16
God is Good in our Trials | Psalm 34
Do you see the Lord as your shepherd, and are you fully surrendered to Him with complete trust? As we continue our Playlist series, Jermaine Harrison walks us through Psalm 23 to show that we can trust God to be both a Good Shepherd and a Gracious Host.
Hello, and good morning, Watermark family and guests. My name is Jermaine Harrison. I get to serve around here on the students' team, specifically with junior high students in grades six through eight, high school students in grades nine through twelve, and college students. Our vision is that together we are guiding future generations to follow Jesus and be the church. I am so excited for the opportunity and privilege to get to continue our Playlist series this morning. I want to invite you to grab your Bible, to grab your journal, and let's learn together.
Just a little bit more about me. Like I said, I serve here on the students' team. I've been married for almost three years. We have a 7-month-old son. So here's a picture of my wife Hannah and our son Winslow. Yeah, thanks guys. They're great. I love being her husband and his dad, and it's an honor and a privilege.
Also, I moved here to Dallas 11 years ago to go to seminary, to attend Dallas Theological Seminary. I'm original from Jamaica, if you're wondering where the accent is from. It has been such a joy to get to be a part of this family here. Then in the middle of my seminary time I wandered into Watermark in the spring of 2012. I started volunteering with the student ministry for the last half of my time in seminary. When I graduated in 2014, I came on staff here at Watermark and have been here ever since.
When it became clear that I was going to be in Texas for the foreseeable future, I decided to do something that everyone should do who decides to live in Texas. So if you're new, if you're moving to Texas, or if you're planning on moving to Texas, I want to encourage you to head on over to watermark.org/news and fill out the, "How may we serve you?" section. That's one piece of advice.
The second piece of advice, which I took for myself, was to learn a lot about country music. So in the summer of 2014, I was driving around my car at the time, a 1997 Mercury Grand Marquis, and I made a commitment. That whole summer, I was only going to listen to country music. So my radio station in my car was only on one station, 99.5 The Wolf, because…
I heard some people do the wolf howl. That's great. Because I was committed. I wanted to learn more about George Strait and Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw. I also wanted to learn about Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan and everything else that you think is not country and everything in between. It was an amazing experience.
Out of that, came one of my greatest works to date: a playlist, a curated playlist that is appropriately named, "Jermaine Goes Country." Every time I listen to that playlist, it brings me back to the fond memories, the fun times, of the summer of 2014. In fact, ever since then, I've made a similar playlist, not just country, all kinds of music, for the different seasons of life.
It's always cool to just think about how music and memory are so tied together, right? That when you hear a particular song, it takes you back to a season in your life or an experience that you've had. That's a great thing about playlists where you hear the same songs maybe over and over again. But there's a challenge with creating playlists with your most favorite songs.
Sometimes the songs that you loved so much, that you played them all the time, every time you got in your car, maybe you even made that song your alarm ringtone to wake you up, and after a while you just get tired of that song. Every time it comes on on the radio or on your playlist, you just skip it. "It's boring. I've heard it before."
You move on. That song that you once treasured and loved becomes overplayed and you're tired of it. The joy that it used to bring, maybe it just doesn't bring it anymore. I think that the psalm that we're going to study today, the song that we're going to study today, may fall into that category sometimes for us of being overplayed, of "We've heard it before."
If you've been to a funeral, you've probably heard them quote or read Psalm 23. Famous rappers like Kanye and Coolio have rapped about this song. Our president George Bush even quoted Psalm 23 after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. If you've watched movies, there are certain scenes where they've read it, read that psalm in there. It is so familiar.
It is so pervasive all around our culture. Even if you've never set foot into a church necessarily, you can probably recognize the words of Psalm 23. It's become all too familiar that it's lost its power and its relevance in our lives. I wish that wasn't the case. Because there is so much life-altering and transforming and comforting truth in this psalm.
Because in Psalm 23, what we see so clearly is thecharacter and activity of God on the behalf of those who fully trust him. We see the character and the activity of God on the behalf of those who trust him. So in a moment, I'm going to read through Psalm 23, but I want us to spend a moment and pray and ask the Lord to show us afresh the truths that are recorded in Psalm 23.
As we read it after we pray, I want to invite you to look for, maybe even underline or highlight, things that show and demonstrate the character of who God is and his activity in the lives of those who trust him. So let me pray, and then we'll read Psalm 23.
Lord, thank you so much for today. Thank you for this opportunity to learn from your Word and to be reminded of your character and your activity on our behalf. We love you and we praise you. In Jesus' name, amen.
Psalm 23: "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
So if you're not familiar with Psalm 23, it's a psalm of David, the second king of Israel who, when the prophet Samuel came to his family's home to appoint the next king of Israel on behalf of God, he was out in the fields. He was tending to his flock. He was a faithful and good shepherd. He was overlooked by his dad, but he was not overlooked by God. He was a good shepherd, and he knows a thing or two about what it means to be a good shepherd.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where in the life of King David or when he penned the words of Psalm 23. Many scholars believe it was right around the time where his son Absalom was trying to take over the throne from him. So in this point in time, David is running for his life from his own son who was trying to steal the throne, the leadership of the nation of Israel, from him. So things aren't going really great for David when he writes Psalm 23.
Even in these tough experiences, he comes to a powerful conclusion that I hope you and I come to today and every single day, and that is God is a good shepherd and a gracious host who is fully committed and attentive to those who put their trust in him. Another way to say it is if God is your shepherd, you are the object of his divine care and attention.
He guides, he provides, and he protects in the most challenging circumstances. He goes before you into all that life, sin, and Satan will throw at you. He offers you peace and joy and security all the days of your life because of the sacrifice of his own life. So for the next few moments, we're going to walk through this familiar psalm, and we're going to see how David sees God in his character and in his activity in the life of his flock, which hopefully all of us in this room and listening would come to realize the goodness of our Shepherd and that he's our gracious host who is on our side.
Psalm 23, verse 1. The first phrase David uses is, "The LORD is my shepherd…" So this phrase "The LORD is my shepherd…" is a statement that describes the character of God. If you want to know what God is like, consider the life and the character of a good shepherd. Now what does a good shepherd do?
A good shepherd purchases his sheep. A good shepherd puts his mark of ownership on his sheep. A good shepherd protects, provides. He goes before his sheep to care for them. He cares for those who are hurt or injured. He is willing to give up his very life for his sheep. David reflects on this and is filled with joy that God, the Lord, is his shepherd.
Jesus picks up on this idea of being a good shepherd when he was here on earth in the words recorded in John, chapter 10, verses 10-11, and verse 14. Those verses will be up on the screen. I'm going to read them for you. John 10:10-11, and verse 14. It says this. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I [Jesus] came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. […] I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…"
So Jesus is taking on this imagery, this role, this responsibility in his words in John 10. I hope that you hear it loud and clear that he is a good shepherd. That he gives his life, his very life, for you, for his sheep, to invite you to be a part of his flock, and to offer you care and provision through the ups and downs of sin and the brokenness of life.
"The LORD is my shepherd…" David says. Is he yours? So "The LORD is my shepherd…" is a statement that describes the character of God. In that very phrase, I want to focus on a different word. We just focused on shepherd, and I want to focus now on the word my. So "The LORD is my shepherd…" is a statement of belonging, of trust, and obedience.
So for David, the Lord wasn't just the shepherd or a shepherd. He was personal to him. He belongs to this Shepherd. He says, "The Lord is my shepherd. I belong to him. I trust him, and I obey him." When I think of that idea or that concept of belonging to something special or someone special, this illustration or this idea comes to my mind.
How many Fightin' Texas Aggies do we have in the room or online? That's exactly what I thought you would do. The Aggie whoop is a subject of much debate, right? If you're not an Aggie, when you hear the whoop, you're annoyed. You think they're obnoxious. You're like, "Why are you doing this?"
But if you are an Aggie, it's a rallying cry, a camaraderie of a community that, "We're all in this together. We all went to this amazing school, had an amazing experience, and we love being Aggies." Right? It's this exclusive rally cry of a bonded community. Just the other day, we were in a staff meeting and whoever was leading was like, "Hey, are there any Arkansas Razorbacks in the room?" It was crickets.
I don't know why. Maybe they just don't feel good about saying, "Woo pig sooie" out loud or whatever it is. Maybe they just don't have the same feeling of camaraderie and connection in community to their school. But I have a hunch that while the whoop might be annoying or obnoxious, part of the reason why is because it demonstrates the camaraderie, the togetherness of a community.
The reason I share that is because there is something much more amazing than being part of a community of Texas A&M or wherever else your loyalties lie. Like David in Psalm 23, he says that, "Much more important than anything else in my life is that I have a good shepherd, and it's not just the shepherd or the shepherd over there, but he is my shepherd. I belong to him. He loves me. He cares for me. He guides me and he gave himself up for me."
That is the most amazing, special group to be a part of: a sheep in God's flock because he is a good shepherd. So, "The Lord is my shepherd…" is a statement of belonging and trust. This is not just a shepherd or the shepherd, but my shepherd. I trust in him. I depend on him. I look to him. It's a statement of obedience.
In other words, it's not just enough to know that the Lord is your Shepherd. We all want the benefits, I think, of Psalm 23, all of the blessings of having a good shepherd. But some of us want the benefits and the blessings, and we skip over the fact that we are to surrender and to live in daily obedience to this Good Shepherd, right?
We want to experience the joys that the Good Shepherd provides while we maybe are rebellious and disobedient sheep. That is not the way it should be. See, if the Lord is your shepherd, you belong to him, and you should live in the way that he calls you to. So you can't expect the comfort of the Shepherd if you're not going to surrender and submit your life to be shepherded by him, right, by spending time in his Word, by praying to him, by going to the Shepherd and asking him to show you the way you are to live.
So this whole psalm hinges on that point. If you don't embrace and trust and believe in the idea that the Lord is my shepherd that I belong to, that I trust, that I obey, it doesn't matter what the rest of the psalm says. It's true because it talks about God's character and activity, but you might not experience it specifically in your life if you're a disobedient and rebellious sheep in his flock.
So I want to submit to you this question: Is the Lord my shepherd? Not just something I'm around, but is he my shepherd where I have surrendered to him? Because if that's true, then the next statement that David makes will be true in your life. So he says, "The LORD is my shepherd…" Next he says, "…I shall not want."
That statement is a statement of contentment. Really, it summarizes the rest of the psalm in a phrase. David is basically saying, "I have nothing to worry about because of who is in charge, this good shepherd." Now it doesn't mean that my every wish will be granted. It doesn't mean that everything will go exactly how I planned for it to go and dream for it to go and maybe even pray for it to go. Rather, that I'll have everything I need to live a godly life.
So verses 2 and 3 explain four activities of the Good Shepherd that result in someone who has surrendered their lives to the Good Shepherd to conclude in contentment, "…I shall not want." To illustrate this, I spent a lot of time in this book that I'm about to share with you. I've read it before. In preparation for this message, I was reading it again. It's a book that's called, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.
It's written by a shepherd named W. Phillip Keller. He was the son of some missionaries to East Africa. At a certain point in his life, he was a shepherd. So he goes through this entire psalm talking about the character of God on display all throughout it. So I commend it to you. His book was helpful in preparation for this, this next segment specifically.
The Good Shepherd, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." Now here are the four activities of the Good Shepherd. First of all, "He makes me lie down in green pastures." Think of the imagery that comes to your mind when you think of green pastures. It's lush. It's green. There's enough food to provide for all of the sheep, right?
That's the idea and the imagery that comes to your mind. In his book, Philip Keller says this. "Green pastures did not just happen by chance. Green pastures were the product of tremendous labor, time, and skill in land use." He goes on to explain that what a good shepherd does is he goes ahead of his sheep and he plows the land.
He pulls up the weeds. He plants grass to help the sheep have an opportunity and privilege to flourish and eat good grass and enjoy the experience and the blessing of being under his care. So a good shepherd goes ahead of his sheep and prepares the way for them. So anything good that you and me experience is as a result of the fact that your Good Shepherd has gone ahead of you to prepare the way for you.
Whether that be the job opportunity, the college you're in or have gotten into or the family or the relationship or whatever it might be that comes to your mind when you think about, "That is such a good gift that I get to experience and enjoy." It's not because of you. It's not because of your strength or your wisdom, but rather it is because of your Good Shepherd who has gone before you to prepare the way.
The second activity of the Good Shepherd is much like the first. "He leads me beside still waters." So when you imagine quiet waters, you think of a vast amount of water for all of the sheep to enjoy refreshment of their soul. In the same way that a shepherd goes ahead of his sheep to make sure that there are green pastures for them to enjoy, he goes ahead to make sure there are still waters. Because sheep have a hard time drinking water that is flowing really swiftly.
So the shepherd goes ahead and he blocks off the water so that the water that is flowing is still, and the sheep can go to it and enjoy it. So the idea being illustrated here by David is that, "God goes before me. God goes before his sheep to make sure that they have everything that they need to enjoy the life and goodness that comes with being a part of his flock. God is always at work on your behalf because he is a good shepherd. So "He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters."
The third activity of the Good Shepherd is, "He restores my soul." That idea of soul restoration, it may mean spiritual renewal. It may mean repentance from sin. It may mean physical restoration of health. The job of a good shepherd is to make sure that his sheep are okay. So when they're being attacked by other animals or infected by insects or maybe their wool is too thick, the good shepherd does things to help make sure that that sheep or his flock, that their soul is renewed and has restored them.
A lot of the times it is just not that pleasant, right? Soul restoration isn't always pleasant for the sheep. To illustrate this, I want to share with you briefly something about my son. Here's another picture of him so you can have the mental imagery. He is happy. He loves his life. He just started eating solid food, and he is loving trying all these different things.
Just like him and most babies, they get sick all the time. Their nose gets stuffed up. When their nose gets stuffed up, they don't understand that they need to go get a napkin and blow their nose out and go back to bed. Instead, when they can't breathe through their nose, they wake up and they cry loudly at 2:30 a.m. or 4:30 a.m., like he did this morning.
He's waking us up as the parents because he needs help. He needs assistance. He can't rest and be at peace because he can't breathe. Well, I have the solution for you. As soon as some of you see this, you're like, "I know exactly what that is." Some of you are like, "What?" This is a NoseFrida. I'm sure there are many other products just like it.
If your baby's nostrils are clogged up and they can't enjoy rest, here's what you do. You take the NoseFrida. You put this end into their nose. You put this end into your mouth, and you suction out all of the mucus from their nose. Yes, it's gross. Yes, it is, but don't worry, there's a long tube so it won't ever get to your mouth, and everything is fine.
While we're using the NoseFrida, he is crying. He is screaming. He is flailing. He is annoyed. He is like, "What are my parents doing to me?" You know? So he cries, he flails, he is frustrated, he is annoyed, he is screaming, and we're suctioning out the mucus. After we're done, do you know what happens? He can breathe. His soul, some would say, is restored and he goes to sleep and so do his parents, and it's amazing.
The reason I share that is I think in a room this size and with people watching or listening that there are many of you who are going through NoseFrida-like situations. Something that's really annoying. Something really frustrating. Something we ask, "God, why is this happening to me? Why are you allowing this to happen? This is so painful. This is so difficult. This has shattered my world." Whatever it might be.
Part of my answer to that is, "I don't know. I don't know why the Good Shepherd is allowing that particular event to happen to you." Part of the answer is, "I do know that he is a good shepherd who is committed to your soul's restoration." Sometimes the hard things, the difficult things that we're enduring that are annoying and frustrating, at the end of it, our souls will be restored. Because he is a good Father or Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep. So, "He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul."
And the fourth activity of the Good Shepherd is that, "He leads me in paths of righteousness…" He leads me in the paths of righteousness. If you've ever heard a sermon on Psalm 23 or about sheep, you've probably heard this idea that sheep aren't the smartest animals in the world, and they need a lot of help. They need a lot of guidance and attention.
I have a video to kind of illustrate that about us. You won't be able to see it online, and so I'll just narrate it as it happens. So here we have a sheep. He is stuck in a ditch. He is hurting. There's so much pain. He wants to be free. His shepherd, if you will, is helping him out of this difficult situation of being in a ditch. He is free. He is loving life. He is like, "Let's go!"
And the sheep, after being freed from this difficult scenario, runs right back into the very same ditch. Here you have it in slow motion in case you missed it the first time. That's so funny, truly, but that's me and that's you. Isaiah 53:6 says, "All of us like sheep have gone astray." Left to ourselves, we choose our own paths, and those paths endanger ourselves and the lives of others.
Isaiah 53:6 again says, "All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way…" Let me say something really quickly. Right now, our culture is all about going your own way. "Follow your heart," "You do you," "Do what makes you happy." We see clearly from Scripture that when we do that, we end up hurting ourselves and hurting others, but rather we have a good shepherd who wants to lead us in the paths of righteousness.
I love how at the end of Isaiah 53:6 after it says, "…each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all [all of our running away and doing our own thing] to fall on Him." Our Savior, who stood in our place to lead us in the path of righteousness. Then David goes on to verse 4, where we'll spend a little bit of time, and then we'll wrap up.
He says, "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." "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…" So when it comes to a shepherd and his sheep, the valley of the shadow of death is the dangerous journey between places of grazing.
So think of the shepherd and the sheep are in these green pastures with still waters, and it's amazing. When it's time to move on from there to get to another place, a flourishing with green pastures and still waters, you have to go through the valley. In the valley, there are jagged cliffs. There are wild animals. There's no sun, as a shadow of the mountains kind of blocks out the light. Hence that analogy or that word picture of the valley of the shadow of death.
Many of you might be going through what feels like in your life the valley of the shadow of death. It might be cancer or extreme migraines or the passing of a loved one or a miscarriage or developmental hurdles with a child or COVID or loneliness or multiple back surgeries, and that's just a list from people I know, from my friends, from my family going through the valley of the shadow of death.
But David gives us a solution, or a help, in the midst of going through the valley. He says the reason to not fear isn't because you're good enough or strong enough or smart enough or have enough resources to get yourself through. He says, "The reason that I can endure and walk through the valley of the shadow of death is because the Good Shepherd is with me every step of the way."
So to illustrate this, as I was researching and reading in preparation, I read this amazing story of a pastor. His name is Donald Grey Barnhouse. He was as a pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and he lived from 1895 to 1960. His first wife had suddenly passed away, and they'd just had a funeral service for his wife.
As he was leaving and he hopped in his car with his young children, he was trying to think of a way to bring them comfort and peace and hope as they're walking through literally the valley of the shadow of death. Here's what he says. I'm going to read a little bit for you. "As he tried to conjure up words of comfort, the shadow of a large van passed over their car as they were driving down the highway.
Instantly, Barnhouse thought of the words needed for the moment. 'Children,' he asked, 'would you rather be run over by a truck or by its shadow?' The children quickly answered, 'Well, of course, Dad, we'd much rather be run over by its shadow! The shadow cannot hurt us.' Then Barnhouse, the master illustrator, replied, 'The truck of death ran over the Lord Jesus 2,000 years ago so that only its shadow now passes over us. This is all that has happened to your mother. Only the shadow of death has passed over her. She is unharmed in heaven.'"
What an incredible illustration of the fact that wherever you are in life right now, whatever hardship you are enduring, however you might feel that you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death with hurt, with pain, with broken relationships, with illness, with whatever challenges you're enduring, that you are only experiencing a shadow because the God of the universe sent his Son Jesus to live and to die on the cross.
He is holding all of the pain and the difficulties that you have and will ever experience so that you will ever only experience a shadow of the pain today. One day, all of the sadness and the pain and the sickness and death will be no more because of our Good Shepherd. Yeah. So even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Good Shepherd is with you. His rod defends you against enemies, and his staff preserves you against the challenges in life.
So far we've seen God as a good shepherd, and then in verse 5, we see David switch over to another example to describe the character of God as a gracious host. When we think of a gracious host, we think of someone who puts together an amazing dinner table. Everything is set perfectly. It looks beautiful when you go over to their house for a dinner or a party or whatever it might be. You're like, "Can I live here forever?" Like that gracious host.
Whoever you're thinking of right now, God is infinitely more gracious. If you're going through, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I pray that verse 5 offers you comfort. It says this. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…" So in a chaotic scene, you're surrounded by sin and the brokenness of this world, the challenges you're experiencing, and your Good Shepherd is a gracious host.
He prepares a table, prepares a meal for you while all of that is going on. He doesn't remove the enemies, but he is there to see you through it. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil…" In other words, you refresh me. You restore me. "…my cup overflows."
Think of eating dinner and your favorite sparkling water is always on tap and it's not running out. You have way more than you'd ever need. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." So David just comes to a conclusion that I hope we all come to. "Surely goodness…"
Surely the very presence of God and surely his mercy, his steadfast love, even when I run away and go my own way… "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me shall follow me…" Not like in a hesitant way; it'll chase after me. Surely his presence will be with me. Surely his steadfast love will be with me throughout, "…all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
What a comforting reality that the very presence of God is always with you. That his steadfast love is always with you no matter what you experience, no matter what you encounter. So God is a good shepherd and he is a gracious host who is fully committed and attentive to those who put their trust in him.
So I ask one more time as we wrap. Is the Lord your shepherd? Not just a shepherd, not just the shepherd, not just a good idea, but the Shepherd that you have surrendered your life to. That you belong to him, that you trust him, and that you walk in obedience to him every single day. Because if that defines you, you'll get to experience the goodness of a good shepherd and a gracious host in the highs, the lows, the ups, and downs of life. What a privilege it is to have that God on our side. Let me pray that that would be true.
Lord, thank you so much for the words of Psalm 23. Thank you for the reminder of your character and your activity on the behalf of those of us who fully trust you. God, I pray that everyone listening would fully trust you. Wherever they are in relation to you, I pray that this moment would be a defining moment. I pray that this song, Psalm 23, would be a defining song in their life.
That they would see and experience and know that you're a good shepherd who willingly gave your life up for your sheep, and that they would see and experience and know that you're a gracious host. That in the midst of the challenges of life, that you are with them, preparing a table before them, anointing their head with oil, and providing them with the Holy Spirit to walk through and endure whatever they're going through.
I pray that your goodness and your mercy follows them all the days of their life. I pray that those truths would be embraced, trusted, rested upon, and meditated upon by everyone listening. We love you. In Jesus' name, amen.