4-14-24 Misericordias Domini

Bible Text: John 10:11-16, Psalm 23:1 | Preacher: Pastor Andrew Richard

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). To “want” something is to lack something. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not lack,” that is to say, nothing is missing from my life. Now King David sang these words, and they may seem strange words to come out of his mouth. Is this not the same David who was pursued by Saul? Is this not the David who was living in rocks and crags and fleeing for his life? Indeed, this is the same David who sang in Psalm 69, “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me” (Ps. 69:1-2). Yet the Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. I lack nothing.

How can this be? Our Lord taught us to pray, that is, He taught us to ask for things we need, and if we need things, then aren’t they missing? Indeed, the things may be missing, but the Lord is not, and that’s David’s point. He does not say, “I have money; I shall not want,” or, “The Israelites love me; I shall not want.” But he says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Even in his deepest distress, David has the Lord. The Lord is right there to care for him, and David calls out to the Lord, knowing that his prayer will be heard. Because he has the Lord, David has everything he needs. He might be wandering along cliffs and waterless places, but because the Lord is his Shepherd, he describes his life as green pastures and still waters and rightly confesses that he lacks nothing.

This is your life. As a Christian, you lack nothing. Because you have the Lord as your Shepherd, you have everything you need. The sheep doesn’t think about where the grass is going to come from. The Shepherd will worry about that. The sheep doesn’t fret over water. The Shepherd will see to that. The sheep doesn’t feel any need because the Shepherd takes care of every need.

When we look back at our life and at the lives of other Christians we can see this plainly. There have been plenty of times in your life when there seemed to be some lack, whether of health or peace or money or safety or daily bread. Yet, in spite of how disastrous things could have been, no evil was allowed to befall you and no plague came near your tent (Ps. 91:10). It is unfortunate that the concept of the personal testimonial has grown like a weed to the level of a sacrament in some church bodies, which is what tends to happen when man rejects the actual Sacraments that Christ instituted. Nevertheless, the misuse of a good thing doesn’t make a good thing bad. It is good when Christians recognize the care of the Good Shepherd in their lives, and take the evidence of God’s past mercies as a pledge that He will see to every need. It is a blessed flower and not a weed when Christians speak with each other of the Lord’s care and deliverance. It is for this purpose that the Lord instituted the peace offerings in the Old Testament, so that when a man was healed of sickness or rescued from danger he could come to the temple and give thanks to God with a sacrifice, and others could hear the story and partake of the feast of that sacrifice and rejoice in the Lord’s goodness. It is for this purpose that the Lord has recorded such things in Scripture as this testimonial from Psalm 37, “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread” (Ps. 37:25). It is for this purpose that the Holy Spirit has documented the lives of so many Christians in Scripture, that we might see the Lord’s mercy toward them and take heart that He will have mercy on us as His Christians. Through all this it is plain to see that, in spite of all feelings and appearances, Christians lack nothing.

A great example of this comes from Israel’s time in the wilderness. Near the end of the forty years, Moses preached to them, “These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing” (Dt. 2:7). You know what happened in the wilderness. There were times when the Israelites saw starvation looming and accused Moses: “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:3). Yet the threat of starvation was only in their minds. The Lord knew what He would do, and it wasn’t starve them, but give them manna from heaven. Sometimes the Israelites were in distress and trial, as when the Lord spoke from Mount Sinai and the people were terrified. Yet Moses said, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin” (Ex. 20:20). The Lord did not bring distress upon them for their harm, but for their good. At times the Israelites sinfully longed for different food, and even felt the desire for the things that had been theirs when they were slaves in Egypt: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” (Num. 11:4-6). Yet the desires of the flesh are not real needs. They didn’t need garlic. They shouldn’t have had nostalgia about their former slave days. “These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.” And Moses is right. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

Yet for all the promises of God in Scripture and the testimony of His goodness, both in our own lives and the lives of other Christians, how hard it can be sometimes to say, “I shall not want.” Oftentimes life does not seem like green pastures and still waters, but like the wilderness in which the Israelites wandered. You know what it is to look at the future and suppose some disaster will certainly happen. You know what it is to be tested in the fires of adversity and think there is nothing but misery for you in this life. You know what it is to desire that which is sinful, to look at the old things of the devil’s kingdom and want them. You know what it is to desire things that are not sinful, but objectively good, as the Israelites longed for food and water; and at the same time you know what it is even for good desires to become all-consuming and leave you thinking, “The Lord is my Shepherd; yet I want.” Indeed, that is where all these things leave you: supposing that the Lord could be your Shepherd and yet leave you lacking, and that’s not true.

Repent. Looking at your life in that way is a sin, because it assumes the Lord doesn’t fully care for you, that He leaves you in need by withholding good from you. That was the devil’s temptation in the Garden of Eden: you lack something, the Lord is holding out on you, eat. It was a lie, and man only sinned by trying to meet a need that he didn’t actually have. That’s how it still goes: when man supposes that the Lord has left him in want, then man justifies all manner of sinful thoughts and words and actions to fill a void that doesn’t exist. You have no void. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack nothing. That’s the truth.

And here’s the proof. Think about your greatest need, not according to the old man, but putting on the new man. What is your greatest need? Your greatest need is that you have sinned, brought death on yourself, offended against God, disqualified yourself from Paradise, wandered from the fold. That’s your greatest need. And your Good Shepherd has met that need. “All we like sheep have gone astray,” Isaiah writes, “We have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6). Your Shepherd has sought you out, taking on your nature, becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He came to you when you were lost in the woods with the wolf prowling about, seeking your life. Jesus saw the wolf coming, and He did not flee, because He is the Good Shepherd. Your Shepherd took your place, made himself the ram caught in the thicket to be a substitute. And the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep, laid His life down for you. In His death on the cross he overcame the wolf, broke the teeth of the evil one, covered your sins with His blood, destroyed death, and told the cherubim, “Put the flaming sword back in its sheath. I have reopened the way of Paradise to man.” By His death, your Shepherd met your greatest need. And the Good Shepherd has not stayed dead. “I lay down My life that I may take it again,” Jesus says (Jn. 10:17). The Good Shepherd lives, such that we do not have to say, “The Lord was my Shepherd,” but, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” He washes you clean in the still waters of Holy Baptism. He prepares a table before you and sets it with Himself for food. The Gospel, the Sacraments, Himself in full―Jesus has withheld nothing, but given all. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

Now in meeting your greatest need, Jesus has met your every need, because in giving Himself for you, He has given Himself to you forever. He is yours. If you have Him, you have everything and lack nothing. When the storms of life are brewing and the future appears worrisome, you can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Jesus has never made you lack anything needful, and though the future may look grim, you have no actual reason to suspect that He will forsake you. He has indeed promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Remember: when your future looked the most dire and gleamed with the flames of hell, Jesus suffered it for you, gave you a far different future, and has established you in hope. So why should you fear the evil day, when the evil day has never come, and, because of Christ, will never come? “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

And when it seems in spite of this that the evil day has come and you are in the midst of distress, you can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The old man has a great many reasons why you should be in terror and despair and abandon God as if He has abandoned you. But the old man is wrong, and the new man knows the truth: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me” (Ps. 23:4). In such shadows the Lord is testing and refining your faith, and He knows what is best for you. Had He left it to us to order our lives, how quickly would we have gone astray and wandered down the wrong path thinking it was the right one. Had He left it to us, we would have said with Peter, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Mt. 16:22). We would have chosen life without the cross, and thus chosen what is death and no life at all. So if in life you ever think, “I don’t like this. This isn’t what I would have chosen,” then you can rest secure that since you didn’t choose it, that means the Lord did, and He only chooses good things for you. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

And when your flesh rears its head and longs for the leeks and melons and garlic of Egypt, when it looks at the stuff of the devil’s kingdom and says, “Would that I could have that!” then you say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Your sinful flesh may feel a powerful desire for something, and leaving that desire unfulfilled may feel like death itself. But your flesh does not feel rightly and is delusional. Jesus is Your Good Shepherd. You don’t need sin to supplement your life. Jesus said earlier in John 10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). The life that Jesus gives you is the full life, the life of which you can say, “My cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:5). Your flesh may scream and pout and throw a tantrum, but you laugh at it and say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

And when you desire good things, such as a spouse, or healing for a loved one, and the Lord leaves that desire unfulfilled, you say, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Certainly it is not sinful to desire things to be the way God made them to be, or to desire things that the Lord has instituted and called good. It is not wrong to ask God for such things and pray for them. And if He does not grant them, or delays, the fact remains, you do not lack anything. The Lord’s way is better. It says in Psalm 34, “Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing” (Ps. 34:9-10). If God holds something back, then He is holding back the waters of the Red Sea, but He does not withhold what is good. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

These are simple words of deep comfort, so deep that we could spend the rest of our lives plumbing their depths and never reach the bottom. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. They are words that you can memorize in ten seconds and spend the next ten thousand years learning. But praise be to Christ, He doesn’t make us wait that long. Our Good Shepherd goes before us and is leading us on to eternal life. And when we cross the still waters into a pasture of which it can truly be said, “The grass is greener on the other side,”―when Christ leads us into that sheepfold of eternal life, then we will fully realize, “I never lacked anything, and I never will. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Alleluia! Christ is risen! Amen.

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