“The LORD is my shepherd…” (23:1a)
King David’s 23rd Psalm refers to a Kingly Shepherd, Yahweh, who provides care and provision from the beginning of life to the end of one’s life, thus making it a Psalm for Suffering every day under the watchful eyes of God our King.
A Christian cannot help read Psalm 23 without thinking about Jesus who said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). Jesus as shepherd not only captured all the royal connotations associated with this role, but also the suffering and humility that was prophesied for Jesus as Messiah.
Growing up as a child in the Evangelical church, I seemed to have missed the images of Jesus as a shepherd who endured suffering and death for humanity. I didn’t grow up with images of Jesus as a shepherd who withstood the attacks of thieves and wolves (John 10:10-11). It seemed like images of a suffering Jesus were reserved for Good Friday exclusively, while the rest of the days we were to focus on pictures of Jesus smiling and welcoming children (google “Jesus with children”) or holding a sheep in one arm or around His neck (google “Jesus shepherd”).
Don’t get me wrong, I am still comforted by many of these wonderful images of Jesus holding sheep and welcoming children. But the result was that I didn’t foster an accurate picture of Jesus who was strong amidst adversity, someone who was fighting off attacks to secure the safety of his sheep. Philip Yancey speaks of his own experience: “…I recalled the Sunday school image of Jesus that I grew up with: someone kind and reassuring, with no sharp edges at all—a Mister Rogers before the age of children's television” (The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 13).
Like Yancey, the Jesus I grew up with was kind of a sweater-vest Jesus: conservative, straight-laced and certainly wouldn’t do anything so disruptive to get himself crucified! But the Good Shepherd is anything but tame and certainly didn’t live life to avoid pain and suffering. The picture I get of Jesus as I read Psalm 23 (and the Gospels) is one of a brave shepherd who leads a suffering people through dark valleys, securing people with love so they can do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Yahweh (Micah 6:8). I hope this picture of the Suffering Shepherd both comforts you amidst challenges and confronts you to be a strong and courageous servant of God in this disruptive season.
Living Out God’s Word
In all fairness to Mister Rogers—sweater and all—he was quite the radical Jesus follower. Watch this video of Mister Rogers and Officer Clemons putting their feet together in a pool. How is Mister Rogers radically demonstrating what it’s like to follow the Good Shepherd? What courageous act of generosity could you take today to show God’s love in these turbulent times?
Forgive me for having such a small picture of who You really are, Jesus. You are the Good Shepherd who laid down Your life for me. You are strong, courageous and always the protector of the weak. You love me regardless of if I’m weak or strong.
How easily I can forget how much you endured in order to show me love and to offer me a way of life that would make sense of the suffering. Teach me how to take a risk, to show love to someone and to be brave today knowing that I am secure under Your care.
I want to be a courageous Christian that lives unafraid because I know You are with me and will never leave me. Thank You for being a shepherd willing to suffer to bring me and the world the fullness your goodness, from now and into eternity. Amen.
**An earlier version of this devotional can be found at https://depree.org/life-for-leaders/
VIDEO LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWUCowuKS40