Our Shepherd is Near

March 19th 2024

Our Shepherd is Near

“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” (Ps 23:4).

Our Guardian Shepherd

Our Lord’s role as Shepherd starts and finishes with his sovereignty, authority, wisdom, and care for his sheep. He alone is perfect and full of each.

Think about this…you are sheep. Lord willing, you are sheep!  And although I may have the role of a pastor or shepherd, fundamentally I too am simply a sheep in need of a greater Shepherd.

I grew up in southern Oregon, surrounded by beautiful country, and many, many… sheep.  Some of my friends' families raised sheep. We’d go out riding our bikes all around our small valley, and no matter what direction you went… somewhere, sooner or later, you’d find sheep.

You may already know where I’m going with this, but sheep in general are dirty, more than a little slow, and unless you were in 4H and spent hours cleaning your sheep, they stink. And did I mention that sheep can die if they fall over? Sheep have such a flat back that they can get stuck upside down and need a shepherd, or a kid passing by on a bike, to roll them over. It actually happens, especially when their wool is wet and heavy. There’s a picture there, right? Perhaps not a Hobby Lobby picture we’d hang in our living room, but a picture of the predicament we can find ourselves in when broken and heavy laden.

The point is this… there is a tender picture in the Lord calling us his sheep. It’s not because sheep are so deserving, strong, and pure, but rather, because he is so full of grace and love. And being our Good Shepherd, he knows we need guarding and protecting, just like real sheep.

Think for a moment about some of the comforts he gives with this protection. Security, hope, freedom? Rest, peace, joy? Think slowly on each one as they aren’t simple words or ideas, but they are massive benefits for being his sheep.

In Psalm 23, we see our Shepherd giving these very benefits, and David exclaiming it through a picture of being in the “shadow of death”, which can be translated “death-shadow”, or the “darkness of death or distress”. He mentions enemies in verse 5, which for David were often mortal enemies, enemies that would torture and kill.

If you want to work through a great passage on shepherding… the worst of false shepherds, and the best of our perfect Shepherd, note Ezekiel 34:1–16. This passage provides a picture of shepherding at its worst, and at its best. What happens here to the sheep when they fall under the reins of sinful and false shepherds? What are key characteristics of Christ’s shepherding?

The Nearness of Christ

The nearness and availability of God is profound in scripture. From the garden when he walked with Adam and Eve, to the patriarchs, to the people of Israel. The Comforter to the psalmists, and the Voice to the prophets. And that’s just the Old Testament.

Then Jesus. A Savior who took on flesh to dwell among us. The incarnation of God in flesh.

In John 10, when Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, asserting both his deity and his role as a near and intimate Shepherd, he says this, beginning at verse 27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” This is why Paul, in Philippians 4:6, can say, “Be anxious for nothing.” Because of what comes right before it in verse 5—“the Lord is near.”

It’s imperative to highlight this truth as we look at a variety of benefits of our Lord’s shepherding… no attribute of Christlike shepherding works without nearness and availability. How do we think of this in our own lives, as we model Christ to others? Am I a distracted father? An apathetic husband? Do I show any pursuit of others in my life? Are we near and available to those around us, even the church for which he died?

Again, Psalm 23 shows the nearness and engagement of this Shepherd. As our Shepherd makes us lie down—or leads us to quiet water, or in paths of righteousness—these things, by some mechanism, take intentional interaction. David even goes further, looking at verse 4 again, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” He sees the Lord as being near, actually present, in times of trouble. And so he is.

The proactive and intentional engagement of our Shepherd can’t be missed throughout this Psalm. He is making me lie down and is leading me in verse 2. He is restoring and guiding me in verse 3. He is with me, again in verse 4. In verse 5 we see him preparing and anointing. Then in verse 6, it is his goodness and mercy that follow me all the days of my life. What amazing attention this Shepherd gives us!

And this is the same Shepherd who gives us gospel nearness. As Jesus took on flesh, he was coming near to embrace the cross, in order to embrace us. Snatching us from the fire, drawing us to himself. This rescue and restoration becomes the centerpiece of our Shepherd’s work in Psalm 23 and will be the focus of my final article in this series.

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Author: David Mataya

David serves as the Pastor of Discipleship at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona. He is a trained biblical counselor (CCEF @ Westminster Theological Seminary) and oversees counseling and small group ministries at Redeemer. David has served in a variety of ministries in previous churches, as well as having an earlier career in technology. He and his wife, Colleen are now empty nesters with two adult children, Morgan, Riley, daughter-in-law Bailey and grandson Owen.