This sermon is from the series WHAT FAITH KNOWS ABOUT GOD and was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on Sunday, February 2, 2014 by Pastor Paul Mims. You can hear this sermon at www.csbccl.org Psalm 23:4 “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.”
Clarence Cranford tells of a Baptist Minister named Shields Hardin. One night, during the time when milk was delivered to homes, he asked his small son to put two empty milk bottles on the porch so the milkman could pick them up when he delivered milk early the next morning. The little boy took the bottles as far as the door and stopped. His father asked him, “Why don’t you put the bottles on the porch?” His son turned and said, “It is too dark to go out there without a father.”
So Dr. Hardin walked out on the porch. The minute he was there, the child forgot all about the darkness. He ran out on the porch as if it were noonday. His fear of the darkness was gone.
The little boy’s father gave him the courage to walk through the door. Here is a parable of our Heavenly Father. David says that at death we walk through the valley of the shadow. We don’t stop in it. We go through it. Death is not a stopping place. It is a passageway to a new and larger experience. We need not fear the darkness. God is there. And where God is, there is light.
When we face that door of darkness for ourselves we can know that Jesus went through it and came back to tell us that the Father was with him all the way. Someone has said, “Jesus knocked out both ends of the tomb and made it a tunnel into eternity.”
The way ahead often looks dark and foreboding. When we can only see the porch, we see darkness. But when we see the Father, we see light.
That is what this fourth verse in Psalm 23 is all about. Henry Ward Beecher called the 23rd Psalm “the nightingale of the Psalms.” Verse 4 has been called the “Holy of Holies” for it speaks of the most terrifying and the most blessed experience of mankind. This may well be the most personal verse in all the Bible. It is a verse of ultimates of which there are four.
I. THE ULTIMATE COMMUNION
Up to this point in the Psalm, the imagery has been that of one sheep telling another sheep about the special benefits of being in his shepherd’s flock. He has spoken of the protection of the shepherd, the peace that can be found in him, and of the restoration to the flock that the shepherd provides when he comes after his wandering sheep.
Now the dynamic changes. The sheep is no longer talking to another sheep, but to the shepherd himself. From now on it is “You” and “I.”
It is an awesome thing to talk to God when you know that he is listening to you. Some people have no difficulty at all talking to other people. That is fairly easy for us even when we are talking about the things that matter the most to us.
But to talk to God about ultimate things such as one’s very existence in this world and the next – is communion of the ultimate kind. Not very many people get to this point before they are forced to by some life circumstance.
Often it is cancer or a heart attack or some life-threatening situation that causes us to talk earnestly to God about ultimate things. Someone has said, “A good scare is worth far more to a man than all the advice in the world.”
David had several wake-up calls. When he was a young man, Saul tried to have him killed. Then he went through the death of his infant son. His son, Absalom, killed his brother Amnon because he raped their sister, Tamar. Absalom also tried to kill his father David and take the kingdom from him. But Absalom got caught by his hair in a tree and David’s men threw three javelins into his heart. When David found out about it he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son.” Also, there were constant threats from world powers and neighboring kings.
David had walked through the valley of the shadow many times on behalf of others. But now he was talking to God about the time when he would walk through the portal into eternal life. I am sure that you have thought about it a lot, but have you ever talked to God about your walk from time to eternity. When you do, you are engaging in ultimate communion. Sometimes, when I am on my daily walk, I submit the times of my life and that of Janice into the Lord’s hands. And the Lord always gives me a peace about it.
II. THE ULTIMATE CONCERN
“I will fear no evil…” It is natural for us to want to live on. It is not natural for us to be morose about death. But these are things that in order to live fully, we must deal with long before the time comes.
Just as the shepherd takes the sheep through the valleys to reach the heights, so does the Lord take us through the low places on the way to the heavenly heights. For the sheep there were dangers in the valleys.
On the spiritual level there are also dangers. One of the fearful dangers is having to walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone. Frankly, I do not know how people who are not Christians do it. I read of people trying everything they can think of from a philosophical point of view to find assurance of life beyond. It must be a terrible experience for them. They cannot say, “I will fear no evil.” Evil is there to engulf them. The bite of the serpent brings the poison that causes agony throughout all eternity. But the believer is free from anything that evil can do at this point.
The believer in Christ does not have to fear evil’s grand day. The person who has devoted his or her life to evil will walk alone into its jaws from which there will be no release. But the Christian will walk through the portal of death shielded by the blood of Christ. And no evil will be able to touch him or her again.
Myrtle Romilu wrote about this:
“If to die is to rise in power from the husk of the earth-sown wheat, if to die is to rise in glory from the dust of the incomplete, if death gives new breath to the runner and wings to the imprisoned soul, to mount with a song of the morning towards the limitless reach of its goal, if to die is to throb with the surges of life that eternal abides, and to thrill with the inflowing currents of infinite love’s great tides, if to die is to see with clear vision all mysteries revealed, all beauty to sense unfolded, and the essence of joy unsealed, if death is the end to all sorrow and crying and anxious care, if death gives fullness for longing, land the answer to every prayer, if to die is to greet all the martyrs and prophets and sages of old, and to walk again by still waters with the flock of our own little fold, if to die is to join in hosannas to a risen and reigning Lord, and to feast with Him at His table on the bread and wine of His board, if to die is to enter a city and be hailed as a child of its king – THEN I WILL FEAR NO EVIL.”
III. THE ULTIMATE CONFIDENCE
“…for you are with me…”
There is tremendous power in the Lord’s presence with us. Just as the little boy would not go out on the porch into the dark by himself but had no difficulty when his father went with him, the Lord goes with us through the valley that is death’s darkness into the light of eternity. There are many things in life that we cannot be completely sure about, but we can be sure of the Lord’s presence with us.
A 1st grader stood in front of his classroom to make a speech about “What I want to be when I grow up.” He said, “I’m going to be a lion tamer and have lots of fierce lions. I’ll walk into the cage and they will roar.”
He paused for a moment, thinking through what he had just said and then added, “But of course, I’ll have my mommy with me.”
In Psalm 27:1 & 13 David said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Confidence in the Lord gives confidence in ourselves. The following poem was found in the effects of an old woman who died in a nursing home in Dundee, Scotland:
“What do you see, nurse, what do you see?
Are you thinking when you look at me
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, “I wish you’d try”
Who seems not to notice the things you do,
And is forever losing a stocking or a shoe?
Who resisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you’re looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still
As I move at your bidding, eat at your will…
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another;
A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon a love she’ll meet;
A bride at twenty my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep;
At twenty-five now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure happy home;
A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast,
Bound together with ties that should last;
At forty, my young sons have grown up and gone,
But my man is beside me to see that I don’t mourn;
At fifty, once more babies play around my knee,
Again we know children my loved ones and me.
Dark days are upon me; my husband is dead,
I look to the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love I’ve known.
I’m and old woman now and nature is cruel;
‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart
There is a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now, again, my embittered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again,
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurse open and see
Not a crabby old woman
Look closer –see me!”
One summer during seminary days, I was interim pastor at the Madison Highway Baptist Mission at Valdosta, Georgia. Janice and I visited an old lady in a nursing home and she made an impression on us that we talk about to this day. She was like the lady in the poem. All around her in that room was everything that she possessed in the world. But she had a cheerful spirit. I read to her the 23rd Psalm. She then exclaimed in a loud voice, “The Lord is My Shepherd, I’ve got all I want!”
IV. THE ULTIMATE COMFORT
“…your rod and staff, they comfort me.”
When we are comforted by God, there is a peace and security that nothing can match. The rod and the staff of the shepherd was one long stick with a crook on it. The rod was used to defend and guide. The curved portion was used to draw a sheep close to the shepherd for personal attention.
David is saying that when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we receive God’s personal attention. There can be no greater comfort than that which comes from the Lord.
But we have to be willing to receive it. He may be reaching out to draw you close to himself in this moment.
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!