1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Yea, 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. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever. Psalms 23:1-6 (NKJV)
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
The Valley of the Shadow of Death Redux
One of the funniest, most intense, amazing and revealing stories in the Gospels is when the Good Shepherd leads His sheep through the valley of the shadow of death—not literally, but certainly in principle.
23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" 26 But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, "Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?" Matthew 8:23-27
The Boat is Like the Church
Jesus’ sheep found out that they were safe in the care of their shepherd even in the valley of the shadow of death. They had followed Him into the boat that night and suddenly a storm hit. Doesn’t that sound familiar? I have heard many people say things like, “My life used to be easy, but when I decided to follow Jesus, all hell broke loose.” Just like that night long ago, His present day sheep follow Jesus into the boat of the Church, (the vehicle designed by God to take us to the proverbial other side) and everyone outside seems to be safely on shore while we go through many fierce storms.
Waking the Shepherd
In the midst of a horrifying storm that night, on the brink of disaster, as the shadow of death had been cast over them, His sheep became gripped with fear and finally woke the shepherd. I’ll bet if they had a cell phone they would have called the Coast Guard first. It is a sad testimony how bad life has to get before many sheep wake the Good Shepherd. People are quick to blame God for their misfortune, shrugging their shoulders and glibly asserting that He works in mysterious ways, but never spend much energy crying out for Him to save them.
The importance of the raw energy of desperation aimed at waking Jesus like the disciples did that evening has much biblical precedence. Remember the following stories that show our need to appeal to the Good Shepherd in a gutsy, robust and consistent way:
- Blind Bartimaeus. (Mark 10:46-52)
- The parable of the woman with the unjust judge. (Luke 18: 1-8)
- The woman with the issue of blood. (Matthew 9: 19-22)
- The Syro-Phoenician woman. (Mark 7: 26-30)
Sheep Are Not Very Smart
Next, Jesus wakes up and banishes the storm like a shepherd chasing off a predator. Imagine the disciples as sheep, not understanding the intelligence, power, authority or the strength of a competent human shepherd. Jesus is as high above His disciples as Heaven is above earth, drawing his power from a source that these men cannot even grasp. They are bleating like confused and terrified lambs facing a lion and Jesus uses the power of his heavenly influence to silence the storm—it is a power his sheep do not yet comprehend.
Eternal truth: No sheep of the Good Shepherd ever needs to fear evil.
But here’s the rub… Jesus criticizes their fear. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me. He doesn’t comfort and coddle their fears; He confronts their fear and identifies their pitiful lack of faith as an unacceptable but correctable flaw. He is introducing them to a new reality that goes beyond human power to the realm of Divine authority. This is the invasion of the kingdoms of this world by the Kingdom of our God. Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" Revelation 11:15
For You Are With Me
The aspect of Jesus being present but asleep is what adds almost a comedic aspect to this story and gives the sense of a Divine set-up. First of all, why go to a sleeping preacher for help with a boating problem in the first place? At least a few of the disciples were fishermen by trade and Jesus as a rabbi/carpenter would really add nothing to their technical ability to navigate the storm. But still they cried out, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” When all else fails, pray.
I have been amazed in my ministry as a pastor how some people cling to self-sufficiency and resist asking for help even though they are not in the least bit equipped to handle the storms of life. In some cases a person may be entrusted with a brand new ministry assignment and then resent accountability and input as if it is interference by the covering leadership. Only this desperate life-threatening storm, suddenly and violently blowing up and catching the disciples off guard penetrated their pride and terrified them enough to wake Jesus. But God was proving that nobody in Jesus boat ever needs to be afraid.
And, even as Jesus was asleep in the boat, now we must accept His silent presence by faith and trust His ability to save us from life's storms. Consider the following Scriptures showing Jesus present power and presence:
- All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20
- "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20
- "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
- "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. John 14:23
- Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8
- "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever-- John 14:16
- I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18