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Following Jesus in the Shepherd Psalms

July 25, 2018 two sheep grazing

Q: What is God’s heart language? How does He express His deepest emotion?

A: His Son, Jesus.

Q: Where is that most passionately—and humanly—described?

A: In the Psalms.

The Psalms express the deepest emotions of shepherds and kings, prophets and priests, as they wrestle with loss, disillusionment, celebration, and the hope of eternal life with the God who made them. But more than anything, the Psalms picture a new way to see Jesus Christ. For example, let’s take one of the most familiar chapters in all the Bible—Psalm 23. Dr. McGee loved this psalm, and explains how we can best cherish it in its context. Together, Psalms 22, 23, and 24 are called “the Shepherd psalms.”

From Dr. J. Vernon McGee:

You know Psalm 23, likely by heart. But the poetry that takes us to green pastures would be meaningless without Psalm 22, which is like standing on holy ground.

We should take off our spiritual shoes when we read Psalm 22, called “the psalm of the cross”—a psalm that accurately and specifically describes the crucifixion of Jesus better than any other portion of the Bible. But the picture Psalms 22 and 23 paints isn’t complete without Psalm 24, a majestic chorus sung about Jesus, the King of glory.

All three together are called “the Shepherd psalms.”

In Psalm 22, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He called Himself the same in John 10:11—“I am the good shepherd . . . [who] gives His life for the sheep.” In this psalm we see Jesus, our Savior, on the cross. I believe that you must know the Savior of Psalm 22 before you can know the Shepherd of Psalm 23. I do not believe that any man can say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” until he can say, “The Lord is my Savior.”

In Psalm 23, Jesus is the Great Shepherd. The benediction in Hebrews 13:20, 21 echoes this: “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant ….” Here we see Jesus, our Satisfier, holding the shepherd’s crook (his staff). He satisfied the Father’s holy demands through His blood, and today He satisfies every searching soul with goodness and mercy.

Psalm 24 reveals Jesus as the Chief Shepherd.  See it again in 1 Peter 5:4, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” In this psalm, we picture the King’s crown that sovereign Jesus will wear someday.

The Shepherd psalms give us a wonderful reminder on which to face life and death. Dear child of God, listen to David, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” It’s a terrible thing to think of dying by yourself. I want to say this to you: I’m not going through the doorway of death alone. I’ve got Somebody who says He is going with me, so I’m not going to fear. Death is terrible unless Jesus goes with you. Our tender Shepherd Jesus does not leave His sheep, but leads us from this life to the next.

Let me tell you, this world hasn’t anything today to equal that kind of love—for here and now, as David said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life….” Then “…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6) takes care of eternity.

Who is Jesus to you today? He is your Shepherd. In Psalm 22, He gives His life for the sheep. In Psalm 23, He gives His love to the sheep. In Psalm 24, He gives us light when He shall appear.

Next time you hear or read Psalm 23, remember the more complete picture, the beautiful picture we have of Jesus as our Shepherd. In the past He died for us, in the present He lives for us, and in the future He is coming again for us.

Listen to Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s Sunday Sermon, “The Psalm of an Old Shepherd," here.

My Turn

Read through Psalm 22, 23, 24 at one sitting. Look for the elements Dr. McGee described that point to Jesus.

Pray the Psalms for yourself:

Read one Psalm as a prayer for yourself every week during our study. Fill in your name every time you read me/my. Here are suggestions to get started:

  • Psalm 3
  • Psalm 8
  • Psalm 23
  • Psalm 30
  • Psalm 42
  • Psalm 51
  • Psalm 61
  • Psalm 63
  • Psalm 91
  • Psalm 131 
  • Psalm 139
  • Psalm 145

“David the king never forgot David the shepherd boy. When he wrote Psalm 23, David was an old man. He thought of himself as a sheep and of God as his Shepherd leading him from that sheepfold all the way to the throne.  It’s easy to write, ‘the Lord will be my shepherd,’ but you have to be an old shepherd looking down the corridor of time for it to have real meaning. David looked over his checkered career, a full life, and he said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’ I thank God that after 75 years I can say, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.’ I’m not bragging about myself but, oh, I am bragging about my Shepherd. What a wonderful Shepherd He is to me!”  --Dr. J. Vernon McGee