We're coming to the end of this series - reflections on the very delightful and gently powerful words of the most well-known chapter in the Bible. Psalm twenty-three. All the way through we've been listening to the voice of a Shepherd, and yet he's been writing all along from the perspective of the sheep.
The entire Psalm has been a punctuated by divine encounters, and, now, at the end, we are left wondering, "How is it that an Old Testament character had it so good?" Is it possible that now that Jesus has come He could be offering something even better than a Psalm 23 experience?
And so we ask Him. Jesus? What do you think of Psalm 23? How can you possibly top that?
He grins at our naivety. "Oh", he murmurs to no-one in particular. "What a great question!" And then He looks us in the eye, works with those ancient words, and begins to explain from that the whole Psalm is, in fact, speaking of Him! We lean in close; there's a heartwarming moment to be had, and now we get to hear what He has to say . . .
"You know", he remarks. "I am the good shepherd that David was talking about."
Yes, we nod. That's precious. We knew that.
But Christ does not linger long on how it feels to be the Shepherd or proceed to tell us what Shepherding is like from his point of view. Instead, in a beautiful twist, He is anxious to invite us into an experience of our own. Now He too is talking from the perspective of the sheep.
'My sheep hear my voice and they know me.'
These well-known words are not just a general invitation to live a life of responsiveness to the voice of God. It is an invitation, yes, but with a very specific objective in mind. We are welcomed in . . . just as David was, to a place where abundant provision and care are the order of the day. It comes as a shock to realise that the allure of that age-old poem is not just an unattainable dream. It is a reality laying within arms reach.
His voice rings out over the noise that is our life.
'I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly. I have come that you might live your life to the full.'
His sheep hear and run in the direction of the voice of the one they trust most of all. And he leads them out. He leads them out of their limitations, disappointment and lack. He goes before them as they move from a barren field and into a lush pasture. He draws them into the presence of the Father, into His house. It stands to reason. After all, He is the way . . . no one comes to the Father but by Him. He is the one who prepares a place for us and then comes again. He is the one who receives us unto himself so that where He is we can be also.
The book of Hebrews gently echoes the Christ encounter of John 10. The readers of that letter were not doing well. They were making do with a natural version of Christianity. It was a tough white-knuckle ride. They had lived through horrible persecution for their faith and had suffered much for owning his name. Holding on was so difficult that they were considering turning their backs on everything! Anxiously looking on from a distance the author pleads with them, 'If you hear his voice, don't harden your heart.'
He's taken the good shepherd's invitation to enter in, and He's bringing it to them. His voice was there to guide them from what wasn't working for them into much-deserved rest. And even so, there was a very real possibility that their hearts, long calloused from too much pain and waiting in vain, would respond with only a cynical grunt of disbelief when the Saviour came to call them out.
But Psalm 23 is for us, and so is John 10, and so is Hebrews 3.
He leads us out and we learn the way, and then a singular encounter turns into a lifestyle of coming and going between this world and the world that is unseen, yet so real. We go in and out to find pasture at will. The welcome is a permanent one. We get to draw near whenever we desire because that place is our true home. There is always a welcome for us in our Father's house! His presence is effortlessly accessible. It is as if the blessings of heaven are always so near at hand so that the only way to describe it is this:
'goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives!'
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