Sunday, April 3, 2016

Where the Shepherd lives

 Psalm 23 is a sheep’s travel diary. He is being lead through green pastures and by still
waters. Along a right path he walks even though it goes through a foreboding valley. What is the ‘sheep’s’ expectation? To settle down with the Shepherd. How long was the journey likely to be? Unstated.

When we read the word dwell it is so easy to imagine it as meaning what Jesus said about ‘mansions’ in John 14. The two are entirely different. David’s imagery focuses on the tabernacle which is called ‘The House of the Lord.’ He knew however, that as a ‘sheep’ from a different tribe he wasn’t permitted to move in the Shepherd’s precincts. The tabernacle and later the Temple’s courts were segregated. The outer courts for non-Israelites, next the court of the women which butted onto the court of the men. Then it was the exclusive domain of the descendant of Levi who had their restricted areas. Then finally there was the area only accessible to sons of Aaron, the priests. There hidden from view was the Holy of Holies, the place of the presence of Yahweh.

It was this Sanctuary in which the Lord was able to dwell with His creation. He was ‘Immanuel’ for His people. Although it was strictly segregated the people saw it as a wonderful place. David wrote in Psalm 26:8, ‘O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.’ Would the reference to God’s abiding Glory indicate that something like the Shekinah Glory radiated from the Holy of holies? There was certainly some heart drawing power for many, many people as epitomised by David and others. It would seem that although knowing the various restrictions the flock still wanted to be somewhere near where his Shepherd dwelt.

For us, because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, we look on this part of the psalm differently. Belonging to the ‘other sheep’ Jesus talked about in John 10, He has made us into one fold. We, it must be admitted, would have been seen by the angels as wild, unclean, ‘morally and spiritually moth-eaten sheep.’ Here again is the wonder of Christ’s putting His brand upon us. We have been accepted into the fold by the Father. On top of that, the Holy Spirit has been pleased to make His presence at home within us, as promised by our Saviour. When we look back over our lives and our conversion encounter with Jesus it dawns upon us what an awesome make-over He has done on us and in us. But, there is still more work being done to us, as you would undoubtedly agree!

More than that, Jesus has done a cleansing of the heavenly house. In Hebrews 9:23-24 we read of Him purifying the Heavenly dwelling. Satan’s rebellion certainly made a mess throughout the universe. Our Lord told His disciples in John 14 that He was going to build new lodgings for His ‘sheep.’ I wonder how close it will be to the Heavenly Sanctuary. How is this possible? Because Jesus has been granted by the Father, the order of the High Priesthood of Melchizedek. The old Aaronic order still exists and according to Ezekiel 4o-45 has a future role to play. The new order has come into operation due to the cross and resurrection of Christ. His ministry realm is in Glory. It is there our Shepherd watches over us and prayers for us (Hebrews 7:25).  Hebrews beautifully and graciously outlines the superiority of Christ Jesus’ rule as Shepherd over His people. By faith we are walking with him. By faith we keep our focus on Him according to Hebrews 12:1-3. By faith we experience the spiritual reality behind what David wrote in very physical terms in psalm 23.

David’s longing was that his relationship would last forever, meaning while he had breath. For us our longing is open ended. We live under the conviction of His pastoral oversight in this life. We live with hope’s unshakeable certainty that when death embraces us we are released into the presence of our Saviour. For us the word forever is like the eternal ‘Now’ for it is the realm of the Good Shepherd. It is where He takes His flock. Sure, David and the original ‘flock’ will be there although it would be uncertain how many would have understood ‘forever’ in that way?

As we conclude our short ramble through psalm 23 I hope you have had a deepening appreciation of it. Familiarity can rob us of its richness and meaning for our own journey with our Good Shepherd. We, similar to David, will have our detours, stumbles, ‘head-butts’ and spiritual or moral parasites. But our Lord restores our soul and pours His oil over us and goes searching for us when we meander of the track. How eternally grateful we will be that He keeps His sheep who wear His brand for ‘His Name’s Sake!’

©Ray Hawkins March 2016.

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