Hard to believe it was 20 years ago today that the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a tear-gas assault on the Branch Davidians religious cult and their leader David Koresh. There had been a 51 day standoff. The compound burned to the ground, killing some 80 Branch Davidians, including 22 children.
The communication of the Cross – 1 Cor.1:21-23
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,
In the beginning, man enjoyed sweet communion with God in the garden. There was no barrier. Man was exalted to speak with the LORD. Through the FALL, man lost his receptivity to the things of God, and of course the voice of God. Man went on developing his own wisdom, until the earth was full of men who thought of evil continually.
When we think of sharing the Gospel, we need be aware of what the world around us is.It is a fallen system that cannot know God.
BUT, it pleased God [through the foolishness of the message preached] to save those who believe. What’s that? God is pleased to save people who believe through a message that they consider foolish, unreasonable, suspect, even offensive.
The message of the Gospel is the Word of God. It is not simply an idea. It is a historical message about Jesus Christ to be shared. God has been pleased to save through the sharing of this message. What a miracle!
So if non-Christian people are enthusiastic about what they think is the message of God, could it be a false kind of Gospel?
Some demand signs. The honest, historical message of what Jesus did is not enough for them. They are always hungry for signs, wonders, and the supernatural. They think if it is not “miraculous”, God did not show up.
It is interesting that Jesus told the Jews the only sign they would be given was the sign of Jonah. Matthew 16:4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed. Jesus resurrection would be the sign that authenticated Him.
Why is it wicked to seek after signs?Because the Jews were hungry for signs and miracles,
but their hearts were far from the LORD. You can have all the supernatural amazement in the world and still be in a fallen, lost state. Jesus did rise from the dead, and the first thing the Jewish leaders tried to do was cover it up.
Some seek wisdom. The Greeks feasted on knowledge and ideas. They loved new philosophies and deep concepts.
What’s so bad about acquiring wisdom? Some of the most intellectual people in all of history have rejected Jesus Christ. It was never a lack of brain power or talent that kept them from being saved. The truth is they did not like the message.
“Ours is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world” Voltaire
The greatest lie in our world is that a man can save himself. This is a greater lie than claiming you do not need saving. Others work up some kind of religious zeal to accomplish a righteous status. Some have a regimen of works that they believe will make them “justified” in the sight of God. Others believe deep down that they are a “good” person and if there is a God He will have to accept them as they are, warts n’ all. Both of these ideas are satanic lies.
In the Old Testament, or Old Covenant, Israel was subject to the Law of God. God’s law was revealed through His servant Moses who was the one chosen to lead the Jews out of Egypt. In His law God made plain who He was in His all-splendid perfection and what He commanded His people to do and how to live. The Jews failed time after time to follow the LORD and showed their intrinsic sinfulness just as our first parents did. The nation was guilty as well as each individual. They all broke God’s law.
God was faithful to His people. He brought them out of Egypt, and provided the tabernacle and priesthood to remind them continually that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness”. Year after year, generation after generation, the priests were to shed the blood of animals for sacrifice.
This was a bloody reminder that sin had to be covered by blood. These sacrifices were temporary actions. They needed a real and permanent cleansing for sin. That is why Jesus Christ had to come and be the perfect Lamb of God. His blood takes away sin once for all, and He has bought His own at the greatest price. His blood was spilled for wretches like us. His blood is powerful, the perfect offering to God on behalf of sinners. He suffered for sin once for all, died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day.
In Romans 3, the Holy Spirit through Paul explains how a man is justified.
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
-This “but now” is the New Covenant whereby God has established that new and unconditional arrangement to forgive, bless, unite with, and in-dwell men that He saves. (see Jeremiah 31)
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
-”By faith” is simply casting yourself upon Jesus. Faith has an object to believe in other than the one exercising faith. When I put my feet on the floor next to my bed, I am believing without a doubt that it will hold! True faith in Jesus Christ is believing unreservedly that He will save me. The wonderful words “unto all and upon all” are rich a personal. No-one who ever truly had faith in Jesus was turned away.
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
-”All” again pronounces GUILTY on each and every one of us. There is no “good” person, only sinful people who make good choices from time to time. If you feel that you are not a sinner, 1 John says you are lying to yourself! God’s law demands perfection, and each one of us has fallen short and will fall short of the standard.
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
-Just as sure as our guilt damned us, the grace of God freely justifies a man. It is free grace, God’s righteousness at Christ’s expense. It is complete. The believer in Christ is declared right before God and sin is dealt with. A man can only be guilty or justified. Which one are you?
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
-God the Father sent His Son as the sin offering. Think about that. God died for the people who were rebels against Him. He was perfect, never sinned, never did wrong, and yet Jesus was made a sacrifice. He was condemned to die on a Roman cross, and He went willingly, was nailed to it, raised up, languished in pain, and lovingly suffered God’s wrath against sin. He descended to the most vile place that I deserved to go. He is the pursuing Savior! He bled for me.
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
-How can a perfect and holy God be at peace with sinful man? How can he accept me and welcome me in when I was born in sin and have been sinning all my life? The exchange.
Jesus is righteous. Jesus suffered the anger and torment for sin. He was put in my place. He bore the flood of judgment for sinners. The Father bruised Him, crushed Him, and Jesus was humiliated for me. Sin was put to death as Jesus died. He gave up His life, no man forced Him to do it. God is pleased with the death of Christ, so now He can be pleased with the one who places their faith in His Son. I was a sinner, but by faith and trust in Christ alone, my status has been changed from sinner to saint! It’s real, and it’s true. It’s truly good news.
The Bible shows us that God is pleased with His Son. Only by faith in Jesus can a man or woman be washed and cleansed of sin. Only because Jesus ever lives can a man or woman be given new, fresh life. Have you believed? Are you justified before God?
For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; because they called thee an outcast, saying this is Zion, whom no man seeketh after. Jer. 30:17
Does the Lord promise total healing? How does He relate to us as outcasts in the many situations of suffering in life?
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and there is no other like Him. For the Christian, life begins when they are saved. Before Jesus, life was not life, it was mere existence. There may have been a pulse, but there was not that rich and abundant life that Jesus brings. He is satisfaction, and He is nourishment.
One of the oriental shepherd’s chief duties was to find adequate pasture. The sheep would have to be moved here and there in order to find the best places to eat. Likewise with the water or lack thereof, the shepherd would have to lead them to waters suitable to them, not a rushing torrent that could drown them and their awkward snouts, but peaceable and tranquil waters that were still fresh and free of contamination.
The Word of the LORD through Ezekiel speaks of a time when the LORD shall feed Israel in the fullness of His new covenant. “I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there they shall lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down” 34:14,15. Fatness and goodness are the characteristics of the food the Shepherd provides! He satisfies.
Jesus told His disciples that this was true. “I am the door: by Me if any man if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture” John 10:9. Jesus is the Shepherd and also the door to the the protective fold. He is the house and the builder of the house. The sheep are saved and redeemed and in the Body, and they are also sure to always find good food. They are going in and out from glory to glory, feeding well.
The Word of God is the spiritual food of every Christian. The Bible is the nourishment that satisfies and satiates the hungry believer! We are invited by our Shepherd to come and feed at the table of His New Covenant and be enriched with His holy Word. It is true and enduring food.
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the Word of our God shall stand forever” Isaiah 40:8. One of the least appreciated truths is that when the Christian is feeding on the Word of God, he is actually being led to feed on Christ Himself. This is so tragically missed is it not? How many Christians see the Word of God as a guide, a manual, a code, a list of principles, a revelation of doctrinal facts, but how few see the Bible as spiritual text that leads them to feed on Jesus?
In reality, all of Scripture is designed to proclaim and convey the LORD Jesus to those who are saved and to preach Him to those who are not yet saved. There is no other point to Bible study if not to lay hold of Him! He is the spiritual food. Jesus explained this in John 6 when He was talking about “the bread of life”. Unless we feed on Him, we have no life in us. When we feed on Him, it shows we are alive in Him. The Word is the spiritual food that imparts life to us. It is finer than the finest tender grass that the sheep would find.
The still waters are most satisfying and only the shepherd can lead his flock to them. In the same way, Jesus has led His people to the waters of the Spirit. The outpouring of the Spirit on the Church and indwelling of each believer is the application of the New Covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31. The “I wills” of the LORD find their culmination in the indwelling. It is not a legal relationship that the Christian has with the LORD, it is a lively indwelling of the Spirit and an ever-present communion with Christ! “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” John 7:37,38.
Now there is satisfaction! If any man thirsts, let him come! If any man hungers, let him come and eat! When we were without Christ, we were unaware of our spiritual need. Some share the Gospel with the invitation being one to come and have your hunger satisfied and your thirst quenched. While the Gospel certainly is the ultimate thirst quencher and the truest food, the unregenerate man does not hunger for God. He does not appreciate his condition or his need. But when the Spirit regenerates a person, then the hunger and true spiritual thirst arise with such a tenacity that was never known before!
True spiritual hunger and thirst in the believer is greater than all the sinful lusts of the world, and the golden hope is that there is a limitless supply in Him who knows no beginning or end. The Spirit Himself longs to feed the saint with the best food and lead us again and again to the FOUNTAIN Himself! Praise His name! Blessed be the name of the LORD! He leads us, He feeds us, He satisfies!
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
The LORD here is the LORD of all the earth. He is almighty, and He is my LORD! Having taken me into His own fold and made me a son, He is mine, and indeed, I am His. To have Jesus as Shepherd is to have the best. He is not a sufficient Shepherd, He is the only One. He is the Good Shepherd, and there are no others. He is “my shepherd”. I do not simply believe in Him intellectually. I do not simply trust in Him religiously, but more than that, He is mine spiritually, personally. He is my shepherd who takes care of me because I am under His care. He knows me, and still He cares for me. He knows me, and still He loves.
To have a personal awareness that “He is mine” is more valuable than other relationships. He is of infinite worth, and so my relationship with Him is of infinite importance. To not have Him would be like being abandoned in the desert without hope. Life, if it can be called that, is a howling wilderness with no light, no peace, no food, no warmth, and no direction. I am lost without my Shepherd!
I shall not want because Jesus is my shepherd! This is more wonderful than I can describe. I shall not lack, I shall not suffer the ultimate break. He is the One who ensures that I shall not lack. He is the creator and the protector but He is also the delivery of what I need. He is the shelter, and He is the food. He is the water, and He is the light. He is the life.
How often we hear that we need this or that. The world is telling us constantly how needy we are. If they only knew the half of their desperate need! Sin was all I had until Jesus saved me. Did I believe it? No. I thought much of myself. I was an enterprising sheep bent for hell. Do you believe that about yourself? It affronts the will and the emotions to think sin is all we have without Jesus, but it is true. We are sinners, and therefore sin and judgment is all we have. I thought I had lots of things, but I had nothing.
What do I now lack? In the Shepherd I shall not want. Is that a qualified promise? Is there a certain level of need that the Shepherd does not bring Himself to meet? Is there a place where the rod and staff do not go? Is there a place in which the Shepherd is ineffectual, limited, barred from helping His sheep?
Clearly the text declares the second half of the verse as soundly as the first half. I shall not want. Does this mean the Shepherd is all-sufficient? Yes, and it means more than that. He is totally sufficient, but I am not wanting with Him. Do you see that? It is one thing to claim theologically that Jesus is all the Christian needs, and it is another thing to believe and receive that He is all we need.
Do you have emotional issues? Do you wrestle with the changing tide of mental anxiety? Do you fret? Who among us does not have problems which push us in our physical, mental, and spiritual selves? Do you feel or has someone told you that you are bi-polar? Do you daily find it hard to overcome some kind of depression? The pains and infirmities of life are too complex and indeed too numerous for even the most caring earthly physician to categorize much less treat. Usually the world offers us a pill and a follow-up.
Are you born-again? Are you a Christian? What is it that you could say you lack? Surely there is a mental or emotional battle that you wage. None of us lives on easy street. What are the pains of your heart? Jesus is the One who causes His own not to lack. Do you believe this? Do I believe that He is able and willing to be the healing, the rescue, the provision for that specific need? Too often I rush on as a fool, even though I am no fool because God has saved me.
Think over this idea that “I shall not want”. Ponder the ways in which you daily tell yourself you want, and examine the things that you reach for before Jesus the Shepherd. We all do spend so much time trying to prop up artificial shepherds.
Let’s go a little deeper though. More than my own realization that I can have Jesus to be the answer to my needs or lacking, let us consider the Shepherd. If I am aware of needs, how much more is “my Shepherd”? If I have some burden that I am carrying, some weight that seems like it will kill me, is the Shepherd not aware?
Picture a sheep trying to find it’s own pasture. It might do well in this or that place, as long as there was tons of grass. If there was an abundance of water, the lone sheep could get a drink, but what if the water was dangerous, or the grass was in a clearing where predators lurked? What if the sheep went too far and lost sight of the flock? The comfort is that the Shepherd knows all of this and foresees it and is already guiding and providing in just the right way.
I think we can appreciate the real-life analogy of the Shepherd caring for His sheep, but is that how we think of relationship with Jesus? Daily the water seems to be running out. Daily the grass seems scarce. We run here, we wander there. We imbibe the world’s remedies. We watch the world’s counselors. We trust the opinions of well-meaning fools.
The psalm describes the loving care of the Shepherd and seems to be calling me again and again to explore the length and breadth of it. As always, it is not an exploration of an idea, it is a journey to a Person. Happy are the people who are learning to give up on themselves to lean on the Shepherd. What comfort is there in believing in yourself? What healing is there in the bottle? What stability is there in the whims of a society that is hell driven and hell inspired which daily chants, drink this, eat this, think this, do this, because it is all about you. It is not.
It’s all about the Shepherd, and in Him we shall not want.