In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” Or as we sang earlier, “I shall lack nothing.” That sentence is something only those who walk by faith and not by sight can say. For we certainly don’t always see it with our eyes, do we. Our experience sometimes is that we do want, we do lack, we do suffer need; we do feel threats. We want for answers to our health issues. We need friendship and companionship. We lack time or finances or resources. We fear dangers to our safety or to the well-being of those we love in this fallen and chaotic world. But still we boldly say, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” Because of Him, I shall lack nothing.
This is so because Christ, our Good Shepherd, lacked everything for us. Out of His goodness He was rejected already as an infant in Bethlehem and had to flee to Egypt. Out of His mercy He had no place to lay His head in His ministry. Out of His love He was hungry in the wilderness, attacked and arrested and abused by the authorities, thirsty upon the cross, stripped of all his clothing and His dignity. More than anyone else, Jesus lacked and wanted and did without. He lacked an escape route or any relief or comfort in His suffering, forsaken by all. The jaws of the wolf that came to seize and scatter the flock laid hold of Him. His body and soul were torn apart from each other. He laid down His life so that we poor sheep could escape and live.
Out of that divine goodness—His want, His lack—comes your abundance. His thirsting drenches you with living water, His hunger satisfies your longing soul, His death gives you life. That is why right now, you lack nothing—even though you may still experience want. This is your confession of faith. This is what you believe and know to be ultimately true, regardless of your experience. In the face of evil (which is really just the lack of good), when what you see and experience is the absence of good, yet you know that you have everything that is good because you have Christ, the Good Shepherd, and more importantly, He has you. “I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me.”
This Psalm is a favorite to pray at funerals. How strange to the world and how wonderful before God it is to stand at the edge of the grave and say even there, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing.” “O death where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?” Our hearts and our eyes may sting, but not because of death’s power. Death is defeated by our risen Lord, and one day our eyes will see it and our hearts will again rejoice. We know and believe that victory over the grave is already a present reality in the living Jesus.
We confess that we have no lack or want because, if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things? He grants us our daily bread—food, drink, clothing, a place to lay our head—but not just the realities of our bodily needs, which can suffer lack for a time. No, we have the eternal, spiritual gifts that Christ provides for us in the Church which do not fail. We are nourished with His body and blood. We drink in His Word. We are clothed with His holiness. That is not just poetry or a metaphor. It is a confession of reality, a reality that supersedes our sight and experience. In Christ, even in our want, we want for nothing.
Our Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in the green pastures of His rich Gospel, where we find real rest and peace. By the still waters of Holy Baptism, He who laid down His life for the sheep provides wholeness to us. He restores our souls. Once, in those still waters, He named us as His own. Even now, He makes those waters an abundant restoration as we return to them in repentance and faith. They well up within us and define us. As the baptized we belong to Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Protector and Provider who does not fail. He has claimed us and put His name upon us. Our souls are restored, and we are set again on the paths of righteousness.
Those paths sometimes wind through the valley of the shadow of death where we know lack and evil, and we want out. But we must all pass through this valley. We cannot go under or over or around it. No one gets out of the Church Militant alive. No Christian can avoid the cross forever, because no Christian is above his Master, the crucified One. The sorrow may be terrible, and we should never belittle the sufferings and sorrows of others. But thanks be to God, it is fleeting, temporary. It doesn’t endure; it is only a shadow.
As we walk through this valley of shadows, we can sometimes feel the darkness. In our sheepish ways we know fear or sorrow or anger. We feel death’s shadow even in our hearts and struggle to rejoice and trust in God. Still, we must never forget that as terrible as it is, it really is only a shadow, fleeting and temporary. It has no substance with which to do us any eternal harm.
Your lives are not your own. They belong to Christ, and in Him, to one another. You do not walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone. You are together in the fellowship of the Church. So look up and you will see the pillar of cloud, Christ going before you. Look around and you will see brothers and sisters. God has given you a family, where you belong, a congregation in which to sing and journey. You will not remain in the shadowy valley. The Pillar Himself leads you through the valley. Death itself has become a passage to life in Him. The angel has rolled away the stone, and the Light of the Resurrection is straight ahead. Keep walking.
You could not make this journey through the valley if our Lord Himself had not made the way before you. He walked through this valley and constructed a road for you to walk. He knows you and precisely what you’re going through. Baptized into Him, you do not suffer as those without hope, as though the valley has no end. You have an Advocate who very literally knows your pain. We walk together with saints and angels, following Christ the Pillar of cloud and fire. We walk in the sure hope of passing through this valley, of coming to the City not built with hands, to the place He has prepared for us, and to our people who have gone before us.
Already now, we know and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. We shall not want. Our souls are restored. His rod and His staff, His Law and His Gospel, His cross and resurrection, they comfort us. The goodness and mercy of the Good Shepherd follows us, pursues us, hounds us if He must, so that we stay on the paths of righteousness and make it to the blessed goal of His promise. The Good Shepherd is there as we walk. There is no sin He has not forgiven, no accusation He has not deflected, no hair He has not counted. He goes before us, His goodness mercy follow us, His love surrounds us. And so we are kept safe from every attack from every direction, even the ones that come from within.
And while our joy is not yet full, it most certainly will be. It will be! We can already taste it. For the table is prepared before us right in the face of our defeated enemy. And our joy will never end. For Jesus lives and keeps on living to all eternity. This is our sure faith. The Lord is our Shepherd. We shall not want. We will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
(With thanks to David Petersen)