Wednesday, March 7, 2018

mid-week Lenten homily

Psalm 23:4
The Good Shepherd prepares us for a Happy Death

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (KJVB)

7 March, 2018

We are now half way through our pilgrimage of Lent. The Good Shepherd shares His life with us. He also prepares us for a happy death. David now directs our attention to the tomb. The Scriptures remind us: “It is appointed for men once to die and after that comes judgment.” {Hebrews 9:27} How can we be assured of a happy death? David reminds us the assurance we have as we look at verse 4 of our Psalm for tonight. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” -Psalm 23:4 (KJV)

1. Death brings about parting and separation – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

There are numerous definitions of death. Some may suggest that death is the absence of specific functions of the body; such as no pulse, or that the person isn’t breathing, or that there isn’t any heart beat. Still other may say that the definition of death is the absence of brain waves.

Yet the Scriptures give us a concise definition of death. In the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 12 reminds us that the definition of death for the believer is the separation of the soul from the body.  “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7 NASB)  When the body and soul are separated the Christian can safely assume that death has occurred.

Parting is also a part of the entire dying process. It has been observed that especially when an elderly person, who had been married for some fifty, fifty-five, or sixty years looses a spouse often they quite frankly loose the will to live. The Lord commenting on the marriage union tells us in Genesis 2:24: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (NAS)  The bond of marriage grows stronger over the years. When death occurs after a half century of memories are made there is a parting that brings immense sorrow. 

David is correct, when death draws near, though it is a shadow, it casts a long silhouette and we walk through a deep valley filled with loneliness and sorrow. Even we Christians grieve at death. St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (NASV) Paul acknowledges that we grieve and sorrow at the point of death. We face separation and parting yet we grieve differently than those who have no Christian hope. We mourn our dead differently. We have a hope in the resurrection.

2. Yet, there is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ – David reminds us: “I fear no evil

The evil which men experience as death draws near is the prospect of facing God. It is amazing what men have said as they realized the certainty of their own demise. Consider what men have said on their deathbed.

      Francis Voltaire, A French unbeliever said to his doctor: "I am abandoned by God and men! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months' life. Then I will go to Hell; and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!"

      Thomas Paine, An American author and unbeliever: "I would give worlds, if I had them, that 'The Age Of Reason' had never been published. O God, what have I done to suffer so much? But there is no God! But if there should be, what will become of me hereafter? Stay with me, for God's sake! Send even a child to stay with me, for it is Hell to be alone. If ever the Devil had an agent, I have been that one."

      Edward Gibbon, author of "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire": "All is dark and doubtful!"

      Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist said: "Earth is receding, Heaven opens before me. God is calling...

      Paul the Apostle. -- AD 66: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." (II Timothy 4:7, 8).

      John A. Lyth: "Can this be death?”Why, it is better than living! "Tell them I die happy in Jesus!" [1]

3. David reminds us. We are protected, even in death – “For Thou art with me

We do not walk alone. We walk through the valley of death with the Good Shepherd who took on death at the cross and defeated death and the grave once and for all. Jesus has promised: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) We are never alone. The Good Shepherd has promised us “I will never, no never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5) Here are no fewer than five negatives heaped together. They confirm a great promise. The believer in Christ shall have the gracious presence of God with him in life, at death, and forever!

4. Life is but a pilgrimage. In death we take a walk from one end of the kingdom to the other; from the kingdom of grace to the kingdom of glory – As we take this walk we are comforted by our Good Shepherd: “Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.”

The shepherd’s rod was an effective tool. At times it was used to prod the sheep and keep them moving. At other times the shepherd used it as a hook to bring them back into the fold. Never was it used to strike the sheep. Only the Good Shepherd would be struck down.  On the night of His betrayal Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 26:31-32: “You will all fall away because of Me this night for it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”

Thus our Good Shepherd comforts us.  He was struck down on Good Friday but raised to life on Easter Sunday. The Good Shepherd, hours before His own death, promised them His Easter! When we anticipate our own death we place our hope in the resurrection!

Death is so limited...
It has not crippled love,
it has not shattered hope,
it has not corroded faith,

it has not eaten away peace,
nor destroyed confidence.
It has not killed friendship,

it has not shut out memories,
it has not silenced courage,
it has not invaded the soul,
nor reduced eternal life.

It has not quenched the Spirit,
it cannot, has not,
nor will not lessen the power of the resurrection!

1. Quotations from "Knight's Master Book of New Illustrations" © 1956  Wm. B. Eardmens  Company

Passive Sentences – 11%
Readability – 79.1%
Reading Level-5.7
Image © Google Images

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