The text to which I’d like to turn our attention is the final two verses of Psalm 23. Tonight, we will, Lord willing, finish up this Psalm, perhaps the most well-known chapter in all of the bible. It’s not really any wonder why this is one of the most beloved passages in scripture; it’s relevant to every moment of our lives. What text can be equally appropriate at the birth of a child, at a wedding, at a funeral, on our best days and on our worst days?
And few texts can say so much with so few words, and speak so deeply, and yet in the language that even a child can understand.
We’ve seen thus far that the good shepherd provides all that his flock needs, he restores them when they’ve flipped themselves over with sin, he guides them where they need to go, even if that path is in the deepest dark place, or the valley of the shadow of death. And we’ve seen that his presence brings security and protection, and that he can even bring about good for his sheep through the valleys of this life.
Tonight, we’ll hear the closing two verses, which change the scene a little, to a banquet that the good shepherd has laid out. We’ll see how he showers his guests with abundant provision and honor and goodness and mercy, and how such treatment will be with us forever.
Let’s read Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Let’s begin tonight by noting 4 gifts from the good shepherd that David experiences in verse 5. Verse 5 says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” We’ll see four divine gifts promised to us by our Lord.
The first gift of the good shepherd is divine hospitality. Divine hospitality. The imagery in this verse is of a banquet. A feast is being prepared, the table is being set, the cup is being filled, and David has been invited. The king of all the universe is making sure that no detail is left out of place.
And David lets us know that this banquet is not for the high and mighty over there; it’s not for the sheep that have it all together. We’ve just studied the life of David on Sunday mornings, so we know for sure that David was by no means a spotless sheep. In fact, in our more sober moments, we all can relate to David in some way or another. We’ve soiled ourselves in sin, we’ve done impulsive things, we’ve coveted what wasn’t ours, lied to protect ourselves, and pretended that we’ve not done anything wrong. And in those moments of reflection upon our sin we can be tempted to believe that God has cast us away from his table. That we’re not worthy to come before a holy God, that we’ve sold our birthright as a child of God for some bowl of porridge from this world. I have no doubt David was tempted to think that way too.
But that’s not what the good shepherd does. He doesn’t toss us aside and push us away when we’ve gotten into trouble again. He doesn’t demote us to the rank of second-level sheep. He prepares a banquet table. And where does he prepare it? “Before me,” David says. Nothing is out of reach for David. Everything he could possibly need is right at his fingertips. All of the blessings are provided right at his hand. Rather than being cast aside, which he deserves, he’s been made the guest of honor. David experiences, and we can experience, this overwhelming gift of divine hospitality from our good shepherd.
But David doesn’t stop there. The second gift of the good shepherd is security. Security. David is secure in his experience of divine hospitality: “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” You probably have read of the incredible celebrations that ancient kings would have when they were victorious over an enemy king. The triumphant king would parade his armies through the cities to show off his strength. He’d then host a glorious feast in his palace, sometimes even with the defeated king and his generals present, disarmed of course, so that those defeated parties would be humiliated, so they’d have to watch as their conqueror had this huge party celebrating their demise, and they were completely powerless to do anything about it.
That’s what David is saying here. His good shepherd has laid out a banquet table, stocked it with all measure of celebratory food and drink, and has done it in the sight of his enemies, who, no matter how hard they may try and how much they want to, they are powerless to get their revenge. David is secure from his enemies because of his good shepherd.
But, lest we think that David is a mere bystander watching this whole feat unfold from the sidelines, he continues onto the next gift.
The third gift of the good shepherd is divine anointing. Diving anointing. David says of the good shepherd, “You anoint my head with oil.” Anointing, which is the ceremony of pouring some kind of oil, usually infused with pleasant smelling additives, onto the head of someone. In the bible this language is principally used to indicate two things.
First, anointing was used to symbolize someone being set apart for a particular task. Kings, like David, were anointed when they were set apart by God for their reign over God’s people. Priests, like Aaron, where anointed to set them apart for a special service to God on behalf of God’s people.
But anointing also is used in scripture as a way of showing great honor. Anointing indicated a special honor being bestowed upon the one being anointed. Think of the Mary in John 12 anointing the feet of Jesus with an ointment that was exceedingly valuable. She was showing honor, demonstrating to all around how highly valued Jesus was in her eyes.
So when David says that his Good Shepherd anoints his head with oil, He is saying that he’s no mere neutral bystander at the banquet. He is a guest of honor. He’s been given the very public, and very precious privilege of being an honored guest of the banquet. He’s not standing in the back with the servants. He’s not bowing in chains like the defeated enemies. He’s sitting at the front of the room at the table of honored guests. He’s secure, he’s treated like a man of stature, he’s a prized and beloved guest of the king.
But the king doesn’t stop with the anointing oil. The fourth gift of the divine shepherd is the abundance of provision. The abundance of provision. David poetically tells us that he has an overflowing bounty given to him when he says, “my cup overflows.” The symbol of an overflowing cup is used in many cultures to symbolize bountiful gifts or provision. Just Like in the ancient near east, I’ve even seen pictures of this in the far east. I was watching a show a while back that demonstrated traditional Sake customs in Japan. A lavish host would bring out special tableware for a guest of honor, and that included a Sake glass, and a little small wooden box. The guest of honor would put his sake glass into the little wooden box, and the host would pour sake into the glass until it began to overflow the glass and begin to even fill the wooden box, thus symbolizing how the host both promises his abundant provision to the guest of honor, and demonstrating how the guest of honor was worthy of such abundance.
David is saying something similar here. His cup is not merely tasting of some wine; his cup is overflowing with divine provision. He’s not merely getting by, surviving in the lord’s flock. He’s been given everything he could possibly want or need, and given it in ABUNDANCE! His host is not a stingy host, holding back, reserving the costly and precious goods for others. He is a lavish host, graciously giving all things to those whom he has chosen as his guests of honor.
So, having examined the four gifts of the good shepherd in verse 5, we would do well to ask ourselves “Why can we have these things?” Why is it that we today can be confident in the knowledge that these gifts have been secured for us by our good shepherd? And the answer to that question is Jesus. Let’s look at each of these gifts and remember together how Jesus has secured each of them for His flock at great personal cost to himself.
First, we can experience divine hospitality because Jesus has first experienced the separation we deserved. We can be brought into God’s very own household and adopted as sons because Jesus was first treated like the treacherous traitor that we were by birth.
We all are by birth and by choice sinners that have violated God’s law. We’ve lied, we’ve coveted what wasn’t ours, we’ve been prideful, and we’ve grumbled against God’s gifts. And because of those sins, we deserve to be cast out, put away, unable to enter God’s presence forever.
But God’s plan for our reconciliation was to send his own son to bear the punishment that we deserved. He sent Jesus to die the death we had earned, and to taste the separation that we had merited. In fact, Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus experienced the agony of estrangement so that we might be reconciled to God. Jesus was the scapegoat that was cast out into the desert of death, so that we might have union with our God again. Jesus was cut off from the table of fellowship, so that we might taste of divine hospitality forever.
Second, we can have security at the table of divine hospitality because Jesus was first vulnerable to the enemies at his table. I could only imagine that this verse (You have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies) was running through Jesus’s mind when he hosted the last supper and Judas was sitting around him. Jesus had a table prepared for him in the presence of his enemies, but it was not yet a banquet table of victory. His table was prepared as a prelude to his death.
And because he was faithful in all his mission, because he did everything needed to secure the salvation of his flock, because he willingly endured the cross for his people, Jesus is also said in Colossians 2:15 to have “…disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Jesus has knocked the teeth out of the wolves that could do us any lasting harm. He’s bound Satan and all his minions and put them in chains. Indeed, we could even say that tonight, with the preaching of God’s word and the presentation of the Lord’s supper table again, we’re given a little picture of God’s final banquet table, both of which proclaim to the principalities and powers of this age that they are defeated. They are in chains, bound, unable to do anything of eternal harm to us who have been invited as guests of honor at the table of the victorious king.
Third, we can experience the anointing of honor because Jesus has first experienced an anointing of shame. We can be set apart by divine anointing unto a service of honor and to the status of an honored guest at God’s feast, and we can do that because Jesus was first anointed himself. But his anointing was to be the substitute for his sinful people, and rather than tasting of honor for his virtue, he identified with the shame of his sinful people. Rather than being clothed with regal robes and royal jewels, Jesus was stripped naked and nailed to a cross. Rather than being anointed with blessings and glorious titles, he was spat upon and was cursed, because cursed is every man that hangs upon a tree.
And because he tasted the shame of sin, because he bore the curse of the cross, his people are able to come as honored guests to the table of the king. God no longer sees us as shameful and dirty sheep. He sees us robed in the pure vestments of Christ’s righteousness. We’re wrapped in the glowing white linens of Christ’s faithfulness, and because of that, we’re treated as the royal guests of honor, indeed, we’re even treated as sons of the king, because that’s what we are. We’re given a status divine family, brought into the household of God, not as servants, but as heirs to the divine kingdom, and sons and daughters of God Almighty.
And how is this given to us? By anointing. Anointing with the precious oil of the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t just wave a magic wand and make us family. He pours out his very own spirit upon us, the spirit which is called in the new testament “the spirit of adoption,” who seals us, marks us out, brings us into the family of God, guides us into all holiness, and bestows upon us the honor of being made into the image of the Son of God. The good shepherd anoints our heads with oil, the oil of honor, oil of adoption, the anointing of the Holy Spirit himself.
Fourth, we can have a cup overflowing with divine abundance because Jesus first had a cup. But Jesus’s cup wasn’t overflowing with wine; it was a cup filled with his own blood. Jesus drank a cup, but it wasn’t a cup of celebration; it was a sober cup of divine judgment.
Several verses speak of God’s wrath for sin in terms of a cup. Jeremiah 25:15 tells us, “Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.’” Then Isaiah 51:17 says, “O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.”
This is the cup that we had earned for ourselves; a cup overflowing with divine wrath and judgment for our sins.
But praise be to God that when faced with the prospect of drinking the full weight of divine wrath for his people’s sin, Jesus’s response was, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Only because Jesus has drunk the cup of God’s wrath for sin can we taste of the cup of divine abundance. Jesus tasted the cup of famine so that we might taste of the cup of feasting. Because of Christ’s work, we know that we’ve been blessed with every blessing in the heavenly places, we’ve been promised everything needful for us to live a life of honor to God, and everything we could possibly need for us to live a life of joy and satisfaction because of the blessings God has secured for us. Our joy is not contingent upon fleeting earthly possessions, or the favor of men, or status in this world, or vain glory or anything else. Our joy, our overflowing cup of satisfaction is based upon the sure foundation of God’s promised benevolent disposition towards us.
Which is the perfect transition to our last verse of the psalm, where we see the Good Shepherd’s certain care. The Good Shepherd’s certain care. In verse 6, David writes:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
We might be tempted to hear of God’s banquet table and all of the present blessings we have, and feel ok about today. We’re good now. We’ve got it under control.
But what about tomorrow? Sheep like us are often anxious about what we cannot see, and since we can’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, we can be tempted to worry.
What if I don’t get enough hours at work? What if I don’t get the job or into the college I want? What if my relationship with this person breaks down? What if they don’t like me anymore? What if God doesn’t feel this way about me tomorrow?
David speaks to us in this verse to remind us that God’s pastoral disposition toward his people doesn’t change. Let’s walk through the verse.
What is promised? Goodness and mercy. Goodness is God’s benevolent disposition toward his people that is manifested in his abundant care and promises.
His mercy, or covenant love, his loving kindness, is God’s covenantal commitment to bless his people with his goodness. David is expressing deep confidence in the covenantal loyalty and trustworthiness of God himself toward him, and by extension to us. David doesn’t need to fear that God will be good to him today, but not tomorrow, or that God will keep his promises to him today, but be unfaithful tomorrow.
God, the eternal, unchanging, all-holy bridegroom has bound himself to his bride with an eternal vow of faithfulness, and has vowed by his very own character, which can never be violated. There is nothing that could ever break his faithfulness to his people, and there is nothing in Him that would consider such an evil.
Consider some of the mercies that are promised to God’s flock:
• the mercy of union with Christ,
• the mercy of Him calling us to himself,
• the mercy of new birth or regeneration,
• the mercy of justification whereby we are declared righteous in his eyes,
• the mercy of pardon for sins past, present, and future, whereby the liability for sin’s guilt is taken away because of Christ’s death on the cross,
• they mercy of adoption, whereby we’re brought from being orphaned by sin and estranged from God into his very own household
• the mercy of satisfaction, whereby Christ’s perfect obedience to the law is credited to our account, fulfilling the law’s demands against us
• the mercy of the holy spirit, who seals us for the promised day of redemption,
• the mercy of sanctification whereby he promises to guide us into holiness and not let sin have dominion over us
• the mercy of eternal security, whereby we’re promised that God will lose none of the sheep from his flock, but will hold them tightly for all of eternity
• the mercy of glorification, whereby we’re promised an everlasting, perfected body and a continued, blessed existence with Him in heaven for all of eternity.
These are just some of the evidences of God’s goodness and mercy that are promised to us in the bible.
But let’s continue: What does David say the goodness and mercy going to do? He says it is going to follow him. This goodness and mercy aren’t just available in the temple. They aren’t available just in Jerusalem, or at church, or when things are going well. This goodness and mercy will hound him, track him down, it won’t leave him alone. That’s what we can know of our good shepherd.
He’s not content to merely offer us access to goodness and mercy. His mercy seeks us out. When we’ve run off the rails into sin and shame again, his goodness and mercy seek us out. He will come to get us, he will bring us home, he will work in our hearts, convict us of our sins by his word, and remind us of his promises in scripture, and woo us back to him in merciful gentleness.
And How long is goodness and mercy going to follow me? All the days of my life. I don’t have to worry about this goodness and mercy being a limited time offer. God’s graciousness and faithfulness is not for an introductory trial period, after which we are on our own. We need just as much goodness and mercy after 50 years of following Christ as we did on the day of our baptism, and we’re promised that in this text.
And notice that David does not merely say “goodness and mercy will follow me all of my life,” as if, generally speaking your life will tend toward a overall disposition of some goodness and mercy, as if God will have moments of goodness and mercy and moments of harshness and wrath, but that in the end the scales will balance out with a slight tilt toward mercy.
No. The text says that goodness and mercy will follow me all of the days of my life. Each day mercy and goodness will be shown to you. God tells us in his word that his mercy is new every morning. It’s not as if you exhaust God’s mercy one day, and that’s all you get. You’ve used up this month’s mercy, so you’ll have to wait until the first of next month to get some more mercy. Nope. God is overflowing with mercy, and brings it faithfully to you every morning.
By now you may be saying, are you certain? How do I know that this will be the case? David is positive in his understanding. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Surely. Certainly. Without a doubt. We don’t have to wonder.
Consider who has covenanted himself to us: the Good shepherd himself. He’s all powerful, so nothing can prevent him from sharing his goodness and mercy to us. He’s all knowing, so nothing can surprise him or take him off guard. He’s unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and forever, so he’s not going to love you today and dump you tomorrow as if he is a fickle man. And he’s demonstrated the depth of his loving kindness to you by sending his own son to die in your place. What more could be needed to demonstrate his dedication to upholding his promises? Surely [certainly, without a doubt] goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
And in light of that certainty, David closes with: “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This Banquet feast of superabundance, this anointing of divine blessing and honor, this shower of goodness and mercy, is not just a one-time thing. God has promised us a seat at the banquet table so that we can be showered with divine love and satisfaction for all of eternity.
Nothing can remove our name from the guest list, nothing can revoke our permission to attend, nothing can rescind our reservation. God’s not going to have a spot marked for you today, and then erase your name from the book of life tomorrow. God does not make mistakes when he writes out his banquet guest list.
When I was younger I remember singing a children’s song that repeated over and over again the line, “He invites me to his banqueting table, his banner over me is love.” We’d sing it over and over again, which at the time I thought the repetition was annoying. But as I’ve gotten older I see that I need to hear again and again of God’s loving invitation to the banquet, and of his banner over me being love. That’s what this text reminds us: God invites us to himself, to feast in security, and that His love will be our banner, our proof of his goodness and mercy toward us.
Have you tasted of such mercy? If not, God’s invitation to his banquet stands for you tonight. Don’t ignore such a gracious host. Know that your sins can be forgiven, and that you can be made a guest of honor, if you would but come and believe. And also know, that if you chose to reject his invitation, then you will be one of the enemies that he will defeat, and who will have to watch his banquet from afar, from punishment in hell, unable to join, and eternally regretting that you rejected such an offer of goodness and mercy.