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The Shepherd in the Shadow

“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…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Psalm 23:4, 6

Like many Christians, Psalm 23 is among my favorite psalms in the Psalter. When things are going well, it’s not hard to find joy in the opening lines. When we’re experiencing the restful and refreshing times of being led by our Good Shepherd to green pastures and still waters, it’s easy to find hope and encouragement in the first (and more familiar) verses of this sweet passage. I remember how when my oldest son was three, my wife and I taught him this Psalm one phrase (and long car ride) at a time. He loved learning of how our Shepherd cares and provides for us!

But I also remember clearly the dark, overcast Sunday we got to verse 4. I remember him being afraid to repeat the first part, telling me, “I don’t want to walk through the shadow of the death valley.” What I told him that morning is the lesson that God has retaught me in these past weeks of doubt and fear: “Little man, we don’t need to be afraid of shadows or death, because our strong Shepherd is still with us in those scary valleys.”

The greatest comfort of this psalm isn’t just that God gives good things. It’s not just that his sheep are guarded from death and evil. The greatest comfort is that the One who gives good and guards from evil is still with his flock. And he will be forever.

Over the past weeks, this world has had to face mortality. We have wondered if we or someone we love might become sick and die with little warning. These are frightening days for those who are looking at the dark shadows. But, church, we are not called to keep our eyes on the shadows! Instead, look on our Shepherd! He is, after all, the Light that shines in the darkness! He is the One who, by his own death and resurrection, conquered death and won our resurrection! He is the One who, after the full and final defeat of evil, will fully and finally unite us with himself! This is the hope that our fear-filled world needs!

We have seen Jesus’ goodness and mercy toward us in the green pastures and beside the still waters. But in this shadow, we have not left his goodness and mercy: they still follow us! Jesus is working – even in global pandemic – to unite his people to himself. He comforts those who fear the dangers of this world with the promise of a glorious future, where his flock not only lives forever, but lives forever with him, in his very house! So be encouraged, little sheep; just as he was with us in brighter days, our strong Shepherd is still with us in these dark valleys and promises to lead us to the brightest days of all.