Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gifts from the Crucified Shepherd - Deliverance from Evil

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.”
Psalm 23:4

Why would a shepherd lead his sheep through “the valley of the shadow of death?”   The answer is quite simple. He is taking his flock to graze in the meadows of the high country.  To get there he had to lead his sheep though the valley… through steep canyons and deep gulches.  Towering cliffs stand on either side.  The valley floor is often covered in dark shadow, the sun shining only a few hours each day. This allows great cover for predators.   These valleys are often subject to terrible storms, flash floods, rock slides, all sorts of disasters that threaten his sheep.  These are the valleys of the shadow of death.  Yet still the shepherd leads his flock here, for this is the best way to the high country.  He can’t lead his sheep straight up the side of the mountain.  Following the valleys allows the shepherd to lead his flock gradually up into the high pastures. For another thing its in the valleys that the shepherd will find rivers, streams, and quiet pools for water for his sheep… green pastures to feed them  That’s why the shepherd leads his sheep through this dangerous valley. 

You and I live our lives in such a dangerous valley!  Dangerous evils surround us..  I don’t need to show you pictures of war torn Syria or tell you stories of Isis beheadings. I can just take you on a tour of your own life.  Why do you lock your doors?  Why are you afraid to be outside the Hauptbahnhof after dark?  Why do you have passwords for your computer?  Why do we have controls to make sure our kids don’t visit certain sites on the internet?  Why teach your children not to talk to strangers?  Why do we need policemen and armies and jails?  Why is it that the person who counts the money in the offering plate has to be different than the person who signs the checks?  Because the devil is real!  The bible calls him a hungry roaring lion.  There is evil in the world, in your neighborhoods, even in your church - Evil so bad that you can take all of these precautions and still not be safe.  Evil is not just out there.  Evil is in you and me.  Jesus warned us, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries and the like.” 

Protecting the sheep, as well as feeding them, are the shepherd’s primary responsibilities.  That’s why he carried his rod and his staff everywhere.  He used the rod to keep them from wandering away. He used it to defend himself and the flock.  He used it to examine his sheep…to push back the fleece so he could look for wounds or other signs of trouble.  His staff had that strange crock at the top.  He used it to pull his sheep close to him, to draw them for safety.  He used it for guiding the sheep through narrow gates, or down dangerous paths.  The shepherd’s job was to guide them through the valley to the high pasture. .

No wonder David included this verse in His Psalm.  He is describing how our shepherd takes care of us.  “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.”  His rod is the law by which He helps to recognize right from wrong…to recognize evil as evil.  It is a mirror showing us our own sin.  With it He pushes back to the fleece to uncover the wounds with which evil has marred our souls.  The rod however is not enough.  The law can not conquer evil. 

For that our Lord uses His staff- the Gospel - the good news of all He has done to protect us.  Yes our Lord’s own suffering and death is His staff.  His cross is His staff.  I remember watching the video of the day President Reagan was shot..  The agent guarding him turned his body into the gun fire to shield the president.  That’s what our shepherd.  Jesus being beaten with that staff, whipped, mocked and then crucified – that’s Jesus putting Himself between us and evil.  He took the blows meant for us.  He took our beatings.  The nails driven through his hands were all meant for you and me.   It cost Him His life!  Then He rose from the dead.  He destroyed the one who holds the power of death that is the devil. 

His staff is the promise that He conquered evil.  His staff is the assurance that no matter how the devil scowls he can’t harm us. His Gospel is the assurance that the evil in our hearts has been washed away by His blood.  His staff is the assurance that in spite of evil we are more than conquerors through Him….  Nothing in can separate us from the love of God in Christ.   This morning I read a blog post by the mother of close friend and colleague.  She wrote about her journey through the Valley of he Shadow of Death after her husband died.  She talked about feeling as if she was lost, had lost her place.  What she clung to was the promise that “Jesus never leaves us.”  He was with her through it all and has created for her a new place and role in life.  That’s Jesus.  That’s what He is promising here.  He never leaves us, even in the dark valley of death.  He stands between us and the evil that threatens.  He is why we can say with confidence. “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.  Amen!  

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