Psalm 23 – Part 5
Here it is Memorial Day weekend-the start to summer-and I don’t know about you-but a major aspect to the weekend is the food! Hopefully today or tomorrow you’ll get a chance to put something tasty on the grill-as long as the weather holds out. Nothing says Memorial Day more than a burger or sizzling steak or shrimp off the grill. But I want you to think about your favorite meal for a moment-could be something from the grill-maybe it’s fresh seafood-or it could be something you cook inside. A couple of weeks ago I was cooking a pasta from a recipe online-and it was spicy Italian sausage and mushrooms in a white-wine cream sauce. Delicious-and as I was cooking it-near the end of the recipe-the guy said it would be the last meal he ate before he died! I thought-wow-this recipe must be amazing! I felt a little stressed that I had to up my game in the kitchen making such a beloved pasta dish. So when we sat down to eat it I asked Monica-Would this be your last meal before dying? I think she was a bit taken back-maybe-hadn’t thought about it. So I want us to think about that for a moment-not the dying part-but what would be your last meal to eat-this is what I want? Apparently Frank Sinatra’s last meal was a grilled cheese sandwich, Julia Childs had a bowl of French Onion soup, Earnest Hemingway had a steak and baked potato, Napoleon Bonaparte was reported to have liver and bacon, along with eggs and cream, sautéed kidneys, garlic toast and roasted tomatoes. Truly a feast spread out before him in his final days! But would you go with a sandwich, pizza, pasta, a 6-course dinner, or a bowl of ice cream as your final meal? Hopefully none of us have to make this decision anytime soon-but as we come to our passage in Psalm 23 this morning we’re going to read about a great meal that’s been spread out for us-not on our dying day-but in a place we may not expect it.
Take a look at Ps 23:1-3. This is where the Lord promises to take us-and maybe over the holiday weekend you’ve experienced some green pastures or tasted the still waters. That your soul has been refreshed and restored as you’ve had a chance to catch your breath. But of course last week we talked about the place where none of us want to be-that place of trials and testing-the dark, dire, uncertain, perilous, this could be the end of me of me kind of place-Ps 23:4. And we were instantly reminded how the Lord protects us and guides us through the valley of the shadow of death. That there’s no need to worry or fear-that in fact our fear can be replaced with His comfort. Why? Because He is with us! We said last week that it’s not where we are-but who we’re with. That His presence changes everything. He might not fix it instantly or get us through the valley quickly-but He’s in the valley with us always. We asked whether we spend too much time staring at the surroundings-which are bound to freak us out-or staring at the Savior. It’s a challenging question-because if I’m honest, my natural instinct is to look at my surroundings. To see all the ways the walls are closing in, the situation is getting worse, the struggles are getting harder-and let that dictate my thinking and drive me towards worry-instead of seeing how my Savior is with-His presence and protection in v. 4-and now His provision in v. 5-it’s incredible!
Take a look at Ps 23:5. Talk about blessing and provision. We just got done singing-All I have needed Thy hand hath provided-that’s exactly what this is describing. All you have needed-and so much more-the Lord has provided. And where does it happen-on a sunny day at the beach when everything’s going great? No-in the presence of my enemies. Once again this doesn’t describe the best surroundings. Not at all! Sounds like more of the valley of the shadow of death-but instead of our enemies hiding out in the shadows-now they’ve stepped out in the open and surrounded us. Now we can see them and they’re looking right at us-ready to take us down and watch us fail. So this isn’t a place we choose to be-where are the people that dislike me-where do I feel threatened, uncertain, and ridiculed-let me go hang out there. This is a place we avoid, a place we don’t want to find ourselves in or remotely close to. But even when we’re there-and we’ve all been there-maybe you’re there right now-surrounded by the insults and suspicions and jeers of our enemies-it can be a place of abundant provision and blessing-a place where we’re far more amazed at our Savior’s presence than our enemies. So this morning we want to take a look at each of these phrases in v. 5 and hear how the Lord wants to encourage us.
So first of all the Lord sets out a meal for us-and that doesn’t mean he cooks up a burrito or hands us a sandwich-instead this describes that 6 course dinner-a big spread of food. What does it say-You prepare a table before me. And when you hear those words I don’t think you’re picturing some slices of bread and cold cuts. This isn’t a table with a few ingredients or some leftovers on it. When you hear the call at Thanksgiving or Christmas-come on in, dinner’s ready. You’re expecting a table full of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, green beans, brussel sprouts, mac and cheese, pumpkin pie-or whatever your family likes to cook. You’re not thinking something meager or simple-Oh, PB&J and carrot sticks for Thanksgiving this year-not what I expected. You’re expecting something lavish and grand on the table. And that’s exactly the image the Lord is giving us. You prepare a table before me-all my favorite foods, everything that’s satisfying and fulfilling-not a meager snack, here’s a granola bar and an apple to just get by and tie me over-but a table of food to sit at and savor-that favorite dish I would make my last meal. When I read this verse I literally picture the journey through the valley of the shadow of death-all is empty and barren and meager. Nothing to eat. Your throat is parched, your body exhausted-and then you turn the corner and there’s a table-here’s a pic. Dinner in the desert-the dishes are set out, there’s a tablecloth and napkins and silverware. It’s the oddest place for a such a fine meal, this lavish table in the midst of the dry desert with cactus around you. And you almost scratch your head like it’s a mirage, an illusion that’s too good to be true as your stomach is growling. But that’s exactly what the Lord does for our souls. This is what He does for us spiritually.
So Pt1:Where He leads us: All is prepared (never sparingly). I don’t know about you-but I understand that God provides for us. I know He’ll take care of us-that we can pray to Him and call to Him and He’ll answer us-but it’s easy to assume He’ll do it sparingly, not abundantly. Or just give out meager blessings as if He is putting PB&J on the Thanksgiving table or serving up leftovers. What about you? In the troubles and trials of your life are you looking for a table the Lord has prepared for you? Or are you just looking for a bagged lunch and a few snacks? David couldn’t be any clearer in saying that our Good Shepherd prepares a table for us in the most unexpected places-in the valley of the shadow of death, in the presence of our enemies-and it’s anything but sparingly!
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is at the end of His earthly life, after His resurrection when the disciples are still trying to figure it out and put the pieces together-and either out of confusion about what was happening or sadness that Jesus was still dead-Peter says in John 21:3. Total emptiness and despair-almost describing the state of their hearts at this point-being uncertain of Jesus’ death and then resurrection and what it all means-is it real, did it happen? So John 21:4-6. They went from nothing to total blessing and not being strong enough to haul it all in! This was anything but minimal or meager-John 21:7-8. I love that detail-Peter is so excited to see Jesus that he just dives into the water and makes the other guys carry all the fish. I’m sure they’re thinking-a little help would be nice here Peter-these fish don’t carry themselves to shore! But what happens-Peter is standing there drying off, the other guys have a gigantic net of fish next to them-and who’s in front of them? John 21:9, 12a. Jesus has prepared a table for them! Talk about a Memorial Day BBQ, Jesus is grilling seafood on the beach for breakfast. Anybody doing that tomorrow morning? But in all the confusion of the past several days, the arrest and trial of Jesus, the pain and sorrow of His crucifixion, the disciples failing Him and falling asleep, Peter himself denying Jesus-and then it’s all capped off with an overnight fishing fiasco in which they caught nothing, not a single fish. But now here’s Jesus preparing a table for them. He’s already there, ahead of them, on shore, the fire is started, the grill is going, the fish are cooking-what is more He’s saying-Come and have breakfast-this is a brand new day in which I am alive and risen. I am your Lord and Savior, your Good Shepherd-and I’ve taken care of everything. If Jesus prepared a table for His followers then-He does so for you and me today! Back to Pt1.
The disciples would have been happy with a few fish-but the passage goes on to say they caught 153 large fish. Not meager or sparingly at all! And it’s no different for us. The Lord has prepared a lavish table for us-all that we need. Look at Phil 4:19. So the question isn’t how much-it’ where we’re looking, what are we expecting on this table? Earthly blessings-things for the here and now-stuff that we desperately want-or the spiritual blessings that feed and nourish us forever? Now the Lord wonderfully and graciously provides both-but if we’re honest with ourselves we’re often looking for the earthly food to eat, the temporal blessings to snack on-while the Lord wants us to feast on the spiritual blessings He gives us. It’s really a question of changing our appetites and letting them mature. When I was growing up I hated mushrooms, now I love them-and Monica credits herself for introducing them to me after we got married. But how is your appetite maturing for what God wants you to feast on spiritually? Look at Eph 1:3-talk about a table prepared for us. Listen to how it continues-Eph 1:7-8. Isn’t that exactly what we want to feast on-His forgiveness and grace-which have been what-lavished upon us. Not sparingly given or reluctantly given as if God’s obliged to forgive us because He has to-that’s what God is supposed to do. But lavished upon us-poured out on us as often and necessary as we need it-which is a lot! That every time you mess up, make a mistake, sin and let God down and let others down there’s still more grace on the table-His forgiveness never runs out, His mercies are new every morning. There’s no limit on the grace He’s lavished upon you. Have you been at a wedding reception where the servers are bringing out the appetizers on the little trays and you’re only supposed to take 1-maybe 2 if you’re a bit bold-but you really want to take half the tray! It could be the meatballs, the coconut shrimp, the mini won-tons or tacos, the stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped anything or the fried mac and cheese lollipops! But from the tray or even at the buffet table you should only take a limited amount-save some for the other guests-but that’s not the case with God’s grace. It’s unlimited and lavished on us abundantly. As Eph goes on to say in chapter 2-we are saved by grace-not by our own works, we are sustained by that grace-God told Paul my grace is sufficient for you. And then we come to Jesus Himself-the very one preparing this table for us-and what does it say-John 1:14, 16. Does that characterize your life? Are you feasting daily upon His grace and mercy and love for you?
And where does this happen? As we said-in the valley of the shadow of death, in the dry and desolate places of our lives where we’re trying so hard to make it on our own, prove ourselves on our own-and God says it’s not about what you’ve done-but my grace poured out for you. And that grace should spill over into what drives us and motivates us-and most importantly, how we treat others. Look back at the context-Ps 23:5. What’s happening in the presence of your enemies is that you’re experiencing the Lord’s grace-not exacting revenge. Because in the presence of our enemies what is it we normally want to do-get back at them, make them pay, see that they get what’s coming to them. But that’s not what’s happening here. Again, you can picture the scene of the table in the desert-back to our pic. But besides the table you can picture a lineup of all your enemies standing there. Hopefully we don’t have that many enemies-but I’m sure we can all picture a few people in our lives who’ve hurt us, annoyed us, slandered us, made life miserable for us. And so they’re standing there-and this could be your moment to unload on them and say everything you’ve wanted to say and watch them suffer and get what they deserve. But that’s not what’s happening-because where is your focus-on this table-and you are feasting on grace, you’re savoring God’s mercy and tasting His healing and forgiveness and restoration in your life. So there is no place for vengeance and retribution. They say revenge is a dish best served cold-but you’re not eating a cold meal at this table. This is a table of grace. Pt2:Where He leads us: Mercy is given (never spitefully). Earlier this week in my devotion I was reading about the OT passage-an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We like to think that way-especially when it comes to our enemies. You did this to me-then I’ll do it right back to you. You hurt me-I’ll hurt you. You insult me-I’ll insult you. But Jesus calls us to look at that in a different light-and that’s the light of His grace-Unveiling Mercy, 142. But what if you did that? What if you demonstrated mercy instead of seeking retribution? What if you extended forgiveness instead of hurling insults? What if you extended grace in the presence of your enemies-because that’s the very thing the Lord has done for you? Back to Eph 4:31:32. When you come to the table of grace the Lord has prepared for you-your only response is to show that grace. We can’t be people feasting on the grace we’ve been given-but then let our enemies feast on our retribution and wrath-it doesn’t work that way.
Take a look at another table of grace from God’s Word-this time it’s all the way back in Gen 43:16-17. It’s time for Joseph’s brothers to finally sit down and have a meal with him. Finally time for Joseph to get back at his brothers and give them what they deserve. The cold dish of vengeance is being served! And that’s exactly what his brothers think-Gen 43:18. They have no idea that this is their long lost brother they wrongfully threw in the pit and sold to gypsies-they’re just afraid about the money that they had allegedly stolen-which they didn’t and was all a part of Joesph’s plan to offer restoration, and not retribution to his brothers. But how easily could Joseph have spread out a table of vengeance? After all these years the time has finally come to see them suffer the way they saw him suffer. This is his opportunity! Here he is in the presence of his enemies Joseph could say-time for paybacks boys-see how it feels. And that’s what we often want to say-the opportunity we’re longing for. That after all these years the time has come for sweet revenge! But Joseph didn’t do that-and neither should we. Listen to-Gen 50:20. Jospeh spread out a table of mercy and grace for them And what would happen if you did that? That instead of getting back at your enemies, you spread out a table of mercy and grace? That instead of hungering for retribution you prayed for restoration? That instead of hurling insults and harboring bitterness you looked for healing and peace? When you taste the grace the Lord has lavished upon you-you can’t help yourself in letting grace be what you extend to others. But if you haven’t tasted that grace, if you haven’t let the depth of God’s mercy and forgiveness for you sink deep in your soul-then you’ll find it awfully hard to show that to others. It begins by coming to the table. Back to Ps 23:5. I read a statement this week that said-Overflow my life with the richness of Your Spirit. May my grateful heart brim with immeasurable grace.
And that’s the last thing to consider this morning. What happens when you come to the table the Lord has prepared for you? What happens when you go where He’s leading you? Your cup overflows. And that’s Pt3:Where He leads us: Joy is overflowing (never stopping). Happiness in life will come and go. Good times will be fleeting. We’ll all look back at moments of our lives when things were great and we think that sure isn’t the case now. Wish I could go back to those days. But our joy in the Lord-which goes so far deeper than happiness-will never stop overflowing. He promises the well will never run dry. Don’t forget that this morning. Your cup, your soul, may feel empty and dry, like there’s no more gas in the tank, can’t go another mile-but when you come to the Lord’s presence and sit at His feet and eat at His table-when you taste the goodness of the Lord and experience His grace, you joy will be overflowing. Listen to Ps 16:11. Do you believe that? Have you experienced that? Or look at Lam 3:22-24. We’ve talked about food this morning-but our portion is the Lord Himself-and He alone satisfies the longing of our soul. What did Jesus say-John 6:35. Do you believe that truth? Have you experienced that reality? We all want to-but I think we read a statement like that and think-Yeah, but not me. I know that’s true. I believe that’s true-but I’m just not feeling it, just not experiencing it. And I think that’s because we forget to do what Jesus says-whoever comes to me. For many of us we spend more time keeping Jesus at a distance than coming to Him. We spend more time distracted with other things, being busy with other things, feasting on other things-that we fail to come to Him-the very One who is the Bread of Life-and feast at the table He’s prepared for us. Ask yourself this morning-Application: Am I keeping my distance or coming to the table? Joy isn’t experienced, joy isn’t overflowing when you’re keeping your distance. And we’re good at that, aren’t we? We’re good at making excuses why we can’t come to the Lord or spend time with Him. It’s easy to push aside our spiritual lives because there’s so much else going on in life-there’s no time right now, maybe later when things ease up a bit and settle down. But we all know that never happens. We have to make the conscious decision today to not keep our distance-but come to the table.
Back to our pic this morning-what if you were hiking through this desert, hot-sun beating down on you, your water bottle is running dry, you ate your last granola bar a few miles back, your feet are sore, your shoulders are aching, your big pack is weighing you down-would you keep your distance from this table? That if you came up and over the hill and turned the corner and saw this table in the desert prepared for you would you stop or keep going? You’d be a fool to keep going! There’s a chair to sit at, water to drink, food to eat-there’s rest and replenishment and comfort for your weary body. You’d be a fool to keep your distance-and yet isn’t that what a lot of us do spiritually? Our souls are tired and weary? Our hearts ache, we feel that emptiness inside, we keep going on fumes, not stopping or catching our breath-somehow thinking we can carry on-when all the while we can’t-and the Lord has prepared a table before us. He doesn’t want you to keep your distance or try to keep going in your own strength. He didn’t make you to be a sole hiker making the journey on your own. He calls you to come to Him and sit at His table. Listen to what Jesus says-John 15:4. Will you do that? Will you abide in Christ? Or will you keep your distance and try to find joy elsewhere? I was so challenged by this statement recently-Imperfect Disciple, 102. Such a powerful question-Lord, I’ve got so much on my plate right now, so much is going on in life, I’m too busy right now to stop and meet with you. And yet we forget that as a follower of Christ living is abiding in Him. There is no other living apart from Him! When we come to the table He’s prepared for us-to feast on His grace-our cup overflows!
Psalm 23 – Part 5