Ill At Ease Or At Ease When Ill?
Reading Psalm 23v4. Part 1.
Preacher Ken Humphries
Now here is a text that ought to cause us to stop and take notice! Psalm 23v4.
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.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit Egypt and the tombs and pyramids, study what was required to construct some of those monuments. Some studies revealed that it required the efforts of one hundred thousand workers for forty years to build one of the great pyramids. As you tour the area there, you can't help but ask why. Why so much effort? Why would somebody put that amount of emphasis on a tomb, on the afterlife?
The answer is that the Egyptians understood, full well, they would spend a lot more time in the afterlife than they would spend in this life. Granted, some of their conceptions of what would happen in the afterlife were a little skewed. But the point is, they understood to the core of there being that the afterlife was a whole lot more important than this life, and so they prepared for the afterlife during this life. God had placed eternity in their hearts.
Bill Hybels, "Your Ever After: Heaven," Preaching Today, Tape 34.
See: Ecc.3v11; John 3v36; Matt. 24v44.
Now I am very aware that death is not the most popular of subjects. Mention the subject and immediately there hovers over the room morbidity that is most disturbing, with eventually someone saying, how on earth did we get onto that subject anyway, let’s talk about something else.
Do you know dear friends, humankind is the only creature that is continually aware they are going to die and yet they desperately try to forget it. That’s why so many dye the hair, spend a fortune on anti-wrinkle cream and paint of one kind or another to cover up the cracks. That’s the reason some men at a certain age go out and buy a sports car. There is a desire to be alive, and not give too much thought to death.
We do everything in our power to obscure the fact we are winding down to the grave. Even the cemetery we dress up to look as inviting, warm and friendly as possible, we often plant a garden on the grave. It helps take away the thoughts of death. Beloved, none of us like the idea of death, but death is a very real fact and it’s something we do not need to be afraid of.
I thank the Lord I have no fear of death, but I have a very real fear of being buried alive, so I have instructed one of my sons when my death is announced and he is at some time in the room with me on his own, he is to lift me by the collar, set me up in the coffin, and slap me six times real hard on the face, as hard as he knows how, then duck. You see if there is one thing will bring me back to my senses if life is still in me it’s the fact that my son bashed me on the face and thought he could get away with it.
Now David had this anticipation of death in mind when he writes this lovely Psalm. He shares with us the secret of life, the secret of death, and the secret of eternity. We today are dealing with the secret of death!
1. The Thought Of A Valley Presupposes A Mountain!
Now in the land of Palestine there is a place called, "the valley of the shadow of death". If you have been there you know it runs between Jerusalem and Bethlehem about two thousand feet above sea level. A little spring can be seen coming out of the hillside and the water, sometimes trickles down and sometimes cascades down. Over the years that running water has cut a chasm, or little Grand Canyon in those Judean hills right down to the Dead Sea. It is called the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" because of the narrowness at the bottom which in some places measures about twelve feet wide and even at high noon its always filled with shadows. It’s a place full of caves, in Bible times I understand there were bears there, hyenas, leopards, robbers, steep places where sheep could fall or be in some danger, it was by all accounts a frightening place with all kinds of grotesque shadows everywhere.
The reason the shepherd would take his sheep there even with all the dangers was because at certain times of the year it was the only feeding place worth going to. Then Spring would arrive and those Judean hills would blossom, as only they could, the shepherds would then lead their sheep through the valley of the shadow of death to higher ground. That’s what David had in mind when he wrote the Psalm 23. He was simply saying, the Lord, the Good Shepherd is to me what I was to my sheep. As the sheep trusted David to lead them through the valley of the shadow of death to higher ground so he would trust the good shepherd to lead him through. David had learned to smile at death! And beloved, I want you to learn to smile at death. Here are three principles that will help you do just that!
A. Think Of Death As A Fact Already Decided: Heb.9v27.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
Here is an appointment everyone will keep. We may not want to think much about it but it is a fact already decided, and do you know what? We have no say in the matter! God made this appointment and God will see to it that we keep it. We, all of us have broken appointments at one time or another for one reason or another but here is an appointment we will keep for sure. Death is sure. Do you know that death has an amazing statistic, Romans 5v12.
Wherefore, as by one man, sin entered into the world; and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
Did you know, one out of every one dies. And the statistics have never been wrong! Old people die, children die, young people die, all ages die. I must preach as a dying man to dying men because I don’t know when I will preach my last sermon, this may be the last sermon I ever preach, this may be the last sermon you ever hear. Many a sermon I have preached and it was the very last sermon some in that congregation ever heard. You say, Pastor that's morbid, no that's fact, and David is reminding us of that fact lest we die with the wrong thoughts in our mind, or attitude of heart before God. Would you like to enter heaven with the thoughts you have had since this sermon started? Would you like to stand before the judgement seat of Christ with the thoughts you have in your mind and heart at present? Death is sure, death is statistical, and death is selfish. Death is personal! Yea though I! You know don’t you that we are a selfish body of people! You say Pastor now you are being offensive, well I'm sorry, I don’t mean to be but it’s a known fact. How often do you get annoyed about not doing something for someone else or going to visit someone else or helping someone else. But oh my, how upset we become if others don’t take an interest in us, or do something for us or come visit us. There's a selfish streak in us! We will die, that's just how selfish we will become. Do you know something? As most people die they have little or no interest in anybody or anything. We will die and we will not be concerned in the least about how those remain are feeling or coping or what they are doing. Why? Because selfish death has lain hold of selfish us, and the battle is on. Selfish death wants to take you away and selfish you wants to stay.
Friends, when Jesus was dying, His only concern was for others, on a six to one ratio; His interest was in others. Six times He spoke of others, only once did He speak of Himself. Why? Because He thought of death as a fact already decided and He gave Himself over to the Fathers keeping. Folks; death is already settled! It's coming, give up to him everything, every minute of your day, every fibre of your being, every penny you own, everything you have and are give up to him and when you give completely over to Him what you have won't matter, what you are will mean everything.
B. Think Of Death As A Foe Already Defeated: "I will fear no evil."
The title of this segment is:
The Thought Of A Valley Presupposes A Mountain!
And this is truly the valley Psalm for it is placed between two mountain Psalms:
Psalm 22 is a mountain Psalm: It speaks of Mount Calvary!
Psalm 24 is a mountain Psalm: It speaks of Mount Zion!
In Psalm 22 we have the crucifixion! In Psalm 24 we have the coronation!
And Psalm 23 is the valley Psalm between the two!
Over here we have the blood-drenched slopes of Mt. Calvary:
Over here we have the sun lit peaks of Mt. Zion:
And we are living between the two in the valley with the shepherd.
The Bible describes Him as the Good Shepherd in John 10v11.
"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep."
Now that title refers to Mt. Calvary!
The Bible describes Him as the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5v4.
"And when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." That title refers to Mt. Zion!
The Bible describes Him as the Great Shepherd Heb.13v20-21.
"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen". That title refers to the valley!
The Good Shepherd dies for me!
The Chief Shepherd comes for me!
The Great Shepherd lives for me!
The great shepherd lives for me in the valley of the shadow of death.
A man had a check-up and then went in to see his doctor to get the results. The doctor said he had bad news and worse news for him, which did he want to hear first? The man was a bit nonplussed and said he'd rather hear the bad news first. The doctor said, "The bad news is that you only have twenty-four hours to live."
At this the man jumped up, totally flabbergasted and distraught. He paced the doctor's office and complained, "Twenty-four hours to live? I can't possibly get my affairs in order that quickly. I can't believe this; it is incredible! What could be worse news than this?"
The doctor said, "The worse news is that I was supposed to tell you this yesterday but you were too busy to come see me."
James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 477.
My brothers and sisters, if you want to learn to smile a conquering smile at death then you will need to take time with the good shepherd who lives for you in the valley of the shadow of death. You are living between the two mounts. The Psalmist said, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help, my help cometh from the Lord."
Look away to those two mounts. Look away to Calvary and see the good shepherd as the crucified one for you! Look away to Zion and see the chief shepherd who has been crowned for you and remember He is also the Great Shepherd who cradles you in the valley of the shadow and will never leave you.
C. Think Of Death As Friend Already Declared: "For thou art with me"
Beloved think of the wonder of that glorious thought, "For thou art with me". Is there anything quite so magnificent? Heb. 13v5 " Let you manner of life be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have; for he has said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" is not just a good text to know, it is a truth of God that cannot be broken.
God is the ultimate provider. He provides food continually for the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the animals of the world. Our God is not stingy, He covers this earth with snowdrops by the million, flowers of every kind imaginable grow in the most unexpected places He sends the springtime and the harvest and the soft refreshing rain. God knows our needs, our circumstances, and everything about us there is to know and He has given us His pledge, He will always provide and never leave.
Dear folks, these are things we know and should hold them fast!
"I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" 2 Tim.1v12.
"If any man will do his will, he shall know the doctrine" John 7v17.
"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" John 8v32.
"We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" 1 John 3v14.
"We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" Rom.8v28.
"We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" 2 Cor.5v1.
We know He will never leave us nor forsake us, He goes through the valley with us, He has rendered death to a shadow and the shadow can never harm us.
Maybe you are in that valley just now, it’s a valley of doubt, dread, despair, depression, a valley of some difficulty or another, it may even be that valley of death and you just now are unaware of it. If it suddenly strikes you how will you cope? Will you be ill at ease or will you be at ease when ill? You can be at ease when ill! You should be at ease when ill! If you take time and walk with Him now, He will take time to walk with you then, with Him you will be at ease when ill!