Ill At Ease Or At Ease When Ill?
Reading Psalm 23v4. Part 2.
Preacher Ken Humphries
We concluded last time by reminding ourselves that death is a shadow and a shadow cannot hurt. Death has become a shadow because Jesus Christ has become the death of death.
I heard of a little lad named Kenny who developed leukemia. The disease progressed rapidly. Soon he was unable to go to school, then unable to go out at all, and finally confined to his bed. One day he asked the question his mother had most feared hearing. "Mother," he said, "what is it like to die?" Though she'd steeled herself for that moment, she couldn't handle it when it came, so she excused herself and went out of the room. And there in the bathroom she prayed, her knuckles as white as the porcelain in the sink top.
Then, guided by God's Spirit, I believe, she went back into the bedroom and said, "Kenny, you remember how when you were a very little fellow you sometimes would fall asleep in my bed? And how the next morning, when you would waken, you would find yourself in your own bed and in your own room? Do you know how that happened? That happened because while you were sleeping, your big brother came, or your father came, and he lifted you up and carried you so gently to your own bed and to your own room. That, Kenny, is what death is like."
The youngster smiled, for he understood. A few weeks later he fell asleep, and while he slept, his elder Brother and ours, his Father and ours, came and lifted him up and took him off to his own room and to his own bed.
Bruce Thielemann, "Christus Imperator," Preaching Today, Tape 55.
See: Rev 19:11-16; Rev 14:13; Pr 14:32.
2. The Thought Of A Shadow Presupposes Light!
"For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
A. The Presence Of The Lord With Me:
Jesus has taken the darkness out of death and brought into it, light.
Jesus has pulled the sting out of death. Jesus has taken the gloom out of the grave. Jesus has taken the dread out of dying. Jesus has give us a hope that is wonderful. In this valley of shadows, where does the light come from? "For thou art with me." Why, He is the light!
So far David has been using the third person singular to outline his amazing journey. "He leadeth me beside still waters…He makes me lie down in green pastures…He restoreth my soul…He leadeth me in path of righteousness for his name's sake."
Suddenly death looms on the horizon like a dark cloud and David immediately drops the third person for the second person singular: Thou! Thou! Thou!
You see; he is no longer talking about the Shepherd, he is talking to the Shepherd. Suddenly the light is switched on in the midst of his dark journey. You see that shadow presupposes light! The shadow of the dog cannot bite, the shadow of the sword cannot kill, the light is switched on, and the shadow of death cannot harm the child of God. Why? Because the presence of the light of the world is with me in what could be my darkest hour!
Dear friends where we have a shadow we have two things, a substance and a light. And David has in a previous Psalm brought us through the valley of the substance of death. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Psalm 22v1. Those are the very sentiments Jesus cried out on Calvary. Beloved the very substance of death is to be is to spurned by God, forsaken of God. That is the real meaning of what we call a lost eternity, it means to die; God abandoned! It means to be separated from God for all of eternity. It means, between you and God there comes a great chasm, a great divide never again to be crossed by any means whatsoever. It's an awesome picture we are receiving. The insight of which we have in Luke Ch.16v19-31, that is the death of the rich man and Lazarus.
I know in recent years there has been an amazing revolt against the doctrine of eternal punishment but let me make two very potent points. Firstly, He who related this incident was the tenderest, gentlest, most gracious man who ever trod planet earth. Certainly He never would have attempted to portray human suffering beyond death unless He knew the reality and wished to reveal to His hearers the horrible end of those who lived and died without God. Don’t you think had He known that men could have lived in their sins and yet find peace and blessing after death, He would have revealed it to them? The impression left upon everyone who heard Him that day and gave some serious thought to what He said must have been the same as that spoken off in the Epistle of the Hebrews 10v31. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
And secondly, there is no reason whatever to think of this story as an imaginary tale simply to make a point. The question has often been raised as to whether this was a parable or not. The question was addressed in the book of Job chapter 14v10. " Man dieth, and wasteth away: Yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?" You see, apart from divine revelation there can be no satisfactory answer to such an inquiry. The human mind certainly cannot see beyond the grave to determine if there is a consciousness after death or not.
But in this record of Holy Write He who has come from the Father's house, into this world of sin and shame in order to redeem mankind, pulls back the curtain as it were that hides the unseen and shows us plainly what takes place after death for both the righteous and the unrighteous.
The righteous, are comforted as depicted by Lazarus and the unrighteous are cursed as depicted by the rich man who is in torment.
Thou art with me comes into play big time. That Shepherd, Saviour, Friend never for one minute leaves His own to find their way through the valley of the shadow but in fact sees them safely to the other side.
Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. And every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others.
Not long after that, one of the grubs feels that urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought is his that takes away all the distress: they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory.
Bruce Thielemann, "Christus Imperator," Preaching Today, Tape No. 55.
See: Mt 13:43; Ro 8:17; Col 3:4.
B. The Protection Of The Lord Upon Me:
"Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
I often wondered how a rod and a staff could bring comfort to the sheep in the valley. After all, have we not been teaching that the rod and staff are instruments of correction. Surely that does not sound like the kind of implements we need for this final and fearful journey. I mean, to think that the Shepherd stands somewhere in the shadows with rod and staff in hand ready to do a major correction job on the sheep as they make their way to their Eternal home. That sounds rather like a protestant purgatory, to leave this world thinking that after death great punishment awaits. That dear friend is one of the awful tragedies of Roman Catholicism. When a devout Catholic dies, dies in what his church calls a "state of grace," all he can look forward to is fire, to the flames of purgatory. According to the Roman Catholic theology, the unrepentant sinner goes to hell; the good Catholic goes to purgatory, into the flames of purging and cleansing fitting them eventually for heaven.
Some years ago Kenneth Opperman was granted an interview with Pope Paul V1. During the course of the interview, Opperman asked the Pope if he was saved and the pontiff related some mystical experience he experienced as a boy. It wasn't much to go on, but at least it was a start. The visitor rephrased the question: "Sir, when you die, will you go to heaven?" the Pope's answer was most revealing. "Ah! Mr. Opperman, you have asked me a very hard question." And it certainly was a hard question. If the pontiff had said "Yes!" he would have demolished the Catholic Church then and there because the Catholic Church does not believe that people die and go to heaven. According to Roman Catholic dogma they die and go to purgatory. Then the pontiff brightened. "Ah, but Mr. Opperman when I die I will have millions of Catholics praying for my soul." What a depth of darkness! (John Phillips Exploring the Psalms. Psalm 23 page 176).
Beloved, the Bible teaches something better than that, we can say with David: "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."
In thinking about this rod and staff David's mind goes back to the great Exodus and Moses leading the children of God out of Egypt. He visualizes Moses with two things in his hands, a rod and a staff. You see the children of Israel came to the Red Sea, behind them came the armies of Pharaoh, thundering along with great shouting and excitement, the dust rising like a vast cloud. They are about to attack this great number of people and crush them into the dust of the ground. Before them lie the unyielding seas. But watch this man of God Moses; he steps into the situation with two things in his hands, a rod and a staff. He takes that rod and does what must have seemed to both the Israelite and Egyptian alike the impossible and parts those mighty waters of the Red Sea! And would you believe it, the Hebrew children march over the seabed absolutely dry-shod. Pharaoh's chariots are thundering towards them, soon the Hebrews will be trapped. Where can they go? But Moses raises that staff and the children of God get the message, the staff points the way to a safe haven, and on the other side once again Moses lifts that rod and the waters come tumbling down on the Egyptians. You see that rod was not for the Hebrews it was for the foe! That staff in Moses' had was a pilgrim's staff. Israel was not to stay here, in the bed of the sea; they are simply passing through a great valley which would lead them to a new and blessed place, the like of which they had never known before.
"Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me," says David, thinking of that on coming hour of death, reminding us, He, "The Good Shepherd", has already shown that rod to the enemy of death. He holds that rod high indicating that death no longer has dominion over us. He, "The Good Shepherd" has laid that rod across the back of death and dealt with it once and for all and because of that death, is but a shadow of its former self and can never, no never, do us, the sheep of God's pasture, any further harm. All it now can do is to lead us pleasantly into the land that is fairer than day, which by faith at this moment we see afar; for the Father waits over the way, to prepare us a dwelling place there.
Then He will lift that staff high and say, this is the way follow me.
All the way my Saviour leads me:
What have I to ask besides?
Can I doubt His tender mercy?
Who through life has been my guide?
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day,
This my song through endless ages--
Jesus led me all the way.
"The angel of the Lord encampeth round about those who fear him, and delievereth them."
Have you ever seen an angel? Dr. S. W. Mitchell thought he had. Dr. Mitchell was a well-known neurologist in Philadelphia. After one very tiring day he retired early, but a persistent knocking at the door awakened him. It was a little girl, poorly dressed and deeply upset. She told him that her mother was very sick and needed his help. Even though it was a bitterly cold, snowy night and he was bone tired, Mitchell dressed and followed the girl. He found the mother desperately ill with pneumonia. After treating her, Dr. Mitchell complimented the sick woman on her daughter's persistence and courage. The woman gave him a strange look and said, "My daughter died a month ago. Her shoes and coat are in the closet there." Dr. Mitchell went to the closet and opened the door. There hung the very coat worn by the little girl who had been at his front door. The coat was warm and dry and could not possibly have been out in the snowy night.
Have you ever seen an angel? John G. Paton believes he has. While he was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands, hostile natives surrounded his mission headquarters one night, intent on burning the Patons out and killing them. Paton and his wife prayed all that night. At dawn they were amazed to see the attackers just turn and leave.
A year later the chief of that very tribe was converted to Christianity. Paton then asked him what had kept him and his men from burning down the house and killing them that night. The chief asked Paton a return question: "Who were all those men you had with you there?" Paton told him there had been no one except his wife and himself, but the chief insisted they had seen hundreds of men standing guard--big men in shining garments with drawn swords.
James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 28.
I have a Shepherd, one I love so well;
How He has blessed me tongue can never tell;
On the cross He suffered, shed His blood and dies,
That I might ever, in His love confide.
When labour's ended and the journey done,
Then He will lead me safely to my home,
There I shall dwell in rapture sure and sweet,
With all the loved ones gathered round His feet.
Rest in the Shepherd to see you safely home, trust Him to bring your loved ones there too. Take Him at His word and lean hard on His promises He will not fail you!