The Lord is my Shepherd
So I can Smile at Death
Psalm 23:4 

God has us preaching through Psalm 23; this is the fourth message and we’ll be focusing on the fourth verse. The series is dealing with the subject; “The Lord is my Shepherd.” 

I suppose Psalm 23 is known better than any other Psalm in the entire Bible. And, I suppose that verse 4 is quoted perhaps more than any other verse in that Psalm: "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." 

So let’s begin by reading Psalm 23:1-6 (KJV)
1  The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4  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.
5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. 

Let’s pray: Father and Giver of all things, we rest in Your loving and tender care; and we are revived, restored and renewed by Your strength and encouragement. Thank You for leading us in pathways that are secure without the confusion of becoming lost, aware only that we always need to follow You; and so we trust in Your guidance and wisdom. May we find true comfort and protection, provision and peace in You, to our life's end, in Jesus’ Name I pray, AMEN 

A little lady, on her death bed, her loved ones were around her, and they were crying, and they were weeping. She looked up at them and said, "Go ahead and cry if you must. But, don't cry for me. I am tickled to death to die." 

I want to talk about how to smile at death, how to be tickled to death to die. I know death is not a popular subject. As a matter of fact, when you mention death, people will change the subject. We've done everything we can do to avoid thinking about death. 

Man is the only creature who knows he's going to die and he's trying desperately to forget it. That's the reason that some immerse themselves in sports, in business, in other things, because they don't want to look death in the face. People today don't like to go to funerals. They only go if they feel they must. And we take our cemeteries and we try to make them look like memorial parks because we're trying to camouflage the fact of death. We simply don't like to think about death. We're trying to do everything we can do to obscure the fact that we're winding down to the grave. 

But, death is a very real fact and it's something that we're not to be afraid of. In fact, it's something that we ought to anticipate. 

I'm certain David had that in mind when he wrote this wonderful, beautiful Psalm. He spoke of a valley called the valley of the shadow of death. There is such a valley in the land of Palestine. 

If you were to go there, you could seek it out. It starts between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, up about 2,700 feet above sea level. There's a little spring that comes out of the hillside and it starts a little creek. Sometimes it's full of water and the water cascades down, and sometimes there's just a trickle, but, over the centuries, it has cut a ravine in those Judean hills. 

It starts up there, and it flows down, down, down,  to the Dead Sea, 1,300 feet below sea level. This ravine is called the valley of the shadow of death, because it is so narrow that at the bottom, in some places, it's only about 12-feet-wide. And, even at high noon, it's always full of shadows. There are caves and shadowy places. In Bible times, there were bears and hyenas and wild dogs and robbers. 

There were steep places where sheep might fall, and it was a frightening place with the shadows on the canyon wall. The shepherds had named it the valley of the shadow of death. It was a very useful valley because in the wintertime, when there was not much grass, the shepherds would take the sheep down to Jericho; there the sheep would winter and feed in the lush grass that would grow even in the wintertime. 

Then, when the spring would come and the green Judean hills would grow bright with the lush color of green, and the flowers would come out and dot the hillside, the shepherd would lead his sheep through that valley to greener pastures in the highlands. That's surely what David had in mind when he wrote this Psalm, because David himself, as a shepherd, many times led his sheep through that valley—the valley of the shadow of death. 

David said, "The Lord is to me what I've been to my sheep. The Lord is my shepherd... [And] 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'" (Psalm 23:1-4). 

David had learned to smile at death; I want us to learn to smile at death also and I want to give three principles that will help us to do that. 

Number one: I want us to accept death as a decided fact—F-A-C-T, fact. Death is a fact. 

Notice how that verse begins: "Yea" not nay, "yea"—"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23:4). That's a fact that many people don't want to face.

The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed unto men once to die." That's an appointment that we have. "It is appointed unto men once to die. The same Bible says in Romans 5:12: "Wherefore, as by one mans sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." 

The only exception to whether or not we might die is if Jesus comes first. But, if Jesus does not come first, we're certainly going to die. 

So, death is a stubborn fact. "It is appointed unto men once to die" (Hebrews 9:27). 

Not only is it a stubborn fact—it's an uncertain fact. We don't know when we're going to die. David said, "Yea, though I walk through the valley," he's walking through the valley. He doesn't know from one moment to the next what is going to happen. We live life a step at a time. 1 Samuel 20:3 reads. "There is but a step between me and death." 

We don't know when we're going to die. Old folks die, yes, but sometimes, mothers kiss their helpless innocent babies goodbye to death. Sometimes a little child must drop his toys to grapple with death. 

I must preach as a dying man would preach to dying men, because I don't know; this may be the last sermon I'll ever preach. It may be the last sermon you'll ever hear. I don't know, you don't know. Many a time I've preached the last sermon a person has heard before that person died. The Bible says in James 4:13-15: "Go now, ye that say, today or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. [So] that you ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." 

You see, God doesn't have to take our life. All He has to do is stop giving it. It's of the Lord's mercies that we're not consumed. Life is a gift from God. "If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." Our life is like a breath on a frosty morning, here for a moment and then gone. 

Accept death as a decided fact. It is a stubborn fact; it is an uncertain fact. And, it's a personal fact. "Yea, though I walk"—"I walk." Not "they walk"—"I walk." We are walking in the valley of the shadow of death, just like David was. 

We may die at any moment. "Well, I'm healthy right now." You may be, but automobiles run over healthy people also. That’s the way my 54 year old son went home. We are living on the very edge of eternity. 

So death is a stubborn fact. Death is an uncertain fact, and death is a personal fact. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death"

Step number one in learning to smile at death is to look death straight in the face. Think about it. Bring it into focus, and say with David, "Yea, though"—it's there; yes, it's there—"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23:4). 

There's something else, Not only do I want you to accept death as a decided fact, but I want to acknowledge death as a defeated foe. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" (Psalm 23:4). There are three wonderful truths as we think about death as a defeated foe. 

First of all, he talks about a valley. There can be no valley without mountains. You see, this is the valley Psalm. We’ve mentioned before; Psalm 22 is a mountain Psalm. It deals with Mount Calvary, and it tells of the crucifixion of the Messiah. And then, Psalm 24 is a mountain Psalm. It deals with the coronation of the Messiah. It deals with the Second Coming. So, Psalm 23 is a valley between two mountains. 

Over here are the blood-drenched slopes of Mount Calvary. And, over here are the sunlit peaks of Mount Zion. And, over here we have crucifixion, and over here we have coronation. We are living in the valley. 

Remember that we said that the Lord Jesus Christ is described as a shepherd three times in the New Testament. For example, the Lord Jesus is called the Good Shepherd. John 10:11: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" The Good Shepherd—that's Mount Calvary. 

Then, the Lord Jesus is called the Chief Shepherd. First Peter 5:4: "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." 

The Good Shepherd died for me; the Chief Shepherd is coming for me. But then, also, the Lord Jesus is called the Great Shepherd, and that's the One who now lives for me. Hebrews 13:20, 21: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus [Christ], that great shepherd of the sheep." 

You see, He's the One who rose from the dead. He's the One who has conquered the valley of the shadow of death. The Good Shepherd—He died for me. The Chief Shepherd—He's coming for me. The Great Shepherd—He lives for me in the valley of the shadow of death; He was raised from the dead. 

So, what I'm trying to say, if you want to learn how to smile at death, understand there can be no valley without mountains. Thank God, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help" (Psalm 121:1). Are you down in the valleys? Then, look at the mountains. Look! Look, I say, to Mount Calvary, and look to Mount Zion. 

Secondly, there can be no shadow without a light.

Notice what it says: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." Now, death is just a shadow if you know the Lord Jesus Christ, because Jesus became the death of death. You see, Jesus pulled the sting out of death. Jesus took the gloom out of the grave. Jesus took the dread out of dying, and Jesus has given us a hope that is steadfast and sure. A shadow may frighten you, but a shadow cannot hurt you. 

There was a great preacher whose wife died when she was still a very young woman; left a little girl in the family. The little girl didn't understand all of the intricacies about life and death, and Jesus dying for our sins. After the funeral one day, the father and the girl were downtown. They were doing some shopping. The little girl was in the car and she looked over on the wall of a department store and saw the shadow of a truck. The shadow was even larger than the truck, because the sun was setting low in the west and it made a huge shadow on the department store wall. The little girl said, "Daddy, look at the big shadow of the truck." And, he thought right then, "I'm going to teach her a lesson." He said, "Sweetheart, if you had your choice, would you rather be hit by the shadow of the truck or be hit by the truck?" "Oh," she said, "Daddy, that's easy. I'd much rather be hit by the shadow of that truck than to be hit by that truck." He said, "That's right, it was only the shadow that hit mama. The truck hit Jesus 2,000 years ago at Calvary." 

Tremendous lesson; Jesus has taken the sting out of sin and the dread out of the grave. Jesus has become our victor. There cannot be a shadow unless there's a light. 

Let me give you a verse: Isaiah 9:2: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: [and] they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." 

There's no shadow without light. Are you in the valley of the shadow of death right now? Look to the light; and I'll tell you if you'll look to the light, the shadow will fall behind you. You won't even see it. Look to the light. There is no valley without mountains. And, there is no shadow without a light. 

There's a third thing I want us to learn, as we see death as a defeated foe, and that is there is no evil without a greater good. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4). 

He's comparing the evil with the Great Shepherd—the Great Shepherd of the sheep. Who is the Thou? Who is he talking to? Who does David mean when he says, "Thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4)? 

Remember how this Psalm begins? "The Lord (Yehovah) is my shepherd" (Psalm 23:1) it was the most sacred name for God that the Jews knew. 

There can be no valley without mountains. There can be no shadow without a light. There can be no evil without a greater good. Truth is mightier than error. Grace is greater than sin. Our Sovereign is greater than Satan. And, life is greater than death. We've got to understand that. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou"—Yehovah—"art with me." 

Another thing I want us to learn: not only must we see death as a decided fact, and death as a defeated foe, but we need to see death as a delightful friend. "Pastor, did you say, 'friend?" Yes, I said, "friend." I wanted to change that as I prepared this sermon because I just didn't like calling death a friend." Then, I thought "No, I'm going to leave that, Death is a delightful friend. 

Let me give you an interesting verse: 1 Corinthians 3:22, 23. The Apostle Paul is telling us what we have in Christ. The Corinthians had been arguing and squabbling about what preacher they liked best, and this is what Paul said: "Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, now watch this, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours" (1 Corinthians 3:22). 

Of all the wonderful things he says belong to us, he says death belongs to us. It's one of our treasured possessions. It's ours; death is ours. He thinks of death not as an enemy, but as a servant to help us. 

Did you know the Bible says in Psalm 116:15:
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."  The apostle said in Philippians 1:21: "For me... to die is gain?" 

I mean, physically its gain. My body's going to be made like the Lord Jesus. Intellectually it's gain, for I'll know as I am known. Emotionally it is gain, because I'll be able to praise Him with my whole heart. Socially it is gain, because I will be with the saints of all of the ages and with my Lord face-to-face. Spiritually it is gain, because temptation and sin will be behind me, and I will be one with my Lord like never before. 

What brings me into that relationship, what brings me there—is death. So, death is not an enemy if it helps me to come into a place like that. "For me... to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). 

Let’s see why David thought of it as a friend. Notice what he says: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil"—now watch—"for thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4). First of all, there is the presence, the presence of the Shepherd. "Thou art with me." 

Up until this time, he's been talking about the Lord. "The Lord is my shepherd... He maketh me to lie down... he leadeth me... He restoreth my soul... he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness... [His] rod and [His] staff" (Psalm 23:1-4). But now, when he's in the valley, he’s no longer talking about Him; he's talking to Him. "Thou art with me."

There's nothing that will bring you face-to-face with God more than the dark valleys of life. When you get in the dark valleys of life, you're going to know what He meant when He said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5). "I will be with thee always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). There is the presence of the Shepherd. 

Who is the Shepherd? Yehovah. Think about it, I won't have to cross Jordan alone. I'm not going to have to die alone. When I come to die, my Lord is there with me. The light is there. The Shepherd is 
there. There is the presence of Yehovah. 

Not only is there the presence of my Shepherd there is the power of my Shepherd. "[His] rod and [His] staff they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4). 

Remember what I said the rod was for, to protect the sheep. What did I say the staff was for, to lift the sheep. When you come to die, I can promise you the Lord will be with you. He will strengthen you. I mean, there will be the presence of Yehovah God who says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of [the] saints" (Psalm 116:15). 

He will be there, His rod will be there to protect you from all of the powers of evil, and His staff will be there to draw you up close to Him as you walk through that valley. As your feet touch those chilly waters of the river of death, singing, you can go along your way.

Okay, not only is there the presence of the Shepherd and the power of the Shepherd, there is the purpose of the Shepherd. What is the purpose? It is through the valley. It's not a box canyon. It's a valley and Jesus has kicked the end out of the grave. He's bringing us through. 

You may be in some trouble today, and you may be in some difficulty today; but it's only for a season—it's only for a purpose. David knew enough about a shepherd to know that a shepherd would never lead his sheep through any place like that unless he's leading them to a better place. 

Somebody asked a man, "What's your favorite verse?" He said, "That one that says it came to pass." So, why is that your favorite? He said, "I know it didn't come to stay; it came to pass." Whatever it is, it has come to pass and we are going through. I love the song that we sing: 

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide? 

Heav'nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well (Fanny Crosby). 

The purpose of the Shepherd is to lead us through. 

The Bible says in Hebrews 2 that the devil keeps people in bondage through the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). We are not ready to live until you're no longer afraid to die.  "Well," you say, "with my sins I'm afraid to die. What shall I do with my sins?" I'll tell you what to do with your sins: you put your faith where God puts your sins—on Jesus. Just put your faith where God puts your sins—on Jesus. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). 

You might Pray, "Dear God, I want You to be my Shepherd. I open my heart. I receive You now, right this moment, as my Savior and as my Lord. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus"—would you ask Him that, right now?—"Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Forgive my sin and save me. Thank You for doing it, Jesus. And, Lord Jesus, help me never ever be ashamed of You. In Your name I pray. Amen."



 When Voices Of Hope Evangelistic Team is ministering in Word and Song, their Fire Choir will sing several songs and then lead the Congregation in singing. Since that isn't possible on-line, please click here and may you be blessed by the song, "I Will Fear No Evil."