************ Funeral Sermon on Psalm 23:1,4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This funeral sermon was preached on October 22, 2012
Text: (Psalm 23:4) "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."
Anna Dragt funeral
People of God:
It wasn't even a year ago that Anna's husband, Pete, passed away. Since that sad event, Anna spent some time in the hospital and some time at home with care-givers. Those were not easy days for Anna or for her family. At the worst of times she was confused and asked me what happened to Pete.
Tuesday night I asked the family to share stories about Anna. They mentioned her love of games like Old Maid, Chinese Checkers, Checkers. She enjoyed putting puzzles together. Family parties – that was a big one – were important to her; the dust wasn't even settled on one party and she would be asking about the next one. She played baseball as a girl and was quite a player. She always had time for the kids and grandkids no matter when they showed up and would fill them with food. She loved to joke around and Pete loved to get her all riled up and then they would laugh about it. She was always cleaning even though things already looked clean. She was always willing to babysit. On Anna's bad days the family consoled themselves with memories like these.
I visited with an unrelated family on Saturday. Their father and grandfather had died. All that they had was memories. But memories are not all that Anna's family has. Because they, with Anna, often found comfort in God and His Word. One of those times was two Saturdays ago. Grace and Anna spent the day doing a garage sale. At the end of the day Grace read Psalm 23 to her mother. When Grace was finished she asked her mom if she should read it again. This time, it was Grace who listened because Anna recited the whole psalm from memory. Obviously, this psalm was important to Anna. And comforting.
As you, Anna's family, grapple with her death, you search for meaning, comfort, and hope. You are searching because many of you didn't have time for one last visit or one last phone call or one last letter. You are searching because you feel bad about the last year of Anna's life. You are searching because you know there will come a day when you also will die. Perhaps death scares and terrifies you. Perhaps the thought of death is the stuff of your nightmares.
Psalm 23 gives us what we are searching for. In very familiar words it says:"The Lord is my shepherd ... Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil ..." Did you catch that? You, the family of Anna Dragt, don't have to fear death. You don't have to fear Anna's death. You don't have to fear your own death.
"The Lord is my shepherd" (Ps 23:1). One cannot read Psalm 23 without realizing it is written from the viewpoint of sheep. It was David who wrote these words. He used to be a shepherd himself. One day it occurred to him that he, David, also had a Shepherd and that he, David, was also a sheep. From this perspective, David wrote the words of Psalm 23.
Like David, we also are sheep and we also have a Shepherd. Like David, Anna and Pete also were sheep and also had a Shepherd.
With this in mind let me start by pointing out distinctive characteristics of sheep – characteristics that are true for all of us as sheep. Characteristics that are true for Anna and Pete as well.
Sheep lack a sense of direction. My wife and I took our son's dog for a walk the other night. We were doggie-sitting. At the half-way point I let her take the lead. She unerringly pulled me home, going around three corners, down three streets, and into our driveway. Sheep cannot do that. They get lost easily – even in familiar territory. So it is with believers – we cannot guide ourselves. As Isaiah puts it, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way" (Is 53:6).
Sheep are virtually defenseless. Most animals have sharp claws; teeth; speed; the ability to hide; keenness of smell, sight, and hearing; great strength; a loud bark or growl; great size; powerful and deadly horns. But sheep are awkward, weak, and ignorant; they have spindly legs, tiny hoofs, and are pitifully slow. They bleat instead of growl. Defenseless! Their only protection is the shepherd. So it is with the believer – our defense and strength is the Lord and His mighty power (Eph 6:10).
Sheep are easily frightened. Strange noises, strange shapes, strange shadows can leave them shaking. They are assured only by the shepherd's presence and his songs at night. Likewise, we also need the constant assurance of the Shepherd's presence.
Sheep, by nature, are unclean. Other animals lick, scrape, and roll in the grass to clean themselves – but not sheep. They will remain filthy indefinitely unless the shepherd cleanses them. Because of sin we, too, by nature are unclean and filthy. Apart from our tender Shepherd's cleansing we would remain perpetually dirty (Isa 64:6).
Sheep cannot find food or water. While most animals have a keen sense of smell, sheep depend upon their shepherd completely. If left to themselves, sheep will eat poisonous weeds and die – and when one does it the others will follow the leader. Like sheep, we are totally dependent upon the care of the Shepherd.
Using the words of Psalm 100, I want you to realize that in every way we are "the sheep of his pasture" (Ps 100:3). And, in every way, "The Lord is my shepherd" (Ps 23:1).
The Hebrew word translated as "Lord" is YHWH. According to the Jews this is God's most respected and most awesome and most holy title. The Hebrews were so in awe of this title that they did not dare say it but substituted it with some lesser title for God in their public reading of Scripture. Out of the burning bush, God told Moses that YHWH means "I AM" (Ex 3:14). "I AM." Meaning what? Meaning God is the self-existent Being. He was and is and is to come. He inhabits eternity. He has life in and of Himself. All other life is derived. All other life is dependent. All other life faces change and decay. But God is unchangeably the same in and of Himself.
Notice, David dares to say and confess that this mighty God, this awesome God, this self-existent Being is "my shepherd" (Ps 23:1). Anna made clear that this self-same God is also her Shepherd.
Who, by the way, is your shepherd? In whom do you trust when you face the daily trials of life? To whom do you turn for direction? You have many choices. Do you go first to your doctor? Your coach? Your lawyer? Your counselor or therapist? Your teacher? Your pastor? How easy to forget that they, like you, are also sheep! As important and necessary as each of these people may be, they can never take the place of the Good Shepherd in your life.
You need to come, my brothers and sisters, you need to come to the place where all of your life – with all of its messy details – is placed in the care of Christ. You need to come, my brothers and sisters, to the place where Christ is your Shepherd. Then, with David, you can also say, "I shall not be in want" (Ps 23:1).
In our text for this morning, David draws out the meaning of the Lord as Shepherd as we face death. David writes,
(Ps 23:4) 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.
I see three lessons here. First, I don't need to fear the evil of death: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." I don't have to fear death, whether it is death by fire or by drowning or by accident or by cancer. I don't need to fear a long and lingering death. I don't have to fear a swift and surprising death.
Why? Here is the second lesson. "For you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me." The shepherd does everything that he can for his sheep: leads them to water, guides them to pasture, protects them, binds their wounds, nurses them back to health. Our Shepherd does all of this and much, much more because He is the Lord, the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth. He can do anything, anything at all. "The Lord is my shepherd." With Him at our side who or what can attack us? With Him at our side who can bring any charge against us?
As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Shepherd is with us every single step of the way. That should be good enough for all of us. We will never walk through the door or through the valley of death alone. The Lord, the Good Shepherd, will always be there to go with us through the door to the other side. He goes with us because He has been there.
Remember what Jesus said one day as He was talking about sheep and shepherds? He said,
(Jn 10:11) I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who died for His sheep. Therefore, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." I will not fear because I know that my Good Shepherd has gone on before me. He has faced death, the punishment of death, in my place. And, by His resurrection he has conquered death. So I will fear no evil. "I will fear no evil – not even death – for you are with me." That's a promise for you if the Lord is your Shepherd.
Did you notice what David calls death? This is the third lesson. David calls death a "shadow." "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ..." David calls death a "shadow." David experienced much death during life: his friend Jonathan, a loyal follower like Abner, the first son born to Bath Sheba. All of these deaths – a shadow!
Following the death of his first wife, renowned pastor and Bible expositor Donald Grey Barnhouse was taking his children to the funeral. They stopped at a traffic light and a large truck sped by, its shadow engulfing them for a moment. Turning to his grieving children Barnhouse asked, "Would you rather have been hit by the truck or its shadow?"
"The shadow, of course!" his children responded.
Dr. Barnhouse said quietly to the three children, "Your mother has not been overrun by death, but by the shadow of death. That is nothing to fear."
The shadow of death. Christians can talk this way because we know death is only temporary. Christians can talk this way because we know death is like sleep. Did you know, the early Christians talked of sleep when they talked of fellow believers who had died (Acts 7:60; 1 Cor 11:30; 15:6,18,20,51; 1 Thess 4:13-15). The soul goes to heaven and the body goes to sleep. Death is a shadow. Death is temporary. Death is sleep.
The shadow of death. Christians can talk this way because we also know that someday the shadow will disappear. Someday the Lord Jesus will return in all His glory and the shadow of death will disappear and the dead in Christ will rise and their body will be made like Christ's glorious body.
Will you have peace when you die? Are you afraid to die? Are you ready for death? Perhaps you have pushed these questions out of your mind. But there are all too many reminders: a young man you knew, killed in an accident; a mother who couldn't be missed, taken by cancer; soldiers killed on the battlefield, either by a bullet or by mechanical failure; a grandfather or grandmother, dying of a heart-attack; a father and brother and son, burned in a fire.
There is only one way to have peace when we die. There is only one way death does not become something scary and terrifying. There is only one way we can ever be ready for death. That's the way of Anna and Pete and the psalmist: "The LORD is my shepherd ... 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."
Is this peace yours? It is, if the Lord Jesus is your Shepherd. My prayer is that you acknowledge Jesus as your Lord and Savior. My prayer is that you know the Shepherd of the sheep so you can face even death with confidence.
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