The Lord is our Shepherd
Last week I spent some time reading through the Gospel of John. During my reading of John 11:7-16 I read something that caused me to pause and reflect on something we all too easily face in our walk with Christ. Here’s John 11:7-16:
6 So when he heard that he [Lazarus] was sick, he stayed two more days in the place where he was. 7 Then after that, he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 “Rabbi,” the disciples told him, “just now the Jews tried to stone you, and you’re going there again?” 
The thought of Jesus returning to Judea was absolute madness to the disciples. Afterall, the Jews had tried to stone Him when he was there last. Madness! Or was it? Eventually we read that Jesus returned to Judea (the town of Bethany to be exact) to raise Lazarus from the dead – an important illustration of Jesus’ divinity and, yet, a foreshadowing of his death, burial, and resurrection two weeks later during Passover.
When I initially read this passage, I was struck at how reluctant the disciples were to return to Judea for fear of their lives. I was taken aback at the idea that these disciples were keen to travel with Jesus when everything was comfortable, but at the slightest moment of discomfort, they wanted to bail. They trusted more in their own strength than the strength of their Saviour.
How often have I felt that myself?
And as I read this my mind drifted to Psalm 23. Psalm 23 has been a favorite amongst Christians for the last 2000 years. Here is how it goes:
1 The Lord is my shepherd;
I have what I need.
2 He lets me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He renews my life;
he leads me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—they comfort me. 
So good, right? The Lord is indeed our shepherd; he absolutely gives us what we need; he protects us so that we can lie down in green pastures and he leads us beside quiet waters; our God renews our lives and, indeed, he leads us along right paths for his name’s sake. And even when we travel through the darkest valleys, we need not fear because He is with us and is our comforter.
Here is a truth that I think we all overlook in this passage:
The Lord is our shepherd and He will lead us down paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…even if those paths go through the darkest of valleys where danger lurks, and death awaits.
Now, on that note, let us go back and look at John 11:6-8.
Jesus was bringing his sheep back into a place of immediate danger and, yet, this would be for their benefit (to prove yet again that he is God and to demonstrate that He is the resurrection and the life). In the end, Jesus would lead them down the right path and God would get the glory.
But he was with them the whole time!!! They need not fear danger.
How true is that for us today?
J.C Ryle puts it this way:
“Things such as these are often going on around us. The servants of Christ are often placed in circumstances just as puzzling and perplexing as those of the disciples. They are led in ways of which they cannot see the purpose and object; they are called to fill positions from which they naturally shrink, and which they would never have chosen for themselves. Thousands in every age are continually learning this by their own experience. The path they are obliged to walk in is not their own path of their own choice.”
If Jesus did not lead the disciples back to Bethany, they would not have experienced the glorious miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. All they could see was immediate danger; all they could think about is their own survival. The circumstances were puzzling and perplexing and, left to their own devices, they probably would not have gone back into Judea. They could not see the forest for the trees – they just saw trees.
But Jesus – the Lord God - is their shepherd and He will lead them (and us) down paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…even if those paths go through the darkest of valleys where danger lurks, and death awaits.
But here’s the promise and lesson we learn from both Psalm 23 and John 11:6-8: Jesus – the Lord God - is their shepherd and He will lead them (and us) down paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…even if those paths go through the darkest of valleys where danger lurks, and death awaits. I repeat that multiple times because it’s something that we all need, including myself, to be reminded of day in and day out.
When I approach Psalm 23, I often focus on the comfortable elements and forget that the Psalmist contrasts verses 1-3 with verse 4. We have the benefit of being laid down in green pastures and led beside quiet waters, but life is all but smooth. Life is extremely turbulent – spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
But let us engrave into our minds that Jesus still asked his disciple to go into uncertain, uncomfortable, and unknown circumstances. There may come a time, and indeed the time might be now – even today -, when the Lord will ask you to travel down a path that you both dislike and dare not go.
And if He does – just as He was with the disciples in person – He is with us through the Holy Spirit. For He is, after all, the Great Shepherd – Emmanuel, God with us.
As a church planter, I never dreamed that I would begin laying the foundations of a church plant in the midst of a global pandemic. I would never have asked the Lord to lead me down this path. It was not even a consideration. This is not a choice of my own. “It’s madness” some might say. But there it is.
In some ways, this is a dark valley and its hard to be free of fear and anxiety. But I must lean upon this lesson. I believe God has called me to plant a church and the Lord will lead me down the right paths for his name sake – whether comfortable or uncomfortable, whether through the mountain high or the valley low. The circumstances may be puzzling and perplexing, but I must rely and trust in the voice of my Shepherd.
 John 10:31
 John 11:4