For our communion meditation this morning, I want to look at Psalm 23:4, which says, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me..."
This is a wonderful statement that has brought comfort to countless people when they were dying. And I don't in any way want to minimize the application to death. But I believe it was actually intended to give boldness to Christians in every stage of their lives for any "evil" they face. And we can see that just by the structure of the Psalm, but I will get to that in a bit. But the image of a valley of the shadow of death brings three things together that are scary. Death in itself can be a scary thing for some people. But a shadow of a scary thing is sometimes even scarier than the thing itself. A shadow introduces mystery and makes the danger an unknown danger. That's what makes it so freaky. You see a shadow and you know there is a threat, but you can't see where the threat is and you don't know when it is coming. But then comes the word, "valley." There are three words for valley in the Hebrew, and this is not the broad valley. This is the long narrow ravine with steep mountains on each side. You are vulnerable at the bottom of that valley to whoever and whatever is lurking in the woods above you. So even the word valley can introduce fear. So when you see moving shadows of unknown dangers that threaten death lurking in the mountain woods on each side of this long valley that you are walking through, you have a powerful picture of uncertainty and lurking danger. And there are three things that I would like you to consider concerning your own dangers as you come to the Lord's Table this morning.
Every believer faces lurking danger
The first is that every believer faces lurking danger. This is not just David's Psalm. This is the church's Psalm, intended to be sung by every believer. Until we get to heaven, our whole life is surrounded by threats, both visible and invisible. Katie Nissen's death reminds us that death is never very far away. You could step off of a curb and get killed today, or get shot, like that Christian that got shot in Omaha last week. And of course, the minions of death, Satan's huge army of demons, are always looking for ways to destroy your marriage, your reputation, your walk with God, and anything else they can destroy. David did not have a Pollyanna lack of realism about this world. He did not act foolishly like a child who hides from the monster under his bed by pulling the covers over his head. He did not act foolishly like modern liberals who define evil away. No, this world is a dangerous place and there is evil out there. And you need Christ's shepherding every day because every one of you faces danger. When you come to the Lord's Table, come with the knowledge that you need this Shepherd and be thankful that He is committing Himself to shepherd you. When you wander away from His presence, you have every reason to be afraid, even if you are a sheep that is too stupid to be afraid.
No believer needs to fear
The second point is that no believer needs to fear that evil. The phrase, "I will fear no evil" is at the heart of the Psalm. If you look in your bulletins, you will see that this Psalm was written as a chiasm, with six parallel thoughts leading to the irresistible conclusion that we need not fear.
Think of the six parallel thoughts as the wings, engine, body, comfortable seats, and first class dining in a Boeing 747. Without those things completely surrounding you and holding you in, you would rightly be terrified 20,000 feet in the air. You don't have wings. You cannot successfully face that danger on your own. But snug inside that Boeing 747 (smack dab in the middle of the Psalm) you need not fear. You can be comfortable. You can sleep.
Because of God's presence
And that brings us to point III. Though the Psalm is structured in a way that shows that every one of those six parallel concepts is what sustained David, I will just deal with the seventh and central reason given in verse 4: "For You are with me." There is no covenant promise more precious than the promise, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." It is because of God's presence that the other six parts of the chiasm also bring him comfort.
When David was scared to death in 1 Samuel 30 because his family had been kidnapped and his own men were ready to stone him to death, he didn't regain courage because he somehow found strength within himself. It says, "David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." In effect David was saying, "I will fear no evil, for you are with me." God is the Boeing 747 when I am metaphorically 20,000 feet in the air. He is the Abrams tank when we are metaphorically going through the streets of Baghdad. The Lord's Table is the sacrament of His presence, and He has promised us, "Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age." When I was in ninth grade, I was the second smallest kid in our huge public school and got beat up almost every day by a gang of bullies. I had to find a different route home every day. And I will have to admit that I was scared of them. But I remember walking side by side with my dad one time and seeing some of those bullies on the street. And it suddenly struck me that I had zero fear. And if you knew my dad, you would know why. He was huge. He could wrestle bulls to the ground. In fact, he had a huge bull charge him, and he grabbed it by the horns, and though it took him back a few feet, he took it to the ground. So I knew my dad could take them all on -- no problem. And it was this sense of God's presence with David that enabled him to say, "I'm not going to be afraid. For God is with me." Even death cannot separate me from the love of God.
You may have your own fears. They may not be fears of death. They may be economic fears, social fears, fear of the future, fear of some present danger, fear of demons, or fear of the stage. But whatever your fear may be, don't let it make you frantically run away from your responsibilities or make you freeze up. This Psalm commits you to keep walking. Keep walking through the valley of the shadow of death if that is where your Shepherd is leading you. Keep walking in God's will (like David does in this Psalm) knowing that when you attempt the impossible things that He commands you to do, and you do it in faith, He does the impossible things through you. Develop such deep communion with God that just praying to Him instantly calms your fears. We try to answer fear by either running from problems or insisting that there be no problems. That is not living by faith. God does not promise the absence of all danger. Quite the opposite. Verse 5 says that He is today spreading this table before you in the presence of your enemies. He doesn't guarantee that he is going to take your enemies away. But He does guarantee that He will never leave you nor forsake you, and that He is able to tackle any enemies that you are facing. Commit yourself to walk and to keep on walking through your own valley of the shadow of death and trust Him to care of you in life and in death. Amen.