Follow the Leader

We take a closer look at a well-known Psalm. What is the significance of the sheep metaphor? Why and how should we follow this Shepherd?

Thank you, worship team. Welcome, everybody. Thank you very much for being here. For those that are joining us online, thank you for joining us today. Many of you will know that this is an exciting time for our church. We're in a transition, but we're getting close to having a new lead pastor. And some of the sermons that you've been hearing for the last few weeks have all been about leaders and qualities of leaders and then choosing to follow leaders and choosing to follow even when some of the instructions might be tough in the future may look a little challenging, as we heard last week. But today, we want to talk a little bit more about what it means to be a follower. And you just heard Psalm 23, which is one of my favorite psalms read, and we read it together and many of you know it really well. And as you can see, I titled The Talk, Follow the leader. But I want to put a little challenge out there as we are kind of thinking about things, is that we all said and enthusiastically said in our hearts, the Lord is my shepherd. David said, the Lord is my shepherd. The question is, what does that say about you? If he's the shepherd, your the sheep. I must say, I am not super excited about being a sheep, and I'm going to share with you today. Why? Because sheep are kind of dumb and sheep are kind of stupid, and I don't like being that. And sheep need to be led and sheep need to be instructed and sheep need to be helped. David said, The Lord is my shepherd, the king, the boss is my shepherd, but that makes me a sheep. And so as we kind of go through what we're going to be talking about today, I really encourage you to put on your your sheep outfit, kind of put on your mindset of I'm a sheep, and what exactly does that mean when I talk about following the leader? So I want to tell you a story as we start, a true story about following leaders, and I hope that as you see how they in this true story, follow the leader. And then as we turn our attention to talk about Psalm 23, you put in your heart and attitude of what does it mean to be a follower? What does it mean to be a sheep? How can I be a good sheep and not a feral, vagrant, runaway kind of sheep? So I'm going to take you back 100 years, and in a newspaper in London, this advert appeared. The advert said men wanted for hazardous journey, low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful; honor and recognition in event of success. Well, it's kind of astounding because hundreds of people applied a bunch of women too, even though it said men wanted; good for them. And you might say, well, what was this all about? Well, this was an advert placed by someone called Ernest Shackleton and you might say - never heard of him.

Well, I hope that after today you'll know who Ernest Shackleton was. But at the time, he was Sir Ernest Shackleton, actually a very famous explorer. This was around the time where they were trying to be the first to get to the South Pole. And you might remember the story that actually Shackleton was beaten by a fellow Englishman, Scott, who was beaten by a Norwegian Amundsen, who actually got to the South Pole and planted the Norwegian flag there first. So Shackleton was a bit miffed about that and decided he needed a new adventure where he could be the first person to do something. So this is where this expedition came from. So what he was going to do and hopefully you can see this on the screen, is he was going to come with his boat from South America and land at this place called Vassall Bay and then go across Antarctica to the South Pole, right across to the other side to McMurdo Sound and get picked up by a different boat. So he and his team were going to be the first people to go right across the South Pole, right from the one side of Antarctica to the other. This is him, this is Ernest Shackleton right here. This is his team, 18 of them were actually going to be the folks that would do the work as far as going across the whole of Antarctica with a few extra people.

They are mainly manning the boat. I want you to notice that date. August 8th, 1914. I didn't have a way to have a little time ticker kind of going across the bottom of the screen, but I want you to watch as you hear the story of the timeline of how this story transpired, it sort of went on. So they started out headed down towards Antarctica from South America, you might say, well, what were they doing this in December? Or remember, seasons are switched around. So this is summertime. You can tell summer in Antarctica is not super exciting, but the idea was you could break through the ice. So there are these ice floes, but you can find your way with a big boat like they head through the ice floes because that was the point. I want you also to notice right here, it's already now getting into December. Four months into and they grinding their way slowly through the ice floe, getting closer to Antarctica. Problem was, the boat got stuck completely stuck in the ice floe, noticed February 14th, but remember, it's an ice floe, so they flowing. So they are sort of getting closer to Antarctica. So they go, well, this is OK. Everyone jumps out the ship. There's no point in sitting in a ship that's not really moving. They're playing soccer, other things kind of waiting for something to happen.

Needless to say, the ship is not doing particularly well now because the ship is actually at an angle that I wouldn't be excited to be in that ship. It's totally stuck. In the ice. Note the date, February 14th, six months they've already been on this boat. Now, again, many of you know, seeing we live in a cold part of the world, if you've ever been up on the north shore of Lake Superior, how the ice, when the wind blows can start to get kind of packed up in these great big giant bits of ice that gets stuck together? Well, that started to happen. The ice started to kind of get a little broken up. The wind was blowing. It started to make these great big mountains of ice. And you can tell that even though they were trying to now break their way through this with sort of pickaxes wasn't going particularly well. July 19, 15, nearly a year. What happened then was the boat got crushed and they all had to get out of the boat onto the ice floe. So now they've got no way back - boats gone. They're all standing on the ice. This is Antarctica or the ice floe next to Antarctica slowly floating along. And it's October, more than a year, they've just been standing, sitting, waiting, and now the boat is crushed. So they thought, well, again, it would be a good idea maybe to now try and at least get across the pole because it would be important to try and get to the other side.

Maybe they could hike across this ice floe to try and then make it across to the actual land. Problem was, every time they tried to do that, took like three days to go two miles because it was all the ice and snow and clearly they were not making much progress at all. Called it Patience camp while they were waiting their little message for us right in there. Remember, this is now more than a year waiting April 9th, almost a year and a half later, still stuck on the ice. Then disaster really struck, if you thought that wasn't bad. Got a lot worse, I started to break up and they couldn't actually even stay on the ice. So they had these three little boats and they got on the boats and they sailed to Elephant Island. Elephant Island is just a little piece of rock, but at least it was solid. So they got onto Elephant Island, but there's nothing there. So they're stuck, all 18 of them with their little boat and actually three little boats stuck on Elephant Island. So I want to just highlight how this went, so here they came, they got themselves stuck in the ice floe. They went all the way up the ice floe, eventually both broke up. Then they just floated along on the top in Patience camp.

So they got to here where the ice started to break up. You notice the flow didn't go where they wanted it to go. It went this way. Eventually they got on Elephant Island, but they realized we can't just stay here forever and no one's going to come and find us and fetch us. So what to do? Five of them got in that one little boat and they sailed 800 miles to this place called South Georgia Island, where they knew there was a whaling station and they landed there. So Shackleton and four of his crew members sailed there. And then those guys came back and saved them. Notice the date, August 30th, 1916, two years stuck on the ice.

So what do you think you can learn from that? Well, it's remarkable there was no mutiny, there was no suddenly Shackleton has no clue what he's doing. He got us stuck here. We will do something different. They waited patiently two years. They did what they were told. Together, they worked together, and when they were finally freed, nobody had died. A few people lost a few fingers and toes from from frostbite, but that was the worst of it. But pretty hungry they had actually eaten some of their dogs because they had nothing else to eat. But they trusted the leader.

So as we now take our attention and we focus on scripture and we look at Psalm 23 and we think about David, who is writing about his leader, the shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and Jesus who said, I am the shepherd of the sheep. I am the real shepherd. I want us to really think about what kind of follower am I? Am I somebody who will listen, who will do what they're told, who will be patient and who will trust the leader? So although we are going to focus on Psalm 23, I think it's important just to remind ourselves about what it means to be a shepherd in Jesus' time. And again, I'm grateful to Kyle, who read part of this earlier, but I want us to just focus on John. Chapter 10, verses two to four. This is Jesus talking. This is the one who enters by the gates is the shepherd of the sheep. The gate keeper opens the gate for him and the sheep - note this - listens to his voice. He calls his own sheep - note - by name and leads them. When he has brought out all of his own, he goes ahead of them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. The sheep follow him because they know his voice. So I don't know what you experience with sheep herding is. Can't say I've done any of it myself, but where I grew up in South Africa, the way in which sheep are herded about little guys, youngsters called pickanins, and their job is to herd them. And they're usually like 10 year olds and they basically all just run behind the sheep, kind of herding them.

If you went to England, you know, you might have a sheep dog and the sheep dog would be herding the sheep. And maybe here you'd be like ranchers out there and the ranchers would have horses and be kind of herding the sheep. Not in Jesus day and even today, not in the Middle East. The shepherd knows the sheep. The shepherd knows the sheep by name. The shepherd calls the sheep and walks ahead and the sheep follow him. So, again, thinking about what it means to be a sheep following the great shepherd, think about the shepherd in the front, not the shepherd herding us from behind. So turning to. To Psalm 23, I want you to put in your mind what David was writing. This is King David. What is he writing as he writes the psalm? He says this. The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing, he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshes my soul. He guides me through the right paths for his namesake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows, surely your goodness and love will follow all the days of my life and I will live in the House of the Lord forever.

So I want us to think about four things that good sheep should remember and the things I want us to think about: Every time as you're thinking about what David is saying here, the shepherd is not some abstract person and head, the shepherd is calling the sheep by name. So I'm not a number, I'm not just one of many sheep. My shepherd, Jesus Christ. He knows me personally. Second thing we're going to talk about is the path is not always easy, but the shepherd will always be with me. Many times the sheep were kind of quick to get lost. We don't really know where we're going. I don't know the way, but the shepherd does and he's the one who's going to lead me. And finally, the shepherd loves me and provides me with everything that I need.

So I learned a lot about sheep this week because I was reading up about sheep, and I must say it didn't help me much. I cannot really tell one sheep different from another. So I don't know about you, but when I look at that flock of sheep. I have a lot of trouble recognizing that Billy is the second sheep on from from the right or Jill is the one that stood in from the left. They look exactly the same to me. Maybe if I was fortunate and I got up close and I read the tags, I might see they had a number and that would help me tell the sheep different.

But quite frankly, those sheep look exactly the same to me. Hard to tell sheep apart. But not to the great shepherd, not to my great shepherd. Jesus said, I am the Good Shepherd. He said, I know my sheep and my sheep know me. He says he calls me by name. And he does it for his namesake. So, again, it's a beautiful picture that it's not just about me, it's about him. But yet there's a personal touch where he knows me by name. And if you read Psalm 23 again and read it from David's perspective, David understands this perfectly because read it again. Notice the number of personal pronouns. I counted them: 17. 17 personal pronouns where David says, I know this shepherd knows me. He says, the Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his namesake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For you are with me. Your rod and your staff. They comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, unite my head with oil, my cup overflows, surely your goodness and mercy will follow me, me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

So what's the point of that? Maybe you go, nobody cares. In my life stuff's happening and I just don't feel anybody cares. Nobody really knows. Nobody really understands. Wrong. The Good Shepherd says, I know your name. I call your name, I want you to follow me. I love you. You're important to me. I want a relationship with you. We're not just a number. Jesus knows us by name.

So the second thing is the path's not always going to be easy. So, again, looking up things about shepherds, this is a true story. This is actually a photo essay from 2019 and this is in a country called Georgia and this is the Tusheti Mountains, the Albano pass. Now, maybe a little difficult to see this, but this is thousands of sheep being herded over these paths. And you may not appreciate it from the picture very well, but these are sheer cliffs just straight down. And these shepherds are taking the sheep from one set of pastures, which dry up because of no rain across the mountains to the other side so that they can get to green pastures before there really isn't anything remaining behind. Six of them and tens of thousands of sheep, the shepherds just leading them over the mountains, not an easy path, but the shepherds are there to make sure it happens. So you might say, well, how does that tie in to Psalm twenty three? Well, many times sheep are frightened, and I think you could safely say that, David, this was a time in his life when he was frightened he was in a cave writing this.

And the reason he was in the cave is that his son, Absalom, had just affected a coup in his country, and they had kicked him out as the king and they were looking to find him, to kill him. So when he writes The Darkest Valley or the valley of the shadow of death, that's real, he's looking out of the cave expecting Absalom's soldiers to find him and kill him in the presence of my enemies. The sad part here is the enemy he's talking about is his son. So, again, totally understands the fear, but you note he says, I fear no evil. Because why? Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You're anointing my head with oil in the presence of my enemies and one day I will be with you forever. So as we think about that many times, there are hardships in our lives, many times things are challenging. Many times you might feel I'm actually afraid and fearful of circumstances, the future. The Good Shepherd says. I know it's not easy, but I'm with you. Nothing will happen to you that isn't my will. Says, I have you in the palm of my hand. Well, similarly, I think a good thing for us as sheep to remember is we don't know the way, but the shepherd does and he's going to lead us.

So the same sheep being taken over those mountains through the Albano pass, the shepherds, they know it because they do it every year. I'm sure many of the sheep don't. It's actually kind of terrifying because mists blow in. I don't know if any of you have hiked hills and mountains and been there when a mist is blown in and you really can't see where to go. And you worried that you could just fall off the mountain at any time. And that's not just abstract. I have a friend who who died on a mountain like that, got up there and got into the mist and got lost and froze to death. So bad things can happen and I don't know the way and I can feel terrified, but my shepherd does and he will lead me. We can very easily get lost. But the shepherd goes, I know, and he leads me and he leads me along the right path and he is taking me one day to the House of the Lord. That's where I'm going. So when you look at your life and you say things really to me, you don't seem very clear. I don't know where things are going. My job is challenging and I feel lost. My family's got challenges and and I feel, you know, I don't know where this is leading. These relationships I'm in. It's just hard. We have a good shepherd who says, follow me, I know where you're going, I will lead you, I will take you down the right path.

The fourth thing is the shepherd loves me and provides everything that I need. So let me introduce you to Chris, the sheep. So, Chris, the sheep that you can see on the left is actually a world record holder. Now, I didn't realize this until I read up about sheep, but just to reiterate, I said this earlier, but it's probably true. Sheep are remarkably dumb and sheep are remarkably needy. And the reason they're needy is you need to shear a sheep. If you don't actually take the wool of the sheep, the sheep will eventually grow so much wool that they will no longer be able to stand up straight and will fall over. So this is a feral sheep who in Australia managed to get away from the herd and for eight years kind of did his own thing and there was 91 pounds of wool on this here sheep. That is a world record. Look it up. Beaten out. Shrek the Sheep was another one of their world record holders before that, or Barak, which was the one before that one. But the funny thing is, ninety one pounds equates to 30 sweaters. Or if you say in Australia, that would be 30 jumpers. But what's the point of that? The sheep need to be tended to. They need to have something done for them, because if you just let the sheep do what it wants to do, it'll end up like Chris the sheep and actually be in danger of its life because it didn't get what it needs.

My shepherd loves me. My shepherd knows what I need. My shepherd will sometimes do some shearing and we could probably have another whole conversation about what shearing the wool of us might look like. But again, my shepherd loves me.

The other thing I learnt about sheep that I thought was kind of interesting is sheep don't really plan ahead, they don't store things up, they're not like squirrels and put the acorns away for the days they might need them. They basically will eat everything and they'll eat it right down to the dirt. And then when it's run out, it's run out. But again, the shepherd understands that and the shepherd says you will get nothing, you will lie down in green pastures, you'll be led by still waters refreshing your soul. A table will be laid before me. My cup will overflow. Everything I need, my shepherd will provide, not everything I want. Everything I need he will provide. So you might say with me thinking about what it means to be a sheep, is the Good Shepherd really worth following? And I would say absolutely. Jesus, the Good Shepherd says, follow me. And why might we want to do that? Well he lay down his life for his sheep and he says, I know you by name. And he says, I will always be with you and I will lead you and I will provide everything that you need.

So with those four kind of things that we might remember taking us back to the story of Shackleton and his and his team, what are some principles that we should maybe take away about being a good follower? So the three things I want us to think about are patience, obedience and trust. Waiting patiently for God's timing. Doing exactly what Jesus tells us to do and trusting our leader, Jesus Christ, who knows what's best. So you might say, where do I get that from Psalm twenty three? Well, the first one is waiting patiently. It says in verse two David says he makes me lie down in green pastures. I think that's kind of interesting. I lie down, you know, I might bring a frolic in those green pastures, says the Good Shepherd makes you lie down. And the thing I learnt about sheep, sheep don't sleep much about 15 percent of the time of the day would be sleeping and most of it is just little naps, most of it standing up. If they lie down, they really just lie down on their chest and never lie down on their side. Sheep lying down on the side is in big trouble. It's going to die. But generally speaking, and this was interesting because it came from Philip Kellar, a shepherd look at Psalm 23, he says there are four reasons why sheep generally won't lie down, won't lie down because they're frightened. They won't lie down because other sheep around them are agitating them and they won't lie down because they're bothered by pests or they won't lie down because they're hungry. So, again, I see a lot of parallels there when Jesus says - God, our father says, lie down in green pastures. We should be able to do that because the Good Shepherd is looking after us. We don't need to be frightened. Those around us who may agitate us, things that irritate us, people that irritate us, news that may irritate us. He says, lie down, rest, don't let it be agitating you. Might be bothered by pests, things that are troubling us, flies and the like, but we think about comparisons. You might think about things like, you know, finances, other things that are really troubling you says just rest. Just lie down, maybe hungry. Again, our Good Shepherd provides what we need. We need to do exactly what Jesus said we should do. Again, it comes from verse three. It says, He guides me along the right paths for his namesake. He prepares a table in the presence of my enemies. Really interesting. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't have expected him to put down the table in the presence of the enemies. I would think we would rout the enemies first and then we'd celebrate afterwards at the dinner table. But this putting the table in the presence of my enemies, that doesn't seem to me to make a lot of sense.

But yet, if you think about it, that's what Jesus is telling us to do, and that's what we as sheep are just following, what Jesus is telling us to do. If he is setting a table for us and it may be in the presence of what we think are unfavorable circumstances, just do it, because by doing it, the Good Shepherd will take care of the enemies, if you like. One of the other things that for me was really a blessing is I was thinking about how Good Shepherd leads us and tells us exactly where we need to go. In my mind, I was thinking again of Psalm 119:105. It says your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. And the reason I love that verse is - again, if you think about a light and a lamp, it just shines over here. So it doesn't give me the whole path, it doesn't illuminate the entire environment, it just tells me what's next. And then I take a step and then it illuminates the next step. And then I take another step and then it illuminates some more. So when the Good Shepherd leads me, he doesn't say, let me sit you down and map it out all for you and show you exactly where you need to go. He says, All I'm going to do is give you enough light for the next step. And when you take it, he'll give you enough light for the one thereafter.

And the last thing is trusting in Jesus, who knows what's best for us. So again, David says he refreshes, he restores my soul in verse three. Really interesting word that's used there. I often think of refreshing and restoring like, you know, I'll just have a glass of water and that will kind of refresh me and I'll be fine. That's not really the word here. The word here is refurbish, rebuild. It's a little bit like that junker car that needs to totally be stripped down to kind of the to the chassis and then rebuilt and refurbished. That's what he does when he's restoring. He's taking it from a shadow of its former self and giving it all of its former glory. That's the kind of restoring our good father is giving us. The rod and staff comfort me again, trusting my leader. Well, the rod was ready to beat off predators and wolves and other things, and the staff was to catch that sheep before it made a run for it. And kind of the crook, if you like, grab it by its neck and pull it back. Surely goodness and mercy, goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. Again, our father Shepherd, who is going to take us to what he knows is the future for us. And we know that also from Romans, Chapter eight verses twenty seven and twenty eight. It says, and God who sees our hearts knows the thoughts of what the spirit is, because the spirit pleads with God on behalf of these people and in accordance with his will. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

So when I told you the story about Shackleton, I left one piece out. This is really interesting. So remember how I told you they got stuck on that little island, Elephant Island, a little bit of a rock. And then five of them got in one boat and headed for South Georgia Island where they knew there was a whaling station. And they went 800 miles rowing in high seas, took them a few months, got all the way their, got to south Georgia island. Interesting thing. They landed on the wrong side of the island and it was just granite cliffs and glaciers and ice. And the five of them landed and three of them were too weak to go on. So they left them. And two of them, Shackleton and one other guy, hiked for weeks over the mountain all the way until they got to the whaling station, even when they got there, getting back to getting the other guys took a massive attempt. Three attempts, three months is how long it took. The first time they went ice floes were too thick, couldn't get to them, backed off, came back the next time.

The seas were so heavy they couldn't actually get in to actually help the guys. Took them three months to get there. But the point the leader came back to get all the men eventually. Our Good Shepherd did more than just come back, our good shepherd died on the cross for us. John 10:11 says, Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And as we can see him, Psalm 23, his goal is that we might have a relationship with him one day in heaven. David is saying, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

So what's my challenge to you today? There are lots of voices out there, lots of people saying, follow me, lots of teams. You know, different situations saying, I know what to do, follow me. There is really only one good shepherd and the Good Shepherd is Jesus Christ, and the Good Shepherd says, follow me. So what kind of sheep are you, because if you say the Lord is my shepherd, you're basically saying I am a sheep. Am I going to be the kind of sheep that obediently follows after Jesus, wherever he says, patiently waits for whatever he has for me and trusts the Good Shepherd to do what is right in my life, even when things don't seem ideal? Follow Jesus Christ.

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