Green Pastures

Scripture: Psalm 23:2a (in green pastures) – with reference to Mark 6:30-44

 

Key Idea: Jesus nourishes the whole person – body & spirit

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • In green pastures
  • Jesus is the good shepherd who feeds us
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

This morning we continue our series on Psalm 23

  • The key message of Psalm 23 (as a whole) is, the Lord is my security
  • God looks after me like a shepherd looks after his sheep
  • A couple of weeks ago we considered how the Lord makes me lie down
  • In other words He makes it possible for me to rest
  • Rest is the very first need the Lord takes care of for us
  • We work best from a foundation of rest

 

Today we unpack the green pastures of verse 2…

  • ‘Green pastures’ speaks of feeding and nourishment
  • Before we explore this metaphor of ‘green pastures’ though let’s stand and sing the whole psalm together now…

 

♫       The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Crimond)

 

May the Lord illuminate His word for us

  • Please be seated

 

 

Green Pastures:

Food is essential to life

  • We need to eat in order to gain energy to move, repair & grow our bodies
  • In our society there is quite a bit of emphasis placed on nutrition and the quality of the food we eat
  • We are encouraged to have 5 plus (fruit & vege) a day and to buy food with the Heart foundation tick or with 3 or more health stars
  • Some fats are good for you and some are bad
  • What’s more we are warned against too much salt and too much sugar

 

With this in mind I thought we might have a wee food & nutrition quiz – here’s our first question…

 

Which is better for you?

  • A cup of rice
  • A cup of pasta
  • About the same

 

The answer is: about the same – okay next question

 

Which has fewer calories?

  • Baked potato
  • Brown rice
  • About the same

 

The answer is: baked potato – one potato has about half the calories of a serving of brown rice. A potato (with the skin on) also has more vitamin C than rice

 

Which has less sugar?

  • Apple juice
  • Orange juice
  • About the same

 

The answer is: orange juice. In fact apple juice has about the same amount of sugar as coke and there’s over 9 teaspoons of sugar in a can of coke [1]

 

Okay – one more

  • How long would you need to walk to burn off the calories in a Big Mac? [2]
  • 20 minutes
  • One hour and 20 minutes, or
  • Two hours and 20 minutes

 

The answer: about two hours and 20 minutes – slightly more in fact

 

As I said before our focus today is the green pastures of verse 2

  • Sheep eat grass and so the green pastures of Psalm 23 is a metaphor for food & nutrition – both physical sustenance and spiritual sustenance
  • As Jesus said, ‘Human beings cannot live by bread alone – but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God’ [3]
  • So ‘green pastures’ refers both to the food we eat with our mouths and the Word of God which sustains the human soul and spirit

 

Most farms in NZ have green grass almost all year around, except perhaps some of the large sheep stations in the South Island

  • But in the Middle East (where David, the author of this psalm, comes from) green pastures are only plentiful for about 2-3 months of the year
  • Most of the time green pastures are a delicacy and a delight

A skilled shepherd will know exactly where to lead his or her flock to find the best pasture, even during the dry season

  • So when David says, the Lord makes me lie down in green pastures, he is implying that God is an expert shepherd
  • The Lord knows exactly where to take his sheep for the best quality nourishment – the food God provides has a 5 health star rating

 

In our modern culture we have a saying…

  • ‘The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’
  • Which refers to the way we tend to look at other people’s lives through rose tinted glasses
  • We imagine our neighbour has it better than us, when in fact s/he doesn’t
  • Bob Dylan captured this thought in the song lyric, ‘What looks large from a distance up close ain’t never that big’

 

I think we all have those ‘grass is greener’ moments don’t we

  • Times when we’ve had a few hard weeks (or months) and start to think,
  • ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we lived somewhere else or we had a different job’, or whatever it is we imagine the problem to be
  • The Big Mac over the fence looks more appealing than the rice salad right in front of us

 

Sometimes the grass might be greener and we can improve our lot by making a change – but in reality most of the time it isn’t

  • Generally speaking, ‘the grass is greener’ is a warning against thinking we’re hard done by

By saying the Lord makes it possible for me to lie down in green pastures David is implying: with the Lord the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence

  • God doesn’t provide second rate nourishment
  • The Lord knows where the best pasture is and how to lead us there
  • This speaks to His wisdom and skill as our shepherd

 

Of course, sheep in a Middle Eastern context don’t usually wake up to find themselves in green pastures

  • The sheep must often travel through relatively barren wilderness before arriving in green pastures
  • So we can’t expect green pastures every moment of every day
  • But we can expect them often enough to sustain us

 

The other thing to point out is that while the Lord provides the green pastures we still need to eat for the nourishment to have any effect

 

Let me demonstrate what I mean…

  • On the wall here is a delicious selection of food
  • Hmmm – look at that pork-chop and salad – yum
  • Or maybe you prefer the healthy burger
  • Imagine finishing with the freshness of that fruit salad
  • Or perhaps the smoothness of the marbled chocolate cheesecake

 

Are you feeling full looking at those images?

  • No – why not?
  • Because just looking at the food, just smelling it and being near it doesn’t nourish you
  • For the food to do any good you have to eat it – you have to actually take it in to yourself – right?

 

God will bring us to green pastures but we still have to feed ourselves

  • The Lord has provided His word for us but unless we take it to heart it won’t do any good

 

God’s word is available to us in a whole variety of ways

  • Sometimes God’s word comes to us in conversation with others or by listening to a sermon or through a sequence of events
  • One of the main ways we feed on God’s word is by reading the Bible
  • Not just reading it once over lightly but taking time to allow the message to sink in – meditating on it, digesting it

 

Sometimes reading the Bible can become just another chore that we tick off our list, like brushing our teeth or washing the dishes

  • We do it without thinking and are pleased when it’s over because then we can get back to what we really want to do
  • I don’t think that’s what God intends for His word
  • Reading the Bible in that way won’t nourish you much

 

When you read the Scriptures – read slowly – chew on the words

  • And when you come to a verse which resonates with your spirit – pause and linger over that verse – read it and re-read it
  • Savour it like a piece of chocolate melting in your mouth
  • Or crunch the words like an apple – enjoy the taste

 

The experience of reading the Bible and coming across a gem of a verse that just speaks to your heart can happen in the most unexpected of passages

  • Psalm 94 is a bit like that
  • It starts off, ‘O Lord, God of vengeance shine forth… give to the proud what they deserve…’
  • Then it carries on with the psalmist spitting tacks over evil doers
  • Not very uplifting or positive stuff
  • Just as you’ve had enough and are about to put it down you come to verse 19 – a ray of light…

 

“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul”

 

I love that – it speaks to my experience and nourishes my soul

  • After walking through a wilderness of spleen venting we break out into a vista of green pastures
  • Not that all that talk of vengeance doesn’t have its place
  • If you’ve been badly treated or oppressed with injustice, like the psalmist, then ranting against evil doers might be exactly what you need to hear
  • It may be food for your soul to know you are not alone in your grievances

 

The point is, God knows what we need to sustain us and He is faithful in providing what we need

  • But we need to do our part too and take in what He is saying to us
  • Allow God’s word to register in your inner being & strengthen your hope

 

Jesus is the good shepherd who feeds us:

Please turn with me to Mark chapter 6 – page 53 in your pew Bibles

  • Jesus is our shepherd – he knows what sustains us and is an expert at providing it
  • On many occasions Jesus demonstrated his shepherding skills in his care of the disciples and the crowds that followed him
  • Mark 6, verses 30-44 describes one such occasion
  • As we read these verses I want you to listen for echoes of the 23rd Psalm
  • From Mark chapter 6, verse 30 we read…

 

30 The apostles returned and met with Jesus, and told him all they had done and taught. 31 There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his disciples didn’t even have time to eat. So he said to them, “Let us go off by ourselves to some place where we will be alone and you can rest a while.” 32 So they started out in a boat by themselves to a lonely place.

33 Many people, however, saw them leave and knew at once who they were; so they went from all the towns and ran ahead by land and arrived at the place ahead of Jesus and his disciples. 34 When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw this large crowd, and his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things. 35 When it was getting late, his disciples came to him and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. 36 Send the people away, and let them go to the nearby farms and villages in order to buy themselves something to eat.”

37 “You yourselves give them something to eat,” Jesus answered.

They asked, “Do you want us to go and spend two hundred silver coins[a] on bread in order to feed them?”

38 So Jesus asked them, “How much bread do you have? Go and see.”

When they found out, they told him, “Five loaves and also two fish.”

39 Jesus then told his disciples to make all the people divide into groups and sit down on the green grass. 40 So the people sat down in rows, in groups of a hundred and groups of fifty. 41 Then Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 Everyone ate and had enough. 43 Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left of the bread and the fish. 44 The number of men who were fed was five thousand.

 

May the Lord feed us with His word

 

Before you can swallow your food you have to chew it

  • Before you can ingest a passage of Scripture you have to understand the context

 

Previously Jesus had sent the 12 apostles out in pairs to preach to the people, drive out demons and heal the sick

  • The apostles had now returned to Jesus having experienced some success in their work
  • But while they were gone King Herod had killed John the Baptist – cutting his head off [4]

 

John the Baptist was regarded as a prophet by the people – the first prophet Israel had heard in about 400 years

  • So the common people were upset, confused and angry at what Herod had done
  • The atmosphere was tense – a powder keg ready to blow at any moment

 

John was also a blood relative of Jesus – so with John’s death Jesus lost a family member and a friend

  • Not only did Jesus have his own personal grief to deal with he also had to cope with the cultural & political pressure to avenge John’s murder

 

Verse 31 of Mark 6 says…

  • There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his disciples didn’t even have time to eat

 

Kenneth Bailey observes that this is the only instance in the Gospels that speaks of people both ‘coming and going’

  • Why this sudden back-and-forth flow of people?
  • Because all across Galilee people wanted to know how Jesus planned to respond to this horrifying murder of John, his relative
  • They came to hear what Jesus intended to do and then went back to report his initial response [5]

To avoid the constant flow of interruptions, Jesus the good shepherd says to his disciples…

  • “Let us go off by ourselves to some place where we will be alone and you can rest for a while.”
  • There we have an echo of Psalm 23 – He makes me lie down
  • Jesus makes it possible for me to rest, in other words

 

They get into a boat and cross the lake for a lonely place where they won’t be disturbed

  • But the people saw them and followed around the lake on land
  • When Jesus got out of the boat he saw this large crowd and his heart was filled with compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd
  • Sheep and shepherd – another echo of Psalm 23

 

The people followed Jesus because they were hungry

 

I imagine many were hungry for justice or revenge – ‘O Lord, God of vengeance shine forth… give to the proud what they deserve…’

  • Herod was supposed to be the shepherd of the Jewish people – at least in his province – but he was a bad shepherd
  • He abused & scattered the sheep
  • Herod shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this

 

I imagine also in the crowd those gentler souls who were too broken in spirit to pursue revenge – those hungry for joy – those craving some lightness and relief from the daily grind of poverty

 

So Jesus himself shepherded the people in their time of need and hunger

  • Verse 34 says that Jesus taught the people many things
  • In other words, he fed them with calm words of wisdom fitting for the situation they found themselves in

 

We don’t know exactly what Christ told the crowds but I expect he satisfied their hunger for justice by talking about God’s judgment

  • The measure you use for others is the measure God will use for you
  • So love your enemies, turn the other cheek, repay evil with good
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated
  • Don’t take matters into your own hands – vengeance belongs to God
  • Remember this world is not all there is – God will make all things right

 

Jesus’ integrity is impeccable

  • Jesus practiced what he preached
  • Naturally there was a huge wave of sympathy for Jesus
  • He could have easily raised an army of willing soldiers to march against Herod – but he doesn’t
  • Jesus himself turns the other cheek despite being under immense pressure to avenge John’s murder

 

For those who were hungry for some comfort and joy I expect Jesus had words of understanding and grace

  • ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light [6]
  • Or perhaps, ‘A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory’ [7]
  • Or maybe, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ [8]
  • “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul”

 

Jesus cares about the whole person – both the spiritual and the physical

  • In fact he doesn’t separate the two – he holds the physical & spiritual together
  • After nourishing hearts, minds & spirits with the word of God, Jesus then nourished people’s bodies with food, by multiplying the loaves & fishes

 

In verse 39 we read how Jesus told his disciples to make the people sit down on the green grass

  • The echo from Psalm 23 could not be clearer
  • Jesus is the good shepherd who …makes me lie down in green pastures
  • Jesus is the one who feeds me both with God’s word and with food

 

There are many other things we could say about this passage but that’s enough to digest for one day

 

Conclusion:

Jesus is the good shepherd who knows where to find the best pasture for his sheep

  • Jesus is not interested in leading a bloody crusade
  • He has compassion on people and feeds them with the wisdom which leads to peace
  • When we are hungry for vengeance Jesus satisfies our anger with a vision of God’s justice
  • And when we are hungry for joy, because the cares of our heart are many, the consolations of Jesus’ grace cheer our soul

 

Jesus nourishes the whole person – body & spirit

 

What is it you hunger for?

 

 

 

 

[1][1] http://www.livestrong.com/article/283136-how-many-teaspoons-of-sugar-are-there-in-a-can-of-coke/

[2] http://www.calorieking.com/foods/    (a Big Mac has 549 calories)

[3] Matthew 4:4

[4] I imagine that, on the one hand, the apostles were pumped (or excited) at all they had done. But on the other hand they were unsure if it was appropriate to express their excitement given that John had just been killed. It’s kind of like having a baby but not feeling like you can celebrate too much because someone else has recently died.

 

[5] Kenneth Bailey, ‘The Good Shepherd’, page 163.

[6] Matthew 11:28-30

[7] Matthew 12:20

[8] Matthew 5:3

Advertisements