He Guides Me

Scripture: Psalm 23:3b – with reference to Matthew 15:1-20

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake

 

Title: He Guides Me

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Psalm 23:3b
    • The Lord guides me
    • Righteousness is a path
    • For his name’s sake
  • Matthew 15:1-20 – Jesus guides the people
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Over the past couple of months we have been journeying through the 23rd Psalm making reference, as we go, to the various ways in which this psalm points to Jesus, the good shepherd.

 

The message of Psalm 23 as a whole is: the Lord is my security.

  • God looks after me (personally) like a shepherd looks after a sheep.

 

So far we have covered the first two and half verses…

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside still waters

He restores my soul…

 

‘Lying down’ is about God providing rest

  • ‘Green pastures’ is about nourishment
  • ‘Still waters’ is the peace God gives
  • And ‘he restores my soul’ has to do with rescue

 

  • When I am lost the Lord brings me back or rescues me
  • Rest, nourishment, peace and rescue – these are the ways in which God takes care of his people

 

Today we complete verse 3…

 

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake

 

This is primarily about the guidance or wisdom that the Lord offers

  • After bringing me back (or rescuing me) when I’m lost, the Lord then sets me on the right path, so I can carry on to find more green pastures

 

Psalm 23:3b

When we were young we used to play a game called Snakes & Ladders

  • With Snakes & Ladders you roll the dice and move your counter the number indicated on the dice
  • If you land at the foot of a ladder then you move up the ladder
  • But if you land on the head of a snake then you slide all the way down the snake and have to make your way back up the board again
  • Whoever gets to the end first, wins

 

Snakes & Ladders is entirely a game of chance – there is no skill involved and no choice – the dice determines your fate

 

Life is not exactly like Snakes & Ladders though

  • In life we can (to some extent) choose the path we will take
  • However we don’t always know where that path will lead us (at least not at first)
  • Sometimes what we think is a ladder turns out to be a snake & vice versa

 

 

The journey through life is more like travelling in a foreign country where you don’t know the language or the customs

  • You can try to do it on your own but that can be a bit hit & miss – you never really know if you’re landing on a snake or a ladder
  • If you’re smart you will find someone with local knowledge to guide you
  • With a trustworthy guide you can avoid the snakes and find the ladders

 

Returning to our key verse for this morning’s message – there are three main points to note in this phrase…

 

The Lord guides me:

Firstly, the Lord ‘guides’ me.

  • We are not guided by fate or the throw of the dice
  • We are guided by the Lord
  • The Lord is like the person with the local knowledge who shows us the way by walking with us through life

The Lord doesn’t force us or manipulate us or drive us – he guides us.

  • Guidance indicates a relationship of listening and trust
  • A relationship of freedom and respect

 

So we are not following a set of rigid instructions or a list of rules

  • We are following a person
  • The shepherd doesn’t give the sheep a map and a compass and then leave them to it – saying, “you’re on your own now mate”
  • The shepherd remains present with the sheep
  • He walks ahead of the sheep and the sheep follow the shepherd’s lead – his example

 

Righteousness is a path:

There is a new concrete pathway between Tawa and Porirua – running parallel to Kenepuru Drive

  • If you are starting from the Porirua end, heading south, then you come out at Findlay Street – by the Cricket Club
  • It is lovely to walk on and you have no doubt about where the path is
  • The way ahead is very clear

 

In the wild Middle East pathways are not so clear

  • There may be a number of faint trails in the wilderness but not all of them lead to a good destination
  • The shepherd knows which is the right path and consequently which other paths to avoid

 

I remember when I was 18, at the end of the 7th Form (Year 13), I wasn’t sure what to do next

  • In the end I decided to study business management at Waikato University
  • Most people in my family had a business background and so I followed the tradition of my ancestors
  • Unfortunately, at 18, I didn’t know myself very well
  • Truth be told I wasn’t really like anyone else in my family
  • I would have been better studying something like philosophy or sociology or something else in the field of humanities
  • The problem with those sorts of subjects is that they don’t have a clear career path – what would I do for a job at the end of the degree?

 

I thought that by doing business management I was landing on a ladder

  • Little did I realise that for me business management was a snake
  • Ironically the right path seemed wrong and the wrong path seemed right

 

Now I’m not saying that business management studies is bad – for some people it is the right path, it just wasn’t right for me

  • One man’s ladder is another man’s snake I suppose

 

In hindsight I didn’t really listen to God

  • In fact I don’t remember even asking for his guidance
  • For some reason I compartmentalised the different parts of my life
  • It didn’t occur to me as a young man and a new-ish Christian that I could ask God about career options
  • But even if I had asked for God’s input and he had answered, I’m not sure I would have had the faith at that age to step into a path which no one in my family had ever walked before

I battled my way through the degree with a B average but my heart wasn’t in it

  • Despite being on the wrong path God eventually brought me onto the right path
  • When I returned to Varsity some years later to study the Bible and theology I found my fit

 

Not that the business management stuff was wasted

  • As it turns out pastors these days spend a lot of time doing management type tasks
  • Perhaps there was some method in God letting me wander off on the wrong track

 

The second thing we note about our key phrase today is that David describes righteousness as a ‘path’

  • Think about that for a moment – righteousness is a pathway
  • For many of us righteousness is a destination – it equates to achieving some kind of moral or ethical standard
  • But in the Bible the destination is abundant life and righteousness is the path which leads to life
  • Furthermore the Bible teaches us that righteousness is by faith
  • So we walk the path of righteousness by faith – by trusting God

 

The right path is not always clear to us, is it

  • (Not like the pathway between Porirua and Tawa)
  • And so, because the right path is not always clear, it takes a certain degree of faith to walk in it

 

A path indicates movement, process, change and journey

  • The Lord’s guidance is not rigid or static – it is flexible and dynamic, appropriate to the terrain.
  • We don’t always know what’s around the corner and we may sometimes stumble or grow weary as we walk along the path
  • But we don’t trust in our own skill or strength – we trust the good shepherd who guides us

 

God is particularly interested in the inner pathways of our heart & mind

  • Where are our desires, our thinking and our feeling taking us

 

For his name’s sake:

The third point to note in this verse is that the Lord rescues us and guides us for his name’s sake

  • On a fairly superficial level “for his name’s sake” means for the sake of his reputation
  • But at a deeper level “for his name’s sake” means for the sake of his integrity

 

In other words, the Lord isn’t worried about what other people might think of him

  • The Lord rescues the lost and guides his sheep in the right path because he is a good shepherd and that is what a good shepherd does
  • The Lord could not live with himself if he did not take proper care of his sheep
  • By keeping his sheep safe & sound the Lord is being true to himself

 

For his name’s sake takes a lot of pressure off us

  • It means that God’s care of us does not depend on whether or not we are good enough
  • God’s care depends on his own integrity which is without question

 

Okay then – that’s the three main things David is saying in this phrase

  • The Lord guides me by his example
  • Righteousness is a path, and
  • God’s motivation for all of this is his own character – his own integrity

 

Matthew 15:1-20 – Jesus guides the people:

How then does this point to Jesus, the good shepherd?

  • Please turn with me to Matthew chapter 15 – page 22 near the back of your pew Bibles
  • There are many examples of Jesus guiding the people in the right path
  • I’ve chosen this one largely because it draws attention to the fact that the path of righteousness is not always as it appears to be
  • From Matthew 15, verse 1, we read…

 

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the Law came from Jerusalem to Jesus and asked him, “Why is it that your disciples disobey the teaching handed down by our ancestors? They don’t wash their hands in the proper way before they eat!”

 

Jesus answered, “And why do you disobey God’s command and follow your own teaching? For God said, ‘Respect your father and your mother,’ and ‘If you curse your father or your mother, you are to be put to death.’ But you teach that if people have something they could use to help their father or mother, but say, ‘This belongs to God,’ they do not need to honour their father. In this way you disregard God’s command, in order to follow your own teaching.

 

We are going to pause there – so don’t close your Bibles, leave them open, we will return to this reading shortly

 

Here we have two pathways

  • The path of righteousness according to human tradition, and
  • The path of righteousness according to the Lord

 

According to the Jewish tradition of that time righteousness was maintained by washing your hands frequently in a prescribed way

  • The thinking was that the world out there is contaminated
  • There are certain foods you can’t eat and certain people you can’t associate with and certain things you can’t touch
  • Because if you do you will become unclean and then God won’t accept your worship

 

To avoid the risk of contamination one must wash their hands in a particular way before eating – that was the tradition passed down by the ancestors

  • God did not require that – but tradition did

 

The original intention may have been good but over time what resulted was a very superficial form of righteousness

  • This pathway of righteousness, according to human tradition, didn’t lead to abundant life – it led in ever decreasing circles to a dead end

 

When the Pharisees (the guardians of human tradition) notice that Jesus’ disciples don’t wash their hands in the prescribed way they ask Jesus, why?

  • Presumably the disciples are following Jesus’ example
  • And Jesus doesn’t follow the path of human tradition

 

The Pharisees are on the wrong path and because Jesus is a good shepherd he wants to guide them onto the right path

  • But before he can do that Jesus has to show the Pharisees they are on the wrong track – so he asks them a question…
  • And why do you disobey God’s command and follow your own teaching?
  • Then Jesus gives the example of how the Pharisees say it’s okay not to provide for your elderly parents if you give the money to God

 

In those days there was no fortnightly superannuation payment from the government for those over 65

  • Your children were your superannuation scheme in the sense that you hoped your adult children would take care of you in your old age

 

The Pharisees were basically saying, give your money to God (or to the temple treasury, which we control) and you don’t have to take care of your parents

  • In order to make themselves rich the Pharisees made up a rule which effectively undermined God’s command to honour your father & mother
  • That was not the right path – that was not cool – and Jesus told them so

 

From verse 10 of Matthew 15 we continue…

 

10 Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand! 11 It is not what goes into a person’s mouth that makes him ritually unclean; rather, what comes out of it makes him unclean.”

 

12 Then the disciples came to him and said, “Do you know that the Pharisees had their feelings hurt by what you said?”

 

13 “Every plant which my Father in heaven did not plant will be pulled up,” answered Jesus. 14 “Don’t worry about them! They are blind leaders of the blind; and when one blind man leads another, both fall into a ditch.”

 

15 Peter spoke up, “Explain this saying to us.”

 

16 Jesus said to them, “You are still no more intelligent than the others. 17 Don’t you understand? Anything that goes into a person’s mouth goes into his stomach and then on out of his body. 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these are the things that make a person ritually unclean. 19 For from his heart come the evil ideas which lead him to kill, commit adultery, and do other immoral things; to rob, lie, and slander others. 20 These are the things that make a person unclean. But to eat without washing your hands as they say you should—this doesn’t make a person unclean.”

 

May the Spirit of God illuminate this reading for us

 

There is a lot emphasis these days on keeping the environment clean

  • Now tell me, when it comes to a motor car – which is better for the environment?
  • Washing your car, so it’s nice and clean and sparkly on the outside
  • Or taking measures to improve the fuel efficiency – maybe getting a hybrid vehicle or an electric engine [Wait]
  • That’s right – taking measures to improve the fuel efficiency
  • Washing your car does nothing to help the environment – in fact the waste water may be bad for the environment
  • It’s what comes out of the car that really matters
  • It’s the engine (the inner workings) that is important

 

Returning to Matthew 15, Jesus could have dropped the subject after responding to the Pharisees, but he doesn’t

  • Jesus’ integrity won’t allow him to abandon the crowd to following the path of human tradition where that tradition is wrong
  • Jesus is the good shepherd so he gently (but clearly) guides the people in the right path saying…
  • “It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you ritually unclean; rather, what comes out of it makes you unclean.”

 

The disciples still don’t understand what Jesus means so he explains further…

 

“…from the heart come the evil ideas which lead you to kill, commit adultery, and do other immoral things… 20  These are the things that make a person unclean.” But to eat without washing your hands… this doesn’t make a person unclean.

 

To Jesus’ original audience this was a revolutionary idea

  • It was a radical reversal of what they had been led to believe was true

 

Jesus was effectively saying – the world out there is not bad, it is not contaminated

  • God’s creation is good – you can eat whatever you want

 

The problem isn’t out there with those who are different from you

  • The problem is in here – in the human heart – because that’s where evil comes from
  • You can wash your hands as much as you like but it’s not going to change what you think inside
  • You can polish your car till you can see your own reflection in it but that won’t change what comes out of the exhaust

 

Jesus is talking about inner pathways here

  • Where are your thoughts, feelings and desires leading you

 

Remember righteousness is a pathway – not a destination

  • When we look at the 10 commandments what we find is that they are talking about avoiding certain destinations
  • Do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not bear false witness, do not murder and so on
  • These are all destinations we should avoid
  • And the way to avoid those destinations is not to start on the path which leads to them

 

In Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about paths of righteousness and paths of destruction

  • For example, he says (and I paraphrase a bit here) – don’t look at a woman lustfully, because that will put you on a path to adultery
  • And don’t stay angry with your brother and don’t call your sister insulting names, because that will put you on a path to committing murder
  • And don’t make an oath (don’t swear by heaven or earth), because that puts you on a path to bearing false witness
  • And don’t worry about money or food or clothes, because that puts you on a path to stealing

 

Instead you should love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you because that puts you on a path to God and to life

 

The problem isn’t out there – the problem is in here

  • It’s not what we eat that makes us unclean – it’s what we say and do that makes us unclean
  • And because what we say & do comes from inside us we need to take care with our inner pathways – our neural pathways
  • We need to make sure we are on the right track with our thinking
  • We need to be careful not to allow the desires of our heart to lead us in the wrong direction
  • We need to acknowledge what we feel without being led by what we feel
  • We need to let Jesus, the good shepherd, guide us from the inside out

 

Conclusion:

Many people these days think that it doesn’t matter too much which path you take in life – because all paths eventually lead to God anyway

  • I don’t believe that
  • That is not how life works in my experience
  • Some pathways lead to joy and peace
  • While other pathways lead to frustration and regret
  • They don’t all lead to God
  • But the good news is: God has sent his Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) to show us when we are on the wrong path and guide us into the right path
  • What’s more God has a canny way of redeeming the time we spend on the wrong path

 

Let us pray…

 

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