Valley of Death

Scripture: Psalm 23:4a “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”

Title: Valley of Death

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • David & Goliath (1 Samuel 17:31-40)
  • Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43)
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

In February this year we began a sermon series on the 23rd Psalm making reference, as we went, to the various ways in which this psalm points to Jesus, the good shepherd

  • We took a break from Psalm 23 during May to focus on Self Denial and some other things
  • Today we pick up our series on David’s famous song again

 

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 three 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

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

 

‘Lying down’ is about God providing rest

  • ‘Green pastures’ is about nourishment
  • ‘Still waters’ is the peace God gives
  • ‘He restores my soul’ has to do with being rescued, when I’m lost

 

  • And ‘He guides me’ is about God putting us on a path which leads to life
  • Rest, nourishment, peace, rescue and guidance – these are the ways in which God takes care of his people

Today we begin looking at verse 4, the centre of the psalm…

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…

 

This is primarily about the Lord’s presence through dark and dangerous places

 

 

In the Middle East, where David lived and worked as a shepherd, ‘valleys of the shadow of death’ are actual geographical realities

Valley - Jericho

  • There are literally paths which wind in between mountains where there are dark shadows and deep gorges [1] (like this one on the wall)
  • A sudden downpour of rain can create a flash flood in the narrow gorge and anyone walking through is likely to be swept away and drowned

 

Not only that but these deep, shadowy, narrow ravines provide the ideal environment for bandits to ambush travellers

  • Naturally those who travel through these valleys are afraid for their lives

 

So why go through ‘the valley of death’?

  • Because it cannot be avoided – there is no way around it [2]
  • Sometimes to get to mountain pastures you have to go through the valley

 

To help shed light and meaning on the valley of the shadow of death, let’s revisit two Biblical stories

  • Firstly, the story of David & Goliath in 1st Samuel chapter 17…

 

David & Goliath:

Most of us will know the story of David & Goliath

  • How the giant, Goliath, challenged the army of Israel to a fight
  • At first no one in Israel came forward to take the Philistine on
  • But when the shepherd boy David saw Goliath and heard his insults, he was moved to action

 

After David had spoken to King Saul, and got his blessing to face Goliath, we read that…

 

David took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

 

That word “wadi” is the Hebrew and Arabic term referring to a valley

  • The point is, on his way to face Goliath, David literally walked through a valley in which the shadow of death was very real
  • But David wasn’t afraid – David believed that God was with him

 

In his conversation with Saul, David had said…

  • “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”

 

 

Last week at Night Church Daryl interviewed Andrew about his faith

  • Andrew was talking about how he came to believe that God is real
  • When he reflected on certain circumstances in his life Andrew realised that the statistical probability of those things happening was so remote that he couldn’t just put it down to chance – it had to be God
  • That resonated with Robyn & I and I think it would have resonated with David as well

 

The thing that gave David the courage to face Goliath was knowing that God is real and God was with him

  • The realness of God is sometimes referred to as God’s presence
  • How did David know that God is real and was with him?
  • Because, like Andrew, he had reflected on his past experience
  • David remembered how he and his flock had been attacked by a lion, on one occasion, and a bear on another
  • Statistically speaking he shouldn’t have survived those attacks
  • And yet he did
  • David credited his survival to God

 

David was able to walk through the wadi (or the valley) of the shadow of death without fear because he remembered God’s presence with him in the past – and that gave David a deep sense of security

 

Fear has a way of emptying us of our joy and inhibiting our better judgement

  • When we are feeling anxious about something the thing we are afraid of consumes our thoughts so that we have no rest and can’t think straight
  • Quite often the anticipation of what we fear is worse than the actual thing itself
  • When we are overwhelmed by fear it doesn’t feel like God is real or present with us
  • So when fear has its grip on us we need to stop, be still and remember those times in the past when God has delivered us

There are times in life when the only way forward is through a dark and difficult place – at some point we must face our fears.

  • Our giants (our Goliaths) come in many forms
  • As unpleasant as they seem to us God does not remove the valleys
  • He walks through them with us and uses them to provide what we need
  • Without walking through the valley David would not have found the stones for defeating Goliath

 

It’s interesting that David collected smooth stones

  • Smooth stones are ones which have had the rough edges knocked off through difficult experiences
  • Smooth stones fly straight
  • Are you going through a valley at the moment?
  • Collect those smooth stones of experience – remember those times when God has helped you in the past
  • You never know when they might come in handy for defeating some Goliath sized fear

Jairus’ daughter:

One of the best animated films ever made was Finding Nemo

  • Finding Nemo tells the story of an orange clown fish named Marlin who goes on an epic journey in search of his lost son Nemo
  • Marlin is accompanied by a blue fish called Dory
  • Dory is a happy fish but she suffers from short term memory loss
  • As part of their journey Marlin & Dory come to a trench – a kind of underwater valley of the shadow of death
  • Dory has been warned by a school of fish not to go over the trench but to go through it instead
  • Unfortunately Marlin won’t listen and when they go over they both get stung

 

Sometimes, like Marlin, we try to avoid the valley of the shadow of death

  • We try to find a way around it or over it, thinking that is a safer route
  • But, as Marlin found out, it was better to go through it, for the narrow trench was the way of salvation
  • What was it Jesus said?

 

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [3]

  • If Marlin had listened to Dory (if he had trusted her) and gone through the valley of the shadow of death they would have avoided being stung by the jelly fish

 

In Mark chapter 5 we come across another valley of the shadow of death story.

  • When Jesus steps off the boat, after returning from the other side of the lake, he is met by a large crowd
  • Jairus, an official of the local synagogue, throws himself at Jesus’ feet, begging him earnestly…
  • “My little daughter is very ill. Please come and place your hands on her so that she will get well and live”
  • Jairus is desperate and afraid and vulnerable – he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death

 

On their way to Jairus’ home, Jesus is interrupted by a woman who secretly touches the hem of his cloak in order to be healed of her perpetual bleeding

  • The woman is healed and Jesus stops to talk with her
  • As Jesus finishes his conversation with the woman some messengers come from Jairus’ house to tell him, “Your daughter is dead.”
  • Jairus’ worst fears are realised

 

The valley of death is a place of loss

  • God does not take Jairus around the valley of loss
  • The Lord does not prevent the girl from becoming ill and he doesn’t prevent her death
  • For Jairus the narrow valley of loss and grief is the way of salvation
  • Jairus has to walk through the valley with all the fear and pain that entails
  • But he doesn’t walk alone, for Jesus (the good shepherd) walks with him saying…

 

“Don’t be afraid, only believe”

  • Or, as Dory would put it, Trust me on this one. Trust, it’s what friends do

 

When they arrive at Jairus’ home the mourners are in full cry

  • Jesus goes upstairs to where the girl is, takes her by the hand and says…
  • “Talitha koum” which means, “Little girl, I tell you to get up”
  • At once she stands up and starts walking around

 

Jesus has brought the girl back from the dead

  • He has also brought Jairus & his family through the valley of death
  • Only Jairus won’t be same now – the presence of Jesus, through the valley, has inspired a deeper faith in Jairus’ heart

 

The loss of a child is perhaps the greatest loss anyone can experience

  • The underlying message of Jairus’ story is that Jesus is Lord of life and death – he has the power to restore even the most devastating and profound loss

 

Jesus restored the girl’s life relatively quickly, so while Jairus’ loss was real, it wasn’t long

  • Most of us here have lost loved ones
  • Whether our loss is short lived (as Jairus’ was) or whether it is a loss we carry for a long time, Jesus journeys with us through the valley of death
  • Jesus walks with us as we grieve & he says Do not be afraid, only believe
  • Through our faith in Jesus, the separation of death is not permanent – it is only temporary
  • Through our faith in Jesus we have hope of being reunited with our loved ones after death

 

Faith (trusting in the Lord) is our shield (our defence) against fear

  • And the key thing that inspires our faith is God’s presence

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me;

  • You are with me [Lord]…

 

  • That is an affirmation of God’s presence wherever we may go

 

In the ancient world most pagan religions required their worshippers to visit a temple or some other special place in order to be near their god

  • Pagan gods (idols) don’t move – they are stuck in one location
  • But Israel’s God (our God) isn’t just present in so called ‘sacred’ places like temples and churches
  • Our God is Lord of all the earth
  • There is nowhere we can go to get away from God’s presence

 

In another psalm David says…

  • Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
  • If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. [4]

 

Graham passed away last week

  • Graham was a Baptist pastor and he did a couple of short stints here at Tawa Baptist, while the church was between ministers

 

I happened to be talking with someone during the week who used to come to Tawa Baptist but moved away some years ago

  • This past member recalled to me how Graham had given him strength when he was facing heart surgery
  • Because Graham had been through the surgery himself and come through safely, he understood what it was like

 

Facing major surgery is a bit like going through the valley of the shadow of death

  • Arthur (another past minister) used to say, “Yea though I go through the valley of anaesthesia I will fear no evil…”
  • Anyway, it was because Graham had gone through the valley himself (and come out the other side) that he was able to give real comfort and strength to others
  • The smooth stone of his difficult experience helped to make God’s presence real and so conquer other people’s fears

 

Conclusion:

Life is difficult

  • The valley of death is inevitable
  • God does not promise that no harm will ever come to us
  • God does not say that we will be spared from suffering & loss in this life
  • In fact it’s been said that God only promises two things to those who trust him: his presence and heaven
  • Often God’s presence with us in this life comes in the form of another human being who has gone through the same difficult experience that we are going through

 

Ultimately though, there is no avoiding the valley of the shadow of death

  • All of us must die one day
  • But we do not need to be afraid of dying, for when we place our trust in Jesus, the Lord walks with us through death to the next life
  • The valley of death isn’t the end – it is the pathway to eternal life & peace

 

Let me finish with a verse from Isaiah 57…

 

“Good people are taken away, but no one understands. Those who do right are being taken away from evil and are given peace. Those who live as God wants find rest in death.”

[1] Lamsa, cited in Kenneth Bailey’s, ‘The Good Shepherd’, page 48

[2] Kenneth Bailey, ‘The Good Shepherd’, page 48

[3] Matthew 7:13-14

[4] Psalm 139:7-10

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