Pursued

Scripture: Psalm 23:6a

(with reference to Luke 23:39-43)

 

Title: Pursued

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Pursued by goodness & mercy
  • Jesus and the thief on the cross
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Today we continue our series on Psalm 23 – a song attributed to King David

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

–         The first 4 verses use the shepherding metaphor

–         Then, in verse 5, the metaphor changes to that of a host and his guest

–         The Lord is both a good shepherd and a generous host to David

 

Pursued by goodness and mercy:

This morning we begin to look at verse 6…

–         Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life

 

Verse 6 suggests a journey through life

–         David is saying in effect, ‘Lord, as I walk through life, your goodness and mercy follow me’

 

In the original Hebrew the word for ‘follow’ means pursue

–         So the sense here is not so much that David is leaving behind goodness and mercy (like bread crumbs) wherever he goes

–         Rather David is being pursued through life by God’s goodness & mercy

 

This is an interesting thing for David to say

–         David was a soldier for most of his life

–         And if you are a soldier then you don’t want to be pursued

–         You want to be the one doing the pursuing

–         If you are being pursued in a battle then it probably means you are losing and your enemies are close behind – after your blood

 

David knew all about being pursued by enemies – after all king Saul chased David to try and kill him for a number of years

 

But David doesn’t dwell on those negative experiences

–         He chooses to remember his past more positively

–         He doesn’t think of himself being chased by enemies

–         He thinks of himself being pursued by something good

–         And that makes all the difference

 

Because when you think that you are being pursued by people who mean you harm, you are not free – you are driven, anxious, pressured and exhausted

–         Always running, always looking over your shoulder, like Sarah Connor being pursued by the Terminator

 

But when you think, ‘I’m being pursued by someone who loves me and wants good for me’, then you’re not in so much of a hurry

–         You don’t mind goodness and mercy catching up with you

–         In fact you look forward to it

 

It’s kind of like when a young man pursues a woman he loves

–         Not in a creepy, stalking kind of way, but in a romantic way

–         If you are a woman and you like the guy who is pursuing you romantically, then you probably look forward to receiving flowers and chocolates and poetry and other gestures of love from him

 

So that’s the first thing…

–         Because David thinks of himself as being pursued (not by an enemy) but by someone who cares for him – he’s not worried about the future

–         He is set free by the joy of anticipating something good

 

Another thing that I find striking about this verse is that David does not say…

–         ‘Surely I will pursue goodness and mercy all the days of my life’

–         No. He says, …goodness and mercy will pursue me

–         Some people might think, ‘tomartoe, tomaytoe’, but the order is quite significant really

 

When asked, ‘What makes Christianity different from any other religion?’

–         C.S. Lewis responded, “That’s easy. Grace”

–         You see, Christianity is the only religion where God comes to humanity

–         Every other religion humanity has to do something in order to reach God

–         Go on a pilgrimage, do some good deeds, say some prayers, whatever

–         But with Christianity God says…

–         “Let’s be honest here. You are never going to be able to reach me by your own efforts. You’ll never be good enough or holy enough. So how about I just come to you and you receive me by faith?”

–         And that’s what God did – he came to us in the form of a human being

–         In the form of his Son Jesus

 

Now one of the implications of being followed (or pursued) by goodness & mercy is that there is a time lag as you wait for goodness & mercy to catch up with you

–         In other words, being followed by goodness & mercy doesn’t mean David always experienced those things in the present

–         Quite often life was difficult for David

–         Like when Saul was trying to kill him

–         Or when his son Absalom conspired against him

–         Or when he was caught out committing adultery with Bathsheba

–         And in those times he was waiting, in faith, for God’s goodness & mercy to catch up and overtake him

–         But knowing that God’s goodness and mercy wasn’t far behind gave him hope and buoyancy in the present

 

Okay then, what is meant by goodness & mercy?

 

Well, the word goodness (‘tov’ in the Hebrew) encompasses things like, “pleasant, useful, efficient, beautiful, kind, right and morally good” [1]

 

And the word mercy translates from the Hebrew ‘hesed’

–         Hesed can also be translated as steadfast love, loyal love or covenant love

–         Hesed refers to a relationship with someone who is committed to your well-being for the long haul

–         When the chips are down and you need help they will be there for you

 

The classic story of hesed, in the Bible, is the story of Ruth

–         Ruth personifies God’s goodness & mercy to Naomi

–         Naomi lost her husband and her two sons

–         And when she prepared to leave the country of Moab to return to Bethlehem in Israel, her daughter-in-law Ruth followed her

–         Ruth showed goodness and steadfast love to Naomi

–         “Where you go I will go… Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die.”

–         Ruth provided Naomi with food and eventually with grandchildren

–         Of course it took time for Ruth’s goodness & mercy to catch up with Naomi. Ruth, incidentally, was one of David’s ancestors

 

Jesus and the thief on the cross:

Psalm 23 points to Jesus

–         Jesus is the good shepherd and the generous host

–         It is Jesus’ goodness and mercy which follows us

 

Please turn with me to Luke chapter 23, verse 39 – page 114 toward the back of your pew Bibles

–         This chapter in Luke tells about the crucifixion of Jesus

–         Two criminals were led out to die with Jesus – one on his left and the other on his right. This is their story…

 

39 One of the criminals hanging there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 The other one, however, rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence he did. 41 Ours, however, is only right, because we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.”

42 And he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!”

43 Jesus said to him, “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.”

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

In the Disney film Bridge to Terabithia a boy called ‘Jess’ loses a friend – she drowns one day while trying to cross a swollen stream

–         Jess is only about 12 and struggles to come to terms with the loss

–         Even though he wasn’t there when his friend drowned, he thinks it is his fault.

–         Haunted by his guilt Jess hears a sound in the woods

–         He imagines he is being pursued by some kind of monster and so he runs for his life

–         When he trips on a log his pursuer catches up with him

–         But it isn’t the monster he fears – it is his Dad

 

Jess asks his father about the friend he lost, “Is it like the Bible says? Is she going to hell?”

–         Somehow Jess got the wrong idea about God and the Bible

–         So his Dad responds, “I don’t know everything about God but I know he isn’t going to send that girl to hell”

 

“But I’m going to hell because it’s all my fault” – this is what Jess thinks

–         But his Dad reassures him saying, “No – don’t you even think like that”

–         “That girl gave you something special. That’s what you hold on to”

 

Jess is not overtaken by the judgement or punishment he imagines he deserves

–         Jess is followed, pursued and finally overtaken by goodness & mercy

 

Sometimes we Christians can be like that boy Jess – we can go through life driven by guilt and fear

–         Feeling like we are being pursued by God’s judgement

–         God is a judge – but he is also a loving father

–         He’s not chasing us down to give us a hiding

–         He is pursuing us to offer his goodness and mercy

–         We just need to be still long enough for God to catch up

 

Returning to Luke 23

–         The criminal who stuck up for Jesus seemed to know (in his crucified state) that he was powerless to pursue goodness & mercy himself

–         There was nothing he could do to go after holiness – he was literally nailed to the spot

–         But he recognised that goodness & mercy had come to him, in the person of Jesus – all he had to do was accept Christ’s goodness & mercy

–         So, in faith (and with nothing to lose), he confessed his allegiance to Jesus saying, Remember me when you come as King

–         And Jesus said, today you will be in Paradise with me

–         Paradise is a place where goodness & mercy do not lag behind our present experience – a place where good things finally catch up with us

–         No more suffering, no more tears – joy forevermore

 

Conclusion:

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life is a statement of faith

–         It is a choice to believe that the current reality we are going through is not permanent – that the best is yet to come

–         That our pain, suffering, guilt and grief will be overtaken one day by Jesus’ goodness and mercy for us

–         In the meantime, like David, like Naomi and like the criminal on the cross we may have to wait (in hope) for paradise to catch up

 

In a moment we are going to pray a responsive prayer together

–         I will pray the words in plain type and I invite you to respond by praying the words in bold italics

–         We’ve been on a bit of a journey with Psalm 23 this year and now we are nearing the end of this series

–         This prayer takes us through David’s psalm – it is meant as a prayer of adoration to God. Let us pray…

 

Jesus, you call me personally. I recognise your voice and follow you

The Lord is my shepherd

 

Jesus, you are not selling anything but you know what I need and how to give it – food & drink, rest & rescue, friendship & hope

I shall not want

 

Jesus, you make it possible for me to rest – removing threat, satisfying hunger

He makes me lie down in green pastures

 

Jesus, you make it possible for me to drink and be refreshed – away from the busy-ness and noise, where life is deep & slow

He leads me beside still waters

 

Jesus, you find me and rescue me when I am lost – you collect me and carry me when I am too scattered to think straight

He restores my soul

 

Jesus, you point me in the right direction and help me to walk by faith, for the sake of your own integrity – because that’s who you are, the Good Shepherd

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

 

Jesus, you did not promise an easy journey – sometimes we walk in darkness, always in vulnerability – but your presence gives us courage

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

 

Jesus, you are my greatest security – protecting and correcting me

Your rod and staff they comfort me

 

Jesus, you are a generous host. You serve me yourself and my pride is undone

You prepare a table before me

 

Jesus, you are not ashamed of me. You are my friend, in public, even when everyone else hates me

In the presence of my enemies

 

Jesus, you honour me, choosing and empowering me for your unique purpose

You anoint my head with oil

 

Jesus, you keep on giving. I cannot contain your generosity. You make me think abundantly

My cup overflows

 

Jesus, you pursue me with your love. Because of you I have hope – the best is yet to come

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life

 

Jesus, nothing can separate me from you. I am at home with you in life & in death, in this world and the next

I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Amen.

 

 

Let’s stand and sing, The King of Love my Shepherd is…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] From LVTL, Lexicon, p. 349 – quoted in Kenneth Bailey’s ‘The Good Shepherd’, page 60-61.

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