The Psalm of the Resurrection
On the first day Jesus was crucified on the Cross, revealing the self-sacrificial nature of the Triune God. As we saw in Psalm 22, Jesus took great comfort in the ‘joy set before him’ – that joy that was set before him is what we celebrate today – the third day – the Day of Resurrection. We can of course, as with the crucifixion, read the Gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb and the great joy that Mary and the disciples must have felt when they met with Jesus again. But just as Psalm 22 grants us an intimate insight into the experience of Jesus at the crucifixion, so Psalm 23 presents to us Jesus’ prayer of resurrection hope.
The Comfort of the Shepherd
The very first verse reveals to us the confidence that the Son has in his Father: ‘The LORD is my shepherd.’ Just as Psalm 22 shows the great agony of the Trinity at the Cross, so Psalm 23 reveals to us the unbreakable bond between the Father and the Son. We can see exactly what lengths a shepherd goes to in order protect his lamb. David says: “When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it” (1Samuel 17:34-35). The Son shows complete trust in his Shepherd, which models to us the way that we can trust our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus himself (John 10:11-14). Verse 3 even reveals to us the comfort that the Father offers the Son, making him lie down in green pastures, and leading him beside quiet waters – the relationship between the Father and the Son is the archetype for so many of our earthly relationships – even though our relationships fall infinitely short of the bond that we find between the Father and the Son.
Passing Through Death
But what situation did the Son find himself in that made him look to his Shepherd in this way? Well, if we’ve read Psalm 22 we already know the answer, but Psalm 23:4 tells us: ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.’ After his death on the Cross, Jesus had to pass right through death – but notice that it is only the shadow of death – with the Father as his Shepherd, even death becomes just a shadow for the Son. And after all: ‘The sting of death is sin’ (1Corinthians 15:56). Jesus didn’t need to fear death and evil (v.4) because he was the one without sin. Jesus knew that even in such desperate circumstances his Shepherd was with him (v.4) and as he passed through death he went to join the Father in heaven (Luke 23:42-43). Jesus also found great comfort in his Father’s Rod and Staff – symbolic of the power of judgement that belongs to the LORD. Jesus knew that the justice of his Father’s judgement would have the final word (v.4).
This reveals to us some of the intimate dynamics of the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son looks to the Father as his Shepherd, trusting him and finding comfort in him. The Son is in no doubt that his Father loves him and will not abandon him. What we see here in Psalm 23 is a window into the love that the Father and the Son have shared since eternity past. Jesus exclaims himself: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
This kind of total trust and security found in the relationship between the Son and his Shepherd models to us exactly the kind of trust that we can have in our Shepherd, Jesus – the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-14). It is by looking at the bond between Jesus and his Shepherd that we are able to see the commitment that our Shepherd has to his people. What a great comfort!
The Hope of the Resurrection and the Return of the Son
In verse 5 Jesus looks forward to the welcome home that he will receive when he returns to the Father’s house – with a banquet being prepared for him (v.5-6). Verse 6 literally says ‘I will return to the house of the LORD forever.’ Only Jesus could possibly claim to be returning to the house of the LORD and that joyous event is something we will see clearly in Psalm 24 on the Day of Ascension.
In verse 5 Jesus rejoices in the fact that he has been anointed by the Father – he is the Anointed One – The Messiah – The Christ. Just as when David was anointed by Samuel with oil ‘the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power’ (1Samuel 16:13), so when Jesus was anointed by the Father, the Spirit descended upon him (Matthew 3:13-17). Jesus was anointed for his special ministry as the Christ – the one who would hang on the Cross and eventually rise in glory – he rejoices in his ministry as his cup overflows (Psalm 23:5) and he knew that goodness and love would follow him all the days of his life (v.6).