Christ our Physician

Adapted from sermon preached at PCC Evening Worship Service on 2 Dec 2002

"He restoreth my soul" (Ps 23:3a).

We are studying the Sheep’s Psalm. We call it the Sheep’s Psalm because it was given by the Chief Shepherd to His sheep so that they may sing about Him. It is a psalm that portrays the Shepherd through His sheep’s eyes. This Shepherd is Christ. In the New Testament He is known not only as the Chief Shepherd, but also as the Good Shepherd and the Great Shepherd.

As our Shepherd, He is many things to us, as this Psalm shows us. We have seen that:

He is our Provider: He leads us to green pastures and feeds us so we shall not want.

He is our Peacemaker: When the shepherd has fed his sheep, he makes them lie down in green pastures. Christ alone can give us peace through the ministry of His Word in this restless world.

He is our Preserver: for He leads us beside still waters that we may have refreshment necessary for the spiritual sustenance of our souls. "God provides for his people not only food and rest, but refreshment also and pleasure" (MH).

Christ not only gives us His Word, He also gives us His Spirit. By His Spirit we are enabled to know our Shepherd and to enjoy fellowship with Him.

In this fifth study, we will consider how Christ is our Physician: for "He restoreth my soul."

Let us consider three lessons:

1. Christ’s Sheep Have Need
For Restoration.

David, writing under inspiration as one who was a shepherd himself says: "He restoreth my soul." Now, these four words are only two words in the Hebrew (bbewvoyÒ yvip]n"). And the word translated "restoreth" literally means "turneth." This is one of the most common verbs in the Old Testament, and occurs a total 1,066 times. Every occurrence of the word conveys the basic idea of turning: whether it is returning, to turn back or to turn away.

It is almost proverbial that sheep are prone to wander. A sheep will stray at every temptation and opportunity.

And so is the case with the people of God. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way" (Isa 53:6) says the prophet Isaiah. "I have gone astray like a lost sheep" (Ps 119:176), says the Psalmist.

But what is it to go astray? Well, for the child of God going astray is not about leaving the church of our membership for another church.

It is about wandering from the fold by crossing the fence for the world. It is about our souls wandering from Christ our Shepherd. It is possible for us to wander from Christ while we are still coming to church regularly.

Our going astray like sheep refers to our backsliding or our wandering in sin. The LORD says through the prophet Hosea: "And my people are bent to backsliding from me" (Hosea 11:7). We are prone to stepping out of the narrow way, to walk in the broad way of lawlessness and sin.

The green pastures enclosed by the fence that keeps the sheep in is like the Word of God and the fellowship and care of God’s people. When we are grazing within, we have joy, comfort, peace and satisfaction. But when we step out of the fence, we step into the realm of lawlessness, dangers, perplexity, and guilt and sorrow and pain. And if we persist outside of the fence, we will perish forever.

As long as we step outside the fence of God’s Word and the fellowship of God’s people, we step into sin.

Temptation is like a sheep standing at a gap on the fence. Should I cross and go or should I remain? Like silly sheep, we often think that the grass is greener on the other side. Why else would a sheep of Christ step out? Like a silly sheep, the errant child of God would often choose that which is bad for him rather than what is good,—because he has taken his eyes off his Shepherd, and has begun to lean on his own understanding.

So he decides to pursue after riches first rather than righteousness because he imagines that riches would sustain him in this life whereas righteousness is not really necessary until he is ready to meet the Lord. So he would seek riches first and righteousness second.

So he begins to read glossy magazines rather than the Bible because he feels that he already knows all he needs to know from the Bible.

So he begins to use Sabbath afternoons to watch TV rather than to go for Bible Study or Worship or to read a good Christian book.

So he begins to forsake the assembling of himself together with other sheep for worship as long as he can lay hands on a flimsy excuse.

So he begins to shy away from the Shepherd and His sheep, and begins to be more and more familiar with wolves and goats and wild animals.

So he begins to forsake biblical principles as a rule of life, and begins to adopt worldly, materialistic principles…

Dear sheep of Christ, have you wandered out of the fold? Have you wandered away from Christ by failing to follow and obey Him? Listen to the psalmist:

"He is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness" (Ps 95:7-8).

You need restoration!

But what is it to be restored from backsliding and sin? It is to be forgiven, to be cleansed of our unrighteousness. It is to be healed in our soul.

Like a sheep gone astray, you need to be brought back to the Shepherd, or you will die. A sheep without its shepherd is easy prey to all the wild animals in the wilderness. A sheep of Christ who has wandered away from Christ faces all sorts of dangers, for Satan is prowling about like a lion, waiting to pounce upon any sheep that has wandered.

Are you wandering, dearly beloved sheep of Christ? I cannot see your heart. I don’t know if you are wandering from Christ in your heart. But I must warn you that as long as you are wandering, your soul is in danger.

But secondly, consider that…

2. Christ Alone Can Restore You.

David says: "He restoreth my soul…" My Shepherd — the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd — He restores my soul.

In saying that Christ restores his soul, David is surely referring to his experience that sheep that are wandering away will generally not go back to the fold and Shepherd by themselves.

We have known of dogs finding their way home after they are lost. Some of them are known to have traversed hundred of miles in order to get back home. But not sheep! In some ways, sheep are dumb animals. They will never get home by themselves. If the shepherd does not go out for them, they are as good as gone forever.

Mr MacMillan the shepherd turned pastor, tells us that half of his time as a shepherd was spent worrying over and looking for sheep that have strayed. Going after strays is one of the most time consuming job of a shepherd. David would have known this fact too. And not only David, but the Scripture everywhere testifies to this fact.

In Psalm 119:176, for example, the psalmist says, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant…" "Seek thy servant"! Notice the petition: I have gone astray like a lost sheep, I know not how to go back myself, seek me Lord, lead me back, restore me, for I know not how to go back.

Remember the parable of the Lost Sheep? Note that the lost sheep does not go back by itself. It would not go back by itself; it does not know how to go back by itself; and it cannot go back by itself.

The shepherd has to go. He has to leave the ninety and nine to go after the one lost sheep.

Thank God for Christ who comes for us. How does He come for us?

He comes for us first by laying down His life for us.

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa 53:6).

He laid down His life for our sakes in order to turn away God’s wrath from us. He died as our propitiation. It was through His sacrifice in Psalm 22 that our Lord may be the Shepherd in Psalm 23.

Christ comes to us, secondly, through His Word read and heard. "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting (bWv) the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple" (Ps 19:7) says David. Now, the word translated "converting" is the same word as that rendered "restoreth" in our text. To restore the soul is the same as to convert, or literally, to turn back the soul. The Word of God is the primary means of restoration.

But the Word does not work alone. Christ comes to us to convert us — particularly, by sending His Spirit into our hearts. In the parable of the Lost Son, the son is said to come to himself. But the son cannot come to himself or realise his sin by natural causes. All men are dead in sin and trespasses, dead men cannot raise themselves.

No, he came to himself because the Spirit of Christ was sent to open his eyes so that he saw his own wickedness. This is why Scripture insists that both faith and repentance are the gift of God. This gift is given by a change of heart. We have by nature a goat’s heart that loves the world, but the Spirit of Christ gives us a sheep’s heart so that we hear the voice of our Shepherd and follow Him.

That was when we were first brought into the fold. "[We] were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of [our] souls" (1Pt 2:25) says the apostle Peter.

But thirdly, as sheep are prone to wander, so we are prone to wander. And we continue to wander even after we were brought back to the fold. How does our Shepherd bring us back?

He brings us back in the same way as He first brought us in: By His Word. And His Word comes to us particularly through preaching, but it comes also through reading and through the admonition of fellow sheep.

The Psalmist says:

"He is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart" (Ps 95:7-8).

When the New Testament refers to this verse, it speaks not only about the voice of the shepherd in preaching; it speaks also about the voices of fellow sheep:

"12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. 13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end" (Heb 3:12-14)

We are to encourage one another and admonish one another because we are blind to our own sin. The Lord our Shepherd warns us about this when He tells us how we are quick to see the mote in our brother’s eyes, but fail to see the beam in our own eyes. The Lord is teaching us not to judge one another. But that does not mean that we must not lovingly admonish one another. This is our duty to one another, for we are so easily hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Dearly beloved, do you know your Shepherd? He is a good Shepherd. He laid down His life for His sheep. He will not allow them to wander away too long. He will call them back and they will hear Him. They will return and He will embrace them because He loves them.

Do not ever doubt if Christ your Shepherd will receive you back if you hear His voice and come back to Him in humility. He will not only receive you back, but He will wash your sin in His own blood so that "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isa 1:18).

But finally, take note that…

3. Restoration Can Often Be Very Uncomfortable Or Even Painful.

An Eastern shepherd whose sheep is lost will often set out to look for his sheep. When he finds his sheep, he does not simply walk his sheep back. You cannot lead a sheep like you lead a dog.

No, the shepherd will tie its legs together. You can be sure that the sheep will struggle when this is done. No sheep likes to be restrained. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to shear a sheep while in Tasmania. It looked so easy when the shearers do it. But I quickly realise that sheep do not meekly sit down to be sheared. They have to be restrained and they will struggle. I had sheep’s blood on my pants because the sheep I was shearing struggled.

Yes, it is uncomfortable to have its legs tied, but it is for the sheep’s good. Then the shepherd will sling the sheep over his shoulder and carry the sheep in this way. Ah, it may look very comfortable, but it really is not comfortable for the shepherd or the sheep. The sheep will have its stomach pressed against the neck of the shepherd, and that can be most uncomfortable.

But it is necessary.

And not only so, but a shepherd who has worked with sheep will know that shepherds will sometimes have to take drastic actions in order to restore their sheep. Some sheep are more prone to wander than others. And sometimes the shepherd may have to chastise the sheep. I mentioned in an earlier sermon how a certain shepherd broke the legs of one of his sheep that was particularly wayward. I am not sure if this was done in the East during David’s time, as the flock would almost always be constantly on the move. But we can assume that an exasperated shepherd will sometimes mete out punitive measures.

Such measures are painful, but necessary—For the sake of the straying sheep; and for the sake of the health and safety of the flock.

Now, dearly beloved, this is the case in the flock of Christ too. The steps of restoration for one who has strayed from Christ are almost always painful. This is so because before Christ will restore his sheep by forgiveness, He must first bring the sheep to recognise and to repent of his sin. It is this process of bringing the person to see his or her sin that is often very painful. It is painful in different ways.

In the first place, pain can come in the way of affliction. The psalmist says: "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word" (Ps 119:67). Our Shepherd often uses chastisements to turn us back to Himself. The writer of Hebrews instructs us that we are chastised because our heavenly Father loves us. Such providential chastisements are painful but necessary to restore us back to Christ.

So the Lord sometimes send illnesses, loss of property, loss of jobs, broken relationships, failures, loss of love ones, loss of prestige, loss of face, etc, to turn us back to Himself.

In the second place, the pain of restoration can come in the way of admonishment and rebuke. Which of us enjoys being rebuked or admonished? But "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Prov 27:6) says Solomon.

Now, it is because we know how painful it can be for an erring sheep to be rebuked, most of us hate to inflict faithful wounds. Is it not true that very often we would rather try to keep our friendship with an erring brother than to restore him?

But do you realise that if you know a brother or sister to be in sin, and you refuse to admonish him or her when the opportunity arises, then you become in some ways a partaker of the person’s sin?

The psalmist Asaph puts it this way: "When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers" (Ps 50:18). In the New Testament, referring to those that hold damnable heresies, the apostle John says: "For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (2 Jn 11)

Is this not the reason why Scripture reminds us over and over again about rebuking and admonishing one another in love (1 Tim 5:20; 2 Tim 4:2; Tit 1:13)? And it is the duty, not only of the minister, but also of every sheep of Christ. It is the duty of ministers to rebuke in general terms on the pulpit; but it is the duty of members to admonish one another specifically in private.

Admonishment and rebuke are necessary for restoration. It can be painful. But it is one of the ways appointed by our Shepherd for our restoration, and we should exercise it and be thankful when we receive it.

In the third place, the pain of restoration can come in the way of church discipline. Yes, church discipline is restorative, not punitive.

It is weightier than private admonishment and general rebuke from the pulpit. And it is even more painful, but it is necessary.

Our Lord teaches us in Matthew 18 that if someone trespasses against us, our first step should be to go to him in private. But if he would not hear, we must take one or two witnesses with us. If he still would not hear, then, we are to tell it to the church.

When this happens, the church, represented by the elders must begin the process of church discipline. The elders will examine the case, and if the offender is found to be guilty, he will be called to repent. If he fails to repent, the elders may have to enact disciplinary measures against him in the hope of winning him back.

In severe cases, this may involve excommunication in which the unrepentant brother will be regarded as a heathen man and a publican.

The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians spoke also of ex-communication. There was a man who was committing gross fornication, and so Paul urged the elders of the church, "to deliver [him] unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor 5:5).

Church discipline is always painful. But it is necessary. In fact it is so necessary that most Reformed churches will regard a church that does not practice discipline faithfully to be not a true branch of Christ.

A lot of wisdom and discretion is required in the exercise of church discipline. Church discipline, you must realise, is not equal to excommunication. Sometimes discipline may involve a verbal rebuke; sometime it involves a letter of warning; sometime it involves temporary barring from the Lord’s Table. In more scandalous cases, excommunication is called for. But whatever form it takes, church discipline is always painful.

Because we are prone to wander, we are often in need of restoration. Restoration can often be very painful.

But beloved sheep, if you love the Shepherd, will you not humbly submit to His chastising hand or to rebuke and admonishment, or even to church discipline should the need arise?

You know, rebuke, admonishment and discipline are always painful because of our pride. But we must not despise these things as they are the loving means that our Shepherd has instituted for our restoration.

Let us forsake our self-righteousness and humbly submit to our Shepherd’s restoration. Let us forbear to give excuses for our sin, but humbly confess them. And oh do not say that you are not self-righteous. Calvin is surely right that "there is no one who does not cherish within himself some opinion of his own pre-eminence" (ICR 3.7.4).

Is it not true that the reason why the sheep of Christ wander in the first place is often because they have too high an opinion of themselves, and so begin to assert their independence and autonomy?

If you will be restored, you must mortify your self-righteousness and pride. Only such as are meek and poor in spirit will inherit heaven. Oh if you feel anger rising in your heart when you hear rebuke and admonishment, do not entertain it as righteous anger. Realise that it is pride and humbly confess it to the Lord.

And if you feel pain in your conscience as the Lord begins to restore you, do not brush it aside or mollify your conscience by lame excuses. Flee rather from your sin, and come to the Shepherd. The pain of restoration is worth it, for the joy of renewed fellowship with Christ is sweet.


"He restoreth my soul." The sheep of Christ need restoration. Christ only can restore. But the process of restoration is often painful. Dear sheep of Christ, will you not thank God that you are not left alone? Christ our Shepherd does not leave us to stray. He restores our soul.

Thank God that He did not leave us to perish in our sins. Thank God that He brings us back and forgives us and cleanses our hearts of all unrighteousness when we confess our guilt unto Him.

Is there anyone with us this morning who is still wandering outside the fold?

Perhaps you grew up as a lamb in a Christian home, but today your heart is wandering.

Perhaps, you have never believed in the Lord Jesus, but something in you tells you that you can have no rest in your soul until you go to Christ.

Or perhaps you were once a loving and faithful sheep of Christ, but something happened and you have become cynical and have been straying from Christ in your heart.

Whatever may be your situation, you have need of restoration. Your soul needs healing. Will you not flee to the Shepherd, to Christ our Physician? Christ can restore you. Christ can wash away your guilty stains. Christ alone can give you the peace in your conscience that your heart craves. Christ alone can give you comfort and rest and real happiness in this sin drenched world.


—JJ Lim