Christ our Peacemaker

Adapted from sermon preached at PCC Evening Worship Service on 17 Nov 2002

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures" (Ps 23:2).

Psalm 23 may be known as the Sheep’s Psalm. It is a Psalm that portrays the Shepherd through His sheep’s eyes. It is a Psalm given by the Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ to His sheep. But it is a Psalm about Him. It is a Psalm that glorifies Him as the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd.

We have already seen that He is our provider, and therefore we are satisfied: We shall not want. In this third study of this beautiful psalm, we want to consider another description of Him, namely that He is our peacemaker, for he makes us lie down in green pastures. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures," says David.

What does this mean? What is significant about making a sheep lie down? Now, I cannot tell you all the reasons why a shepherd will want to make his sheep lie down, but I would imagine that it is necessary for the health of the shepherd and the health of the sheep that the sheep should be made to lie down. But of course, knowing the reason why the shepherd makes the sheep lie down is not the most important point. The fact is that Christ our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures. This is the key to understanding this verse: He makes us lie down.

Spiritually, this refers to the Lord giving us peace and rest in a restless, sin drenched world. Are we not living in such a world?

On the economic front we are in a rat race, with a race track that is constantly shifting because of sin. Many have lost their jobs; and many others are struggling to meet up with unreasonable demands.

On the social front we hear of terrorism, wars and rumours of war.

On the familial front, there is the competition for our children to do well at schools.

We live a restless life. Many are stressed out and have resorted to alcohol and drugs. Many rely on caffeine and other stimulants to get through the day, and then sleeping pills to get through the nights.

Most are crying out for rest and seeking rest and satisfaction in sports and entertainment, in aimless internet surfing, in bar hopping, in posh dinners, in expensive vacations, in material procurements, etc. But these things do not provide real and lasting satisfaction. We desperately need rest for our souls. And Christ our shepherd alone can give this rest, for as Augustine has rightly said: "our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." Our souls are restless until they find rest in Christ. Christ alone can make us rest.

Now, I have never been a Shepherd, but the Scottish minister, Rev. Douglas MacMillan was a shepherd for 12 years before he was called to be an under-shepherd to the Lord’s flock. Mr MacMillan tells us,—in his sermons on the 23rd Psalm,—that there are 4 things that will keep a sheep from lying down. There are 4 conditions that must be satisfied before the sheep will lie down, and the shepherd must ensure that these conditions are met if they want their sheep to lie down. Dr Joel Beeke also spoke and elaborated on these four conditions in his series of messages entitled Jehovah Shepherding His Sheep.

This evening, the Lord helping us, we would like to look at these four conditions. But before we do so, allow me briefly to recommend the two books I have just mentioned for those of us who wish to augment our brief expositions with sound reading. Mr MacMillan’s book is very delightful and can be read in one sitting; Dr Beeke’s book is deeply experimental and very rich. They are both expository and very helpful.

But now let us put aside the two books and consider God’s Word: "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures."

There are, as I mentioned, four conditions that must be met to make a sheep lie down.

1. Freedom of Fear

The first condition that must be met before the sheep will lie down is a freedom of fear. Sheep are very timid creatures that are easily frightened. I well remember the first time I had the opportunity to see sheep grazing in the green pastures. As with all Singaporeans, the first thing we did was to take out the camera. But we could never get close to any of the sheep. Then we spotted a sheep lying down on the green grass in a distant. What a wonderful picture of peace and serenity. If you see it you will know what I mean. Well, it is such a sight that we wanted to share. Perhaps if we walk up slowly and gently enough, we might get a picture of the sheep lying down: or so we thought. But no! No sooner had we taken a couple of steps in its direction then the sheep was up on its feet and scurrying off.

When a sheep is lying down it is always on the alert. The moment anything strange appears too close, it would be up on its feet. No sheep would lie down in the presence of a strange person or animal. They will only lie down when they know it is safe to do so. Fear keeps the sheep from lying down even when it desperately needs to do so.

So too in the case of a Christian! When God created the world, and placed Adam and Eve in paradise, fear was unknown. Fear entered the world when Adam fell into sin. Remember how Adam and Eve hid themselves, and how Adam said to God: "I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself" (Gen 3:10). Adam was not afraid because he was shy that he had no clothes on. He was afraid because he had become a sinner, and He knew that God is absolutely holy.

Today sin, together with guilt and alienation from God, continue to make us afraid so that we have no rest. Only Christ Jesus can give us peace and rest by taking away the reason for our fears. Our fears arise from the fact that we have sinned; they arise because we know that God is a holy God who hates sin.

Christ Jesus alone gives us peace with God by being the propitiation to turn away God’s wrath from us. This is why He calls out unto us who are burdened by guilt and fears: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). Christ our shepherd alone can give us rest.

As we saw this morning, He gives us rest by being with us as our advocate and propitiation. Christ as a good shepherd does not only remove the reasons for our fears, He also stays with us to comfort us. "I will be with you always, I will never forsake you nor leave you" says our shepherd. For this reason, we can rest. With Christ our shepherd constantly with us, we need not fear at all. We can lie down. We can have peace even though the world may be in turmoil. Indeed, we can rest even though we may have many cares and struggles within our heart. When we look at Christ and all He has done for us, and we understand His love for us, then our fears dissipate, and we can indeed say: "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures."

2. Freedom of Antagonism within the Flock

The second thing that keeps a sheep from lying down is antagonism or friction within the flock.

This may sound very surprising, but experienced shepherds tell us that sheep has character and temperament too. Mr MacMillan, for example tells us that there are what he calls "bully boy" sheep. These are sheep that have particularly strong character and tends to bully other sheep to show that they are the bosses. So, for example, a flock of sheep may be lying down peacefully, then along comes the bully boy, and he stamps his feet, and dilate his eyes, looking very fierce and showing off how great he is. The sheep lying down would inevitably get up and keep a distance from him.

Isn’t it amazing that even in a flock of proverbially peace-loving sheep, there should be such a phenomena. And I think that every pastor will agree with Mr MacMillan that this often happens in the flock of Christ too. Mr MacMillan speaks of a particular woman whose job required her to travel and therefore she worshipped and had fellowship in numerous congregations, and oh what heartaches and anguish she caused in every congregation she went to!

Are there any bully sheep in our midst? Are you a bully sheep? Have you been a source of heartache and anguish to others in the flock? Resist being so. Look to the Shepherd and learn of Him. He is our peacemaker. He came to reconcile us to God by turning away His wrath from us. He came also to bring peace within the flock.

Christ did not come to bring peace on earth (Lk 12:51). He came to bring division on earth. But He came certainly to give peace to his flock.

God is the God of peace (1Th 5:23; Heb 13:20 etc). So the Lord Jesus teaches us: "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Mt 5:9).

Christ is the King of Peace (Heb 7:2). So the apostle Paul teaches us—

"the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.… Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" (Rom 14:17-19)

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of peace for He binds the church in a bond of peace and peace is one of His fruit (Gal 5:22). And so we are taught to "[endeavour] to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3).

The flock of Christ ought to be able to lie down in peace in the green pastures. There ought to be peace in the flock. But sadly, this is often not the case. Very often sheep behave worse then goats that we meet in the streets or in the business world. But this arises because of sin and self. How does strife occur in the flock but when some sheep think themselves to be better than other sheep. They may think themselves to be more intelligent, more gifted, or even more spiritual, more biblical, more Reformed and yea even more humble. They consider themselves better than others. They get jealous when others get more attention. They allow, in the words of the writer of Hebrews, the root of bitterness to spring up to trouble them (Heb 12:15). But oh dearly beloved, do not be the cause of pain and heartaches in the flock of God.

If you have any bitterness in your heart, go to Christ, seek his forgiveness, seek His cleansing, forgive and seek forgiveness. It is not enough just to forgive. If it is enough just to forgive, the Lord would not have told us to leave the gift at the altar to go our way to be reconciled with our brother who have aught against us. After all, the altar, the place of worship is surely the best place to repent and to forgive. No, it is necessary that we seek reconciliation and forgiveness that the peace within the flock may be maintained.

If you find yourself, once, twice in the middle of controversies, do not sit smugly thinking that the fault lies with others, go to Christ your Shepherd, ask Him to help you to be a peace-loving sheep that his name may be honoured to all who look into the flock. For the character of the flock ought to reflect the character of the Shepherd!

3. Freedom from Parasites & Flies

The third thing that keeps the sheep from lying down in peace is the presence of parasites and flies. This is especially problematic during summer months. The flies will crowd round the sheep, and irritate them so that they will not lie down. Indeed, they are not only irritating, but when they strike a sheep, they will lay eggs on the wool, and the maggots will eat the sheep alive. The sheep will die a horrible death.

So all sheep farmers will regularly dip their sheep in some chemicals. I remember seeing the dipping tank in Tasmania when we visited a sheep shearing set up. We were told that the sheep had to be dunk into the chemical tank forcefully so that they would be completely soaked. While this may seem very cruel, it is obviously for their good.

Now, sheep that are not treated with appropriate dips will be very restless during summer months because of the flies and parasites such as lice. They will not lie down to rest, and neither are they able to defend themselves against the strikes. So they run from bushes to bushes to try to protect themselves from the flies. But that may be worse. Not only will they not be protected from the flies, but they often get entangled.

So too in the flock of Christ! Are there not many things that irritate the flock so that Christians are often restless and know not the peace that the world does not understand—the peace that Christ our Shepherd promised to give?

Many things worry us and irritate us. We worry about tomorrow whether we will be the next to lose our job. We are irritated by what somebody did or say. We worry about what others think of us. The preacher worries about how the congregation is responding to the Word preached. The congregation is irritated by the preacher’s lack of clarity or eloquence.

What do we do with these irritants? Oh do not run to the bush. Do not seek your own solutions according to your own wisdom. Go to your Shepherd. Cast your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you. Do not allow the cares of this world to rob you of your joy and peace. Do not allow personality differences that are of little consequence to rob you of your joy in the Lord. Go to the Shepherd, plead your cause and ask Him to make you lie down.

Those of us who remember to go to the Shepherd with those things that irritate us will often find those things to be so minor that we laugh at our pettiness. But our Shepherd cares. He will not allow those little flies and lice to eat us away. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.

4. Freedom from Hunger

Finally, the last thing that keeps a sheep from lying down is hunger. A sheep that is hungry will always be on its feet grazing. It will not lie down. It will lie down only if it is contented.

A sheep, you know, is a ruminant. This means that its stomach has four chambers. When it has eaten its fill, and the other conditions are satisfied, the sheep will lie down, and it will regurgitate what it has eaten, and it will ruminate on what it had earlier swallowed.

This is a wonderful picture for the sheep in Christ’s pasture is it not? How does Christ feed us? He feeds us with His Word and with the Means of Grace. No true Christian will know any satisfaction and rest unless they eat of God’s word and make liberal use of the means of grace and ordinances.

Many who profess to be sheep never found rest because they know not to graze when they are placed in the green pasture by the Lord. So they return to the ways of the world, foolishly thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But these will remain emaciated and will know little satisfaction and comfort in their hearts.

The grass that our Shepherd provides us is a special grass suited for our breed. No other grass will do. The more we graze on this grass, the more we will know and love our Shepherd. Indeed, the more we graze on this grass, the more we will be like Him.

Dear sheep of Christ, have you been grazing in the pasture of the Lord? If you will not graze, you will not grow. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet 2:2).

Take every opportunity to hear the Word read. Strive not to miss any occasion that Christ your Shepherd assigns for you to graze. The Sabbath is a day of rest because it is a day in which Christ will especially feed us that we may be satisfied. Make use of the Sabbath wisely. But not only on the Sabbath! You must also read your Bible daily. Read it by yourself, read it in your family. Study it with the help of a commentary, but more importantly study it with prayer and the illuminating help of the Spirit of Christ.

And not only so, remember to regurgitate the Word heard and read, that you may ruminate on it. Do so at every spare moment that you have, redeeming the time, for time is short. If you are at the bus stop, and you are not grazing, why not ruminate? If you are lying on your bed and you can’t sleep, why not ruminate?

But of course, remember, you will have nothing to ruminate unless you first graze. Only a sheep that is fed will be able to lie down in peace. But the sheep has the responsibility too to make use of what the Shepherd provides. The sheep that avails himself to these means will find contentment and rest for his soul. Do you know this contentment? Can you say with the psalmist: "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures!"


Dearly beloved brethren, boys and girls, do you know the rest that Christ alone can give?

Dr Joel Beeke preaching a message on Psalm 23 to his congregation spoke about how a visitor to their church once went with a shepherd to watch his flock.

In the course of the day, he saw the shepherd carrying food and water to a sheep that was lying down with a broken leg. So he asked the shepherd: "How did this sheep break her leg?" The shepherd did not answer.

The visitor did not give up:

"Did she break it by catching it in a hole?" The shepherd said "no!"

"Did she break it while fighting other sheep?" "No."

"Did she trip and fall on a stone?" "No."

"Did your shepherd-dog break her leg?" "No."

Finally, the shepherd arose and told the visitor the truth. "I broke it myself" he said quietly. "This sheep was stubbornly and continuously wandering away from the right path, and was beginning to lead many others astray with her. It came to a point where her stubbornness demanded that I break her leg for her own welfare. I finally broke it in order to force her to lie down, as well as to reset it so that she would learn her lesson to follow me."

Is this not often the case with us too, O sheep of Christ? Are we not often so stubborn, so resistant to the good that Christ would do to us? There is a Chinese idiom that speaks of the fruitlessness of speaking to cows. Are we like the Bulls of Bashan rather than sheep at the hearing of the Word? If we persist to be stubborn and rebellious, Christ our Shepherd may have to break our legs… in order that we may learn to lie down in the green pasture that He has provided for us.

Many of us have not had our legs broken yet. Those whose legs had been broken will know to love and obey the Lord deeply. Indeed, some of us will remember how stubborn we were until our Shepherd broke our legs that we learn to put our trust in Him. Dear friends, and children, and beloved, are you still wandering about restlessly? Will you not come to the Shepherd to find rest in Him before He breaks your legs for your good?

Trust Him. He is a faithful Shepherd. All that we need He can provide. The rest and peace that we desperately need, He promises to provide. When we put our trust in Him, we will taste of this rest in this life, and we will enjoy it perfectly in the life to come. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Amen.

—JJ Lim