Christ our Preserver

Adapted from sermon preached at PCC Evening Worship Service on 24 Nov 2002

"He leadeth me beside the still waters" (Ps 23:2b).

Psalm 23 is a song given by the Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ to His sheep. It is a psalm that portrays the Shepherd through His sheep’s eyes. It is a psalm that glorifies Christ as the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd. In this psalm, we see Christ as our Provider, Peacemaker, Preserver, Physician, Pilot, Protector, Prince, and Patron.

Thus far we have seen that Christ is our Provider and our Peacemaker. In this continuation of the series, we want to consider how Christ preserves the health of His sheep by providing refreshment for them. Christ is the Preserver of our Spiritual health.

Our text reads: "He leadeth me beside the still waters" (Ps 23:2b). Does it not bring to mind a most beautiful picture?

But David was not merely painting an idyllic picture. He was writing as one who had spent several years working as a shepherd. He knew that this was one of the things that shepherds do: They lead their sheep beside the still waters. And he knew how important it is for the sheep, that their shepherd does so.

David, of course, is not concerned about teaching us how to be a shepherd. He is speaking about what the Jehovah-Shepherd, Christ does for His flock. And he is rejoicing in this fact.

Let us consider this lovely statement under three heads.

First, let us understand that…

1. It is not enough for the sheep to eat, they have to drink.

David says: "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters" (Ps 23:2). The first part of this verse speaks about Christ feeding His sheep in the green pasture so that they are able to lie down contented. The second part speaks about Him providing water for the sheep.

Now, some of us may have the mistaken idea that herbivorous animals do not need to drink water because they will get the fluid they need from the vegetation that they eat.

Well, some years ago, my wife and I kept a couple of young rabbits for our son, but in order to save money, we did not buy a water dispenser. After all, I read in a pet-care book somewhere that you do not need to give rabbits water to drink unless you are feeding it dried food. We thought that if we fed the rabbits fresh leafy food, they would be alright. Well, as it turned out, within weeks the rabbits died. I think they died partly because of pesticide poisoning and partly because of dehydration.

Yes, herbivorous animals need to drink too. David knew better. A sheep is made up of seventy percent fluid. A sheep which has no water to drink will dehydrate. Although it gets much of its moisture from the grass, it is not enough; it needs to drink. On the average an adult sheep would drink about 10 litres of water a day. This was especially the case when David was a shepherd in Palestine, for it rains there only twice a year and much of the land was a stony and barren semi-arid desert.

But it is so even today in the lush irrigated pastures of sheep farming countries. Mr MacMillan the shepherd turned pastor, whom I referred to in our previous messages, related a very interesting experience with one of his sheep.

He tells us that in a pasture that he worked in, there was a cliff at which there was a ledge of grassy land facing the sea. The grass on this patch of ground was very attractive. And the sheep can get to it by leaping 7 feet down to the ledge. The problem is if they get down there, they cannot get back up and they would be stuck. Well, one day Mr MacMillan received a telephone call from a lobster fisherman telling him that he had seen one of his sheep trapped on the ledge.

Mr MacMillan went down immediately to rescue the sheep. He saw that the sheep must have had been there for several days because the grass had all been nibbled down. Sadly, although this wandering sheep was rescued, it died two days later. What was the cause? An autopsy revealed that there was a hardened ball of grass in its stomach. The sheep was dehydrated. It had more than enough food to live on for those few days, but it had no water, and it could not digest what it ate. It died a miserable death with a full but dry stomach.

Now, spiritual sheep need to drink too. In Psalm 42, David speaks about how his soul thirsted for God like a deer panting after the water brooks (Ps 42:1-2). He was speaking of the spiritual thirst and dryness that he experienced in his own soul. And I believe all true Christians would have had that experience. We need spiritual refreshment.

But where and how do we get spiritual refreshment? How do we drink? The example of David suggests to us that we drink spiritually in joyful worship and prayer, for David was longing for worship and fellowship with those that kept holy days.

Now, in the Scripture, water is often used as a metaphor to describe the Holy Spirit.

For example, God pronounced through the prophet Isaiah:

"I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring" (Isa 44:3).

Notice how Isaiah connects water with the spirit and spoke of spiritual dryness in terms of physical thirst.

Likewise, on the last day of the feast of the Tabernacle, which the Lord Jesus attended, He cried out:

"If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (Jn 7:37-38).

The apostle John recording this event immediately clarifies:

"But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive" (Jn 7:39).

It is because of this connection between water and the spirit, that water baptism is used as a sign and seal of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (i.e. regeneration).

But it is particularly in prayer that we experience the communion of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the apostle Paul speaks about "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph 6:18).

The experience of being spiritually dry is the experience of lacking communion in the Spirit. It is brought about sometimes by grieving the Holy Spirit; but most often by prayerlessness. If you are feeling spiritually dry, I can be sure of one thing:—You have not been praying.

The sheep of Christ need food and water. It is not enough to be reading the Scriptures, to hear sermons or to attend to the means of grace. If you come for worship or read the Scripture without prayerful preparation, your spiritual exercises become mechanical exercises. And you will experience spiritually dehydration.

Dearly beloved sheep of Christ, have you been keeping healthy not only by grazing at the Word at every opportunity, but also by washing down the Word with prayer and supplication in the Spirit? A prayerless Christian is a dehydrated Christian, if he is a Christian at all.

But secondly, take note that it is Christ our Shepherd who leads us beside still waters,—to provide us the refreshment we need to preserve our spiritual health.

2. Our Shepherd leads us to and
provides the refreshing still waters

We have learned that sheep needs water. But where do sheep get their water? David says concerning his Shepherd:—"He leadeth me beside the still waters." Only one who is an experienced shepherd will write this way, for shepherds know that sheep will not drink from rushing waters.

Now, I mentioned in a previous sermon that when I was studying in Wales, my family and I used to visit a waterfall that is located within a sheep pasture. Well, in the numerous times we went there, we never ever saw a sheep drinking water in the stream! Need we wonder why?

Again Mr MacMillan shared his experience on this matter. He tells us that he used to have to lead his sheep across two streams. The first is a fast flowing stream. This stream is narrow and rocky, and so there’s lots of ripple on the surface. The second stream was broad and shallow so that the water appears hardly to move.

He tells us that the flock had to walk about three miles to reach the first stream. And so on a hot day, many of the sheep would be so thirsty that their tongues would literally be hanging out. I never knew that sheep could hang their tongues out! But this is from an ex-shepherd!

Well as the thirsty sheep walk across the fast flowing stream one by one, not a single one of them would stop to drink! Although they are very thirsty they would not drink at all.

But when they reach the second stream half a mile down, every sheep would stop to drink.

For some reason, perhaps related to their timid disposition, sheep will not drink from rushing waters. They will only drink from still waters.

Now in the spiritual realm, there is a rough analogy too, for the sheep of Christ will particularly long for quiet times with the Lord, because it is almost always at such times that we experience blessed communion with God.

Remember Elijah? Recall the conflict at Mt Carmel, and how he ran when he heard that Jezebel was pursuing him. When Elijah reached Mt Horeb, he was expecting to meet the Lord. We are told that as Elijah stood upon the mount, the Lord sent a great and powerful wind which tore through the mountains, shattering rocks it is path. But we are told: "the LORD was not in the wind" (1 Kgs 19:11).

Then the LORD sent a great earthquake that shook mountain. But again we are told "the LORD was not in the earthquake."

Then the Lord sent a fire. It must have been a great display of God’s power to Elijah. But again we are told: "the LORD was not in the fire."

And then, after the fire: "a still small voice." God was demonstrating an important truth to Elijah. He told Zerubbabel the same thing through the prophet Zechariah: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts" (Zec 4:6).

The sheep of Christ will know this very well. It is not in dramatic events in our lives that we particularly enjoy fellowship with God. It is at times of quite worship and prayer that we enjoy the presence of the Lord, and enjoy the communion of the Holy Spirit.

And all the sheep of Christ longs for such times of refreshment. But it is not enough merely to have some quiet moments alone. It does not mean that so long as you have some quiet time by yourself that you will enjoy the spiritual refreshment that David speaks about.

Only Christ our shepherd can provide us with this spiritual refreshment that our souls long for and need. Only such as are truly united with Christ will have this experience of the sweetness of God in prayer and worship.

David says: "He leads me beside the still waters." Have you had this experience? Have you found rest and satisfaction in your soul as the love of God is shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit? Do you know the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit that is unspeakable?

The human soul is very restless. It will always be restless unless it finds rest in Christ. But instead of finding rest and refreshment in Christ, many in the world, blinded by Satan, have sought the direct opposite. They have sought carnal excitement.

They want to try new things. They go for exciting disco parties. They watch movies, which contain terrible violence—the more violent, the more attractive it is to them.

Some time ago, I was at a shopping centre near my home. I was waiting for someone. Then I caught sight of a television and a programme was on. Out of curiosity I stood for a while to watch. I don’t even know what show it was, but in the minute or so I stood there I was horrified by the kind of evil and violence that was portrayed.

The scenes were disturbing. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch those trash. I certainly would not want my children to watch them. And I believe that every child of God would be repulsed by them. How these things can be called entertainment escapes me. What benefit for the soul or body can be derived from watching such trash, I don’t know.

But this is the way that the world deals with the restlessness in their heart. They deal with it this way because they are deceived by the evil one.

But dear sheep of Christ, you know better. You know that you cannot get true refreshment unless you are in prayer and in true worship.

Thank God for our Shepherd. Thank God for the spiritual water, or the Spirit whom Christ leads us to and provides for our spiritual refreshment. Are you experiencing spiritual thirst and dryness? Let me urge you to seek refreshment from nowhere else but from the Lord. You have to pray, you have to worship. This is the only way you can quench your thirst.

Yes, ironically, such as are spiritually dehydrated actually do not feel like praying, but you must start to pray or you will slide further and further into spiritual depression.

The wheel on the machinery will get stuck and rusty unless it is oiled and used. If it has become rusty the only way to get it back to run smoothly is not to let it rest unused. It is to oil it and begin to use it again.

Sheep of Christ, are you thirsty? Do not sit there and dehydrate. Go to Christ pleading for the water: plead with him: take not thy spirit from me, but renew a right spirit within me. Lead me beside still waters that I may find refreshment for my soul—lest I perish. Then drink of that water that Christ provides. He says:

"But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (Jn 4:14)

"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Lk 11:13).

He alone can provide the water that alone satisfies.

But finally, let us take heed that…

3. The Sheep must follow their
Shepherd to still waters, they must not drink from muddy puddles

This is something that we have not mentioned about sheep thus far. Sheep can actually be very silly! Although they will not drink from fast moving streams, they will actually drink from muddy puddles.

Sometimes, when a flock of sheep is crossing a stream, they will not drink from it because the water is flowing too swiftly. But that does not mean that they will not stop to drink from the muddy puddles that are by the river bank.

These puddles of water would inevitably be contaminated by sheep dropping and urine, and parasites such as coccidia, round worms and liver flux. But the sheep will mindlessly bow their heads to drink of these vile water.

Many of the sheep will fall very ill or even die through drinking such contaminated water.

Now, there is sadly some similarly with spiritual flocks too. While only still waters provided by the Chief Shepherd will satisfy the true sheep, there will be in every flock, sheep that are tempted to drink from contaminated water. It may be because of impatience—wanting instant results, or it may be because they are misled. But the consequences are often severe.

Is this not why the apostle John warns us:

"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1Jn 4:1).

False teachers are often used of Satan to lead the flock of Christ astray. Christ alone can provide us the water that will satisfy our souls.

The water that the hirelings of Satan provide is muddy, contaminated water. Such is what is promised by false teachers who claim be able to command the Holy Spirit. One of these heretics even claimed to be a Holy Spirit bartender.

Those who drink of these muddy, contaminated water, will not get the refreshment that Christ alone gives beside the still waters. They may get temporary relief. They may spring up, leaping for joy and laugh hilariously and dance for a time. They may even claim to speak in tongues and prophesy in the name of the Lord. But because they have no deepness of earth, they will be scorched by the sun of persecution or choked by worldliness.

False doctrines never satisfy the true sheep of Christ. Such as are the true sheep of Christ drinking of the contaminated water that false teachers lead them to, will sooner or later flee from them to seek the still waters that Christ alone provides.

Blessed are those who have fled from the tyranny of false teachers.

But take note that false teachers are not the only cause of muddy waters. False sheep are also a cause of muddy water. In every visible flock of Christ there will be the possibility of false sheep. In our Lord’s parable of the Wheat and Tares, He tells us that the tares are planted by the evil one in the church. So likewise, false sheep may have been planted in the church by the evil one.

False sheep, or goats in sheep’s clothing will muddy the water, which the flock enjoys.

The LORD was addressing the false sheep through the prophet Ezekiel when He says—

"18 Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? 19 And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet." (Ezk 34:18-19)

The LORD is referring to the false sheep during the days of Ezekiel. But today it is the same. The Lord does not tell us how the false sheep muddies the water, but it is very real. False sheep contaminate the water. False sheep spoil our enjoyment of Christ. They affect our fellowship and worship. And so Jude warns against false brethren in very severe terms:

"4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.… 12 These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; 13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever" (Jude 4, 12-13).

Now, this is not to cast doubts and suspicion amongst sheep in the flock. But every sheep must be on alert, admonishing one another and provoking one another to love and good works, so that such as do the contrary, will feel ashamed and be led to repentance.

One day, the true sheep of Christ will be able to enjoy the living water that Christ provides without the hindrance of sin or sinners. In that day we shall have perfect communion with Christ and with one another. Our fellowship and worship will be no more be tainted by sin, and sorrow and by the possibility of false sheep muddying the waters and causing pain and strife in the Church.

But that day must wait. In the meantime, sin will muddy the waters. We cannot eradicate the tare or false sheep in this life. That has to wait for the final day. But the question we must ask ourselves us: Have I been satisfied with the muddy waters?

If you have, will you not awake out of your slumber and realise that the water that Christ our shepherd leads us to, alone can satisfy our thirsts. And therefore let us perk up our ears and listen to the shepherd as he leads us beside still waters by his Word read and preached.


Dearly beloved and friends, are you able to say with David: "He leadeth me beside the still waters." The sheep of Christ need water and not just food. Only Christ can provide us the still waters. Sheep can sometimes be fooled by the evil one to settle for muddy puddles. Will you not follow hard after Christ that you may drink of this water that he leads you to.

Are you still out of Christ? O what refreshment for your soul you are missing! But come; come to the Shepherd that he may lead you to the still waters. This is the call of the Spirit and the church, the bride of Christ who has tasted of the Spirit. This call is recorded in the last chapter of the last book in the Bible:

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely (Rev 22:17).

Will you not come?


—JJ Lim