Christ our Prince

Adapted from sermon preached at PCC Evening Worship Service on 22 Dec 2002

"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over" (Ps 23:5).

We are studying the Sheep’s Psalm. This is a psalm about Christ the Great Shepherd through the eyes of His sheep.

We are come now to the 5th verse. Many commentators believe that David is no longer using the metaphor of shepherd and sheep. These would suggest that David is now painting a picture of the banqueting hall, with the Lord as host and he as guest.

I am personally convinced however, that David has not completely left off the metaphor of the shepherd and his sheep. However, the scene is slightly different from that in verses 1 to 3. Remember how in verse 4, we saw a metaphor of the passage of death. So here in verse 5 and 6, it appears that David is concerned with what happens after the death of the saint.

But in so far as the picture is concerned, it appears that the sheep is no more wandering from field to field looking for pasture. The sheep is being hand-fed in the presence of the Shepherd!

This is a picture of the Sheep of Christ resting in Christ, or if you like having a banquet with Christ. Indeed, verse 5 can also be rendered with the future tense, as Calvin does: "Thou shalt prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou shalt anoint my head with oil; my cup shall run over. "

This verse is about things to come. All that is said in this verse has eschatological significance;—i.e. though they may have something to do with our present pilgrim life, but the focus is on the future.

We may learn three things from this verse:

1. As the shepherd protects his sheep from all his enemies, so Christ our King protects and delivers us from all our enemies.

"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies…"

The sheep has many enemies. David fought with bears and lions. But in Palestine, there were also foxes; and foxes are known to love the tongues of lambs. There were also vultures and ravens. Vultures and ravens are carrion birds or scavengers. They are always on the alert for animals that are dying. Sometimes, when they are very hungry, they do not wait for the animal to die. They swoop down and tear the animal apart alive. Shepherds have to constantly on the watch out for vultures and ravens. For although these birds would not attack healthy sheep, they would make an attempt if the sheep falls and is unable to get up by itself. You see sometimes when it rains just before shearing time, the sheep’s wool gets totally soaked and because it is so heavy, the sheep turns turtle and cannot get up without help. The sheep is said to be ‘cast.’ Then the ravens will come and they will pluck out their eyes, and the vultures will be there to finish up the rest of the sheep.

And not only so, but there are also enemies that are unseen, namely bacteria and parasites that affect the sheep. Because of bacteria in the ground, it is dangerous for sheep that are being hand-fed to have the grain or hay left at the same spot on the ground. The sheep will have no problem picking up the grain or the hay, but then they will also pick up dangerous bacterial or parasites. So shepherds would usually build troughs or a low table on which to put the food for the sheep. This is very possibly the meaning of the table in David’s metaphor. Whether David knew about bacteria we don’t know. But it is a fact that the table or trough protects the sheep from the unseen enemies.

So, as the sheep are feeding, their enemies are all around: in the ground, in the bush, in the air. The only reason they can eat peacefully is the presence of the Shepherd. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."

Now, spiritual sheep have spiritual enemies. Although you may not see them or even sense their presence, they are there. They are ready to swoop down, to pounce or to infect. But we need not fear.

Yes, today, you will still have to battle. Sometimes our enemies molest us. Sometimes we can be tried and tempted sore.

Sometimes, like sheep with a glorious coat of wool we accumulate many cares and burdens of the world so that we are weighed down so much that we find it hard to stand on our feet. In the worst case, we become cast sheep. We turn turtle, lie on our back and seem to have no ability or inclination to get up and return to the right path. Then the enemies of our soul are ready to pounce upon us.

But thank God for our Shepherd. The Father is greater than all. No one can pluck us out of your Shepherd’s hand. Have you not experienced His care? Whenever you fall, and it looks like the enemies of your soul would have the victory, then your Shepherd comes alongside, and with His mighty hands He gently lifts you up. This may come through the loving admonishment of a brother or sister in Christ; or it may come through the Word preached; or it may come through something you read. But when you look back, you know that your Shepherd came for you.

No one and nothing can separate you from His love. And one day, all our enemies will not be able to affect us in anyway anymore. We shall sup with the Lord perfectly freed of fear. Today we need not fear, but sometimes we still fear. One day after we have passed through the valley of the shadow of death, no fear will ever again tempt us.

In that day, we shall have the full enjoying of feasting at the table of the Lord in the presence of Christ’s and our enemies. Yes, our enemies will still be there. The Scripture does not speak about annihilation of reprobate spirits whether of men or angels. But the Scripture tells us that they would be incarcerated in Hell. And when they are in hell they will look up into heaven and see the joy that the saints experience, and they will yearn for the happiness in heaven. But there is a great gulf that they cannot cross. The saints too will see the reprobate angels and men being tormented according to the justice of God. They will feel no pity for them in that day, but neither will they feel any fear whatsoever. Their enemies cannot touch them at all ever again. They church will finally experience joy unmingled with pain or sorrow or fear.

But second consider how…

2. As the shepherd anoints his sheep with oil so Christ our Prince anoints us with His Spirit

"…Thou anointest my head with oil"

The shepherd anoints his sheep with oil to keep them from being infested with pestilence. Shepherds speak of strikes, or attack by flies. Flies do not normally lay their eggs on the head of sheep. They prefer rotting wool. But they do swamp around the head of the sheep so that they get greatly irritated. So the sheep must be treated lest they suffer strikes. We saw in an earlier sermon that modern shepherds will usually dip their sheep in some chemicals. Well in the days of David, they anoint the head of the sheep with a kind of oil. The oil was apparently enough to heal any wounds which may get infected, and also to keep the flies away.

Now, Christ the good Shepherd also anoints His sheep. He anoints us not with oil but with His Spirit.

Now, the word used for ‘anoint’ in this verse (÷veD;) is different from the word used for anointing of the priest and kings in the Old Testament. The word here literally means "make fat." It speaks of an anointing in the context of festive joy and gladness. How does the sheep experience this joy and gladness? He enjoys it on account of His union with the Anointed One, His Shepherd who anoints him with His Spirit.

Christ, the Son of God was known as the Messiah (j'yvim;) in the Old Testament. Messiah means "Anointed One." "thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows" (Ps 45:7) says the psalmist.

It is because Christ our Lord is the Messiah, the Anointed One, that He is called "Christ" or Cristov" in the New Testament. Cristov" is the Greek for "Anointed One."

Now because Christ is the Anointed One, Christians, being united to Him are also anointed. "ye have an unction [anointing] from the Holy One, and ye know all things.…" says the apostle John (1 Jn 2:20).

We are anointed with the Spirit of Christ.

"Thou anointest my head with oil." Dearly beloved sheep and lambs of Christ, are you aware of the anointing which your Shepherd has given you? Do you realise that this anointing distinguishes sheep from goats in the visible church? Sheep will eventually dwell in heaven; goats will dwell in hell. In a sense, therefore, the effect of this anointing is most clearly seen only after we pass through the valley of the shadow of death.

But this anointing is already given to us as the "earnest [or guarantee] of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of [the glory of Christ our Lord]" (Eph 1:14). Today, on account of this anointing we can have a foretaste of heavenly life; and we can have help for living today. We are enabled to understand God’s will and to live for Christ. We are given strength to fight a good fight in our pilgrim journey today.

Consider the difference between two persons, one who knows and experiences the anointing or indwelling of the Spirit of Christ; and another who does not.

He who knows the anointing of the Spirit will be patient and joyful in tribulation—like the apostle Paul. On the other hand, he who does not know the anointing will find pleasure and relief in the world—like Demas who forsook Paul.

He who knows the anointing of the Spirit of Christ will strive to keep himself pure— like Joseph. On the other hand, he who has not the anointing will give in easily to temptation and lust—like Ammon.

He who is anointed by the Spirit of Christ will seek first the kingdom of God, and give priority to laying up treasures in heaven— like Abraham. On the other hand, he who does not know the anointing makes Christ and his worship secondary in his life—like Lot.

He who is anointed by the Spirit will feel grief in his heart that his sin has dishonoured God. He will repent of his sin with deep contrition like David. On the other hand, he who has not the Spirit of Christ is only concerned about the consequence of sin, but does not hate sin. He will even weep, but only for the consequence of sin, rather than in true repentance. He is really concerned about his own honour and not the honour of God. He is like Saul.

Dearly beloved sheep of Christ, are you a contented sheep, who knows that the earnest of your eternal inheritance has been given? Or are you living as goats in this world?

Does Christ your Shepherd and the prospect of heaven figure prominently in your attitude and priorities in your pilgrim journey? Or are you more concerned about temporary pleasure, and your own honour before the eyes of the world?

If you know the anointing of Christ and are looking forward to the day when you shall experience the fullness of your union with Christ, then your life will reflect your dependence upon Christ as well as a Christ-likeness.

The sheep of Christ have received an anointing that properly belongs to the day after they pass through the valley of the shadow of death. But they are already enjoying a heavenly life today.

But consider finally that…

3. As the hand-fed sheep has abundance to drink, so the sheep in glory overflows with spiritual blessing

"…my cup runneth over."

When the sheep are being led from pasture to pasture, the sheep are watered beside still waters. But when the sheep are being tended to in an enclosed or protected area, the shepherd must fill the water troughs, and he must make sure that the water trough remains full.

Christ our Shepherd likewise procured for us an over abundance of spiritual refreshment and blessing. The apostle Paul is referring to the blessing purchased by Christ for His elect when he says:

"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32)

Yea, He "giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Tm 6:17). He gives us all thing through Christ. For "the Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand" (Jn 3:35).

He gives us forgiveness. We deserve death and damnation, but Christ our Shepherd lay down His life for us to purchase our reconciliation to the Father.

He gives us righteousness. We were unholy and wicked, but Christ our Shepherd justifies us and makes us holy before God, then He sanctifies us by giving us His Spirit.

He gives us adoption. We were by nature the children of wrath, but Christ our Shepherd by His Spirit makes us the children of light and showers upon us all the privileges of sonship.

He gives us peace. We knew only guilt and restlessness in our souls, but Christ our Shepherd brought peace—peace that the world does not understand.

He gives us love. We knew only self-love, and hatred for God; but He brought love: He showed us what is it to love and He enables us to love God and to love one another.

He gives us joy. We knew only sorrow. What we thought to be happiness was only temporary and unreal. But He gives us everlasting joy: not only does He give us the reason to be joyful, but He fills our hearts with the joy of the Holy Ghost whom He shed abroad in our heats.

He gives us hope. We were hopeless; our sure destiny was damnation. But He brought hope of eternal life: an eternal life that has already begun!

"…my cup runneth over." Is your cup running over, dearly beloved sheep of Christ? Our enjoyment of these blessing is not full or complete because of indwelling sin. Our cup is running over, but sometimes we are not conscious of it. One day we shall see it and rejoice.

And do you know that this cup is given by the Lord? Figuratively speaking this cup was once filled with the terrible wrath of God for we were all children of wrath. But what happen to the contents of the cup? The Lord our Shepherd drank it!

Remember the terrible agony that the Lord Jesus was facing in the garden of Gethsemane as He faced the prospect of the Cross and the abandonment of the Father?

What was His prayer on that darkest night of human history? Three times He prayed the same prayer:

"O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Mt 26:39, 42).

Christ our Shepherd drank the bitter cup to its dregs. He was doing what the prophet Isaiah had prophesied:

"Thus saith thy Lord the LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again" (Isa 51:22).

The Lord our Shepherd emptied the cup. But what did He do with the empty cup? No, He did not leave it empty. He filled it to overflowing with His covenant blessings in His blood. "This cup is the New Covenant in my blood which is shed for you for the remission of sin." The cup that was once filled with the fury of God is now filled with the blessing of God. It is the "cup of blessing" (1 Cor 10:16) says the apostle Paul.

This cup is given to us not only in the Lord’s Supper, but in covenant blessings that are symbolized by the Supper. "…my cup runneth over." Because of what Christ has done, my cup is not a cup of God’s fury, but a cup of God’s blessing. And it is not half-full; neither is it brim-full; no, it is overflowingly full.

Yes, because of remaining corruption, I cannot enjoy this cup to my fullest. But the cup has already been given to me. One day when I shall cross the valley of the shadow of death, then I shall drink this cup and be fully satisfied. I shall have no more wants—whether real or apparent. I will only know the joy and love of the Lord forever and ever.


Heaven is a wonderful place. It is wonderful because of Christ our Shepherd. We have not begun to know the blessings that we will experience in heaven. So too in this life we have not begun to understand the spiritual dimension of our lives.

We have not begun to understand how many spiritual enemies we have. We must not grow complacent though we do not see our enemies. We must put on our spiritual armour daily and fight the good fight. But thank God we know that we shall finally have the victory.

Compared to heaven’s joy, we have not begun to understand what it is to be happy. We must still rejoice for God commands us to rejoice. And thank God we are given a foretaste of the heavenly joy through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. One day our joy will be full. But as we anticipate that day, we must live as heavenly citizen, not as those
whose joy and satisfaction is only found in this world.

We have not begun to experience the overflowing of heavenly blessings unmingled with pain and sorrow; but we thank God that it is already ours and no one can take it away until we enjoy it in the conscious presence of our Shepherd in glory. And we thank God for the privilege already ours of drinking from the overflowing cup through the use of the means. Have you begun to drink from this cup?


—JJ Lim