How to Smile at Death

Psalm 23:4

This time our “Digging Deeper” study takes us to one of the most familiar passages in the Bible: The Twenty-Third Psalm.  Many who would not call themselves Christians have quoted it nevertheless for comfort in dark times.

Death is not a popular subject. In fact, if you mention death, people will change subjects like they change TV channels. Man is the only creature who knows he's going to die, yet he's trying desperately to forget it.

In Dickens’ classic, much-loved A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge comes to the place where he meets the phantom who represents his immediate future. He finds himself staring at death. In that moment, he utters what most human beings have thought or said about death: “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen.”

Yet this fear is not God’s will for us, and in Psalm 23 we will find that for those who know Jesus Christ death is something the believer should not fear.

We will focus on the 4th verse of Psalm 23, studying it phrase by phrase. In this study of death, you will find comfort for yourself or someone you love.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. (v. 4)

In the Holy Land, there is such a valley. It starts between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, about 2,700 ft. above sea level, and flows down to 1300 ft. below sea level to the Dead Sea. This canyon is called “the valley of the shadow of death.” It’s narrow—at the bottom in some places it's only 12 feet wide. Even at high noon, it's full of shadows. In Bible times there were bears, hyenas, leopards and sometimes robbers in its caves.
There were steep places where sheep might fall. It was such a frightening place, shepherds named it “the valley of the shadow of death.”

But it was a useful valley. In winter when there was not much grass in the higher elevations, shepherds would take their sheep down to Jericho where the sheep would winter-in and feed on the lush grass that would grow. When spring came, the green Judean hills would grow bright with verdant color, and the shep­herd would lead his sheep through that valley to greener pastures in the highlands.

Surely David must have had “the valley of the shadow of death” in mind when he wrote this beautiful psalm. Perhaps David himself many times led his sheep through that valley.

In Psalm 23, David is saying, “The Lord is to me what I've been to my sheep. The Lord is my Shepherd. And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” David had learned to smile at death. I want you to learn to smile at death.

Three prin­ciples within this verse will help you do that.

FIRST, ACCEPT DEATH AS A DECIDED FACT

1. Turn in your Bible to Psalm 23 and read down to verse 4:

“_____, though I walk…”

It’s “yea.” Not “nay” or “maybe.” That you will one day die is a decided fact. No, we don’t like to think about it, but the only possibility you will escape death is if the Rapture comes first.  There is a new statistic out on death: One out of every one person dies.

2. Turn to Hebrews 9:27:

“And it is _______________ unto man ________ to die, but after this the judgment.”

This declaration by the writer of Hebrews, who I believe was most likely the apostle Paul, tells us two things:

a. We have an appointment.
b. You will face physical death only once. God has ruled out the belief many hold in reincarnation. Once to die. Once to live.

Magnifying glassA CLOSER LOOK: 

A Christian will face physical death only once, and after that we will forever be with the Lord. But there is another death—sometimes called “the second death.” The Second Death (which is for unbelievers only) is not our topic in this study, but sometime you may want to look at it. Since The Second Death is an “end time” event, Revelation is the book that speaks of it:

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. Revelation 2:11

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Revelation 20:6

And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. Revelation 20:14

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. Revelation 21:8

But for the child of God, the future looks different. If we are alive when “that day” occurs, “…then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Whether it be by physical death or the Rapture, Revelation 21:1-6 is the future that awaits if you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Read it and be encouraged. But you will experience physical death only once. There is no “reincarnation.”

3. Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:21:

“For since by ________ came death, by ________ came also the resurrection from the dead.”

4. Turn to Romans 5:12:

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and ____________ by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…”

a. How did sin first enter the world, God’s perfect creation?    
 
b. Who was that “one man”? ___________

c. What “passed upon all humanity”?


d. All have sinned; therefore ______ will die.

But though death is certain, the timing of your death and mine is uncertain.

5. Turn to James 4:13-14:
“Go to, ye that say ‘Today or tomorrow we'll enter into such and such a city and continue there a year and buy and sell and get gain.’ Whereas ye know _____ what shall be on the morrow, for what is your life but even a ____________ that appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away. So that you ought to say, ‘If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that.’”

When David said, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” he only knows he’s going to walk through it, but he doesn't know from one moment to the next what will happen or when. We live life a step at a time.

Even if a doctor gives us a terminal diagnosis, we still do not know when we’re going to die. Sometimes mothers kiss their little babies good-bye and leave them. Sometimes even a little child must drop his toys to grapple with the iron strength of death. When we hear of the death of an elderly person we are sad, but when we learn of the death of a child or young person, our sensibilities are shocked.

We all know we’ll have to walk through that valley; we just don’t know when we will meet it. An old spiritual says, “Jesus walked this lonesome valley. He had to walk it by Himself. Nobody else could walk it for Him. He had to walk it by Himself.”

By God’s blessed economy, you and I will not have to walk it alone. Our Shepherd will be there with us.

6. Turn to 1 Samuel 20:3.

There is but a ______ between me and _________.”

Who is speaking in the Samuel passage? ___________

Although he had been anointed in his youth as the future king of Israel, at the moment, it appears dire. His future felt uncertain to him even with the memory of God’s promise. He cannot know what his next step will bring.

7. Turn to Lamentations 3:22:

 “It is because of the Lord's ____________ that we are not _________________.”

God doesn't have to take your life. All He has to do is stop giving it. Our lives are like a vapor on a frosty morning, here for a moment and then gone.

NEXT, SEE DEATH AS A DEFEATED FOE

8. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will _____ no _____.  

As we think about death as a defeated foe, this verse contains three wonderful truths you should know:

a. There can be no valley without moun­tains.
Psalm 23 is the great valley psalm between two mountain psalms. Psalm 22 foretells Mount Calvary, the crucifixion of the Messiah. Psalm 24 foretells Mount Zion, the second coming, the coronation of the Messiah. To the left, the blood-drenched slopes of Mount Calvary. To the right, the sunlit peaks of Mount Zion. To the left, crucifixion. To the right, coronation. We are living in the valley.

b. There can be no shadow with­out a light.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

We need to focus on the word “shadow,” not go quickly past it. If you know the Lord Jesus Christ, death is now only a shadow because Jesus has become the death of death. You see, Jesus pulled the sting out of death. Jesus took the gloom out of the grave. Jesus took the dread out of dying and has given us a hope steadfast and sure. A shadow may frighten you, but a shadow cannot hurt you.

Joyce and I were taking a walk early one morning on a busy residential street. The sun was just rising, and cars were coming at 35 to 40 miles an hour. As we were walking, the shadows of those cars kept hitting us and running over us. The shadows couldn't hurt us. Now, if the car had hit, that's one thing. But we were only being hit by shadows. It was almost humorous to see those shadows run over us. You see, God made us to walk through shadows.

Magnifying glassA CLOSER LOOK AT THE SHADOW OF DEATH:

This story may help illuminate the truth that death is now only a shadow. There was a great preacher whose wife died when she was still a very young woman, leaving behind their young daughter. The little girl didn't understand all of the intricacies about life and death and Jesus dying for our sins. But several days after the funeral, the father and the little girl were downtown in their car. She looked over on the wall of a department store and saw the shadow of a truck. Because the sun was setting low in the west, the truck made a huge shadow on the department store wall. The little girl said, “Daddy, look at the big shadow of the truck.” And he thought right then, “God is giving me a beautiful opportunity to teach her something.”

He said, “Sweetheart, if you had your choice, would you rather be hit by the shadow of the truck or by the truck?” 

“Oh,” she said, “Daddy, that's easy. I'd much rather be hit by the shadow than by that truck.” 

“That’s right, darling.  It was only the shadow that hit mama. The truck hit Jesus two thousand years ago at Calvary.”

Tremendous lesson. The truck hit Jesus. Jesus has taken the sting out of sin, the dread out of the grave. Jesus has become our victor. And there cannot be a shadow unless there's a light.

Turn to Isaiah 9:2:

The people that walk in darkness have seen a great ________, and they that dwell in the land of the ____________ of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Are you in the valley of the shadow of death right now? Look to the light. If you'll look to the light, the shadow will fall behind you. You won't even see it.

c. There is no evil without a greater good.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for ________  _______  _______  _____.

Who is David talking to? Who is the “Thou”?

David is contrasting the evil on one hand with the Great Shepherd of the sheep.

Magnifying glassA CLOSER LOOK AT “LORD”:

In verse 1 of Psalm 23, your Bible may have the word “Lord” written like this: LORD or Lord in capital letters. Whenever you see “LORD” in all caps, it means that the original word in Hebrew is the word YHWH, four consonants that cannot be pronounced, the most sacred name for God. The name was so sacred that a Jew copying that name would bathe and pick up a new pen before he would write down that holy name. We often see it written as “Jehovah.” But strangely, “Jehovah” is not mentioned in the New Testament, only in the Old. Why is that? you may ask. Because Jesus is our Jehovah.  The name “Jesus” means “Jehovah saves.”

Remember when Moses could no longer lead the children of Israel, a man named Joshua took his place? But Joshua’s name wasn't always Joshua. His birth name had been Hoshea. Yet Moses (see Numbers 3:16) said, “I'm going to give you a new name. I'm going to take part of Hoshea and part Jehovah and put them together and get a new name: Joshua, “Jehovah saves.” 

In the New Testament, the name “Jesus” is the same as the Old Testament Jehovah. Jehovah, Old Testament. Jesus, New Testament. Jesus is the Joshua, the “Jehovah saves” of the New Testament.

David is saying, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou, Jehovah art with me.” There may be evil, but Jehovah (Jesus) is with us.

Truth is mightier than error. Our sovereign is greater than Satan. And life is greater than death.  

THIRDLY, SEE DEATH AS A DELIGHTFUL FRIEND

Death as a friend? Pastor, are you serious?
9. Turn to 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, an interesting thought offered by the Apostle Paul.

21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are your's;
22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or _______, or _________, or things present, or things to come; all are your's;
23 And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's.

What’s going on here? The Corinthians had been squabbling a little about which leader they liked best. Paul is responding, “Whether it’s me (Paul) or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours. The apostle Paul is telling us what we have in Christ. Of all the wonderful things that belong to us, Paul is saying, “Death belongs to us.” It's our possession. Death is a servant to help us.

10. Turn to Psalm 116:15:
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the __________ of His saints.

Turn to Philippians 1:21:
For me to live is Christ, and to _____ is gain.

How do you envision that dying going to be “gain” for you?

  • Physically it is gain. Your body will be made like the Lord Jesus.
  • Intellectually it is gain, for you will know as you are known.
  • Emotionally it is gain, because you’ll be able to praise Him with your whole heart.
  • Socially it is gain, because you’ll be with the saints of all of the ages
  • Spiritually it is gain, because temptation and sin will be behind you, and you’ll be one with the Lord, face to face.

What brings us into that relationship is death. Thus death is not an enemy if it helps us arrive in a place like that.

11. At this point in verse 4, the Psalm takes a turn. “For Thou art with me.”

Until this point, David has been talking about the Lord. But now David is talking directly to the Lord, for David is in the valley and the Lord is with David. He’s no longer talking about Him; he's talking to Him.

Nothing brings you face to face with God more than the dark valleys of life. But when you get into the valley, you’re going to know what the Lord Jesus meant when he said,
a. Hebrews 13:5 “I will never _________ thee nor _____________ thee.”
b. Matthew 28:20  “…and, lo, I am ________  you ____________, even unto the end of the world.

The Presence of My Shepherd

Death is a friend because it brings you into the presence of the Shepherd, Jehovah. The ultimate is my intimate. I won’t have to cross Jordan alone. I'm not going to have to die alone. When you come to die, your Lord is there with you. The light is there. The Shepherd is there.

The Power of My Shepherd
 
12. “Thy _____ and Thy ________, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4b

The shepherd’s rod is there to protect the sheep. His staff is to lift the sheep. When you come to die, the Lord will be with you. He will strengthen you. Jehovah God, who says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” will be there. His rod will protect you from all of the powers of evil. As your feet touch the chilly waters of the river of death, His staff will be there to draw you up close to Him as you walk through that valley.

The Purpose of My Shepherd

13. Turn to Hebrews 2:14-15. Speaking of the Lord Jesus, this passage says,

He also Himself likewise took part of the same [death], that through ________ He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And ______________ them who through _________ of death were all their lifetime subject to ________________.

Do you see what the Bible tells us has been happening since Genesis 3 when mankind fell?

Satan has kept and keeps people in bondage through their fear of death. You are not ready to live until you're no longer afraid to die. Therefore, your Shepherd’s purpose is to bring you through the valley.

A valley is not a box canyon. There is a destination at the end of the valley. Jesus has kicked the end out of the grave. You may be in difficulty today, but I want to tell you, it's only for a season. There is a purpose. David knew that a shepherd would never leave his sheep through any place like that unless he's leading them to a better place.

All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercies,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell,
For I know whatever befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

The purpose of the Shepherd is to lead us through.

14. You may be saying, “With my sins, I'm afraid to die. What can I do with my sins?”

Put your faith where God puts your sins, on Jesus.

Turn to Isaiah 53:6:

“_____ ____ like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way, and the Lord has ______ on ____ the iniquity of us all.”

When you lay your sins on Jesus, death has no more terrors for you. You can settle the death question, so you can begin to live the life question. You can smile at death when you know you are saved.

IN SUMMARY

The Lord Jesus Christ is described as a shepherd 3 times in the New Testament.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD
John 10:11  “I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”
The Good Shepherd gave His life for me—that's Mount Calvary.

THE CHIEF SHEPHERD
First Peter 5:4   And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall re­ceive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

 The Chief Shepherd is coming for me—that’s Mount Zion.

THE GREAT SHEPHERD
Hebrews 13:20-21  Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that Great Shepherd of the sheep.

The Great Shepherd now lives for me.

In the valley of the shadow of death,

  • The Good Shepherd died for me and rose from the dead, conquering the valley of the shadow of death.
  • The Chief Shepherd is coming for me.
  • The Great Shepherd lives for me.

If you want to learn how to smile at death, “lift up mine unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” Psalm 121:1

Are you down in the valley?  Then look at the mountains, my dear friend.  Look to Mount Calvary, and look to Mount Zion.

If you are not certain you're saved, may I invite you to pray a prayer like this?

“Dear God, I know You love me and I know You want to save me. Jesus, You are the Good Shepherd. You died for this lost sheep. You died for me. And Lord, You are the Great Shepherd. You've been raised from the dead. You are the Chief Shepherd. You are coming again. I want you to be my Shepherd. I open my heart. I receive you now, right this moment, as my Savior and as my Lord. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Forgive my sin and save me. Thank you for doing it, Lord Jesus. And help me never to be ashamed of You. In Your name I pray, Amen.”

 

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