S-1447 11SAP/3A 8/24/2014 Hymns: (O) 740; (S) 279 TLH; LS 620; 629; 628; (C) #722 LSB
Texts: Isaiah 51, 1-6; Romans 11:33-12:8; Matthew 16:13-20
Theme: “The Hounds of Heaven!” (Psalm 23:6a)
Question: “Have you ever had a dog?” 8th in sermon series on Psalm 23
Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text is from the 23 Psalm: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6a).
Precious little lambs let me ask you a question: Have you ever had a dog? Do you have a dog now? I know some of you have had a dog and you have a special bond with that critter. Dogs are very friendly and great companions. Dogs bring lots of joy to their owners.
David, the author of the text understood the value of a sheep-dog on the trail. They were to protect the sheep and defend them against wild animals. Sheep-dogs help the shepherd keep an eye out for straying sheep and guard them from an attacking wolf, bear or lion.
In this verse, David speaks to us about the value of a sheep dog. You may say, “I don’t read about dogs in this psalm. But you are mistaken. David highlights the value of the dogs—I call them the hounds of heaven—the twins of God’s grace—goodness and mercy. The blessings that are ours—goodness and mercy on account of the Faithful Good Shepherd, Jesus.
God’s goodness and mercy are the hounds of heaven that help us on our life’s journey. These twin hounds remind us of our privileged position as His very own sheep. These twin companions guarantee that our lives are in the Shepherd’s hands who will take care of all our needs. No matter what we will go through in life, we can be certain and confident that goodness and mercy are with us.
That is easy to say when all things are going well in our lives. When our health is great, when our job is wonderful, and when our family is doing fine; confidence abounds as much as grace and mercy. But it is very often confidence, not in God but in us! But what happens when our health is in the pit? What happens when we lose our job? What is to become of us when we say farewell to someone we cherish and love? What happens when everything that we held dear is taken away from us like it was for the Old Testament prophet Job? Is goodness and mercy still with us? You bet they are! This is the treasure that is given us from God our Faithful Shepherd. Goodness and mercy are not dependant on our circumstances, but on the unchanging God-who is the same yesterday, today and forever; as the prophet Malachi reminds us “For I the Lord do not change” (3:6). PAUSE.
Precious little lambs, in 1977 a TV miniseries called Roots chronicled the life of Gambian–born American slave—Kunta Kinte (1750-1822). While he was in his village (1767) searching for wood to make a drum for his younger brother, four men chased him, surrounded him and took him captive. He is shipped to North America and sold to a Virginia plantation owner.
Kunta attempted to escape slavery by running away. 4 times he ran away and his owner would send people on horseback led by hound dogs to chase him. The hound-dogs would keep running until they cornered him. Eventually they cut half of his foot so he doesn’t run away.
Whether the Root story is true or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that hound-dogs are relentless pursuers. Once a hound dog catches a scent or sees a moving target, it will readily pursue it with no bounds or limits, often to the point of getting lost themselves!
That is what David is trying to convey to us in this verse about the hound-dogs of heaven; their value as instruments in God’s hands for the benefit of His sheep—you and me. The 23rd Psalm is certainly a favorite to many Christians and Jews alike. But I believe that the verse of our text (6a) this morning is one of the sweetest phrases authored by the Holy Spirit and penned by David: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” These words open to us a box of treasure that needs to be examined every day from every angle. It is like looking at a diamond that sparkles with beauty and majesty and reminds us of God’s constant pursuit of us—His wayward children.
God is in the business of pursuing us. In the book of Genesis God pursues Adam and Eve after they sinned. Talk with Joseph and he will paint to you the pursing God who followed him even into the prison dungeon. Visit with Moses and he will tell you of God pursuing the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years and into the Promised Land. Converse with Jonah and he will inform you that God chased him into the depth of the ocean. Talk to the disciples and they will tell you of their Friend who sought them out in the midst of a terrible storm in the Sea of Galilee. Listen to John the disciple who was all alone (or so he thought) on the Island of Patmos, but God pursued him also. Hearken to Peter as he recounts the risen Savior, pursuing, forgiving and restoring him again to the fold.
Look at Paul the once persecutor of the church. On his mission to destroy the followers of the Way, the Lord Jesus Christ pursued him on the road to Damascus and called him to be His spokesperson to the Gentiles.
All of these godly men can tell you of the goodness and mercy of the Lord—the hounds of heaven. They can tell of the blessings that God bestows upon them and us constantly, continuously and ceaselessly. PAUSE.
David with the greatest of emphasis states, “SURELY” goodness and mercy. I borrow words from Max Lucado who in his book regarding this verse wrote: “David didn’t say, ‘Maybe goodness and mercy shall follow me.’ Or ‘Possibly goodness and mercy shall follow me.’ Or ‘I have a hunch that goodness and mercy shall follow me.’ David could have used one of those phrases. But he didn’t. He believed in a sure God, who makes sure promises and provides a sure foundation. David would have loved the words of one of his great-great-grandsons, the apostle James. He described God as the one “with whom there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency” (James 1:17 phillips).
Our moods may shift, but God’s doesn’t. Our minds may change, but God’s doesn’t. Our devotion may falter, but God’s never does. Even if we are faithless, he is faithful, for he cannot betray himself (2 Tim. 2:13). He is a sure God. And because he is a sure God, we can state confidently, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
And what follows the word surely? “Goodness and mercy.” If the Lord is the shepherd who leads the flock, goodness and mercy are the two sheepdogs [the hound-dogs of heaven] that guard the rear of the flock. Goodness and mercy. Not goodness alone, for we are sinners in need of mercy. Not goodness alone, for we are fragile, in need of goodness. We need them both. As one man wrote, “Goodness to supply every want. Mercy to forgive every sin, Goodness to provide. Mercy to pardon.’” (Traveling Light, Word Publishing, Nashville pp 146-147).
Goodness and mercy—the hounds of heaven are constantly on our heels. The Hebrew word David used for “follow” is so much stronger. It meant. To pursue, to chase after, catch up to, and clutch him. The hounds of heaven are pursuing us even now to bless us and pour God’s favor upon us. God shows us His goodness and mercy by the gift of His Son, the faithful and true Shepherd of the sheep. God demonstrates His goodness and mercy to us not for a little while but for the rest of our days here on earth and ultimately in heaven with Him.
Again, I will use Max Lucado’s words: And what will he do during those days? (Here is my favorite word.) He will “follow” you. What a surprising way to describe God! We’re accustomed to a God who remains in one place. A God who sits enthroned in the heavens and rules and ordains. David, however, envisions a mobile and active God. Dare we do the same? Dare we envision a God who follows us? Who pursues us? Who chases us? Who tracks us down and wins us over? Who follows us with “goodness and mercy” all the days of our lives? (P. 146).
Yes, we dare say so, because we have the twin traveling companions—the hounds of heaven—goodness and mercy. They are God’s gift to us through His Son, Jesus Christ the faithful Shepherd who died in our place and rose again from the grave and is continuing to pursue us even now.
Today, you will taste these hounds of heaven—His goodness and mercy in the bread and wine of His body and blood to guarantee this is Your Good Shepherd—God who loves you not only for today, but for the rest of your lives. Amen.
Now the peace…
SOLI DEO GLORIA