This is Your Word, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.
Fellow redeemed: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me” That seems nice, but about as interesting as watching paint dry. But this is a translation I’m reading. What about the original Hebrew?
If you’ll indulge me a while, my friends, the original is an entirely different kettle of fish, not bland at all— we aren’t getting a plain chowder today, beloved in Christ, we are getting a bold pot of cioppino to feast on in God’s Word today! — I want you to get just a taste of the real spice, boldness, and force that really does belong to the Twenty-Third Psalm.
The word translated ‘follow’ is a form of רָדַף [rakapf]. But it means more than just tagging along, following. The meaning of this verb רָדַף [rakapf] is “to pursue with hostile intent,” as in, when a policeman chases after a bad guy, and will cross from one jurisdiction into another, crossing property lines and so forth, he is said to be “in hot pursuit.” רָדַף [rakapf], if you will, then, is ‘hot pursuit’. It doesn’t stop until the person is absolutely captured, subdued, and in custody. Nothing stops this sort of ‘following.’ רָדַף [rakapf] is relentless. But in the popular translations of the twenty-third Psalm, it’s commonly translated “shall follow me.” I want you to get the relentless, stop-at-nothing force behind the rather bland translation.
So it’s in hot pursuit of you. Here It’s the word that describes what goodness and mercy are doing, chasing after you. So what would the literal translation be? Goodness and mercy will relentlessly come after me in hot pursuit all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Goodness and mercy are in hot pursuit, coming for you, and they’re absolutely relentless. They will not stop, they will not be denied, and you will not escape from them.
Goodness and mercy are coming, and they will have their way with you.
Speaking of mercy, again, let’s go to the Hebrew. The word is חֶ֣סֶד [Chesed] and it has the most intense meaning that could be translated ‘mercy’ for us— if we would take a closer look at it. חֶ֣סֶד [Chesed] carries the depth, the passion, a parent has for a child. Consider the starving victim of famine, who continues to nurse her infant, knowing that she is sacrificing her health when she does so, the mom running barefoot, chasing the school bus, after her kid who forgot his jacket, heedless of her own dignity. The dad who pulls his kid out of harm’s way, never minding the fact that he is putting himself in danger— though he may be crippled or killed. This is the intense meaning of חֶ֣סֶד [Chesed]. This is such mercy as values the life of its subject more important than the giver values his own. “There’s no greater love than this, that a man lay down his own life for a friend”, Jesus teaches. This is the self-sacrificing mercy and love with which Jesus treats you— even when you were in the midst of your sin.
Jesus is your Good Shepherd, and He makes hot pursuit with His good gifts and spirit, His full measure of goodness and mercy. He overcomes you in your sin, slams right into death in your place, giving Himself even over to the suffering and death of the cross, lest you know even a moment of eternal hell.
For you see, it is your sin, your death, that Jesus, your Good Shepherd gives all to protect you from. Even in the midst of overwhelming death and danger, even with all the host of hell, and the devil’s countless minions arrayed against you, Jesus would set His Table for you, and feast you even here and now in this fallen, sad, and dying world, on His Body and Blood. He has led you already to the quiet waters of Holy Baptism. Your Good Shepherd has given you so much, and will continue to chase you with His Gifts till at last you may rise that wondrous morning, and see Him face to face, and never know sorrow, nor sighing, nor sickness, nor sin, nor shame, nor dying, nor loss ever again forevermore.
Passionately your Good Shepherd leads you, guides you, defends and protects you with the rod and staff of His Word, and keeps you His own, in spite of all those things which are sent to beguile you away, and in spite, most especially, of that sinful nature and will which yet clings to you this side of the grave.
Jesus is your Good Shepherd, and He gives you every good thing— and He causes you to abide in Him, to hear His Word and thereby to know Him. And He enables you even to follow, and even to work with Him, as the bleating of the sheep may draw other sheep to His Good flock, so you are made able to give a good answer to those who ask for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and respect.
There is much to learn and grow in understanding about following Jesus. But today let this be enough— He is your Good Shepherd. And He gives you His Good Blessings with a ferocious, absolutely unrelenting, unconditional and fierce love, and an incredibly passionate mercy and grace that nothing in this world can stop. Though you may resist His Goodness here and there, Jesus has pursued you nevertheless, and even used the sharp blow of His Law, His shepherd’s staff, to stop you, in your hell-bound tracks, and bring you to your senses from time to time, to rescue you, even though such chastening may not have been pleasant, but such blows have come to you not to damn and kill, but to arrest and reign you back from eternal death. In everything, whether harsh or pleasant in the moment, Jesus is bringing you to His good pasture, that is, here and now, to the house of His Church, where you may feast on His Word and Means of Grace to heal and strengthen, to warn, and to warm you— and soon, come that never-ending day— to a Home He has prepared for you in His Father’s house, where there are many mansions, and one for you; better by far than ever you’ve dreamed it could be.
Your Good Shepherd has laid down His life for you, His sheep, and has taken it up again for your justification. He takes you nowhere He Himself has not been. And He is bringing you to His own Home, the new heavens and earth, to abide forevermore with you, and you with Him. Rejoice, for you are in the midst of the flock most beloved by the best One, your Good Shepherd, Jesus. And He is saving you every step of this life’s way.
The Peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.