What comforts you about Jesus?
My immediate thoughts run to His grace, mercy and love. In fact, when considering many of the songs we sing and literature we read about Jesus, much of it focuses on the comfort of these divine attributes.
Yet when I consider what all of these things have in common, in some ways they can all be used as means of self-justification. We often want to use God’s grace as a license to sin. We want to use His mercy as an excuse to wander. We want to be tethered to God by His love so that when ours grows cold, we can still be secure.
Is that what should comfort us about Jesus?
Psalm 23 is a song of comfort. We are familiar with many of its lines:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
These are many of the lines we recall from this comforting psalm – and for good reason.
Not wanting? Green pastures? Still waters? Restoration? No fear? A table full of steak and trimmings while my enemies look on hungry with envy? Goodness and mercy for the rest of my life? Sign me up! Who wouldn’t want these things? The benefits of being in Christ do provide us with comfort.
Yet while all these things are true about our great Shepherd, in Psalm 23, it is not the comfy conditions, the lavish provision, or even the fullness of satisfaction that the Psalmist says actually comforts him about God.
What is it that comforts him? “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The shepherd’s rod was not used to scratch itches on his little lambs’ backs. The shepherd’s rod was used for correction. It was an instrument of discipline. Far from indicating a soft and gentle distancing, the shepherd’s rod implies close watchfulness, strict modification, and conformity to one’s objective standard and direction.
The shepherd’s staff is an offensive device. It is not only the means by which a shepherd grabs and directs his sheep; it is the instrument by which he closes off avenues where his sheep are prone to wander. The staff is also a protective weapon to be used on those who wish to harm the sheep.
A shepherd’s rod corrects.
A shepherd’s staff directs and protects.
What is it that comforts the psalmist about the Great Shepherd? His correction, His direction, and His protection.
Interestingly, God’s correction, direction, and protection are found mostly in His laws, His boundaries and His circles of protection. Today these attributes are administered through things like holy sexuality, God’s covenant of marriage, local church authority and discipline, holy living and accountability among brothers and sisters in Christ.
Sadly, these means of God’s correction, direction and protection are often what we want to downplay in the church. They are what we kick against, try to redefine, and the parts of the Gospel we keep on the backburner for conversations later on in discipleship.
But could it be that by placing these things in the periphery we have removed some of the greatest and most comforting reasons to trust and follow Jesus in all of life for the rest of life?
A key to this idea is found earlier in the 23rd Psalm where the writer says, “You lead me in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake.” How does a shepherd lead? By his rod and his staff. Where does he lead? Along his path toward his home for the sake of his name.
A shepherd is adamant about leading his sheep along his path because he knows that deviation from the path brings mortal danger for his sheep. Therefore the loving shepherd will correct his sheep to keep them on the path. He disciplines them when they wander from it. He protects them from what would lure them away from the way he knows is good.
Godly comfort, then, is not found in what we get from God, but what results from trusting that God’s path is right and good. Ultimately our comfort is not in the path itself but in the character of the One who leads us on it.
If the laws, covenants and disciplinary measures of God don’t give us comfort, then we may be using God to seek self-indulgent license—not God-glorifying obedience. It is right to find comfort in God’s grace, mercy and love, but we must remember that the greatest expressions of God’s grace, mercy and love are found in His correction, discipline, and protection.
Remember: the cross of Christ satisfied the requirement of the Law when we could not. It was the discipline of a just God who took the wrath in our place.
The Spirit of God that we love to sing about is mainly in us to correct us on the path of righteousness, so we will trust and obey the words of Christ.
The church is given to us not for entertainment or consumption, but as a means of protection as the local church, and those in authority keep watch for wolves in our midst and hold us accountable if we wander.
What often doesn’t comfort me about Jesus is the goodness of His rod and staff. However, like the psalmist, the more we lean into these realities, the more clearly we understand the things like grace, mercy and love in which we often do find comfort.
So may I encourage you: find comfort in the rod and staff of our Good Shepherd. In so doing, you will find His grace, His mercy, and His love.