Last week, we spoke about the imagery of the 23rd Psalm.  We observed that the psalmist began the psalm by speaking about God as though the psalmist had only heard about God. Later, the psalmist spoke to God only, this time as though he had seen God and all that God had done.  The change for the psalmist’s life came about in verse 4, as the psalmist witness something in the valley of the shadow of death. “4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

          We discussed that in the valley of the shadow of death, the psalmist life was changed a crucifixion the psalmist described in Psalm 22.  In that psalm, the psalmist foresaw and experienced the death of a man anointed by God.  As the psalmist emerged from that valley with an understanding of the death of God’s anointed one, the psalmist foresaw that that death gave rise to the psalmist’s own salvation by God.  And the psalmist described salvation in the way, “5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:5-6). 

When we read the Old Testament and its prophesies, we can see the prophesies as we might when we are traveling across some expanse, and we see mountains in a distance.  We see them, we can describe them in general terms, and give some sense of how the mountains make us feel.  And yet as we travel on and on we come to realize the mountains are a long way off and are more grand with much more character and shape than we imagined from a distance.  This is the experience of the psalmist.  He is describing the salvation promised by God in the best terms he is able to do as he surveys God’s ultimate work from a distance.  In this case, the psalmist has been in the valley of the shadow of death and foresaw the death Jesus Christ.  A death that would change the psalmist because through that death the psalmist came to realize that he would be cleansed of all unrighteousness, cleansed of all sin.

          This is what we spoke about last week.  This week I would like us to talk a bit deeper about the picture of salvation painted by the psalmist and witnessed in the New Testament.  What is salvation?  What do we mean when we say, “I am a Christian saved by Jesus.”  For whom is this salvation and, if I claim this salvation, how should that be seen in my life?

          First, what is salvation? The simplest definition of salvation is that salvation is a rescue of someone from destruction.  We might think of salvation as rescuing a drowning person. Allow me to illustrate.  About 35 years ago, I was at a party a co-worker’s house.  Some folks from the party were in the house, while others were in the backyard.  My co-worker’s three-year-old daughter came out of the house.  No one paid much attention to her.  A few moments later, I had a small splash coming from the direction of the inground pool. I turned and did not see anything but decided to look closer in the pool.  When I did I observed the three year on the bottom of the pool, trapped by the weight of the water over her head.  I jumped into the pool and pull her up from the bottom of the pool and carried her to the safety of the yard.  In one context, this little girl had been saved and we might think of salvation in that way.  But there is an essential element missing from this story of being saved that makes it different from salvation.  Someone who is saved from drowning will happily return to living life in the same manner as they did before they were saved.  They will do the same things, speak the same way, and think the same thoughts.  But a person who has been spiritually saved is different from a drowning person. First, to be saved spiritually is an act in which God is the rescuer who brings the person being saved from the great dangers of sin.  For sin harms the body and kills the soul of the sinner.  Sin robs the sinner of a life they had and robs them of the life, including the eternal life, they could have experienced.  A person saved by God no longer desires to return to their old way of thinking, speaking, and acting.  If you, are saved, your salvation from God and you are changed within and forever. To be saved is a joyful and freeing experience. 

The psalmist began to express this new life, this new understanding of being rescued by God this way, “5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5a).  The psalmist was speaking here in the present, in the now, not in the future.  In the present, the psalmist came to understand that psalmist was now different because of the work done by God in the valley.  The psalmist who had accepted God was a friend of God and God bless the psalmist life, here expressed as a table, a banquet for the psalmist.  There is much joy in having a banquet provided in your honor.  That is what the psalmist was trying to share with his readers, with us that salvation is a time of celebration.  If we have been saved, we should celebrate every day as a day of grace in God’s presence.

The second thing the psalmist came to understand was although there was a banquet for him, the psalmist had enemies.  Who are these enemies?  This is the psalmist way of expressing that there will be those accept God and become God’s friends and there are those who defy God, who have chosen not to receive the blessing God has offered the psalmist and become or appear like enemies of God. Those who defy God cannot participate in the banquet provided for those who accepted the salvation from God.  The enemies are those who have rejected God’s invitation, either quietly or openly, and they are opposed to God.  They will stand outside God’s presence and outside the presence of the believer.

          Jesus would later explain this point of being outside God’s salvation in a parable.  Jesus spoke about a king who hosted a wedding banquet for his son. The king invited everyone from the highest to the lowest in the land.  But only the humble people came at the king’s invitation.  The arrogant and proud stayed away from the wedding banquet. When the wedding hall was full of people, “The king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He [The King] asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.  13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:11-14).  The message is clear.  We must come into the kingdom fully by faith and accept the offer of the king.  Otherwise, we will be thrown out where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

          And what of this weeping and gnashing of teeth?  The point here is that there will be those thrown out of the kingdom, who are not saved, and they will weep.  They will cry and cry and cry unconsolably.  Through their tears they will say to God, “No Lord!  Please Lord!  I am sorry!  Please give me another chance!  I am so, so, sorry!”  But the door will be locked to their crying and their tears will never cease.  There also will be those thrown out of the kingdom because they refused God salvation and instead of crying they will gnash their teeth. People gnash and grind their teeth in anger and rage.  Through their tightly held teeth they will say to God, “How dare you!  How dare you keep me out!”  But the door to the kingdom will be kept locked to them and they will rage in anger forever.

          Friends, we do not want to cry in sorrow or rage in anger either in the present moment or for eternity.  The psalmist, having accepted the gift of salvation, saw that crying and raging anger were replaced because in a life marked by God salvation it is as though,“5 You (God) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5a).  Please do not hesitate to make known your desire to be saved and receive the gift of salvation.  And not only will God bless you in this life with God’s own presence and grace to overcome all, but the psalmist says the blessing of salvation is like that of having God, “You anoint my head with oil” (Psalm 23:5b).

What does it mean to be anointed with oil.  To be anointed by oil was a sign of a designation of blessing and a setting apart for the work of God.  Moses anointed his brother Aaron with oil as a sign of Aaron being set apart for priestly service to God.  Samuel anointed Saul and David as a signed of their anointing to be set apart to serve God as earthly rulers over God’s people.  The psalmist saw salvation as an anointing by God for a setting apart for the service to the kingdom here and now.

Salvation then is not just about eternity.  To be saved by God is also about the here and now.  God saves us now so that we can become more and more like Jesus now.  And in our transformation into the image of Christ, God is given the glory for the way we live our lives on this earth. When you have accepted the salvation from God, there ought to be evidence of that in the way you live. And the evidence of the inner change should be as visible to all as a light is in the dark of night.  We should not glow dimly.  For Jesus said, “14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).  In this life, we are anointed by God to do good deeds in His name.

The anointing of those who have salvation in Christ is of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told his disciples to wait for the anointing of the Holy Spirit before they began their ministry in His name.  We receive an anointing of the same Holy Spirit when we give our lives over to Christ and receive salvation from Him.  The Holy Spirit is given to lead us and give us the wisdom and knowledge to do those things God desires of us for our time here on earth.

You know there is an expression I have heard so many times, you probably have as well.  It goes something like this.  “I can only do so much.”  And this is a true statement.  Any one of us can only do so much.  There are only 24 hours in the day, there is only so much we are capable of, there are so many limitations as to what we can and cannot do.  But the expression, “I can only do so much,” is worldly thinking. If we changed that expression slightly by adding the power of the Holy Spirit then many of the limitations we were concerned with go away and now the expression becomes, “With the Holy Spirit, I can only do so much.” 

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).  The anointing of the Holy Spirit matters because we then are gifted and empowered by God to do those things he desires and requires of us. Salvation means we are not rescued to be the same, but rescued to be different because the Holy Spirit empowers us to now think, believe, and act in accordance with God’s will and to do so much in the name of God.

There is one final piece to this scene of salvation painted for us by the psalmist.  It is contained in a short expression, “my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5b).  Someday, when time permits, we will explore the full meaning of this phrase.  But for today, I want us to see that the psalmist was pointing out to us that with salvation through Christ, our cup, representative of our life, overflows because we are in the presence of God. Our cup, our life, overflows with grace because our sins are removed from us.  Our cup and life overflows with peace because our identity, who we are, and our destiny, where we are going, are settled questions.  We have become a child of God and that our destiny is one in which we will “live in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).  Do you feel that way?  Do you believe your identity and destiny have been decided because you are saved?  I hope so. If not, we should talk.

We know our identity and destiny are settled questions because the cup that overflows was represented in a meal Jesus shared with his disciples before Jesus was arrested and went through the valley of the shadow of death.  Jesus shared a cup with his disciples and said, “Take and drink from this cup all of you.”  The cup offered by Jesus was for the forgiveness of sins and establishment of a new relationship, a new covenant between the saved and God.  Jesus drank the bitter cup of suffering for sin so that we would not have to do so.  In a few moments, we will be drinking the cup in remembrance of not only what Jesus did for us but that our cup overflows because of God’s presence in our lives.

Come to the table and here afresh the words of comfort in being saved.  
“4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever” (Psalm 23:4-6)