Life in the Shadow of Death
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. Psalm 23:4
On the surface this verse promises that those under the care of the Good Shepherd will be protected and comforted. Which is a great comfort for Christ-followers deployed in the military, serving as police men or women, or any of us who find ourselves in precarious circumstances. How many of us have stood on this simple promise? “I am not afraid, for You are with me.”
The church fathers unwrap the verse further for us and explain that spiritually this verse, following the deeper meaning of the rest of the Psalm, is speaking about our baptism into the death of Christ. In Romans, St. Paul writes, “We have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life” (6:4).
St. Gregory put it like this, “It is necessary for you to be buried in death with Him by baptism. But it is not really death, but a shadow and image of death.” The sacramental death we experience in baptism, then, is a symbol, or shadow of the reality that my old man is dead. When a person is immersed in water during their baptism they do not physiologically die, but it is their truest death nevertheless, for it is the death to our ‘old man’ (or woman) and our rebirth in the image of our resurrected Lord. The rest of my life is now experienced in the shadow of that reality. If death is the ultimate enemy and you have already ‘died’ by baptism into Christ, how then can you ever be threatened? Fear of death can never again haunt you, you’ve been there and done that – you were raised with Christ!
Our life in Christ doesn’t end here, with our baptism, the shadow of our true death to sin. Most people don’t exit the water and go straight to heaven. Life goes on. The Psalmist and the Apostle remind us that we still ‘walk,’ we still live this life as disciples, living martyrs if you will. So Jesus gives us the Comforter, God the Holy Spirit, Who guides us and comforts us, He is the Rod and Staff of the Good Shepherd. Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever…when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth…” (John 14:16; 16:13).
Why do we need a comforter and guide if we have died in Christ and now follow Him as a lamb following his shepherd? Because life is still hard. Kids get sick and soldiers leave for battle and jobs can be scarce. We are dead to the old man of the flesh but we are still shackled to him in this life and the gamut of emotion still courses through our minds with every challenge, trial and temptation. And one by one we move through them, and our confidence and hope grow a little more, and our heart becomes a little more pure, and we begin to look a little more like Jesus.
Walk, dear one, into this newness of life. God is with you.
Photo Credit: Danece Adams Photography