“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” Psalm 23 has brought comfort to millions of people on their deathbeds as they have pondered the words of it.
When you get down to it, everything we need in life is found in this profound yet simple psalm. It contains the secret of a happy life, in which every need is supplied: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (verse 1 NKJV). It contains the secret of a happy death, where every fear is removed: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me” (verse 4 NKJV). Lastly, it contains the secret of a happy eternity, when every desire is fulfilled: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (verse 6 NKJV).
Christians do not have to fear death. Jesus has said in the book of Revelation, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (1:17–18 NKJV). He has gone before us. He has come back from the grave. And He has promised us life beyond this life as we know it on Earth.
God knows those who are his, as the Scriptures say (see 2 Timothy 2:19). Jesus said in John 10, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (verse 28 NKJV).
God has numbered us. He knows who we are. We are a part of his family, and that brings comfort to us. He is there to guide us. “The valley of the shadow of death” that we go through not only speaks of temporary difficulties. It also speaks of something that is in the future for every person, which is physical death. When that final day comes in our lives, Christians are the ones who are prepared to meet God.
Years ago, I received a letter from someone after one of our Harvest Crusades, who wrote, “Dear Greg, this letter is in memory of Peter, a man of short stature like Zacchaeus. Peter was among our group of nine who attended the Saturday evening youth night at the Harvest Crusade. … Peter was not in tune with the youthful music. He ripped up pieces of tissue and put it in his ears during the music. But those pieces of tissue were removed during your message in which God touched his heart. He, along with others in our group, went forward to receive Christ. Then Peter died at the age of 48 a week later at home from a massive stroke. But he had the hope of heaven, and he is there now.”
Here was a man who made a last-minute commitment to Christ. And when the valley of the shadow of death loomed before him, he went into the presence of God.
I read a book that recorded the stories of those who faced death, both believers and nonbelievers. The French philosopher Voltaire, an atheist, cried out from his deathbed, “I am abandoned by God and man!” Sir Francis Newport, a nonbeliever, wailed in anguish, “Oh that I could lie a thousand years upon the fire that is never quenched to purchase the favor of God and be united to him again. But it is a fruitless wish.” How frightening it would be to face, with a hardened heart, a certain judgment on your deathbed.
Contrast those cries with the words of true believers who, on their deathbeds, knew they would see the Lord. The great evangelist D.L. Moody said, “This is glorious! Earth is receding, heaven is opening, God is calling me.” Elizabeth Folks, who died for her Christian faith, cried out, “Farewell world, farewell faith and hope. Welcome love.” Sir Davis Brewster, another believer, said on his deathbed, “I shall see Jesus, who created all things, who made the world. I shall see Him as He is. Yes, I have had the Light for many years. Oh, how bright it is! I feel so safe, so satisfied.”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” This may not mean a lot to you right now. You may be relatively young. You may be making your plans for today or tomorrow. Life is before you, and everything is great. But when that day comes, this verse will be more precious than ever. Suddenly it will ring true like it never has in your life as you remember that not only has he been with you through life, but he will be with you through that final valley. You won’t have to be afraid. You will walk through it, and Jesus will be waiting for you with open arms on the other side.
The Bible gives this account of the final words of Stephen, the first martyr of the early church: “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit'” (Acts 7:55–59 NKJV).
That is the only time in the Bible where we read of Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father. All of the other times when we read of him at the right hand of the Father, Jesus is sitting. Stephen seemed to be looking beyond the veil into heaven itself. And there was Jesus, standing, almost as though he were saying, “Come on home, son. I’m waiting for you.”
Stephen had that hope, and you can have it too. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Lord is your shepherd, and he will see you through whatever crisis you face. With that in mind, we can find great comfort in knowing we will see him face-to-face one day.