The Cowboy and the Shepherd

Sermon: John 10:1-10


Grace and peace to your from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

In American folk lore, we have the cowboy. He rides his horse as he guides his cattle on a cattle drive to market.

“He rears his horse to a stop on the rim of the canyon. He shifts his weight in his saddle, weary from the cattle trail. One finger pushes his hat up on his head. One jerk of the kerchief reveals a sun-leathered face.

A thousand head of cattle pass behind. A thousand miles of trail lie before him. A thousand women would love to hold him. But none do. None will. He lives to drive cattle, and he drive cattle to live. He is honest in poker and quick with a gun. Hard riding. Slow talking. His best friend is his horse, and his strength is his grit.

He needs no one. He is a cowboy. The American hero.

Behold a hero in the Bible: the shepherd.  He walk ahead of his sheep as he guides them to be sheared of their wool.

On the surface he appears similar to the cowboy. He, too, is rugged. He sleeps where the jackals howl and works where the wolves prowl. Never off duty. Always alert. Like the cowboy, he makes his roof the stars and the pasture his homeland.

But that is where the similarities end.

The shepherd loves his sheep. It’s not that the cowboy doesn’t appreciate the cow; it’s just that he doesn’t know the animal. He doesn’t even want to.

Have you ever seen a picture of a cowboy caressing a cow? Have you ever seen a shepherd caring for a sheep? Why the difference?

Simple. The cowboy leads the cow to slaughter. The shepherd leads the sheep to be shorn. The cowboy wants the meat of the cow. The shepherd wants the wool of the sheep. And so they treat the animals differently.

The cowboy drives the cattle. The shepherd leads the sheep. A herd has a dozen cowboys. A flock has one shepherd. The cowboy wrestles, brands, herds, and ropes. The shepherd leads, guides, feeds, and anoints.

The cowboy whoops and hollers at the cows. The shepherd calls each sheep by name.

Aren’t we glad Christ didn’t call himself the Good Cowboy?”

Our gospel lesson is about the Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep. In this lesson Jesus is telling us he is the door to the sheep fold,  that who goes in or out has to go through Jesus.

The shepherd in Jesus’ day would either find a natural sheep fold to put his sheep in for the night our he would build one out of sticks and rock, but he would be the door to the fold. He would lie down in the doorway so the sheep could not escape and wild animals would not be able to enter and eat the sheep.

Jesus is the door to the sheepfold of salvation. It is through him that we must pass in order to receive salvation.

The text says 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.

8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them.

9* I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Jesus is the doorway to salvation for us just as the shepherd is the doorway in the sheepfold to protect his sheep so that they can go in and out to find pasture.

Jesus is no cowboy driving his flock without a care for the individual sheep. Jesus is no cowboy driving his flock to be slaughtered. But Jesus is the good shepherd, leading his flock as he calls each of them by name to salvation he brought to us through cross and resurrection.

Isn’t it great that we have a good shepherd not a cowboy leading us. The good shepherd cares for each member of his flock and knows each by name. Our salvation come from a good shepherd who know his flock, knows their name and leads them to green pastures.

Jesus is like the guide in the following story:

“A traveler was returning to his home from a journey to a distant country. At nightfall he arrived at the entrance to a vast forest. Unable either to delay his journey or retrace his steps, he was prepared to traverse the sullen forest when he came upon an old shepherd from whom he asked the way.

“Alas!” cried the shepherd. “It is not easy to point it out, for the forest is criss-crossed by hundreds of paths winding in every direction. They are almost all similar in appearance, though all with one exception lead to the Great Abyss.”

“What is the Great Abyss?” the traveler inquired.

“It is the abyss which surrounds the forest,” replied the shepherd. “Moreover, the forest is filled with robbers and wild beasts. In particular, it is ravaged by an enormous serpent, so that scarcely a day passes but we find the remains of some unfortunate traveler who fell prey to it. Still,” the shepherd continued, ” as it is impossible to arrive at the place where you are going without traversing the forest, I have, through a motive of compassion ’stationed myself at the entrance of the forest to assist and direct travelers. I have also placed my sons at different intervals to assist me in the same good work. Their services and mine are at your disposal, and I am ready to accompany you if you so desire.

The sincerity and venerable appearance of the old man satisfied the traveler, and he accepted the proposal. The shepherd held a lantern with one hand and with the other took the arm of the traveler. They then set out upon their journey through the dark forest.

After walking for some distance, the traveler felt his strength waning. “Lean on me,” said the shepherd. The traveler did so, and was able to continue the journey. At length the lamp began to flicker.

“Ah!” groaned the traveler. “The oil is nearly spent, and the light will soon be gone. What will become of us now?”

“Do not fear,” consoled the shepherd. “We shall soon meet one of my sons, who will supply us with more oil.” Just then the traveler perceived a glimmer of light shining through the darkness. The light shone from a small cabin by the side of the narrow path. At the sound of the shepherd’s well-known voice, the cabin door swung open. A seat was offered to the weary traveler, and some plain but substantial food was set before him. Thus refreshed, the traveler set out again, guided by the shepherd’s son.

In this manner the traveler journeyed on for the rest of the night. From time to time, they stopped at different cabins built along the path. At each stop he obtained refreshment, a bit of rest and was furnished with a new guide. With the dawning of daylight, the traveler arrived, without incident, at the farthest boundary of the forest. Only then did he appreciate the magnitude of the service rendered him by the shepherd and his sons. At the very edge of the forest, right before his feet, lay a frightful precipice, at the bottom of which he could distinguish the roar of an angry current.

“This,” said his guide, “is the Great Abyss which my father spoke about. No one knows its depth, for it is always covered with a thick fog which no eye can penetrate.

As he spoke, he heaved a deep sigh, and wiped a tear from his eves. “You seem grieved,” said the traveler.

“How can it be otherwise?” replied his guide. “Can I look at the abyss without thinking of the thousands of unfortunate people who every day are swallowed up in it? In vain do my father and my brothers offer our services. Very few accept them, and of those few the greater portion, after journeying for a few hours, accuse us of needlessly alarming them. They despise our advice and set out on paths of their own choosing.

The consequence is that they soon lose their way and are devoured by the serpent, murdered by robbers, or plunge headlong into the abyss. You see there is only this one little bridge by which the Great Abyss can be crossed, and the way which leads to the bridge is known to us alone Pass over with confidence,” continued the guide. He turned to the traveler, embraced him and said, “On the other side is your true home.”

The traveler, overcome with gratitude, thanked his charitable guide and promised never to forget him. He crossed the narrow bridge and discovered he was now in his own land. His family was there to welcome him.”

The question for all us to answer this morning is whether we will be willing to be guided over the abyss’s of life by Jesus the shepherd or do we want to go it alone? Are you willing to accept Jesus as the guide for your life? Are you willing to accept Jesus as the good shepherd who calls us by name?

And when you do allow Jesus to be that good shepherd, then life takes on a certain peace and restfulness. It doesn’t mean that no troubles will come your way, but when they do you have the good shepherd to guide you through. Just as the father and his sons guided the traveler through the forest and around the great abyss, Jesus guides us and give us a measure of his peace.

A closing poem says it best:

“Are you anxious in the midst of life’s problems

As you wake up each new day?

Do you worry about the past or future,

Or ponder problems that might come your way?

There is no reason to fear or falter

We have One who knows and understands,

He is there even in the midnight hour,

Jesus will calm the storm, He will hold your hand.

Jesus still speaks peace to the troubled waters

They will not overtake your soul,

The Good Shepherd cares for His sheep,

Our Lord will lead and guide you, in the safety of His fold.

Jesus speaks peace with the greatest love ever told,

He will be there every moment of the day,

Worry not about the past or tomorrow, our Lord is in control,

The Savior walks with us and hears us as we pray.

Rest in God and let Him fight your battles

He knows all things from the beginning to the end,

Great peace He will bestow, as onward you go,

Look up to the Savior, He is your dearest Friend. “(3)


This message from Pastor Tim Zingale is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected].  A Pass it On Project