I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep as the Father knows me. ~ John 10:14-15
Behold a hero in the Bible: the shepherd. He is a cowboy. The American hero. On the surface he appears similar to the cowboy. 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 knows the name of the trail hands. The shepherd knows the name of the sheep. 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? Someone who drives his church against its will to places it doesn't want to go. But that's a wrong image. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and lays down his life for them. The Shepherd who protects, provides, and possesses his sheep.
No flock ever grazed without a shepherd, and no shepherd was ever off duty. When sheep wandered, the shepherd found them. When they fell, he carried them. When they were hurt, he healed them.
Sheep aren't smart. They tend to wander into running creeks for water, then their wool grows heavy and they drown. They need a shepherd to lead them to "calm water" (Ps. 23:2). They have no natural defense—no claws, no horns, no fangs. They are helpless. Sheep need a shepherd with a "rod and … walking stick" (Psalm. 23:4) to protect them. They have no sense of direction. They need someone to lead them "on paths that are right" (Ps. 23:3). We need a shepherd to care for us and to guide us.