Sermon illustrations


Attacking Others, Hurting Jesus

A young lady named Sally took a seminary class taught by Professor Smith, who was known for his elaborate object lessons. One day Sally walked into class to find a large target placed on the wall, with several darts resting on a nearby table. Professor Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone they disliked or someone who had made them angry—and he would allow them to throw darts at the person’s picture.

Sally’s friend (on her right), drew a picture of another woman who had stolen her boyfriend. Another friend (on her left), drew a picture of his younger brother. Sally drew a picture of Professor Smith, putting a great deal of detail into her drawing, even drawing pimples on his face! She was quite pleased at the overall effect she’d achieved.

The class lined up and began throwing darts amidst much laughter. Some of the students threw with such force that they ripped apart their targets. But Sally, looking forward to her turn, was filled with disappointment when Professor Smith asked the students to return to their seats so he could begin his lecture. As Sally fumed about missing her chance to throw the darts, the professor began removing the target from the wall.

Underneath the target was a picture of Jesus. A hush fell over the room as each student viewed the mangled image of their Savior—holes and jagged marks covered his face. His eyes were virtually pierced out.

Professor Smith said only these words, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Lee Rhodes, Wheeler, Michigan.

Be of Good Comfort

Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were two men burned at the stake for their faith in Oxford in 1555.  According to sources, as the flames leapt up, Latimer was heard to say calmly, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.”

Adapted by Stuart R Strachan Jr.

A Change of Nuisance

While serving as British Prime Minister, Lloyd George had to deal with World War I, an economic depression, and the Sinn Fein movement attempting to effect Irish liberation, as well as many other smaller problems. Amidst all the chaos and troubles, George was asked how he kept up good spirits. He responded by saying, “Well, I find that a change of nuisance is as good as a vacation.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material provided by Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.

A Crown of Thorns

John Huss, the Bohemian reformer, was burned at the stake in 1415. Before his accusers lit the fire, they placed on his head a crown of paper with painted devils on it. He answered this mockery by saying, “My Lord, Jesus Christ, for my sake, wore a crown of thorns; why should not I then, for His sake, wear this light crown, be it ever so ignominious? Truly I will do it willingly.”

After the wood was stacked up to Huss’ neck, the Duke of Bavaria asked him to renounce his preaching. Trusting completely in God’s Word, Huss replied, “In the truth of the gospel which I preached, I die willingly and joyfully today.” The wood was ignited, and Huss died while singing, “Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, have mercy on me.”

Our Daily Bread

Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat


During an especially difficult season planting a church, pastor Louie Giglio was filled with the raw emotions that often accompany the messy side of pastoral ministry. Without going into much detail, it seems clear Giglio had experienced betrayal by someone in his inner-circle of leadership. His anger built into a crescendo when that person’s actions became clear. Giglio furiously began writing a text message to a trusted friend, expecting empathy and perhaps even some vindication of his “righteous anger.” Giglio recounts what happened next:

I pressed send and waited. Literally. I just stared at the screen, looking for support to arrive. I wanted a reply that resounded with a hearty, Hey, Louie, I’ve got your back! I knew you were right all along! I wanted a shoulder to cry on. A celebratory high five or fist bump (not the emoji kind). I needed actual words in return, and lots of them. A moment passed. Another. I waited.

…And then it arrived. A one-sentence reply. Nine words to be exact. In dismay I blurted, “You’ve got to be kidding!” But when I leaned in and focused on the message, those nine words changed my life. The message read: Don’t give the Enemy a seat at your table. I pushed aside my annoyance and let the message sink in. Quickly I saw that my friend had nailed it. I had allowed my adversary—the Devil—to influence the conversation inside my mind.

My struggle wasn’t about fighting with people. People were involved, but the battle I was facing was against principalities and powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). My heavenly Father wasn’t making me afraid or paranoid. My Shepherd wasn’t putting thoughts of despair in my mind. The harmful thoughts were coming from someone else. The Enemy had taken a seat at my table, and I was allowing myself to listen to a killer.

…Soon after, I was led to study Psalm 23—a text that has comforted and steadied God’s people through the ages as they have navigated troubled waters. Now I was seeing it through fresh eyes. Especially the line that reads, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (v. 5). I could see myself sitting at a table, with the Good Shepherd across from me. He had led me through dark valleys to reach the table, and I didn’t need to be afraid, even though the fiery trials weren’t all resolved.

My place at the table didn’t mean that my enemies would be removed from the equation. In fact, the table was set right in the middle of my enemies. That captivated my imagination and held my attention. I didn’t need to vindicate myself. I didn’t need to clear my name. I didn’t need to control this equation or work overtime to improve it. My task was to concentrate on the Good Shepherd, the One who owned the table.

Louie Giglio, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table: It’s Time to Win the Battle of Your Mind, Thomas Nelson 2021.

Expect Attacks

We Christians must be armed and expect every day to be under continuous attack. . . . At such times our only help and comfort is to run here and seize hold of the Lord’s Prayer and speak to God from our heart, “Dear Father, you have commanded me to pray; let me not fall because of temptation.” . . . Otherwise, if you attempt to help yourself by your own thoughts and resources, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil a wider opening.

Martin Luther, The Large Catechism.

I am Baptized

If you’ve read or watched any of the biographies of Martin Luther, you will already know that he struggled at times with bouts of anxiety, self-loathing, and perhaps even depression. Shortly after his unwillingness to renounce his views in front of an imperial meeting (the famous Diet of Worms), Luther was spirited away to a remote castle, where he would eventually translate the Bible into German.

It had to have been an extremely harrowing time. The Catholic Church had condemned him, labeling him a heretic. Alone for much of the days, Luther fought against his demons, perhaps literal and figurative. At one point he was said to have thrown an inkpot across the room at the devil.

But his response to these attacks was just as interesting. Luther would shout out loud Baptizatus sum, “I am baptized.” As Tim Chester writes, “His circumstances looked bleak. But his baptism was a fact, and it embodied the promise of God.”

When times were most tough, Luther leaned on the sacraments as a promise that Luther was saved, no matter what his demons might whisper in his ear.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Innovation or Heresy?

It’s funny how sometimes members of the church can associate anything new with “heresy.” We often make the mistake of confusing technological innovations or scientific discoveries for changes to the gospel. The most famous case of this is probably the prolonged dispute between Galileo and the Catholic church over heliocentrism, that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. The mistake made by the medieval church was to allow assumptions about the world (and really most people at the time) to crystallize into doctrine, assumptions that were formed not by scripture, but by culture and tradition.

This same scenario repeated itself in the late 19thcentury, when at an annual church conference in Westfield, Illinois, a college president proclaimed, “We are approaching a time of great inventions. For example, I believe the day is not far off when men will fly through the air like birds.” A bishop then accused the president of heresy, “The Bible tells us that flight is reserved for the angels! Ironically, the last name of that bishop was Wright. His two sons, Orville and Wilbur, were the first to record a successful powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

Today we look back at those two scenarios and our first reaction is to scoff: how could they be so foolish? But we do the same thing all the time in the church today. People argue you can’t have coffee in a sanctuary. Others argue you can’t have guitars in worship. Whatever “it” is, we often make the mistake of assuming just because it is new, it can’t possibly be good. Whenever anything new comes along, and knocks on the door of the church, we ought not simply reject it out of hand, but rather engage in a thoughtful, engaging dialogue from a Biblical basis as to whether or not this new element is heretical, or simply something new that we have to get used to.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Never Attack an Individual

In a speech given at his father’s (former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau) funeral, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shares this story about an experience he had with his father when he was a young boy:

As I guess it is for most kids, in Grade 3, it was always a real treat to visit my dad at work. As on previous visits this particular occasion included a lunch at the parliamentary restaurant which always seemed to be terribly important and full of serious people that I didn’t recognize. But at eight, I was becoming politically aware. And I recognized one whom I knew to be one of my father’s chief rivals.

Thinking of pleasing my father, I told a joke about him – a generic, silly little grade-school thing. My father looked at me sternly with that look I would learn to know so well, and said: ‘Justin, never attack the individual. One can be in total disagreement with someone without denigrating him as a consequence.’ Saying that, he stood up and took me by the hand and brought me over to introduce me to this man. He was a nice man who was eating with his daughter, a nice-looking blonde girl a little younger than I was.

My father’s adversary spoke to me in a friendly manner and it was then that I understood that having different opinions from those of another person in no way precluded holding this person in the highest respect. Because mere tolerance is not enough: we must have true and deep respect for every human being, regardless of his beliefs, his origins and his values.

That is what my father demanded of his sons and that is what he demanded of our country. He demanded it out of love – love of his sons, love of his country. That is why we love him so. These letters, these flowers, the dignity of the crowds who came to say farewell – all of that is a way of thanking him for having loved us so much.

Taken from Justin Trudeau’s Eulogy, “Je t’aime, Papa, Oct.3, 2003, Montreal.

The Newspaper Ad


Early in the 20th century a London newspaper carried an advertisement that read: “Men wanted for hazardous darkness, and constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” The ad, signed by famous Arctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, brought Inquiries from thousands of men. Commenting on this in his book Be Faithful, Warren W. Wiersbe said, “If Jesus Christ had advertised for workers, the announcement might have read something like this:

Men and women wanted for difficult task of helping to build My church. You will often be misunderstood, even by those working with you. You will face constant attack from an invisible enemy. You may not see the results of your labor, and your full reward will not come till after all your work is completed. It may cost you your home, your ambitions, even your life.

Our Daily Bread

Pursuing Truth Over Revenge

During that time there was a pastor named Peter Miller, and all through his ministry in a small town in Lancaster County, he had a neighbor who took great pleasure in mocking and ridiculing Miller and his followers.

And as it happens, during the war, that neighbor fell on hard times and was both accused and convicted of treason.

And while of course, he was an unpleasant person, Miller was convinced that he was not in fact, a traitor. And so Peter Miller decided to travel 70 miles on foot to see George Washington, who he believed could commute the sentence, and free him of the charges against him.

When Miller approached the great general, Washington told him he was sorry but there was nothing he could do to save his friend.

“My Friend?” Miller gasped, he isn’t my friend! In fact he is the greatest enemy I’ve ever had”

Washington needless to say, was surprised:

“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That in my judgment puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.”

And so, the story goes, Miller returned home just as his neighbor was being led to the scaffold

The Neighbor cried out to the crowd…

“Old Peter Miller has coming to get his revenge and watch me hang from the scaffold”

Miller said “not at all” and he handed him the paper with his pardon.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from The Grace of Giving by Stephen Olford.

See also illustrations on Conflict, Crisis, Criticism, Enemies, Suffering, Violence, War

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Attacks. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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