Sermon illustrations

The Gospel

The A to Z of the Christian Life

The gospel is therefore not just the ABCs of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life. Our problems arise largely because we don’t continually return to the gospel to work it in and live it out. That is why Martin Luther wrote, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine. … Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York: Dutton, 2008, p.119).

A Fabulous Tale to Proclaim

With his fabulous tale to proclaim, the preacher is called in his turn to stand up in his pulpit as fabulist extraordinary, to tell the truth of the Gospel in its in its highest and wildest and holiest sense. This is his job, but more often than not he shrinks from it because the truth he is called to proclaim, like the fairy tale, seems in all but some kind of wistful, faraway sense too good to be true, and so the preacher as apologist instead of fabulist tries as best he can to pare it down to a size he thinks the world will swallow.

Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, & Fairy Tale, HarperSanFrancisco.

Following a King

The Gospel is not about choosing to follow advice, it’s about being called to follow a King. Not just someone with the power and authority to tell you what needs to be done—but someone with the power and authority to do what needs to be done, and then to offer it to you as good news.

Timothy Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (New York: Dutton, 2011, p.20.

The Former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate Has a Question

I wonder what would happen if we all agreed to read one of the Gospels until we came to a place that told us to do something, then went out to do it, and only after we had done it, began reading again? There are aspects of the Gospel that are puzzling and difficult to understand. But our problems are not centered around the things we don’t understand, but rather in the things we do understand, the things we could not possibly misunderstand. Our problem is not so much that we don’t know what we should do. We know perfectly well, but we don’t want to do it.

Peter Marshall, Mr. Jones, Meet the Master!, Revell.

The Gospel is Freedom 

Its [Romans] message is not that ‘man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains’, as Rousseau put it at the beginning of The Social Contract (1762); it is rather that human beings are born in sin and slavery, but that Jesus Christ came to set us free.

For here is unfolded the good news of freedom, freedom from the holy wrath of God upon all ungodliness, freedom from alienation into reconciliation, freedom from the condemnation of God’s law, freedom from what Malcolm Muggeridge used to call ‘the dark little dungeon of our own ego’, freedom from the fear of death, freedom one day from the decay of the groaning creation into the glorious liberty of God’s children, and meanwhile freedom from ethnic conflict in the family of God, and freedom to give ourselves to the loving service of God and others.

John Stott, The Message of Romans (The Bible Speaks Today Series), InterVarsity Press.

The Gospel is Not Right Wing or Left Wing

Because the gospel of Jesus is not an ideology or a philosophy or a methodology or a therapy but a supernatural in-breaking of God into our lives, I am concerned at how many Christians do not bring it to bear personally, critically, and explosively on the political right and left. It seems to me that too many Christians gravitate to right-wing Republican politics or left-wing Democratic politics because they see some parallel between a political plank and a part of the gospel. It’s like saying that the party that uses candles must be the true one because they’re shaped so much like sticks of gospel dynamite.

The gospel was meant to explode with saving power in the lives of politicians and social activists, not help them decorate their social agenda. Jesus did not come into the world to endorse anybody’s platform. He doesn’t fit in. He created the world. He holds it in being by his powerful word.

He will return someday to judge the living and the dead. And he came the first time to die so that left-wing activists and right-wing talk-show hosts would be broken in pieces for their sin and put back together by the power of grace. He came so that from that day on Jesus himself would be the supreme treasure and authority in our lives. He came so that we would become radically devoted to the glory of God. He came so that the only kind of racial diversity and racial harmony we would pursue is Jesus-exalting, God-glorifying, and gospel-formed.

John Piper, Bloodlines, Crossway.

Kreisler’s Violin

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector.

Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred. “I have no right to keep that to myself,” he exclaimed. “It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.”

Our Daily Bread, February 4, 1994.

News that Brings Joy

Euangelion in Greek, which is translated as “good news” or “gospel,” combines angelos, the word for one announcing news, and the prefix eu-, which means “joyful.” Gospel means “news that brings joy.” This word had currency when Mark used it, but it wasn’t religious currency. It meant history-making, life-shaping news, as opposed to just daily news. [Keller goes on to talk about the “gospel of Caesar Augustus”] …

A gospel is an announcement of something that has happened in history, something that’s been done for you that changes your status forever.

Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, Dutton, 2011, p.14.

No Native Country

The Gospel as such has no native country. He who goes out humbly with Christ in the world of all races will perpetually discover the multiple, but constant, relevance of what he takes. It takes a whole world to understand a whole Christ. . . . Those who take are not vulgarly universalizing their own culture: they are conveying that by the apprehension of which both they and their hearers learn. If the claims of the Gospel are valid it could not be otherwise.

Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, Oxford University Press.

Reading the Gospels for the First Time

Thomas Linacre was king’s physician to Henry VII and Henry VIII of England, founder of the Royal College of Physicians, and friend of the great Renaissance thinkers Erasmus and Sir Thomas More. Late in His life he took Catholic orders and was given a copy of the Gospels to read for the first time.

The Bible, of course, was still the preserve of the clergy and not in the hands of ordinary people. And Linacre lived through the darkest of the church’s dark hours: the papacy of Alexander VI, the Borgia pope whose bribery, corruption, incest, and murder plumbed new depths in the annals of Christian shame. Reading the four Gospels for himself, Linacre was amazed and troubled. “Either these are not the Gospels,” he said, “or we are not Christians.”

Os Guinness, The Call, Thomas Nelson, 1998, pp.109-110.

There is News Today

But we must remember there is only way that we can participate in Christ’s victory over the demonic Powers. We can only do it by doing it his way. If we try to do it our way we will be back into the rule of Sin and Death. The only way of victory is through the Cross. …Young people today are faced with so many pressures to assume so many “lifestyles”. The messages are all essentially the same… and your lifestyle will be limitless.

It’s a lie. All of it is a lie. None of these things can give life. The sign of Sin and Death lies across them all. But there is news today. I am among you as a fellow prisoner who brings news of impending release. The first man, Adam, is strong but the second man, Christ, is stronger still.

Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Eerdmans.

“Three Dollars Worth of Gospel, Please”

I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much– just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust.

I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation.

I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races– especially if they smell.

I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of gospel, please.”

D.A. Carson, Basics For Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996/2005), pp. 12-13.

Using Aslan to Explain the Gospel

If I am asked to break the gospel and a gospel culture down into simple statements, I would borrow imagery from the man from Northern Ireland, from Belfast, C. S. Lewis. From The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where we first meet the story of Aslan, we will find a few central themes about Aslan. It’s the story of Aslan, which is how Lewis told the Story of Jesus:

Watch the Lion roam.

Watch the Lion die on the Stone Table.

Watch the Stone Table crack with new creation powers.

Listen to the Lion’s Roar.

Trust the Lion.

Love the Lion.

There’s our gospel: it’s the saving Story of Israel now lived out by Jesus, who lived, died, was buried, was raised, and was exalted God’s right hand, and who is now roaring out the message someday the kingdom will come in all its glorious fury.

Taken from Scott McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, Zondervan.

What is the Gospel?

I recently visited a missions school at a large church in Waco, Texas, and decided to try a similar test in a class-sized proportion. “Tell me,” I said to the group, “what is the gospel?” A young lady raised her hand. “The free gift of God.” “Good,” I said. I went to the chalkboard and wrote gift from God. “Somebody else?”

“Freedom from sin,” a man near the back called out. “Eternal life,” said another. “Keep going,” I said. I stayed busy at the chalkboard, listing the items as they came in. Freedom. Righteousness. Moral purity. Grace. Unconditional love. Healing and deliverance. Redemption. Faith in God. New life.

After five minutes or so, we had filled the chalkboard with a list of things that we believed were the gospel. “Excellent,” I said. “Did we miss anything?” The room was silent for a minute. I could see heads turning. I could hear pages rustling. Everybody seemed to think there was something significant missing, but nobody wanted to volunteer to name the missing item. Finally, after the second minute of silence, a girl near the front raised her hand. “How come none of us mentioned Jesus?”

“Exactly,” I said. We closed the session and went to a break. Point made.

Carl Medearis. Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism

What is the Good News?

Two years later I was speaking to a group of college ministry staff. “What is the gospel?” I asked them. This was a particularly provocative question for these staff members, who were expert at communicating the good news of the gospel as it had been handed down to them. They knew all manner of frameworks and diagrams to make the message simple. But beneath the surface of their successful frameworks, a void occupied the center of the message.

What exactly was Jesus’s “good news”? The group formed four teams to examine the New Testament gospels: one examined Mark, another explored Matthew, another dissected Luke, and the last investigated John. They had twenty minutes to discern each gospel writer’s understanding of the good news. When time was up, this diverse group of men and women came back together to share what they had discovered. These accomplished ministry staff members were amazed.

The good news of the gospel writers was not quite the good news they had been preaching. The gospel writers’ vision was much bigger. The team members found that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all cared about an individual’s reconciliation with God, self, and their communities. But the gospel writers also focused on systemic justice, peace between people groups, and freedom for the oppressed. The good news was both about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the character of that Kingdom. It was about what God’s Kingdom looked like. It was about what citizenship in God’s Kingdom requires. The biblical gospel writers’ good news was about the restoration of shalom.

Lisa Sharon Harper, The Very Good Gospel, The Crown Publishing Group, 2016, p. 60.

What We Preach

A strong church once inscribed these words on an archway leading to the churchyard. Over time, two things happened: the church lost its passion for Jesus and His gospel, and ivy began to grow on the archway. The growth of the ivy, covering the message, showed the spiritual decline. Originally it said strongly, “we preach Christ crucified.”

But as the ivy grew, one could only read “we preach Christ”, and the church would preach about Jesus as a great man, but never his crucifixion (and resurrection). The ivy kept growing, and one could soon only read, “we preach.” 

The church also had even lost Jesus in the message, preaching religious platitudes and social graces. Finally, one could only read “we”, and the church also just became another social gathering place, all about “we” and not about God.

David Guzik, Adapted by Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Worst Good News

What’s the worst good news you’ve ever received? Here are a few that come to mind for me.

“Mr. Halter, this is Bill from the Ford service department. I’ve got some good news for you. All the smoke you saw wasn’t from a blown head gasket. It was actually from your transmission. The cost is only going to be $3,500 to fix it instead of $4,500.” Oh yeah!

Once, my neighbor Steve called me while I was picking up my daughter from school: “Hugh, I think the salmon you had on the grill is done.”

“Why do you say that, Steve?”

“Well, I can see huge plumes of smoke billowing off of the cedar wall you built around your barbecue. I think your entire house may be on fire too!” Okay, thanks for calling me instead, of saving my house, you jackwagon.

Just after frantically waking up from an unplanned nap in terminal A, gate 43, and noticing that no one but me was still in the seating area, I heard these words from the ticket agent: “Well, sir . Ive got good news and bad news. You did sleep through the boarding process, but you can now go back to sleep and relax for another seven hours before the next flight leaves.” Argh!

Hugh Halter, Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, David C. Cook, 2014, pp.49-50.

See also Illustrations on Evangelism, Freedom, Jesus, Salvation

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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