Sermon illustrations

Kingdom of  God

The Boodle Feast

In his helpful book Peace Catalysts, Rick Love shares a poignant example of how sharing a meal can break down the familiar walls of status, power, and economics:

In 2011, my wife, Fran, and I went to the Philippines to minister at a Vineyard conference. One evening our Filipino hosts set up over twenty dinner tables end to end with no chairs around them. There were no forks, spoons or knives. An assortment of delicious dishes served as the centerpiece for what they call the Boodle feast. We stood across from each other, ate with our hands and talked.

This tradition was popularized by the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City and is primarily done as a form of fellowship and camaraderie between officers and military personnel, no matter what rank.

A similar practice is common when Filipinos go camping. They take their packed lunch and put it on a table or the ground over some banana leaves and share it with everyone around. The kingdom of God may not be a matter of eating or drinking, but in the Philippines, eating and drinking serves as a wonderful way to break down barriers and build bridges. Hospitality like this is one way we can pursue peace. I think that’s why much of Jesus’ ministry took place over food.

Taken from Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations, and Communities by Rick Love Copyright (c) 2014 p.30 by Rick Love. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Caring For Them is What We’re on this Earth For

In this beautiful illustration from Tom Long’s well-known preaching guide, The Witness of Preaching, a pastor shares a true story of what valuing human life can look like when God’s Kingdom takes root in our lives:

In the newspaper last week there was a story about the process families go through in adopting children. The account related the usual details: the huge number of couples wanting to adopt, the much smaller number of “desirable” children, the extremely long waiting lists, the high legal fees, the red tape, the resulting increase of interest in “surrogate parents,” and so on.

The story also told of the experience of the Williams family.

The Williamses, a deeply religious couple, have adopted four children so far, and they hope to adopt at least one more child in the future. For the Williamses there have been no delays and no waiting lists. The reason is that all of the children the Williamses have adopted are disabled.

One, a son, has Down’s Syndrome, and the other three, two daughters and another son, had major birth defects. All of the Williams’ children are, in the euphemism employed by the adoption agencies, “difficult to place.” In a world where virtually every prospective parent dreams of a bright, beautiful, and perfect child. The Williamses have chosen to offer the embrace of their parental love to children almost no one else wanted. “Our children are our greatest joy,” Mrs. Williams was quoted as saying. “Caring for them is what we’re on this earth for.

Taken from Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching, Sec. Ed., Westminster John Knox Press, 2005, pp.210-211.

A Child Entering the Kingdom

Being childlike does not save us, nor is it meritorious in itself. One can be childlike and be very far from the kingdom. Jesus is telling us that in order to enter the kingdom we need to have the trusting disposition position of a child in order to experience the fullness of the kingdom. If we insist on maintaining our power and our control, we cannot enter the kingdom. The kingdom requires submission.

James Bryan Smith. The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ.

The Daughter of a King

The British novelist George MacDonald loved writing stories about princes and princesses. At one point in his life, someone asked him why he focused so much of his writing on them.His answer was profound: “Because every girl is a princess.”When the person asking the question was confused, MacDonald asked what the definition of a princess is.

““The daughter of a king,” the man answered.

“Very well, then every little girl is a princess.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Don’t Look For the Kingdom in a Place

Continually, Jesus described the Kingdom in terms that one can’t point to and identify specifically—but in every story, the Kingdom was the essential piece. The Kingdom is mixed in and present already. It’s like leaven in a loaf of bread. A person can’t find the leaven after the loaf is baked. But the loaf would be completely deflated and radically different if the leaven were missing. The Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed that sprouts into a giant bush. Someone couldn’t find the original mustard seed after the bush has grown, but birds could not nest in the branches were it not for the seed.

“The Kingdom of God is not coming in ways that you can observe,” Jesus said. “No one will be able to say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘It’s over there.’ The Kingdom of God is already within and among you.”

These words are such a colossal paradigm shift—an upside-down way of looking at an inside-out world. And they are as disruptive now as when they were spoken. Jesus was telling the people then (and us now) that we won’t be able to identify the Kingdom geographically or point it out in any one singular event. Even though the fullness of the Kingdom is not yet realized, the Kingdom has already begun, and we are a vital part of that realization. It’s everywhere—and it’s now. It is within us and among us and worth losing all we have to gain it.

Brian Hardin, Sneezing Jesus: How God Redeems Our Humanity, The Navigators.

Foolishness to the Greeks

In his seminal work, The Cross of Christ, British pastor and author John Stott describes the unique, upside-down kingdom instituted on the cross:

What was shameful, even odious, to the critics of Christ, was in the eyes of his followers most glorious. They had learnt that the servant was not greater than the master, and that for them as for him suffering was the means to glory. More than that, suffering was glory, and whenever they were ‘insulted because of the name of Christ’, then ‘the Spirit of glory’ rested upon them.

Taken from The Cross of Christ by John Stott. Copyright (c) 1976, 2006, Kindle Location 763 by John Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Identity and Achievement at L’Arche

All of us struggle with our own desires for accomplishment and ambition. Christians especially find it difficult to discern their own worldly ambitions vs. following Jesus’ comand to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt.6:3). The author and scholar Henri Nouwen documents his own struggle with this tension after leaving the lofty ivory towers of academia to work in a house for mentally disabled adults. He describes this struggle in the book “In the Name of Jesus”:

The first thing that struck me when I came to live in a house with mentally handicapped people was that their liking or disliking me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then. Since nobody could read my books, they could not impress anyone, and since most of them never went to school, my twenty years at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard did not provide a significant introduction. My considerable ecumenical experience proved even less valuable. Not being able to use any of the skills that had proved so practical in the past was a real source of anxiety. In a way it seemed as though I was starting my life all over again.

In his early days, Nouwen struggled with his identity and vocation as he made the transition from teaching to working among some of the “least of these”. How have you managed your own sense of call, seeking God’s kingdom, and your own worldly ambitions?

Stuart Strachan Jr. with an excerpt from Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Kingdom-Based Coffee

Brandon and Faith Lee, who started Bird and Branch Coffee, are what faithful witnesses look like. When they sat down across from my wife and me, they had a dream to start a coffee shop that would serve as a place of refreshment and restoration. They wanted the planet, their employees, and all those who are a part of their supply chain, from producer to customer, to be better off because of their business. It now exists for the flourishing of all, as God intended.

They didn’t hold the return on investment for their shareholders above the investment they were making in the laborers who harvest their beans, the baristas crafting each cup, or the planet’s resources that make each drink and pastry possible. Brandon and Faith quit their jobs to ensure that those who lacked living wages and job training could have a shot at thriving in a society that says that they’re unworthy because they once lived on the street, committed crimes, or were sexually exploited.

Brandon and Faith’s parents did not come to America with the plan that their children would create jobs for the formerly homeless and incarcerated. That is not America’s invitation and is certainly not the narrative for college-educated Chinese Americans living in New York City.

But that is just one of the possibilities when two people fall in love with Jesus and choose the vision of the kingdom of God over the one offered by America. Their faithfulness is a reflection of a higher allegiance and an alternate citizenship that trumps the one that dominant culture and their family’s history touts as superior.

Taken from Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free by Jonathan Walton Copyright (c) 2019 by Jonathan Walton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Kingdom of God is a Public Park

What is the Kingdom of God, according to the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 8:1-8)? It is a public park! It is a park where old people are no longer cold and lonely and ill and senile, but participants in a community. It is a public park where the elderly can sit together and bask in the sun, and talk laugh over the good old days in full vigor and clear mind and satisfaction of life.

The Kingdom of God is a public park where little children can run and play in its squares, in safety and fun and delight…. It is a place where no child is abused or unwanted or malnourished, and where there is not even a bully among the group, shoving and taunting the littler ones until they break into tears. The Kingdom of God, says Zechariah, is a public park where the streets are safe for children.

Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Of Children and Streets and the Kingdom,” in Best Sermons 1, ed. James W. Cox and Kenneth M. Cox (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 288-89.

Oaks of Righteousness

In his excellent book, An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling contrasts our overly busy lives with a vision of the kingdom from Isaiah chapter 61:

Isaiah envisioned a kingdom in which those people in need of grace become, over time, solidly rooted in God’s grace, enough so as to be able to extend his grace to others. He envisioned a kingdom where we would experience favor, comfort, blessing, honor, new perspectives and deepening roots that enable us to do the rebuilding, restoring, renewing work in places, structures and persons who have long been ruined (Is 61:4). These characteristics of oaks of righteousness are the fruit of apprenticeship.

Further, we, as these oaks of righteousness planted by the Lord, put his splendor on display, a display quite different from human excitement, enthusiasm and thrills. Splendor is quieter, stronger, less hurried and more deeply rooted. Oaks take a long time to grow. A newly planted acorn can take between two and three decades to provide significant shade, and these slow-growing oaks can live more than two hundred years. One reason for their longevity is the taproot they send deep into the earth that makes them very drought-resistant.

Oaks are indeed solid, stable, reliable, majestic trees—but it takes them a while to get there. Do we take that same long view of growing in Christ ourselves and helping others do the same? If so, what can we do to help others become attentive and teachable apprentices to him so that one day they will shine with his splendor and flourish in the fruit of his Spirit? Whatever it is that we do, I believe it will require a less hurried, longer perspective approach than we have commonly taken.

Taken from An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling Copyright (c) 2013 by Alan Fadling. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Rule of Heaven

The phrase “kingdom of heaven,” which we find frequently in Matthew’s Gospel where the others have “kingdom of God,” does not refer to a place, called “heaven,” where God’s people will go after death.  It refers to the rule of heaven, that is, of God, being brought to bear in the present world.  Thy kingdom come, said Jesus, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.  Jesus’ contemporaries knew that the creator God intended to bring justice and peace to his world here and now.  The question was, how, when and through whom?

Taken from The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by N.T. Wright Copyright (c) 2015 by N. T. Wright. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Thing isn’t the Thing

If there’s one thing I know for sure in the kingdom of God it’s this: the thing we often think is The Thing is often not the thing but is, in fact, only a thing. We come forward with a Huge Life Decision and we long for answers and direction. But we’ve got absolutely nothing, so we talk ourselves in circles and everything feels muddy and heavy and difficult. We pray and ask for advice and still, nothing rises to the surface as the right direction to go.

What I’m finding to be most helpful more than any list, question, or sage advice is simply to get quiet in a room with Jesus on the regular, not for the sake of an answer but for the sake of love. I cannot promise your decision will be made with ease, but I can say that you’ll remember love is the important thing. And when you have a big decision to make, you need all the love and support you can possibly get. The only place I know to find that for sure is in the presence of Jesus.

Emily P. Freeman,  The Next Right Thing, 2019, p. 24, Baker Publishing Group.

The Treasure of a Lifetime

A first-century Hebrew walks alone on a hot afternoon, staff in hand. His shoulders are stooped, his tunic stained with sweat. But he doesn’t stop to rest. He has pressing business in the city. He veers off the road into a field, seeking a shortcut. The owner won’t mind—travelers are permitted this courtesy. The field is uneven. To keep his balance he thrusts his staff into the dirt. Thunk. The staff strikes something hard. He stops, wipes his brow, and pokes again. Thunk. Something’s under there, and it’s not a rock.

The weary traveler’s curiosity wins out. He jabs at the ground. Something reflects a sliver of sunlight. He drops to his knees and starts digging. Five minutes later, he’s uncovered a case fringed in gold. By the looks of it, it’s been there for decades. Hands shaking and heart racing, he pries off the lock and opens the lid. Gold coins! Jewelry! Precious stones! A treasure more valuable than anything he’s ever imagined. Some wealthy man must have buried the treasure and died suddenly, its secret location dying with him.

There’s no homestead nearby. Surely the current landowner has no clue this ancient treasure is here. The traveler buries the chest and marks the spot. He turns to head home—only now he’s not plodding. He’s skipping like a child and smiling broadly. What a find! Unbelievable! I’ve got to have that treasure! But I can’t just take it. By law, whoever buys a field assumes ownership of all that’s in it. But how can I afford to buy it? I’ll sell my farm…and crops…all my tools…my prize oxen.

Yes, if I sell everything, that should be enough! From the moment of his discovery, the traveler’s life changes. The treasure captures his imagination. It’s his reference point, his new center of gravity. The traveler takes every new step with this treasure in mind. He experiences a radical paradigm shift. This story is captured by Jesus in a single verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, Revised and Updated: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving, Multnomah, 2017.

Three Perspectives on Work

In 1927 Bruce Barton wrote a multi-faceted parable that is believed to be based on a true story. This story is related to the work of Sir Christopher Wren, whose design of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is considered one of the most beautiful church buildings ever constructed. The construction was necessary because of the Great Fire of 1666, in which much of London, including the original St. Paul’s church building was destroyed:

One day, while observing the construction of the cathedral, Wren decided to question the three bricklayers. “What are you doing?” to which the bricklayer replied, “I’m a bricklayer. I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.” The second bricklayer answered, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.” But the third bricklayer, who would eventually rise in rank above all the other craftsmen, when he was asked the question, “What are you doing?” replied with a gleam in his eye, “I’m a cathedral builder. I get to play a small part in building the greatest kingdom of all, the kingdom of God.”

Original Source Unknown, Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Dallas Willard gave a series of lectures on the kingdom of God. In one, he discussed the popularity of the phrase, “The truth will set you free” by putting it in its proper kingdom context: 

The whole passage from John 8 is this, “When Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”   It’s amazing how people will just start at the end and come back and chop off what they want.

We have an elevator at USC [where I teach philosophy] in the humanities building that just says “The truth will make you free.” Apparently you don’t even have to know [the truth]. It just works, right?   Jesus really said, “If you continue in my word.” That means “If you put in practice what I do, if you walk in it.” 

Colleen Strachan

The Upside-Down, Strangely Beautiful Kingdom

The kingdom of God turns the Darwinist narrative of the survival of the fittest upside down (Acts 17:6–7). When the church honors and cares for the vulnerable among us, we are not showing charity. We are simply recognizing the way the world really works, at least in the long run.

The child with Down syndrome on the fifth row from the back in your church, he’s not a “ministry project.” He’s a future king of the universe. The immigrant woman who scrubs toilets every day on hands and knees, and can barely speak enough English to sing along with your praise choruses, she’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a future queen of the cosmos, a joint-heir with Christ.… The first step to cultural influence is not to contextualize to the present, but to contextualize to the future, and the future is awfully strange, even to us.

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015, p. 82.

The Victory of God

The victory of God in our time over this deathly idolatry is hidden den from us, as God’s decisive victory is always hidden from us. We do not know exactly when and where the victory has been wrought. It is hidden in the weakness of neighbor love, in the foolishness of mercy, in the vulnerability of compassion, in the staggering alternatives of forgiveness and generosity which permit new life to emerge in situations of despair and brutality.

Walter Breuggemann

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.

Would Christianity Make My Life Smaller?

When I was considering the possibility of embracing Christian faith as a young college student, what I feared most was that it would make my life smaller rather than larger—less love, less joy, less creativity, less wonder, less engagement. I had met enough Christians who were incarnational proof of this, so when I finally came to faith in Christ as a college student, it was because I discovered that Jesus saves people from the very smallness I feared. I saw that the very essence of the kingdom of God is a life bigger than I would ever find outside of it.

Taken from Called by Mark Labberton. ©2014 by Mark Labberton.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

See Also Illustrations on Christ the King, Discipleship, Humility, Jesus, KingService

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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