Sermon illustrations


Homecoming & The Hope of Resurrection

In her book Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel reflects on the nature of home in a transient age. In this short excerpt, Michel describes the central longing in both Tolkein & Lewis’ fiction:

In their stories of hobbits and orcs, fauns and beavers and Father Christmas, Tolkien and Lewis told the story of home as the Scriptures tell it: the world has fallen from its original perfection, but it will one day be restored. The enduring legacy of these stories testify to the resonance of their hope.

Humans long for the thaw of winter and the return of the king.

They want to go home. Acquainted with the early grief of losing a mother, both Tolkien and Lewis knew the longing for a world in which death and injustice did not triumph.

Devout Christians, both men knew the consolation of that desire in the story of Jesus Christ—because Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. As the Zaleskis write, “When Sam Gamgee cries out, ‘O great glory and splendor! And all my wishes have come true!’ we are not in the realm of escapism, but of the Gospel, in all its strangeness and beauty.”

Taken from Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home Jen Pollock Michel. Copyright (c) 2019 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com 

The Importance of Orientation

Orientation is a fascinating word based on the Latin word oriri, meaning “to rise, as in where the sun rises. The sun rises in the east. Early Christians gave great thought and intentionality to what they oriented themselves toward. For instance, the altar in the earliest churches was intentionally directed east so that worshipers would face Jerusalem as they received the Lord’s Supper together.

For this same reason, many of the earliest Christians were buried with their feet facing toward the east. Their rationale was simple: when Christ returned and resurrected their bodies, they wanted to be standing and be facing Jerusalem in their resurrection. To be a Christian was, and is, to reorient one’s entire life and death around Jesus Christ.

A.J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 341.

Issues with the Resurrection

The resurrection was as inconceivable for the first disciples, as impossible for them to believe, as it is for many of us today. Granted, their reasons would have been different from ours. The Greeks did not believe in resurrection; in the Greek worldview, the afterlife was liberation of the soul from the body.

For them resurrection would never be part of life after death. As for the Jews, some of them believed in a future general resurrection when the entire world would be renewed, but they had no concept of an individual rising from the dead. The people of Jesus’s day were not predisposed to believe in resurrection any more than we are.

Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (New York: Dutton, 2011, p.216.

Jesus’ Resurrection

Jesus’s resurrection opened a door between the fallen, groaning world into which he was born and the renewal of all things. That door was a stone rolled back by the very finger of God from the mouth of a grave outside of Jerusalem. Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, present at creation, came in the flesh to be the mediator between God and man.

He lived the life of perfect righteousness that all men have failed to live. He died as a lamb led to the slaughter, offering himself up as the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world, once and for all. He rose from the grave defeating death itself. Bearing all authority in heaven and on earth, he lives as the appointed heir of all things. He rules over every corner of creation, putting every enemy under his feet while making alive by his grace through faith those who were dead in their sins.

Russ Ramsey, Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Crossway.

Jesus’ Resurrection in Two Words: Ta Da!

Pastor John Ortberg tells the story of a friend of his (also a pastor named Skip Viau) who was attempting to tell the resurrection story in a children’s sermon. He asked the question, “What were Jesus’ first words to the disciples after he was raised from the dead?” Before he was able to give the answer, a little girl raised her hand high in the sky, so Skip let her answer. “I know,” she said, “Ta da!”. As Ortberg would argue, it was “as good a translation as any.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from John Ortberg, Who is This Man, Zondervan Publishing.

A Little Less Dark

In C.S. Lewis’ famous “children’s story,” The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan and Lucy mourn the death of the great lion king Aslan, who sacrificed his life for the kingdom of Narnia. The narrator describes the somber tone as the two weep over their lost leader:

I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been—if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. . . . But at last Lucy noticed two other things. One was that the sky on the East side of the hill was a little less dark than it had been an hour ago. The other was some movement going on in the grass at her feet.

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Love that Believes in Resurrection

Norman Malcolm was an American philosopher who became close friends with Ludwig Wittgenstein (the founder of Analytic Philosophy, one of the most popular schools of philosophy up through today). In 1958, seven years after Wittgenstein’s death, Malcolm published a memoir in which he said that Wittgenstein was interested in religious matters but of course held no religious belief whatsoever.

But later on, when he saw more of Wittgenstein’s journals and letters, he realized that he had been too confident, and had misinterpreted many of Wittgenstein’s statements about religion. For instance, when Wittgenstein said that he could never bring himself to believe in the Catholicism of his friend (and, later, literary executor) Elizabeth Anscombe, Malcolm assumed that he meant something like “I would never believe such nonsense.”

But eventually he came to see that Wittgenstein had been making a far less critical statement, had been essentially saying that he was not formed in such a way that he could believe in what Anscombe believed – but that that incapacity might well have been some kind of flaw in his formation.

In one of his journals, later published in the book Culture and Value, Wittgenstein wrote,

What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s Resurrection? It is as though I play with the thought. — If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. He is dead and decomposed. In that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation.

We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven. But if I am to be REALLY saved, — what I need is certainty — not wisdom, dreams of speculation — and this certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence.

For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can say: Only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: It is love that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to the Resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption.

Introduction by Alan Jacobs, Snakes & Ladders (Newsletter), April 5, 2021. Source Material from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, Chicago University Press,  Ed. Georg Henrik von Wright, 1977.

Make No Mistake

Make no mistake: if he rose at all It was as His body; If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit, The amino acids rekindle, The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers, Each soft spring recurrent; It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the Eleven apostles; It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes The same valved heart That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered Out of enduring Might New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor, Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence, Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded Credulity of earlier ages: Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache, Not a stone in a story, But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of Time will eclipse for each of us The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb, Make it a real angel, Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in The dawn light, robed in real linen Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty, Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed By the miracle, And crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, Seven Stanzas on Easter.

The Message of the Resurrection

The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won…If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense—[then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world—news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts.

Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all. Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzsche probably was right to say it was for wimps.

N. T. Wright, For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church, Eerdmans.

Neither an Optimist Nor a Pessimist

Towards the end of his life, the great missionary, theologian, cultural critic (and even bishop!) Lesslie Newbigin gave an interview. His interviewer asked him an interesting question, made even more poignant by the fact that Newbigin had returned home from the mission field to find his home country (England) had become increasingly secularized, showing scant interest in the Christian faith. 

Newbigin’s reply was quite powerful: “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!” Unlike many Christians, Newbigin was able to keep that which is most important at the center of his faith and life: the tomb is empty, and even when circumstances seem challenging, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! We know the ending, and it is an exceedingly good one.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Peregrinatio Pro Amore Dei

Here’s a true story, from the year 891, of those who cast off in an embodied journey to live “in a state of pilgrimage, for the love of God.” Three Irish pilgrims, Dubslane, Macbeth, and Maelinmun, made the dramatic decision to set out into the ocean from their homeland in a boat purposely “without oars.” Their destination was in God’s hands, or, more precisely, in God’s breath.

In Hebrew, wind, breath, and Spirit are all the same word. Their boat was made of two and a half hides, and they took provisions for seven days. On the seventh night they landed in Cornwall, in what today is the southwestern tip of England, convinced that they were precisely where they were meant to be. There’s a Latin term that captures both their purpose and experience and that of hundreds like them: “peregrinatio pro amore Dei,” or “wandering for the love of God.”

Many pilgrims from Ireland had gone before, departing without external destinations, but guided by interior journeys. Trying to explain their motivation, one author says they were “seeking the place of one’s resurrection.” Such pilgrims felt compelled to do so, often against all odds.

Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage, Broadleaf Books, 2020.

The Reason He Never Shared His Vision


I am still haunted by a long conversation I had with a man who was a member of one of my early congregations. . . . He had a stunning vision of the presence of the risen Christ . . . [and] had never told anyone about it before. . . . He explained, “The reason why I told no one was I was too afraid that it was true. And if it’s true that Jesus was really real, that he had come personally to me, what then? I’d have to change my whole life.”

William H. Willimon, Undone by Easter: Keeping Preaching Fresh, Abingdon, 2009.

The Resurrected Bunny

A woman looked out the window of her home and was horrified to see her German Shepherd shaking the life out of the neighbor’s pet rabbit. Her family had been quarreling with these neighbors; this was certainly going to make matters worse.

She grabbed a broom and ran outside, pummeling the pooch until he dropped the rabbit now covered with dog-spit—and extremely dead.

What was she going to do?

The woman lifted the rabbit with the end of the broom and brought it into the house. She dumped its lifeless body into the bathtub and turned on the shower. When the water running off the rabbit was clean, she rolled him over and rinsed the other side.

Now she had a plan. She found her hair-dryer and blew the rabbit dry. Using an old comb, she groomed the rabbit until he looked pretty good. Then, when the neighbor wasn’t looking, she hopped over the fence, sneaked across the back yard, and propped him up in his cage. No way was she taking the blame for this thing!

About an hour later, she heard screams coming from the neighbor’s yard. She ran outside, pretending she didn’t know what was going on.  Her neighbor came running to the fence. All the blood had drained from her face. “Our rabbit, our rabbit!” she blubbered. “He died two weeks ago, we buried him, and now he’s back!”

Ken Davis, Lighten Up!: Great Stories from One of America’s Favorite Storytellers, Zondervan, 2000, p.69.

The Resurrection: The First Fact of Our Faith

To preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection. Thus people who had heard Paul’s teaching at Athens got the impression that he was talking about two new gods, Jesus and Anastasis (i.e. Resurrection) (Acts xvii. 18). The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel.

They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe this ‘ gospel” no gospels would ever have been written.

C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Simon & Schuster.

The Shawshank Redemption Story

In his book, Who is this Man?, Author and Pastor John Ortberg describes the major themes of Holy Week present in the film The Shawshank Redemption:

The hope of resurrection is woven into a thousand stories…The hero, Andy Dufresne, initially underwhelms the narrator Red: “I must admit I didn’t think much of Andy the first time I laid eyes on him…Looked like a stiff breeze could blow him over. Dufresne is unjustly arrested, tried, condemned, and beaten. But as we watch him through Red’s eyes, something like wonder begins to grow. In a brutal world he is kind. He is a man of hidden strengths who creates a library and helps his captors with their taxes. He is anxious for nothing.

“Strolls like a man in a park without a care or a worry, says Red. He ascends to a high place (the warden’s office) and plays Mozart over the intercom, and for a transcendent moment, every prisoner stands motionless in unexpected glory. And Red confesses:

“Those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream, for the briefest of moments—every last man at Shawshank feels free.”

Andy is persecuted by the warden, a pharisaical hypocrite who hands him a Bible and tells him “Salvation lies within.”

In the end, salvation does lie in the Bible. The Bible is where Andy hides the small hammer with which he chips to freedom. (The cutout space in the warden’s Bible where Andy hides the chisel begins on the first page of Exodus, the story of God liberating his people from bondage.

Andy descends into hell. He crawls to freedom through five hundred yards of prison sewer pipe half-filled with sewage and comes out the other side cleansed by the river and the rain and raising his hands bathed in light and freedom…If you can’t see the resurrection, you haven’t been watching. His empty cell is the beginning of the end for the regime of the warden.” Judgment cometh and that right soon.”

John Ortberg, Who is this Man?, Zondervan Publishing.

A Son of the Resurrection

Dr. Joseph Hartounian, a former professor at McCormick Theological Seminary, came to America from Armenia. One day a well-meaning friend said to him, “Your name is difficult to pronounce and difficult to spell–it could hurt your professional career.

Why don’t you change your name to Harwood or Harwell or something like that?” Dr. Hartounian asked, “What do those names mean?” His friend said, “Well, nothing. They’re just easier to remember.” Dr. Hartounian said, “In Armenia, when my grandfather was baptized, they named him Hartounian which means ‘Resurrection.’ I am Joseph Hartounian and I will be a son of Resurrection all my days.”

Source Unknown

The Swoon Theory

The “swoon theory” argues that Jesus never really died, only appeared to have died, and then came back to life while buried in the tomb. It’s an interesting idea, one that was popularized in a book in the 1960s by a man named Hugh Schonfeld. Schonfield argued that Jesus had not only not died on the cross, but had in fact faked his own death and resurrection. What foresight on the part of Jesus! 

Pastor Greg Laurie shares a story about the “swoon theory” from a local newspaper on the topic:

“Our preacher on Easter said that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that His disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely signed, Bewildered.” So somebody at the newspaper wrote back, “Dear Bewildered, beat your preacher with a cat o’ nine tails with 39 heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross, hang him out in the sun for six hours, run a spear through his heart, and embalm him, and put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Greg Laurie, Article: “Could Jesus Have Survived the Crucifixion?”, Christianity.com

Your Day Will Come

The last time I checked, the death rate was one per person. I didn’t check today, but I’m sure it didn’t change. It is appointed to man to die once, then face the judgment (Heb. 9:27). So everyone everywhere is asking or will ask the same question: How can I avoid being defeated by that last enemy? You can’t beat him. You can’t buy him off. You can’t appease him.

You can’t outrun him. You can’t exercise enough or eat well enough. There is nothing you can do to avoid being overtaken by this enemy. But the resurrection says you can overcome this enemy: “O death, where is your sting?” You see, when you stand over a believer, it’s not the same as standing over an unbeliever, because when you stand over a believer, you know that because of his union with Christ, his federal head, he will rise just as Christ rose from the dead. There is a resurrection coming. So this sting is gone; death’s victory is gone.

Taken from Voddie Baucham Jr in Coming Home edited by D.A. Carson, © 2017, p.101. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.


See also Illustrations on The Cross, HopeJesusRescue, Salvation

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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