Sermon illustrations


A Brother’s Sacrifice

An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood. He said sure. So they did and it was a good match. Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.

The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girl’s IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister, until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”

Taken from Ann Lammott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anchor Books, 1994.

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.

The Emperor and the Whipping Boy

In 1987 director Bernardo Bertolucci released the film The Last Emperor to raving reviews. It was based on the autobiography of the last living emperor of the Manchu dynasty in China, Henry Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi (before its fall to the communists in the 1950s). Eventually the movie would be hailed “the most honored film in 25 years,” including nine Academy Awards (Oscars).

And while the story tells the riches to rags story of Yi’s life, from spoiled child emperor to imprisoned and tortured detainee after the revolution to his final seven years as a gardener in a Beijing Park, what is perhaps most interesting, at least for our sake, is one account towards the beginning of the film.

At this point, Yi is surrounded by the trappings of an imperial power. 1,000 eunuch servants exist to fulfill his every whim. At one point, Yi’s brother asks him what happens to him when he makes a mistake? The emperor responds, “when I do something wrong, somebody else is punished.” To demonstrate this, he picks up an ornate jar and smashes it on the ground. Immediately a servant is taken and beaten for the action of the emperor. It is, in a sense, a true version of the famous “whipping boy” story.

Why is this so interesting? Because it gives us a perfect contrast, the perfect opposite to what Jesus does on our behalf. From the world’s perspective, it is the poor and marginalized who are to bear the brunt of the world’s pain and blame. It is the unnamed servant who receives the punishment in this account, not the emperor. In the Christian story however, it’s just the opposite. The king takes the punishment on our behalf.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Content from The Last Emperor, Columbia Pictures, 1987. 

How to Make a Sacrifice

How do you define what it means to “make a sacrifice?” We say we sacrifice for our family, or sacrifice for our careers. We speak of Jesus sacrificing himself so that we can experience eternal life. Augustine of Hippo, the great North African bishop, defined sacrifice as “the surrender of something of value for the sake of something else.” Which begs the question, what are we willing to sacrifice, and
for whom or what?

Every day we make decisions based on our priorities, and those priorities sacrifice one thing for another thing. Sadly, we often fall
into habits, where we no longer can recognize our selfish, self-centered priorities. If sacrifice is, as Augustine once said, “the surrender of something of value for the sake of something else,” then what are you surrendering for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom?

Stuart Strachan Jr.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer

John Wesley’s covenant prayer demonstrates a level of sacrifice and devotion to Jesus that has been rarely matched. How many of us have asked for suffering, in order to experience the humility and the poverty of spirit that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount? This prayer forces us to ask how committed we are to God’s will in our lives. Are we willing to suffer for Christ? Are we willing to submit other desires, goals, achievements to the larger purpose of Christ transforming us?:

I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.


A Lifetime of Sacrifice

Francis Chan tells the story of Domingo and Irene Garcia.

He’s a mechanic. She’s a hairdresser. They have been foster parents to thirty-two children and have adopted sixteen. Domingo and Irene are in their late fifties and currently have eleven children living with them, and they tell me they would take more if they could. Anyone who has children knows they could be doing this only by the Spirit’s power.

While other people their age are figuring out how to live most comfortably, they can’t stop thinking of the 500,000 kids in America who need parents. And while they see these kids as a huge blessing, they are also very open about the hardships they face daily. God has provided for them over and over again.

One of the wonderful blessings they have enjoyed is watching their biological children follow in their footsteps (by adopting children). They live such extraordinary lives that CBS news ran a story on them. Even the secular world notices the unusual and supernatural love these two have shown to those in need.

For those who may think that Domingo and Irene have always been as gracious as they are today, let me share some insights from their past. Irene, in the early days of their marriage, hated Domingo. He was abusive, and she prayed regularly that he would die. She even daydreamed about his driving off a cliff because of the pain he inflicted on her. Now she calls him the godliest man she knows.

For anyone who thinks their own life or marriage is hopeless, remember Domingo and Irene. God loves to take people in the worst of situations and transform them by His Spirit

Francis Chan, The Forgotten God

Living for Christ is Hard

My wife, Lauretta, once remarked to me, “I know I’d die for Christ.  If I were put in front of a firing squad and commanded to renounce Christ or die, I know I’d say ‘Shoot me!’  That would be easy.  The hard part is living for Christ, not dying for him.”  She is right.  One huge, heroic act would be easier than a lifetime of little daily decisions, especially when it may take a lifetime to discover that the promises of God were worth the no we said to ourselves and to the world each day.

Taken from Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent by Ben Patterson Copyright (c) 1989 by Ben Patterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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

Living One-Thousand Lives in Christ

Christ was led by His love for others into the world, to forget Himself in the needs of others, to sacrifice self once for all upon the altar of sympathy. Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, His followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort.

Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will we be to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice.

Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. It means forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs: it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies.

It means richness of development. It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives—binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours. It means that all the experiences of men shall smite our souls and shall beat and batter these stubborn hearts of ours into fitness for their heavenly home. It is, after all, then, the path to the highest possible development, by which alone we can be made truly men.

Sermon: “Imitating the Incarnation”, in The Person and Work of Christ, ed. Samuel Craig (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), 574–75.

Love Equals Time

Following the death of Albert Einstein’s wife, his sister Maja moved in to help with the day to day running of the home. She did this for an astounding fourteen years, which enabled him to continue his inestimable research. In 1950, Maja had a stroke and fell into a coma.

From that point on, Einstein spent two hours each afternoon reading out loud to her from the philosophy of Plato. She never demonstrated comprehension of the great philosopher, but he continued on anyway. What was clear however, was that even in her state, she was worth his time.

Stuart R Strachan Jr.

Loving Your Enemies & Costly Love

One of the costliest requirements of Christlike love is Jesus’s call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5: 44). What does this look like for Christians in today’s world? Perhaps it looks like Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel, was one of nine victims in the 2015 church massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Given the chance to address her mother’s killer, Collier choked back tears as she forgave him: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again — but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul… If God forgives you, I forgive you.” Maybe it looks like loving people even if it potentially brings us harm.

In 2015 – 2017, there was much dialogue about whether or not Western countries should admit refugees from the Middle East. Could terrorists disguise themselves as refugees and infiltrate target nations within the “Trojan horse” of the massive flood of refugees?

Fears like this led to Donald Trump’s infamous call to ban Muslims from entering the United States. But which reflects the character of Christ more : refusing to take in a Syrian refugee because we are concerned at the possibility that we could be harmed by such charity , or taking in the Syrian refugee out of sacrificial love that says , “ You are welcome at my table even if it costs me something ”?

Taken from Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken, © 2017, p.92. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

More Alive With This Friend

In his book, The Enormous Exception, Earl Palmer tells about a pre-med undergrad at the University of California, Berkley, who became a Christian after a long journey through doubts and questions. A bout with the flu kept him out of classes for 10 days. During that critical absence from his organic chemistry class, a Christian classmate carefully collected all his missed lectures and assignments. The person took time from his own studies to help his friend catch up with the class.

Years later, the pre-med student, now a committed Christian, told Palmer, “You know that this just isn’t done, and I probably wouldn’t have done it, but he gave that help to me without any fanfare or complaints. I wanted to know what made this friend of mine act the way he did. I found myself asking him if I could go to church with him.” Palmer wrote, “I think the best tribute I ever heard concerning a Christian was the tribute spoken of this student. ‘I felt more alive when I was around this friend.’”

Andy Cook

Rescuing His Pursuer

In sixteenth-century Holland, the Mennonites were outlawed and, when caught, often executed. One of them, Dirk Willens, was being chased across an icefield when his pursuer broke through and fell in.

In response to his cries for help, Willens returned and saved him from the waters. The pursuer was grateful and astonished that he would do such a thing but nevertheless arrested him, as he thought it his duty to do. A few days later Willens was executed by being burned at the stake in the town of Asperen. It was precisely his Christlikeness that brought on his execution.

Ronald A. Wells, History Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989)

Schweitzer’s Call

One summer morning in 1896, Albert Schweitzer came upon the biblical passage “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall save it.” He knew at the moment he was called to give up his very successful career as a musical scholar and organist to go into medicine and become a jungle doctor. Schweitzer would write, “Anybody who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll any stones out of his way, and must calmly accept his lot even if they roll a few more onto it. Only force that in the face of obstacles becomes stronger can win.”

David Brooks, The Road to Character.

The Scorpion and the Old Woman

Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, tells the following Sufi story. 

Once upon a time there was an old woman who used to meditate on the bank of the Ganges. One morning, finishing her meditation, she saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the strong current. As the scorpion was pulled closer, it got caught in roots that branched out far into the river. The scorpion struggled frantically to free itself but got more and more entangled. She immediately reached out to the drowning scorpion, which, as soon as she touched it, stung her.

The old woman withdrew her hand but, having regained her balance, once again tried to save the creature. Every time she tried, however, the scorpion’s tail stung her so badly that her hands became bloody and her face distorted with pain. A passerby who saw the old woman struggling with the scorpion shouted, “What’s wrong with you, fool! Do you want to kill yourself to save that ugly thing?” Looking into the stranger’s eyes, she answered, “Because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting, why should I deny my own nature to save it?”

Joan Chittister in F. Franck, J. Roze, and R. Connolly (eds.), What Does It Mean To Be Human? Reverence for Life Reaffirmed by Responses from Around the World (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

These Impious Galileans

A passage often referred to in order to describe the sacrificial, countercultural quality of the early church comes to us interestingly enough, from one of its strongest critics, known later to history as Julian the Apostate, the last non-Christian (or pagan) Roman emperor (serving from 361-363 AD).

Julian had begrudgingly acknowledged that the Christians, or the “Galileans” as he referred to them, took care of the needy far more so than its pagan counterparts, which led to many new converts. This concerned the emperor because it threatened Julian’s attempt to restore the supremacy of the Roman pantheon. Most importantly, the passage describes just how powerful the Church can be when it models the sacrificial love of Christ to its neighbors:

These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes….Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors.

Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods (Epistle to Pagan High Priests). Those in the early church lived in a conflicted but beloved covenant community in peaceful opposition to the militaristic, materialistic, racist, and sexualized culture of the Roman Empire. The church was distinct, noticeable, and uncompromising. This type of prayerful resistance and faithful witness is needed today.

Introduction by Stuart Strachan, Source Material from Julian the Apostate, quoted in Michael Craven, “The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome,” Crosswalk.com, November 8, 2010.

What does Propitiation mean?

What does propitiation mean? A modern dictionary will say that to propitiate means “to appease” or “to placate.” I find both of these words unsatisfactory because they suggest a mere soothing or softening ening of the wrath of an offended deity. In addition the word appease carries negative baggage, implying an attempt to buy off an aggressor by making concessions, usually at the expense of principle…

I believe a word that forcefully captures the essence of Jesus’ work of propitiation is the word exhausted. Jesus exhausted the wrath of God. It was not merely deflected and prevented from reaching us; it was exhausted. Jesus bore the full, unmitigated brunt of it. God’s wrath against sin was unleashed in all its fury on His beloved Son. He held nothing back.

Jerry Bridges. The Gospel for Real Life: Return to the Liberating Power of the Cross, NavPress.

The Umbrella

Several years ago I read an article about Queen Mary, who made it her practice to visit Scotland every year. She was so loved by the people there that she often mingled with them freely without a protective escort. One afternoon while walking with some children, she went out farther than she’d planned. Dark clouds came up unexpectedly, so she stopped at a nearby house to borrow an umbrella. “If you will lend me one,” she said to the lady who answered the door, “I will send it back to you tomorrow.” The woman didn’t recognize the Queen and was reluctant to give this stranger her best umbrella. So she handed her one that she intended to throw away. The fabric was torn in several places and one of the ribs was broken.

The next day another knock was heard at the door. When the lady opened it, she was greeted by a royal guard, who was holding in her hand her old, tattered umbrella. “The Queen sent me,” he said. “She asked me to thank you for loaning her this.” For a moment the woman was stunned, then, she burst into tears. “Oh, what an opportunity I missed,” she cried. “I didn’t give the Queen my very best!”

Our Daily Bread

See Also Illustrations on The CrossGraceJesus, Justification, Service

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

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