Sermon illustrations


Between the Probable and Proved

Between the probable and proved there yawns A gap.

Afraid to jump, we stand absurd, Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse, Our very standpoint crumbling.

Desperate dawns Our only hope: to leap into the Word That opens up the shuttered universe.

Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, HarperCollins.

Eat This Book

Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.

Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book, Eerdman’s Publishing Company.

The Goal of Reading Scripture

The goal is not for us to get through the Scriptures.  The goal is to get the Scriptures through us.

Some churches give people the idea that the only way to transformation is knowledge.  There is an assumption that as people’s knowledge of the Bible rises, their level of spiritual maturity rises with it.

… Knowledge about the Bible is an indispensable good.  But knowledge does not by itself lead to spiritual transformation.  When Paul urged the Christians at Rome to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” he was thinking of far more than just the acquisition of information.  “Mind” refers to a whole range of perceiving, understanding, valuing, and feeling that in turn determines the way we live.

…While knowledge is vital and should be prized, it also poses some dangers.  It often demolishes humility.  The sobriquet “know-it-all” is never used as a compliment.  The Bible itself contains some warnings: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Both human experience and the Bible teach that increased knowledge – even knowledge of the Scriptures – does not automatically produce transformed people.

John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, expanded edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002).

How not to read the Bible

How may readers … do harm to themselves?

If … they read the Scriptures without sincere prayer and the purpose to obey God, but only to get knowledge, to make a show, and to exercise their curiosity upon them. … If they do not observe what is useful for their edification, but only what they can use for their glory and against others.…If they despise what the Scriptures simply stated and what is easy to comprehend.  If, on the contrary, they take up only difficult passages, about which there is much dispute, in order to discover in them something unusual and to make a show before others.  If they use what they have learned with pride and for their own glory.  If they think they alone are wise, obstinately refuse better instruction, love to quarrel, and receive nothing from others with modesty.

Philipp Spener, The Spiritual Priesthood in Pietests – Selected Writings, Paulist Press, 1983, 58.

Not Getting the Message

Reading the Bible without applying it to your life can be downright dangerous. On August 3, 1996, Melvin Hitchens, sat on his front porch and read the Bible. After his Bible reading, this 66 year old New Orleans resident went in his house and retrieved a .45 caliber hand gun. He went back outside, and shot his neighbors!

He killed Donna Jett as she swept her sidewalk and injured Darryl Jett while he was mowing. Family members and neighborhood residents testified that Hitchens and the Jett’s had a running feud over the care of their yards and the cleanliness of the gutters. No one, however, had an explanation how a man could put down his Bible, and commit such a violent act! Positive transformation requires the application of God’s Word. (Source: Houston Chronicle, 8/5/96, p.7A)

Andy Cook

The Power of Scripture

Mahatma Gandhi speaking to Christians, “You Christians have in your keeping a document with enough dynamite in it to blow the whole of civilization to bits; to turn society upside down; to bring peace to this war torn world. But you read it as if it were just good literature, and nothing else.”

Scripture Filled with Non-Heroic Figures

One of the first things that strikes us about the men and women in Scripture is that they were disappointingly non- heroic. We do not find splendid moral examples. We do not find impeccably virtuous models. That always comes as a shock to newcomers to Scripture: Abraham lied; Jacob cheated; Moses murdered and complained; David committed adultery; Peter blasphemed. We read on and begin to suspect intention: a consistent strategy to demonstrate that the great, significant figures in the life of faith were fashioned from the same clay as the rest of us.

We find that Scripture is sparing in the information that it gives on people while it is lavish in what it tells us about God. It refuses to feed our lust for hero worship. It will not pander to our adolescent desire to join a fan club.

The reason is, I think, clear enough. Fan clubs encourage secondhand living. Through pictures and memorabilia, autographs and tourist visits, we associate with someone whose life is (we think) more exciting and glamorous than our own. We find diversion from our own humdrum existence by riding on the coattails of someone exotic.

We do it because we are convinced that we are plain and ordinary. The town or city that we live in, the neighborhood we grew up in, the friends we are stuck with, the families or marriages that we have—all seem undramatic. We see no way to be significant in such settings, with such associations, so we surround ourselves with evidence of someone who is.

We stock our fantasies with images of a person who is living more adventurously than we are. And we have enterprising people around who provide us (for a fee, of course) with the material to fuel the fires of this vicarious living. There is something sad and pitiful about the whole business. But it flourishes nonetheless.

Taken from Run with the Horses by Eugene H. Peterson. ©2009, 2019 by Eugene H. Peterson.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Scripture Grounds our Story in Place

Our Scriptures that bring us the story of our salvation ground us in place. Everywhere they insist on this grounding. Everything that is critically important to us takes place on the ground. Mountains and valleys, towns and cities, regions and countries:

Haran, Ur, Canaan, Hebron, Sodom, Machpelah, Bethel, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Samaria, Tekoa, Nazareth, Capernaum, Mt. Sinai, Mt. Of Olives, Mt. Gilboah, Mt. Hermon, Ceasarea, Gath, Ashkelon, Michmash, Gibeon, Azekah, Jericho, Chorizan, Bethsaida Emmaus, the Valley of Jezreel, the Kidron Valley, the Brook of Besor, Anathoth.

Big cities and small towns. Famous landmarks and unvisited obscurities. People who want God or religion as an escape from their place because it is difficult (or maybe just mundane), don’t find this much to their liking. But there it is—there’s no getting around it. But to the man or woman wanting more reality, not less, this insistence that all genuine life, life that is embraced in God’s work of salvation, is grounded, is good news indeed.

Eugene Peterson, Introduction to Eric O. Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.

The Spirit & Temptation

In their excellent book Invitation to a Journey, M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton discuss the poignant insight that it is the Spirit that leads Jesus into the Wildnerness. What does this mean, from a Biblical, theological perspective?:

Isn’t it interesting that the Spirit, the source of Jesus’ empowerment, is also focal in the temptation that follows: “The Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted” (Mt 4:1)? We tend to think of temptation as something totally alien to us, something from outside that intrudes into our lives.

We learn from Jesus’ experience, however, that the most critical temptations attach themselves to the call and empowerment of God that defines the meaning, value and purpose of our existence. It was so for Jesus. His first temptation went to the heart of who he was, and it is the temptation our culture has succumbed to.

“If you are the Son of God, speak, that these stones may become bread” (Mt 4:3). Do you see the nature of this temptation? The temptation is for Jesus to use his empowerment by the Spirit to do something that will authenticate God’s call. More significantly, it is a temptation to reverse the roles of being and doing, the temptation our culture has succumbed to. We tend to evaluate our own meaning, value and purpose, as well as those of others, not by the quality of our being but by what we do and how effectively we do it.

Taken from: Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright (c) 2016 by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Re-Interpreted Life

As we share our story in the context of God’s story there is a transformation that cultivates an openheartedness. God offers us the gift of a reinterpreted life by means of the story of Scripture. This reinterpretation opens us to true-self living, to loving receptivity. We are invited to explore and change our emotional response to early events, our interpretation and the interpretation that others provided and we borrowed as our own.

Taken from The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection by Richard Plass and James Cofield, Copyright (c) 2014, p.103 by Richard Plass and James Cofield. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Which is the Bible Most Like?

What genre of literature is the Bible? How we answer this question will ultimately determine not just how we read scripture, but how it will ultimately shape our lives. One Sunday school teacher, teaching a survey of the Bible, asked just this question at the end of his first class. The question he posed was this:

Which of the following is the Bible most like: (A) Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, (B) The Reader’s Digest Guide to Home Repairs, or (C) The Collected Papers of the American Antislavery Society? What was this teacher looking for? He summarized it this way: “The correct answer is C, although we most often use the Bible like A and expect it to be like B.” Part of his intention in the class was to help the students realize that “the Bible is a series of occasional pieces of various genres that traces the development of a transformational movement.”

Taken from Glenn R. Paauw, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, InterVarsity Press.

Writing out our Faith

We all desire to learn from our role models, but some take this ambition to the next level. The writer Hunter S. Thompson was so obsessed with the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and specifically his book, The Great Gatsby, that he began typing out the entire book, just for himself, in order to learn its secrets. His hope was to experience what it was like to write a masterpiece, word for word. What might we learn from Thompson and his dedication to his task?

Might we consider writing, for ourselves, the greatest masterpiece of all time? Might we attempt to experience what it was like for the Holy Spirit to guide the writing of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) or the gospels, Paul’s letters, or the book of revelation? What might we experience if we took the time to manually write out the great books of Holy Scripture? How might we emulate those great saints who came before us, who showed us what it was like to be inspired by God?

Stuart Strachan Jr.



See also Illustrations on The Bible, The Old Testament, The Prophets, Reliability of Scripture, Revelation, Truth

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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