Sermon illustrations


The Age of Suspicion

There are many titles that historians of the future may give our era, but one that they are certain to consider is “The Age of Suspicion.” People are suspicious of political authorities because they have lied so often. People are suspicious of economic authorities because financial markets have collapsed. People are suspicious of religious authorities because they have failed to act swiftly against abuse in the church. People are suspicious of scientific authorities because the products resulting from their discoveries have in many cases devastated the environment.

Preachers feel the loss of authority. I recall a group of older pastors who began their ministries shortly after World War II. Their first congregations granted them significant authority from the day they arrived. But beginning with the mid-1960s, each time they moved to a new pastorate, congregations granted them less initial authority than earlier in their careers. They had to earn authority by proving trustworthy over time.

Thomas H. Troeger, Sermon Sparks, Abingdon Press, 2011.

Christ’s Authority is of the Greatest Significance

The fact as such that Jesus possesses supreme divine authority is, even apart from its being acknowledged by all New Testament authors and by the whole of the Early Church, of the greatest significance for the study of the making of the New Testament. For it gives us the assurance that the Lord of all authority would have seen to it that, through the working of his power, an adequate and completely reliable account of and an authentic proclamation concerning the significance of His life and work were written and preserved for the ages to come.

Because the revelation of God in Christ was complete and ephapax . . . (once for all), it follows logically that the Lord to whom all authority in heaven and on earth is given would have regulated the history of the Early Church in such a way that the canon of the New Testament would be genuine and all sufficient.

Taken From J. Norval Geldenhuys, Supreme Authority: The Authority of the Lord, His Apostles, and the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1953).

Commanding the Waves

In the years 1014-1035 there ruled over England a Danish king named Canute. King Canute tired of hearing his retainers flatter him with extravagant praises of his greatness, power and invincibility. He ordered his chair to be set down on the seashore, where he commanded the waves not to come in and wet him. No matter how forcefully he ordered the tide not to come in, however, his order was not obeyed. Soon the waves lapped around his chair. One historian tells us that, therefore, he never wore his crown again, but hung it on a statue of the crucified Christ.

Source Unknown

Dressed in a Brief Authority

Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure is an exploration of the nature of power and mercy. Isabella, the novice nun, trying to persuade the tyrant Angelo to have mercy on her brother Claudio, utters these famous lines, which capture, perhaps better than any other, the ridiculous nature of human authority when it becomes absolute:

 …man, proud man

Drest in a little brief authority

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence, like an angry ape.

Plays such fantastic tricks before high Heaven

As make the angels weep.

Authority or power is something with which we are briefly clothed, but God laughs when we take it too seriously. To be powerless is something we all fear, so we anxiously remind ourselves of all our virtues and capabilities. Our instinct as human beings is to build our sense of worth, our self-confidence and value on our past achievements, looks, wealth, status, job or family.

Graham Tomlin, Looking Through the Cross: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2014, Bloomsbury, 2014, pp.68-69.

Narcissism in the Pulpit?

A colleague of mine often says that ministry is a magnet for narcissistic personality—who else would want to speak on behalf of God every week? While the vast majority of people struggle with public speaking, not only do pastors do it regularly, but they do it with “divine authority.”

Taken from When Narcissism Comes to Church by Chuck DeGroat Copyright (c) 2020 by Chuck DeGroat. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Neil Marten was a member of the British Parliament from 1959-1984. One day he was giving a group of constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the tour, the group happened upon the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, who happened to be dressed in the full ornamentation that went with his office. At one point in their interaction, Hailsham recognized the MP Marten and cried “Neill!” Not wanting to disobey the command of one so important, the band of visitors immediately fell to their knees.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

A Reminder of the Paradox of Christian Power and Authority

When you go into one of the great basilicas of the late Roman empire and you see a mosaic of Christ enthroned at the far end, you’re looking at the place where the emperor would sit. And the emperor would be sitting there either dressed in his armour or in cloth of gold with a diadem around his head.

So you’re looking to the throne, but who’s on it? This rather curious and disreputable wandering teacher. So you have a bit of a paradox in visual form there. The person who holds the emperor’s authority in cosmic terms isn’t just another soldier or administrator in uniform, but a philosopher, a sage.

So something’s being said there that is on the edge of paradox. It’s been suggested, quite credibly, that some of that tradition of representing Jesus borrows from the ways in which late Classical art used to depict Plato the philosopher or Homer the poet. So it’s a poet, a philosopher, it’s a wordsmith who’s sitting on the throne.

Article: “Rowan Williams & Neil MacGregor Discuss Faith and Visual Imagination,” The Telegraph, 2013.

Submission vs. Subjugation

Submission is not subjugation. Subjugation turns a person into a thing, destroys individuality, and removes all liberty. Submission makes a person become more of what God wants him to be; it brings out individuality; it gives him the freedom to accomplish all that God has for his life and ministry. Subjugation is weakness; it is the refuge of those who are afraid of maturity. Submission is strength; it is the first step toward true maturity and ministry.

Warren Wiersbe, On Being a Leader

The Transfer of Energy

In physics, power is defined as the transfer of energy. In a light bulb, for example, electricity is transferred into light and heat. A 100-watt light bulb is more powerful than a 60-watt light bulb because there is more energy transferred. The same is true in leadership. It is a leader’s ability to transfer their authority to others that actually gives them their power.

Simon Sinek, What Leaders Can Learn From Mandela’s Selflessness and Sacrifice

When the Israelites Abandoned God’s Authority

In the Bible, the children of Israel fall into disastrous behavior patterns whenever they abandon the majestic authority of God revealed to them through Moses at Mount Sinai. In fact, they commenced rebelling and kicking at the Lord almost immediately after the Sinai revelation was completed.

While still on their forty-year extended camping trip in the desert, the Jews vexed Him by whoring after the women of neighboring Midian, joining an outright revolution against Moses under the radical reformer Korach, sending spies to reconnoiter the Holy Land and then declaring that they would rather return to pagan Egypt to be slaves again, and, of course, by fashioning the idolatrous Golden Calf.

David Klinghoffer, Shattered Tablets: Why we Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril, Doubelday, 2007.

See also GovernmentJudgment, LeadershipPower 

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

Follow us on social media: