Sermon illustrations

Christ the King

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 whatthe definitionof a princess is.

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

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

Stuart Strachan Jr.

The Death of Christendom

In one generation, the place of Christianity within culture dramatically shifted as we experienced what theologians and sociologists of religion call the “death of Christendom.” Christendom isn’t Christian faith. Christendom is the culture that supports Christian faith, giving Christianity privilege, priority, and place in our society.

Christendom was the Los Angeles Times publishing a week’s worth of Bible readings in 1963, and thousands of small towns being developed with a library, courthouse, and the “First Church of (whoever got there first)” in the town square. Christendom was churches that were thriving because everybody in town knew that their boss at work would be taking notice of who was a good churchgoer.

Everybody, including most non-Christians, held pretty similar Christian values. Most of us pastors had been trained by seminaries and in denominational structures that believed that if we focused our attention in this Christendom world on good preaching of the Scriptures, attentive pastoral care, and a few relevant programs for kids and youth, then all would be well. But over the past generation, those assumptions have been called into question. Churches of all kinds have seen diminishing attendance.

Millennials are leaving the churches that raised them at the rate of one million a year, and the number of nones—those who, when asked on demographic form what religion they belong to, answer “none”—is climbing at skyrocketing rates. Many of us began to realize that the training that we received needed to be augmented with a different kind of leadership. And

In her book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton describes the daunting leadership moment that many of us feel—and have felt with even more intensity in this season of unprecedented worldwide change.

Somehow, we know that this moment is different. This is not about making a brilliant career move. It is not about security. It is not about success or failure or anything else the ego wants for us. It is not about choosing among several attractive options. This is about the Spirit of God setting us on our feet and telling us, “This is yours to do.”

Taken from Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience by Tod E. Bolsinger Copyright (c) 2020 by Tod E. Bolsinger. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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. 

Expectations for the Messiah King

In this short excerpt, scholar N.T. Wright describes the expectations regarding the Jewish messiah king:

The coming King would do two main things, according to a variety of texts and as we study a variety of actual would-be royal movements within history.  First, he would build or restore the Temple.  Second, he would fight the decisive battle against the enemy.  David’s first act upon being anointed was to fight Goliath; his last was to plan the Temple.  Judas Maccabeus defeated the Syrians and cleansed the Temple.  Herod defeated the Parthians and rebuilt the Temple.  Bar-Kochba, the last would-be Messiah of the period, aimed to defeat the Romans and rebuild the Temple. …

 It is unlikely that the followers of a crucified would-be Messiah would regard such a person as the true Messiah.  Jesus did not rebuild the Temple; he had not only not defeated the Romans, he had died at their hands in the manner of failed revolutionary leaders.

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 Glory Being Revealed To Us

In Romans 8:18, Paul describes the future of those who persevere in the faith: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” in The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkein provides a stirring image of this glory at the death of the great king Aragorn (that is, after his life-long struggle against the evil forces in Middle Earth, and his own personal demons):

Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.

The idea here is that the same thing will happen to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. We are, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “no mere mortals.”

Stuart Strachan Jr. , Source material from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings (New York: Ballantine, 1955), 378.

The King Belongs in the Middle

In his wonderful book, God’s Big Picture, Vaughan Roberts gives readers an overview of the Bible, focusing on the importance of context for developing a deeper understanding of holy scripture. In this short illustration, he points out the importance of keeping Jesus (the king) at the center of the greater narrative of the Word of God. Thus, when the king is at the center, we are more likely to find a faithful reading of a text than when we do not:

Two boys were bored on a rainy summer’s day, so they began to do a jigsaw puzzle. (That tells you how bored they must have been.) They made no progress until one of them turned the box lid over to see the picture they were trying to create. It was of a medieval court scene with a king surrounded by his courtiers. One of the boys cried out, ‘Now I see it – the king is in the middle!’ Once they recognized that, the puzzle was easy and they were soon able to finish it.

Taken from God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts. ©2003 by Vaughan Roberts.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Not the King they Expected

He [Jesus] was not the king they expected. He wasn’t like the monarchs of old who sat on their jeweled and ivory thrones, dispensing their justice and wisdom. Nor was he the great warrior-king some had wanted. He didn’t raise an army and ride into battle at its head. He was riding on a donkey. And he was weeping, weeping for the dream that had to die, weeping for the sword that would pierce his supporters to the soul. Weeping for the kingdom that wasn’t coming as well as for the kingdom that was… He was the king, all right, but he had come to redefine kingship itself around his own work, his own mission, his own fate.

N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus, HarperOne.

Standing for a King

Cody is a member of our church who moved to Thailand to share the gospel with college students. One night, a student named Annan invited Cody to go to a movie. The two of them arrived and sat down in the theater to watch the film, but before it began, a video was shown about the king of Thailand. Immediately, everyone in the theater rose and applauded, including Annan. Some people began to cry tears of joy. As this short video played, people were visibly moved simply by the sight of their king on the screen.

When the movie ended and Cody and Annan walked out of the theater, Cody asked, “Why did everyone react with such emotion when the video about the Thai king was played?” Annan responded, “Oh, Cody, we love, respect, and honor our king, for he is a king who cares for his people. Our king will often leave his palace and come to villages and communities in Thailand to be with the people—to know them and identify with them. We know that our king loves the Thai people, and we love him.”

As Cody listened, he knew that this description was setting the stage for him to share the story of a much greater King. In the days to come, Cody told Annan about how God, the King over all the universe, loved us so much that he came to us in the person of Jesus. He came to identify with us, even to the point of taking all our sin upon himself, in order to save us and to make it possible for us to follow him. Upon understanding this glorious reality, Annan began pursuing King Jesus, but because he realized that King Jesus had pursued him.

David Platt, Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live, Tyndale House Publishers.

See also Illustrations on The Ancient World, Government, Jesus, King, Leadership, Power, President