Sermon illustrations


A Better And Wiser Judge

Horace Gray was a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. During one of his cases, a criminal was about to be released, not because he was innocent, but because of a technicality. As Gray prepared to release the man, he said this to the man:

I know that you are guilty and you know it. And I want you to remember that one day you will stand before a better and wiser judge, and that there you will be dealt with according to justice and not according to law.

Source Unknown

The Guilty Among the Innocent

Prussian king Frederick the Great was once touring a Berlin prison. The prisoners fell on their knees before him to proclaim their innocence—except for one man, who remained silent. Frederick called to him, “Why are you here?”

“Armed robbery, Your Majesty,” was the reply.

“And are you guilty?”

“Yes indeed, Your Majesty, I deserve my punishment.”

Frederick then summoned the jailer and ordered him, “Release this guilty wretch at once. I will not have him kept in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who occupy it.”

Today in the Word, December 4, 1992.

“I am Buying Your Soul”

One of the most powerful illustrations of grace and mercy in all of western literature has to be the great scene between Monseigneur Bienvenu and Jean Valjean in the stirring epic Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

Jean Valjean, having recently finished serving a long prison sentence for stealing bread (for his starving family), once again finds himself in desperate straits.

With nowhere to go on a rainy evening, he is offered shelter by the Monseigneur Bienvenu. With no money or work prospects, Valjean steals some silver from the parsonage, only to be caught by the local authorities.

Valjean is dragged back to the Monseigneur’s residence to be confronted for his wrongdoing. But instead of confirming the crime, Bienvenu sees the unfortunate event as an opportunity.

It is, with no exaggeration necessary, the opportunity to either condemn a life or to save one.

Employing distinctly atonement language, Bienvenue chooses the latter, and says to the stunned Valjean,

“Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man….Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf.

The Quasimodo Complex

Two decades after I worked with the airmen, I read a fascinating article, “The Quasimodo Complex,” in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery, Two physicians reported in 1967 on a landmark study of eleven thousand prison inmates who had committed murder, prostitution, rape, and other serious crimes. Medicine has long known that emotional conflict may produce physical illness. These doctors raised the possibility of the reverse syndrome. Physical deformity may lead to emotional distress that results in crime, according to the article, 20 percent of adults have surgically correctable facial deformities (protruding ears, misshapen noses, receding chins, acne scars, birthmarks, eye deformities). The researchers found that fully 60 percent of the eleven thousand offenders had such deformities.

The authors, who named the phenomenon after Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, raised disturbing questions. Had these criminals encountered rejection and bullying from school classmates because of their deformities? And could the cruelty of other children have bred in them a response of revenge hostility that later led to criminal acts?

Authors proposed a program of corrective plastic surgery for prison inmates. If society rejects some members because of physical appearance, they reasoned, perhaps altering that appearance will change how they are treated and thus how they behave. Whether a murderer on death row or a pilot in the RAF, a person forms a self-image based largely on what kind of image other people mirror back.

The report on Quasimodo prisoners reduces to statistics a truth that every burn victim and disabled person knows all too well. We humans give inordinate regard to the physical body, or shell, that we inhabit. 

Taken from Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s name: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey Copyright (c) 2019 by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Salvation & Judgment

In much of contemporary society, we are only willing to focus on God’s love and grace, rarely on God’s wrath or even judgment. This story is a good reminder that God’s relationship towards us is multi-faceted. 

Back in the days of the “wild west” there was a boy whose pants had gotten stuck in a stagecoach. The stage coach took off and the poor boy was doing everything he could to hold on for dear life. As the stage coach began its departure, a man happened to see the unfolding crisis and raced off on his horse to save the boy. His fast action paid off as he was able to rescue the boy from certain death.

That man would eventually become a judge, whereas the boy would become a criminal. Eventually the two would meet in the judge’s courtroom. The boy, realizing who his judge was, asked him to rescue him, just as he had done those many years earlier. The judge would eventually bring the gavel down on the table and say, “On that day when I rescued you from the stage coach I was your savior. Today, I am your judge.”

Original Source Unknown, written by Stuart Strachan Jr.


What I have Written, I have Written

Custom required posting a sign called a titulus cruces above the crucified person’s head, listing his crimes. Pilate dictated the Lord’s inscription as, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19). Disturbed by this identification, the chief priests confronted Pilate again. “Don’t call him king of the Jews,” they argued. “Say that he claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate refused. “What I have written, I have written,” he answered (Jn 9:22).

Early Christians also turned their eyes toward the Savior’s titulus. But in a twist of meaning, they honored its inscription. By the early Middle Ages believers easily recognized the initials INRI as an abbreviation for lesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm. Or “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” in Latin. Eventually the inscription—and then the abbreviation—appeared in Western sculpture and paintings of the crucifixion.

Taken from The Mystery of the Cross by Judith Couchman Copyright (c) 2009 by Judith Couchman. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See also illustrations on Evil, Guilt, Judgment, The Law, Lawsuits, Lawyers, Prison