Sermon illustrations


A Killer Embraced Like a Brother

In their excellent book on reconciliation, Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice share the true story of Billy Neal Moore, who would both find Jesus in prison and ultimately find his victim’s parents to be his greatest advocate:

When Billy Neal Moore was in jail, awaiting the trial in which he would be sentenced to death, a minister shared with him the good news that Jesus loved him and wanted to forgive his sins. Moore learned that no one is beyond redemption. From prison, he wrote to his victim’s family and asked their forgiveness.

Astoundingly, they immediately wrote back to say that they also were Christians and that they forgave him. Then the family decided to petition the Georgia parole board to commute Moore’s death sentence. In 1991, Moore was paroled from prison, transformed by the grace of God and his victim’s family members. “When I was released, they embraced me like a brother,” Moore said of Stapleton’s family. He has been preaching the gospel of forgiveness to schoolchildren and church groups ever since.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Love that Believes in Resurrection

Norman Malcolm was an American philosopher who became close friends with Ludwig Wittgenstein (the founder of Analytic Philosophy, one of the most popular schools of philosophy up through today). In 1958, seven years after Wittgenstein’s death, Malcolm published a memoir in which he said that Wittgenstein was interested in religious matters but of course held no religious belief whatsoever.

But later on, when he saw more of Wittgenstein’s journals and letters, he realized that he had been too confident, and had misinterpreted many of Wittgenstein’s statements about religion. For instance, when Wittgenstein said that he could never bring himself to believe in the Catholicism of his friend (and, later, literary executor) Elizabeth Anscombe, Malcolm assumed that he meant something like “I would never believe such nonsense.”

But eventually he came to see that Wittgenstein had been making a far less critical statement, had been essentially saying that he was not formed in such a way that he could believe in what Anscombe believed – but that that incapacity might well have been some kind of flaw in his formation. In one of his journals, later published in the book Culture and Value, Wittgenstein wrote,

What inclines even me to believe in Christ’s Resurrection? It is as though I play with the thought. — If he did not rise from the dead, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. He is dead and decomposed. In that case he is a teacher like any other and can no longer help; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation.

We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven. But if I am to be REALLY saved, — what I need is certainty — not wisdom, dreams of speculation — and this certainty is faith. And faith is faith in what is needed by my heart, my soul, not my speculative intelligence.

For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can say: Only love can believe the Resurrection. Or: It is love that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to the Resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption.

Introduction by Alan Jacobs, Snakes & Ladders (Newsletter), April 5, 2021. Source Material from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, Chicago University Press,  Ed. Georg Henrik von Wright, 1977.

The Sheep Follow the Shepherd’s Call

During the riots in Palestine in the middle thirties a village near Haifa was condemned to collective punishment by having its sheep and cattle sequestrated by the Government. The inhabitants however were permitted to redeem their possessions at a fixed price. Among them was an orphan shepherd boy, whose six or eight sheep and goats were all he had in the world for life and work. Somehow he obtained the money for their redemption. He went to the big enclosure where the animals were penned, offering his money to the British sergeant in charge.

 The N.C.O. told him he was welcome to the requisite number of animals, but ridiculed the idea that he could possibly pick out his “little flock” from among the confiscated hundreds. The little shepherd thought differently, because he knew better; and giving his own “call”, for he had his nai (shepherd’s pipe) with him, “his own” separated from the rest of the animals and trotted out after him. “I am the Good Shepherd and know my sheep—and am known of mine.”

Eric F. F. Bishop, Jesus of Palestine (London: Lutterworth, 1955), pp. 297-98.

The Shawshank Redemption Story

In his book, Who is this Man?, Author and Pastor John Ortberg describes the major themes of Holy Week present in the film The Shawshank Redemption:

The hope of resurrection is woven into a thousand stories…The hero, Andy Dufresne, initially underwhelms the narrator Red: “I must admit I didn’t think much of Andy the first time I laid eyes on him…Looked like a stiff breeze could blow him over. Dufresne is unjustly arrested, tried, condemned, and beaten. But as we watch him through Red’s eyes, something like wonder begins to grow. In a brutal world he is kind. He is a man of hidden strengths who creates a library and helps his captors with their taxes. He is anxious for nothing.

“Strolls like a man in a park without a care or a worry, says Red. He ascends to a high place (the warden’s office) and plays Mozart over the intercom, and for a transcendent moment, every prisoner stands motionless in unexpected glory. And Red confesses:

“Those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream, for the briefest of moments—every last man at Shawshank feels free.”

Andy is persecuted by the warden, a pharisaical hypocrite who hands him a Bible and tells him “Salvation lies within.”

In the end, salvation does lie in the Bible. The Bible is where Andy hides the small hammer with which he chips to freedom. (The cutout space in the warden’s Bible where Andy hides the chisel begins on the first page of Exodus, the story of God liberating his people from bondage.

Andy descends into hell. He crawls to freedom through five hundred yards of prison sewer pipe half-filled with sewage and comes out the other side cleansed by the river and the rain and raising his hands bathed in light and freedom…If you can’t see the resurrection, you haven’t been watching. His empty cell is the beginning of the end for the regime of the warden.” Judgment cometh and that right soon.”

John Ortberg, Who is this Man?, Zondervan Publishing.

 The Unmerited Gift of Grace

 If you’re not stunned by the thought of grace, then you aren’t grasping what grace offers you, or what it cost Jesus. In 1987, eighteen-month-old “Baby Jessica” fell twenty-two feet into a Texas well. Rescuers labored nonstop to save her. After fifty-five grueling hours, her life hanging in the balance, they finally reached her and extracted her from the well. The nation breathed a sigh of relief and cheered the heroes. This was not the story: “Baby Jessica clawed her eighteen-month-old body up the side of that twenty-two foot well, inch by inch, digging in her little toes and working her way up. She’s a hero, that Jessica!”

Baby Jessica was utterly helpless. She could do nothing to deliver herself. Her fate was in the hands of her rescuers. Left to herself, Jessica had no chance. Likewise, when it comes to our salvation, we’re utterly powerless. That’s grace: “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). We get no more applause for our redemption than Baby Jessica got for being rescued. God alone deserves the ovation. In the story of redemption, He’s the only hero. And it didn’t just cost Him fifty-five hours of hard work—it cost Him everything. Do you want to say “Thank You” right now?

Randy Alcorn, The Grace and Truth Paradox, LifeChange Books, The Crown Publishing Group.

See also illustrations on Brokenness,  Forgiveness, Grace, Lost, Mercy, Reconciliation, Rescue, Slavery

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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