All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables, and without a parable He did not speak to them… (Matthew 13:34)
Yesterday I was once again reminded of the power of sermon illustrations. At the close of a funeral service we both attended, I talked with Geraldine, a friend whom I had given some c.d. copies of a sermon series I had preached on the life of David. Even though she had listened to several of the sermons, Geraldine had just one question to ask me about them: “Are you enjoying having Josh on your football team again this year?”
I have to say that the question caught me off guard, and I got a deer-in-the-headlights look for a moment. My mind began to race. “Josh? Josh who? And how does Geraldine even know that I’m helping coach football right now? And how could she possibly care about a little kid or youth-league football? What’s the connection that I’m missing here?”
Well, since we currently have two boys named Josh on Royce’s team, I stammered out something like, “Yes, he is.” I don’t think Geraldine could tell that I was trying to bluff my way through the conversation, but the truth was that I was still trying to get up to speed subject wise. But then she said something that made everything clear. More or less her comment was, “I thought the way you used him as an illustration was just perfect.”
Okay, now I knew exactly who and what we were talking about. In one of the David sermons, I had spent a couple of minutes talking about how “little Josh” was the best tackler on Royce’s football team even though he was one of the smallest kids on the team. Since Geraldine knew that I had preached the David sermons about a year ago, she rightly assumed that I would be helping coach Royce’s football team again this year and that Josh, being the same age as Royce, would be on the team again. Once all that clicked in my mind, I told her that, yes, Josh is on our team again, and, yes, he is still our best tackler. We both got a good laugh out of that.
As Geraldine and I exited the church and went our separate ways, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how she had remembered my Josh illustration. She hadn’t asked about a sermon title, an outline, or a finer point of some text. No, apparently the top thing that had stuck in her mind out of all my preaching was an illustration that I had used, even a personal one at that. I guess that Jesus, being the master communicator, teacher, and preacher that He was, knew exactly what He was doing when He spoke in parables.
The word “parable” comes from the Greek word parabole. Literally, the word means “a placing beside.” So a parable is a story that is placed alongside a teaching to help illustrate the teaching and make it more memorable. You see, Christ’s parables were what we would call sermon illustrations. Of course, His illustrations were of a significantly higher grade than ours’!
The book Love Worth Finding is the biography of Adrian Rogers, the great Southern Baptist preacher. His life certainly makes for an interesting read, but my favorite part of the book is its closing section, which is entitled “The Preaching Philosophy of Adrian Rogers.” Concerning the use of illustrations, Rogers says this:
One of God’s great ways of communicating spiritual truth so it is easily understood is by use of illustrations. I attempt to include an illustration with every outline point of the sermon.
Rick Warren is another noted Southern Baptist preacher. In his classic book The Purpose Driven Church, he writes:
Jesus was a master storyteller…In fact, the Bible shows that storytelling was Jesus’ favorite technique when speaking to a crowd (Matthew 13:34). Somehow preachers forgot that the Bible is essentially a book of stories. That is how God chosen to communicate his Word to human beings…Long after a pastor’s clever outline is forgotten, people will remember the stories from the sermon. It is fascinating, and sometimes comical, to watch how quickly a crowd tunes in when a speaker begins telling a story and how quickly that attention vanishes as soon as the story is finished.
Now, I realize that every Christian is not a preacher or a Bible-teacher. But I also realize that every Christian is supposed to share the gospel as well as the truth of God’s word. And how can we effectively do this sharing? Well, I don’t think there is a canned answer to that question, but surely one of the best ways is to incorporate interesting, relevant, thought-provoking illustrations into what we are saying. If Jesus, who was God in the flesh, chose to major on this way of teaching, who are we to think that we can come up with something better?