Preaching is more than chemistry. A preacher does not simply take one part doctrine of God plus one part depravity of man plus one part doctrine of Christ with two parts pleading for repentance and faith to proclaim the truth. While these ingredients are necessary, preaching has artistic elements. God uses illustrations to implant the seed of truth into a sinner’s soul. It creates a mental image which the hearer carries. This makes an object, sound, or event connected with that Biblical teaching. Then, God can use the ringing of a bell in the future as a reminder to them of the truth that you proclaimed on the street corner.
Where should you look for illustrations? Follow Jesus’ example by looking to your surrounding environment. Take the matter that a person is seeing, smelling, and hearing and use it as an arrow to point them to the Gospel. In John 4, Jesus has a conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Jesus sat by the well recovering from his journey from Judea. He is thirsty and hot from sitting in the noon day sun. When the Samaritan woman comes, Jesus asks her for a drink. She responds with astonishment since a Jewish man was talking to her. This went against the cultural protocol. Jesus responds by saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus changes the conversation from physical matters to spiritual. He uses water as an illustration for the living water that our souls desperately need from Jesus. The Samaritan woman does not understand. Jesus responds later by saying, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
Jesus uses the physical water to point the woman to the need for her soul to be spiritually satisfied. A person who drinks from this well will be thirsty again. However, if you drink from Jesus’ spiritual well, then you will never be thirsty again. Your soul will be satisfied in God. Through Jesus’ beautiful word picture, he has linked water, which is necessary for life, with Jesus’ living water which is necessary for spiritual life. Jesus used the water to plead with the Samaritan sinner to come to Him for eternal life.
In the same way, we can use our environment as a springboard to illustrate eternal truths from God’s Word. Here are four examples.
During my street preaching experience in Chicago, sirens are a persistent unwelcomed guest to the banquet. Our team would set up at a location which is a few blocks from a hospital. It was common to see an ambulance come blaring its sirens through the intersection. The high pitched sound will interrupt your thought and cause you to stop preaching. Instead of viewing it as a frustrating distraction, you can use it to illustrate God’s truth.
First, after the sound has past, respond by saying, “Just as the siren warns you to get out of the way so that you will not get hurt, we are here preaching to warn you of God’s wrath. If you will not head this alarm, then you will be run over by God’s punishment.”
Second, use it to point to the frailty of life. “The person in the ambulance did not wake up this morning planning to go to the hospital. In the same way, most people do not plan to die. You could be the next person riding in the ambulance. You could soon be only a breath away from meeting almighty God.”
2. Clock Tower Bell
At Truman State University, there is a clock tower in the quad where I preach. It has a bell which rings on the quarter hour once and several times on the hour. Since I am not preaching with amplification, I must wait for the bell to stop ringing before I continue. Here are two ways to use the ringing as an illustration.
First, “Just as the bell tells you that it is time for class, the Bible says that ‘behold, now is the day of salvation.’ (2 Cor. 6:2) Now is the time to get right with God while you are still alive.”
Second, “Just as the bell tells you if you are late for an appointment, the Bible says ‘it is appointed man to die once, and after that comes judgment.’ (Heb. 7:27) You have an appointment with God on your calendar, and you will not be late. Are you ready to be judged by God?”
On the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, the city has trash cans set up on the sidewalk. The municipality sells advertising space on the sides. One of the advertisements had Tom Skillings on it. He is the weather man on WGN. It had the caption, “Check out our website to see what you should wear tomorrow.” I used this advertisement to point people to eternity.
“How many of you check the weather the next day to see the forecast on WGN? You want to be prepared so that you will not get too hot by having a sweater or be too cold by wearing shorts. You are preparing yourself for the next day. How many of you are prepared for eternity? If you take the time to pick out your clothes, how much more should you take the time to prepare your soul for heaven or hell? Are you prepared to meet God?”
Every winter the ground will be covered in a blanket of snow. Use it as an object lesson on sin and the power of Christ to cleanse and redeem filthy sinners.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;” (Isaiah 1:18) “When the snow falls on the ground, it is pure. It does not have dust, dirt, or foreign matter in it. Over the course of a few days, the snow turns black. See the black snow before your feet on the curb. Who would want to eat that snow? Nobody! Has anyone here ever seen black, filthy snow turned back to being pure and white? Of course not! Nobody has seen that happen! Yet this is beauty of Christ’s sacrifice. All of us are dirty, putrid sinners. We are more disgusting than the black snow. Yet through Christ’s blood we can be cleansed in it of our sins. Then, he removes the dirt to make us white as snow through his righteousness! We can be pure and white as snow through Him!”
These are only a few examples. I encourage you to let your imagination run wild in order turn your preaching environment into an illustration of God’s truth. By taking a few minutes of creative thought, you can forever associate the Gospel with an object of God’s creation in an unbeliever’s mind. Then, God may use your illustration to preach to them the remainder of their days.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.