Preaching Articles

Jesus used sermon illustrations.


We usually call them parables. Let me tell you about one from the book of Matthew.

After performing a miracle, Jesus turned at his disciples and said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move” (17:20).

The imagery of a mustard seed moving a mountain is powerful. First, a mustard seed is incredibly small. Yet, given the proper environment and resources, it grows to be a large plant.

Second, Jesus is not far from a place called Herodian. Herodian is what King Herod called the mountaintop palace he built to celebrate a victory over the Parthians.

There’s something interesting I should share about Herod’s mountaintop palace. Before he built it, THERE WAS NO MOUNTAIN.

How can you build a mountaintop palace without a mountain?!

Simple, Herod had a mountain built.

He took dirt from another place to create his very own personalized mountain.

Using this popular image, Jesus taught his disciples an important truth: if they have faith in God, they can do greater things than King Herod.

The disciples probably never forgot what Jesus said that day.

When it comes to using sermon illustrations, we should be like Jesus. We should take what our audience knows about the world and use it to describe important truths from the Bible.

Here are four reasons why you should be using sermon illustrations:

1. Illustrations Help Listeners Understand Important Principles from Scripture

Some concepts are a little harder to understand than others. How could Jesus get the disciples to grasp that they would turn the world upside down? That they would be a part of a force more powerful than the Roman government? He used a mustard seed and a mountain.

2. Illustrations Add Flesh and Blood to Abstract Ideas

Illustrations can help the people in your church see how a concept works in the real world. They add a face and place to an important truth that should be applied and lived out. We can’t afford to miss this point.

3. Illustrations Activate the Listener’s Imagination

Illustrations can help some remember principles long after the message is over. Once, during a sermon, I heard a story about a plant. Now, when I see a dead plant, I remember the Old Testament book of Jonah. Appeal to your congregation’s imagination, and they’ll remember it.

4. Illustrations Can Be Used to Reach People Who Learn Differently

People learn differently. Some are tactile learners; others learn visually. By using a picture, video clip, or object lesson, you can reach people that might not normally be moved by just listening to your voice.

I’m extremely excited to announce that we just launched our new sermon illustration packets at Ministry Pass. If you’re looking for great illustrations, check them out!

Justin Trapp serves as Associate Pastor at Northwood Church and is the founder of Ministry Pass™. Justin blogs about church leadership, creativity, productivity and marketing at

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Talk about it...

Keith B

commented on Aug 14, 2015

Except that Jesus actually said he talked in parables so people WOULDN'T understand him. You've got the point of his messag completely backwards.

Lynn Disley

commented on Aug 14, 2015

Well he did say that but wasn't that (apart from fulfilling prophecy in Isaiah) because He wanted to distinguish between those who had been given 'ears to hear' and those who just wanted to continue in unbelief?

Keith B

commented on Aug 14, 2015

Yes. That's exactly it. The parables were not just to communicate better, though. I agree with his points that we need to give good illustrations that are understandable, but the example of Jesus using parables is NOT simply him picking easy-to-understand illustrations so the masses would "get it".

Lynn Disley

commented on Aug 15, 2015

I think the parables Jesus used were indeed easy to understand for the could they fail to understand stories about everyday events in their time and culture and actions; the parable of the vineyard for example was fully understood by the Jewish leaders, that's why they met in secret after this to plot His death. I believe they were told in a never to be forgotten way in order to divide the masses...they 'got it' but what they did with it would be the critical part.

Keith B

commented on Aug 15, 2015

But Jesus specifically SAID the reason that he used parables was to keep the masses uninformed. (Matt 13:10-17)). So, no...despite what you may think, he had the exact opposite goal in mind.

Fernando Hourdequint Camero

commented on Aug 14, 2015

Entiendo el prop?sito de lo que quiere decir el hermano Justin. Entiendo la necesidad de crear puentes entre la verdad b?blica y la mente de las personas. Entiendo que hay que usar sujetadores, para que la verdad sea rumiada luego en la mente de los creyentes. Simplemente es ciencia. A la cual el Se?or nos ha llamado a mirar. "El alma sin ciencia no es buena". Gracias, muchas gracias. Dios le bendiga.

Lawrence Webb

commented on Aug 14, 2015

I consider stories, illustrations, examples -- whatever you choose to call them -- essential for communication with listeners. We can work our hearts out with exposition and exegesis, but for sure we'd better have down-to-earth examples of what we're talking about. I'd say 99.99 percent of our folks don't care about or understand the significance of the finer points of a Greek verb tense. But they can take away a story about someone who demonstrated a forgiving spirit or someone who went out of his way to help someone (after the fashion, say, of the Good Samaritan) or someone who reached out to a person who didn't fit into "our" social or religious or racial group.

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