Note: This post is part four in a six-part series on how the book of Jude demonstrates qualities of a good sermon.
Jude’s Variety of Illustrations—Natural Analogies and Culture
Is it appropriate to use non-biblical illustrations, and if so, where do you draw the line? Jude provides a good example for us. He uses non-biblical stories and natural analogies, but he keeps those illustrations short and focused on clarifying the main idea of the sermon. His illustrations do not overpower the main idea or detract from the main idea.
In the last article, we looked at Jude’s use of biblical examples. In this article, we will look at how Jude uses non-biblical stories and natural analogies.
Jude begins his use of extra-biblical illustrations by discussing Moses’ body and Enoch’s prophecy.
9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. (ESV)
Using current events, popular books, or well-known stories allows one to challenge the listener to think biblically about culture. Believers need to develop the ability to think biblically about culture because it allows one to bridge into evangelistic conversations and to live a Gospel-centered life. Every preacher should be aware of current events and constantly reading to find new material for illustrations; however, these illustrations should not overshadow the text or replace the time spent studying the text. Keeping the elements of the sermon in proper priority, illustrations should always serve the text, and the text should drive the sermon.
In addition to cultural stories, Jude also uses natural analogies. He describes the ungodly as shepherds feeding themselves instead of the sheep, waterless clouds, fruitless trees, wild waves, and wandering stars. He uses both agricultural and seafaring examples to illustrate this concept to a wide audience. Preachers should also look for a variety of illustrations. I know that too often I default to hunting or sports analogies because that is what I know best, but those illustrations do not communicate well to everyone so the broader your illustrations the better your connection to the variety of people who will be listening.
12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. (ESV)
For the landlocked, who could imagine a shepherd feeding himself and not taking care of the sheep? This would eventually put him out of a job, and yet there are many points of application that can be drawn to pastor/shepherds who seek their own welfare over that of the sheep. Pastors who take the easy road and avoid the confrontation of contending for the faith render themselves useless at the end of the day.
During the hot Texas summer, we welcome the sight of incoming clouds, but those clouds without water leave the earth cracked and parched rather than quenching thirst with a cool rain. In his final land analogy, a tree that does not produce fruit in the proper season uses the resources of the land and gives nothing back. Such trees are uprooted and pronounced twice dead, so it is with the ungodly.
For those who may travel the sea, Jude begins in verse 12 with the reference to hidden reefs. I fish at a lake with submerged trees, and I am constantly on the lookout for those trees so that I don’t hit one with the bottom of my boat. Seafarers would know the concern of a hidden, unmarked reef, which can mean disaster.
Jude continues this oceanic line of thought in verse 13 with wild waves of the sea casting up the foam of their own shame. Such wild seas could not be traveled and thus proved dangerous and useless, just as the ungodly. He furthers the analogy with wandering stars. Any good sailor could navigate his boat by stars fixed in their positions, but wandering stars would lead the boat astray and off course. Similarly, the ungodly lead people astray and off the course of the narrow path toward godliness and heaven.
Finally, in wrapping up his illustrations of the ungodly, Jude uses repetition. In verse 15 alone, notice how many times he uses the term “ungodly” and the specific description of them in verse 16. The strong words of verse 16 demonstrate Jude’s passion for contending for the faith and confronting the ungodly.
15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16 These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (ESV)
Jude demonstrates variety in the use of illustrations. He draws from biblical examples, cultural stories, and natural analogies. He also uses language that paints pictures for the reader showing them rather than simply telling them. Of course, Jude could have rounded out his arsenal of illustrations with a personal illustration or two, but Paul and others provide adequate warrant for using these in preaching. Perhaps Jude thought a personal example would not be wise since he is the half-brother of Christ; however, Jude does provide an admirable variety of illustrations while keeping the main idea central.
In the next post, I will look at how Jude applies the main idea through imperatives that provide the application for the sermon.