by John Meador
Increasingly, we're a world of visual learners. If I'm going to connect with people below the age of 50 to a significant degree, I'll need to be equipped with more than just words-as important as they are. Jesus recognized the value of teaching with both words and visual illustrations that drove home the point. Who can forget the image of "the sower sowing seed?" That image is relevant and memorable-and who knows how many times over the years people have seen "sowers sowing seed" and been reminded of what Jesus said?
What about the Old Testament prophet whose message was punctuated by seemingly bizarre behavior ultimately designed to make the point? Biblical preaching can be paired with vivid imagery to produce transformational messages-if the preacher will take the risk to do so!
Years ago, I watched a man named Joe White carve a cross with an ax while speaking to a group of men at a Promise-Keepers conference. I never forgot that night. While I didn't remember the exact words, the imagery and brutality of the cross stuck with me to an amazing degree. I saw hundreds of men profoundly moved by the Spirit to come to the cross.
Over the last five years, I've preached my own message with a cross several times-and found that God has used it in a unique way. This past Easter season, on Good Friday, I carved a cross again, and again God used it powerfully. Because Easter Sunday was also the launch of a new series out of the book of Colossians (Chapter 3) that dealt with "the Crucified Life," I left the 12-foot-tall cross in place for the rest of the five week series. What an impression those rugged old logs make on people as they hear the words of Scripture and see the realistic imagery that matches.
One person who was moved by the "cross message" shared that with each blow of the ax, and each time the hammer drove a spike into the wood, his heart felt at least some of the weight of what Jesus had gone through for him. The effect was life-changing. That day, he understood the concept of "substitutionary atonement."
You'd be amazed at how a cross re-enactment brings to new life words of an old song about the cross, increasing the impact of the song itself as people are reminded of its reality.
As this message was preached, the wood chips flew out into the audience, and some took those pieces of wood home with them to remember the experience of the cross. Others responded to an invitation to write their past sin on a piece of paper and nail them to the cross to remember that " He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col. 2:14). Some stood and stared at the cross after the service, contemplating all that took place that day on Calvary. Thankfully, many also came to the cross for the first time in their lives, trusting Christ as Savior and Lord.
Amazingly, something also took place that never, ever happens. People made a most unusual request. "Preacher, would you preach it again-just like that-next year?" Now, honestly, how often does that happen? For me-never!
So what was so different about this "cross message" than any other message on the cross? For the first time, people heard it at the same time they saw it. As they listened to words they'd heard many times, their eyes were engaged with the immensity of a cross large enough to crucify a man. Their ears heard the thud of a beam falling onto a stage, the chopping of wood by an ax to make the cross, and the sound of the spikes that went into the cross where Jesus' hands and feet would have been. They felt the wood chips that flew all around and they smelled the fresh wood being cut and prepared for the cross. Their senses were engaged, and they experienced this message more than most.
There is no question that God's Holy Spirit is the power that draws men and women to the cross and salvation. No amount of imagery, theatrics or oratory can change that. I believe it is equally true that God leads His messengers to engage the hearts of the listeners in a fresh, creative way so that they may fully grasp the important message we are called to share. Jesus did this. Old Testament prophets did this. As a preacher of God's great gospel, you can do this, as well.
John Meador is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.