When I was a student at the Seminary at Andrews University, the elders of the local church where my family and I attended asked me to preach one Sabbath. My sermon was about witnessing and being “fishers of men” as Jesus said. A classmate and friend suggested that in order to catch the congregation’s attention I should wear a fisherman’s vest, hat and water boots as I preached. That Sabbath I caught the congregation’s attention alright, but unfortunately they were more focused on my “costume” than they were on what I and the Word of God had to say. To this day, more than a dozen years later, I’m embarrassed by my visual aid that had gone wrong.
Visual aids can be helpful to draw people into a message and to help us understand challenging topics, but visual aids should never overpower the message of the Word. In Ezekiel four, God instructs Ezekiel to provide the people with two visual aids to demonstrate the next coming siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. This was illustrated by a small model city siege work he made, and by bread cooking over human waste.
The Biblical use of visual aids is not limited to just the Old Testament. I can think of at least three examples of powerful visual aids in the New Testament. The first example is when the Son of God left His place in heaven and became a human being to give us a visual picture of the kindness and compassion of God. The second is the Cross as a visual symbol of God’s amazing love and grace, for there is no greater love than that. And the third example is through the services of baptism and communion in the church.
There is a danger with these visual aids that they might be reduced in our minds to nothing more than just visual aids. However, these three visual aids are different than a preacher trying to grab the attention of his audience. These are divinely inspired and are God’s Word made visible and tangible. In each case they are manifestations of God Himself, which makes them sacred.
It is important for us to recognize that these examples are more than just visual aids. The birth of Christ is more than an event to build an annual commercial holiday around. The cross is more than an emblem to dangle around ones neck on a little chain. Baptism is more than a splash and the Lord’s Supper is more than a taste of food. The Son, Emmanuel, did not come for just a moment in history. Christ became a man forever because only a man could be the second Adam and provide us with reconciliation. The cross is deeper than just a visual demonstrating of God’s love for us. The cross was and continues to be the means of our atonement and proof that salvation can never come through our best efforts. Baptism is evidence that the old man has died, been buried, and raised a new man in Christ. Communion emphasizes the point that our salvation comes through Christ alone and that He offers us salvation as a free gift.
I think Ezekiel’s visual aids caught the attention of the people, but, like the visual aids of the New Testament, they were so much more. They were God’s Word made visible and that’s good news! Amen.
Dr. Eric Bates, Pastor
Gulf States Conference