Today’s Illustration: Stuff You Missed In History Class*

Who: Elizabeth Blackwell — the first American woman to receive a degree in medicine

When: Graduated at the top of her class in 1849.

Where: London and New York

  • “She interned at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London (It was there that she met Florence Nightingale.)
  • Elizabeth Blackwell returned to New York to open a clinic that focused on the disadvantaged among women and children.
  • During the Civil War, she trained Union nurses.
  • In 1868 she opened a medical college.

What: PDF of her biography — Just a few details from her biography

  • In the 1800s, Elizabeth’s father had decided to leave England — after riots broke out, his business was devasted by a fire, deteriorating social unrest, realizing that his children would not be accepted in college because their father was a dissenter, and reading books about America.
  • “He thought it over and then announced it to the rest of the family. . . . Samuel’s mind was made up,” and they began “the enormous task of packing” to move to American with their eight children.
  • Elizabeth was 11 years old.
  • “She went one day to see a woman friend who was dying of cancer. ‘Why don’t you study medicine?’  Mary Donaldson suggested. ‘You like study and you have the intelligence.  If I had been treated by. lady doctor, my worst sufferings would have been spared me.’  Those words stayed in Elizabeth’s mind, and she later mentioned it to Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  • “The idea of winning a doctor’s degree gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed an immense attraction for me.”
  • Initially, she was told that she could attend the lectures but not obtain a diploma.
  • It was suggested to her to wear a male disguise and enroll as a male medical student.
  • She was granted an interview at the Philadelphia School of Anatomy
  • Then on October 20, 1847, she received a letter granting her admission to the medical college of Geneva, New York.

. . . . .

Key Biblical Thoughts Per This Story-Illustration:  When using an illustration-story to develop an approach (which is the 4th way to use an illustration). . . .

√ The “Key Biblical Thoughts” are different from the three typical uses of an illustration previously presented.
√ The “Key Biblical Thoughts” are far fewer when the 4th use of illustrations is employed.
√ The “Key Biblical Thoughts” also spawn significant variations depending on the purpose of the approach. [1]

  • firsts
  • never heard / knew
  • courage
  • pioneers
  • historical turning points
  • breaking new ground
  • a little known passage


The general story, NOT necessarily the details of the story, is what is used.

In the previous example, which exemplifies this fourth use of an illustration, Pastor Smith shares a story in order to set up an approach to a sermon that has nothing to do with what he is actually preaching in its content.  Rather, Pastor Smith is making the point that one needs to know the back-story if you are going to understand the ending of a story.

Pastor Smith is setting up his approach same approach to a biblical story of redemption!  He is laying out why he going to do what he is going to do, why he is going to begin in Genesis — to understand the conclusion of what has happened — the divine rescue through the resurrection — because “You have to go back to the beginning of the story” to understand the end of the story. [1]

Examples Of Setting Up A Story-Illustration Approach:

  • We would say, “What happened?”
  • When that detail was revealed, what was happening was totally understood / reinterpreted.
  • It was viewed completely differently years later.
  • What no one knew was that . . . .
  • One individual changed the whole obvious outcome.
  • It took only one individual to speak up and say . . . .
  • Why would you get involved in that kind of situation?
  • Why would they say that?

. . . .

Sermonic Example: There are at least three distinct ways that one can use illustrative material.  This story is an example of the 4th way to use an illustration, as previously explained using Dr. Steven Smith’s sermon on Joseph. [1]. I will highlight two different approaches that can be developed through the story of Elizabeth Blackwell.

I am repeatedly reminded abpout what we were NOT taught over all the yeas of our education — all of the 13 to 17 years from kindergarten to the end of high school or college.  If I were to mention some of “the first” in various fields of endeavor, we might not recognize many of those names, yet it often involved breaking down some barriers and fighting through some obstancles that was necessary for “being the first.”

One of those names is “Elizabeth Blackwell.”  I read some of her biography and was again taken back by the difficulties that she had to overcome to arrive at her destination — a destination that seems so common to us in our day — that of being a woman doctor.

(add whatever you find useful in the above details or provided PDF)

Approach “A”– “This is one of those stories you have never heard.

Likewise, there are biblical accounts that when a sermon is preached on that person or event, you might also think — “That’s account was missed in your Bible history class.”  This is probably one of those accounts few of us probably recall or remember as being in the Bible . . . .

Approach “B” — This is one of those “firsts” in the Bible.

Likewise, there are biblical accounts where we might say, “This is the person who was the first.  They were a biblical pioneer. . . . They broke new ground!  They pushed the envelope of societal and religious boundaries.  One such account is what we are going to examine today. . . .

. . . . .

. . . . .

1.  The Fourth Way To Use An Illustration: 

Previously, I had laid out three different ways to use an illustration.

A message by Dr. Steven Smith was used to illustrate a fourth way.

The fourth way to use an illustration is to have the illustration/story set up your APPROACH to the passage!

Step #1 — Determine how you want to use the story as an approach to your biblical passage.
Here are some examples . . .

  • Just as that headline causes us to want to know how it ended / what led up to such a turn of events / why such a response took place / etc. — likewise, the story we are looking at causes us to want to know, “How did Judah end up marrying a Cannaite?”
  • As you read that biography/story/event, you are left with some serious questions such as . . . . — likewise, this biblical account leaves us with some serious questions such as how is it that only one leper returned, or . . . .
  • This decision / event / individual changed the way the American way of life.  It was a sea change in America. — Likewise, the death of Uzziah was sea change after 52 years of reigning over Israel.

You are not using the story-illustration for its thematic closeness to the topic you are addressing from the passage.
You are using the story illustration because of helps you lay out your approach to the passage.

You are calling up such elements as . . . .

  • a reader’s typical response to the story — (curious, angry, confused)
  • the questions one would have in reading or hearing about the story
  • the role that story played in its historical setting
  • a detail which was left out / unknown / now added [which changes it all]
  • the unusual words / actions of this-or-that person

. . . . of the story-illustration.

Step #2 –Layout part of the story —  The “part” depends on what you want to use regarding your approach to the biblical passage.

In the previous example by Steven Smith, the tragedy was detailed, AND the outcome was left unstated.  That is because Smith will call up our curiosity, the fact that we want to know how it ended.   It is that element of the story-illustration that he wants to bring into play in his introduction.  He has no interest in using the story to illustrate a point or the thematic idea of his sermon.  Rather, he is laying out the story to illustrate his approach to the passage.  [1]

. . . . 

Step #3 —  Pulldown that element of the story-illustration that allows you to identify your approach.

You see, were you to just read the headline or the introductory paragraphs to that story. . .

“A frightened toddler, trapped for more than a day  22 feet down in an abandoned backyard well.”

[OR — “As a 9-year-old, she was saved at sea. Thirty-five years later, she reunited with her rescuers.” — PDF of full article]

. . . . you, like me, would probably be drawn into the story because you wanted to know —  “Well, what happened.  What lead to that situation.  What was the outcome?”


. . . . .

Reading the headline or opening lines of the story, that a toddler was trapped for over 24 hours, 22 feet down in a well casing, leaves us even more curious as to how that happened and how it ended.”

[ OR “Knowing about the rescue of a nine-year-old saved at sea is good news, but that doesn’t end our curiosity about what happened.  Or it leaves us wondering what she said 35 years later as the was reunited with those who rescued her.”]

Likewise, when you read a Bible passage that is focused on the outcome, you still want to know more.  Hebrews 11 is the hook — it tells us the end of the story, but it is as one knows and understands the fullness of the account that Hebrew’s few verses on this-or-that event become even more remarkable.

That is what we are going to do this morning — we are going to read the verses in Hebrews 11 about ______, and then show how remarkable it was that _____ was able to walk by faith.   We are going to go see “Where The Past Begins.”

. . . . .


. . . . .

When that fact is revealed, what is happening is totally reinterpreted.   When they then realize that they are speaking to the very person they lost contact with — after 35 years — they read all that has happened during their interview differently.  You have to know what is really happening to understand the “interview.”

Let’s look at Joseph’s account facing and talking to his brothers after all these years!

. . . . .

NOTE: again, it is not the actual account used to illustrate a biblical truth or point, but a means of setting up the approach of the sermon.

♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦

* This story illustration can be used several ways, either as an example of “Stuff we missed in history class,” or as an example of “firsts” — individuals who were pioneers.

1. If you would like to listen to an example using a story- illustration, here is the link – or the Easter Video 04/12/2020!  by Steven Smith. The story, not the details of the story, is not part of his sermon. He is using the story to set up his approach!

It is not the details of the actual story that become part of the sermon, but rather Pastor Smith sets up the need to know the back-story if you are going to understand the ending of the illustration cited.  Pastor Smith is setting up his approach!  He is laying out why he going to do what he is going to do, why he is going to begin in Genesis — to understand the conclusion of what has happened — the divine rescue through the resurrection — you have to go back to the beginning of the story.

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