3 Ready-to-Preach Easter Sermons to Engage Listeners
March 20, 2019 |
No doubt about it. Your Easter sermon is one of the key messages you’ll preach this year. If your church is like most, you’ll see the highest number of visitors you’ll have all year long, be that in person or virtually via live streaming. Better yet, many of these visitors aren’t coming from other churches, but are spiritual seekers who are attending your church to learn about why Easter matters.
But it’s not just about attendance. Your Easter sermon matters because you’re celebrating the most climactic event of human history—the resurrection of Jesus! As you share the story of the first Easter, you’ll have an important opportunity to tell non-believers why Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection matters for them.
Not only is your Easter sermon significant because of the opportunity you have to share the gospel. but Easter sermons tend to be tough because you have to come up with one every single year. You can’t just rinse and repeat. You’ll need to come up with a fresh way to engage your listeners with the same core resurrection message you’ve taught (and they’ve heard) many times before.
To help you prepare for Easter, we’ve outlined three sermons you can preach on Easter. For each one, we’ve included key Easter Bible verses your message could focus on and some of the major points you can make.
1. SERMON FOCUS: The climax of history
Without the resurrection, the Christian faith has no hope to rest upon. But if God raised Jesus from the dead, nothing else really matters and no one can argue Christianity isn’t true.
All Christians doubt their faith from time to time. Plus, it’s Easter Sunday so you’ll be preaching to non-believers as well. It’s an ideal time to help your community understand just how reliable the historical accounts of the resurrection are.
KEY BIBLE VERSES
Because the resurrection is at the core of the Christian faith, you can find a variety of scriptures that touch on the validity of the resurrection. For this particular sermon, it’s best you focus on passages that highlight eye witnesses to the resurrection and those who recorded the gospels.
1 Corinthians 15:3–8
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”
KEY TAKEAWAY: FOUR EYEWITNESS REPORTS OF THE RESURRECTION
One of the biggest arguments against the resurrection is that if it really happened, wouldn’t people write about it? Why aren’t there any accounts of it outside the Bible?
The problem with this reasoning is it assumes that the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and
John—don’t “count” as eyewitness accounts. Jesus’ disciples were most equipped to provide a record of his ministry and resurrection, and they did.
Most people believe a man named John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. He traveled with Paul and Barnabas in the Book of Acts (Acts 12:25). We think he got much of his eye-witness details of Jesus’ ministry from Peter. It’s likely that Mark’s Gospel is actually Peter’s record of his travels with Jesus and John Mark, and simply transcribed it.
The weight of scholarship suggests that Matthew, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels with their names upon them. Some scholars debate the dates, but it seems they were likely written within the lifetimes of the apostles. Many people would have been around to discredit these accounts if they were inaccurate (or if someone could produce Jesus’ body).
KEY TAKEAWAY: NO ONE MOVED THE BODY
If someone found Jesus’ body, it would completely discredit the narrative that Jesus rose from the dead. Naturally, people argue that if Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb, then his followers must have moved it, making the resurrection into a hoax.
But that argument doesn’t work. Since the disciples had no expectation that Jesus would rise from the dead (and it’s clear they missed all of Jesus’ predictions of that act), they had no need to invent the hoax.
The disciples weren’t much different than most first-century Jewish people. They believed Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel by toppling Rome’s oppressive rule. The disciples thought the movement ended when Jesus died. They were clearly confused about their next steps.
And despite Jesus’ numerous hints that he would come back from the dead (John 2:19, Matthew 12:39-40, Matthew 16:21), the disciples still didn’t understand that he had to die (Matthew 16:22-23).
But Jesus’ enemies were listening. And they sealed the tomb and placed armed guards in front of it specifically because they’d heard Jesus say he would rise from the dead after three days, and they were concerned the disciples would move his body (Matthew 27:62-66).
Even if the disciples were paying enough attention to think of this, and they were somehow able to overpower the guards and break the seal on the tomb, that leaves us with another question: why would so many people die for a lie?
KEY TAKEAWAY: PEOPLE WENT TO THEIR DEATH CLAIMING JESUS HAD BEEN RESURRECTED
Church tradition holds that all the apostles were martyred (well, except John) and the early church fathers give more detailed accounts of how they each died. James (the brother of John) is the only apostle besides Judas Iscariot whose death is recorded in the Bible. In Acts 12, King Herod has him put to death by the sword.
Even when you set martyrdom aside, early Jesus-followers faced all kinds of persecution from both Jewish leaders and the Roman government. Above all else, the authorities persecuted them because they taught that Jesus was divine and had risen from the dead.
They could’ve recanted at any time to make it stop. But they didn’t. They continued spreading the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ even though it cost them their lives. Throughout the church’s history, this has been one of the most powerful testaments to the truth of Christianity. The more people proved they were willing to die for it, the more Christianity spread.
The disciples could have told the world they’d made up the resurrection and avoided death. Instead, they made it clear they’d rather die than turn their backs on Jesus. Even as they faced death, they knew that Jesus’ resurrection meant they could also overcome the grave as they trusted in him.
KEY TAKEAWAY: MORE THAN 500 PEOPLE SAW A RESURRECTED JESUS
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that Jesus appeared to others as proof of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–8). He’s saying, “Even if you don’t believe me, I’m not alone. All of these other people also saw him.”
The point of this argument in his letter was to validate that there were others who could support—or discredit—his claims about Jesus. Critics of Christianity may suggest that the early Christians hallucinated the appearances of Jesus. But Paul claims that a crowd of more than 500 people saw him at once. Even if you want to argue that they had a mass hallucination…are we really supposed to believe that they all saw the same thing?
A strong sermon is a great way to attract newcomers to your ministry and encourage them to return after Easter. However, there are several other critical things your church should do to retain your first-time guests. To discover a thorough follow up checklist and guide, download the free ebook, Retaining Easter Guests, today.
2. SERMON FOCUS: Why Jesus needed to die
One of the most common questions asked when people hear the gospel is why Jesus needed to die. Why couldn’t God have reconciled humanity to himself another way? Tackling the cross and resurrection from this angle lets you share the good news in a fresh new manner. The entire Bible hinges on this story because our need for the cross goes back to Genesis 3 and sin’s entrance into the world and the culminations in a new heaven and a new earth described in Revelation 21.
At the same time, this is one of the more common themes in Easter sermons. Pastors often focus on atonement, which is important, but it’s not the only reason the Bible tells us Jesus had to die. We’ll cover the basic argument for atonement, and then get into some of those additional reasons below.
KEY BIBLE VERSES
Numerous passages in the epistles argue for the necessity of the cross. To make the case for why the crucifixion and resurrection were necessary, we have to build an argument that touches on the problem of sin, the inadequacy of the Law, and how everything changed on the cross.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
1 John 2:2
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
KEY TAKEAWAY: SIN CORRUPTED GOD’S PERFECT CREATION
God always intended to have a perfect, mutually loving relationship with people. It’s no mere coincidence that when God made Adam and Eve he said his creation was very good (Genesis 1:31).
After Adam’s sin, everything changed. The rest of the Bible focuses on what God did to reconcile the world to himself and perfect it once again.
KEY TAKEAWAY: THE LAW COULDN’T HEAL OUR BROKENNESS FROM SIN
“The Law” is a set of 613 commandments we find in the Old Testament, and it told the Israelites what living in a right relationship with God looked like. It meant doing good, and not doing evil. And when the Israelites made mistakes, they had to make a sacrifice to restore that relationship. Sin always cost them something.
Our sin pointed to a larger problem though. Sin isn’t just an act of rebellion. Our sinfulness had impacted every aspect of who we were—from our minds to our hearts. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (specifically in Matthew 5:21-22) the Law’s didn’t go far enough to make us truly right with God. It also didn’t provide a way to make us completely righteousness (Matthew 5:20, Romans 3:20).
None of us, by any merit of our own or by any amount of inherent “goodness” can make ourselves good in God’s sight. The only way we could become righteous was if God gave it to us (Romans 3:22).
KEY TAKEAWAY: WE’VE EARNED DEATH BECAUSE OF OUR SIN
When sin entered the world, it ushered in a new era of death and decay (Genesis 2:17). The Law makes us aware of our sin by showing us the symptoms (Romans 3:20), but it can’t cure us. And regardless of what symptoms we exhibit or how severe they are, we will all die as a result.
Paul writes in Romans 6:23 that the consequences (or the wages) of our sin is death. Our rebellion against God earns death—someone’s death. That death doesn’t necessarily have to be ours. That’s why Jesus, who was sinless, could die in our place.
KEY TAKEAWAY: JESUS PAID THE PRICE FOR OUR SIN
When Jesus sacrificed himself for our sin, God paid the penalty for our transgressions (John 3:16, Romans 3:25), so we do not need to do so. In 2 Corinthians, Paul described it like this: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus could only do this because he was sinless (otherwise his death would only pay for his own sin). His divinity was the only reason he could remain sinless. It was like multiplying our sin by zero. It didn’t matter how much sin we have, or how many people there were—Jesus took all sin, past, present, and future, onto himself, leaving us with his righteousness.
KEY TAKEAWAY: JESUS DEMONSTRATED THE LOVE HE EXPECTED US TO SHOW
In John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus issued His disciples a new commandment:
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” —John 13:34–35
People can know that we follow Jesus when they see us show others the kind of love he showed us. But when Jesus said these words, he hadn’t yet showed the greatest love of all. In John 15, he told the disciples again to love one another, but he adds this:
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” —John 15:13
With his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus modeled the greatest possible form of love, showing his disciples (and us) how much he expects his followers to love others.
KEY TAKEAWAY: JESUS DEMOLISHED SATAN’S PLAN
Satan has been at work throughout all of history trying to sabotage God’s created order. His ultimate plan for doing so was sin. John 1 tells us that one reason Jesus entered humanity and died on the cross was to destroy forever the devil’s doomed plan.
“The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” —1 John 3:8
Ironically, Satan thought that by killing Jesus, he would be using sin to unravel God’s plan. The Messiah was supposed to restore God’s kingdom on earth, so killing Jesus would prevent God’s kingdom from being restored. But Jesus’ death was the very thing that set that restoration in motion (1 Corinthians 2:8).
3. SERMON FOCUS: Why does the resurrection even matter?
Our faith hinges on the resurrection. Paul provides us with a powerful explanation of this in 1 Corinthians 15. Without the first Easter Sunday, sin would have the last laugh and we would be stuck in it forever. We could never restore our relationship with God on our own because the cost of our own sin is simply too high for us to pay (Romans 3:20).
KEY BIBLE VERSE
1 Corinthians 15 is packed with material to build a case for why the resurrection isn’t just important to Christians, but the entire basis for our faith. But one passage in particular will be useful for a sermon about the significance of the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:12–19
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
KEY TAKEAWAY: WITHOUT EASTER’S VICTORY, WE’RE LYING ABOUT GOD
Paul calls us “false witnesses about God” without the resurrection. We’re liars. Worse yet, Jesus is too. He told his followers many times that the grave would never hold him (John 2:19, Matthew 12:39–40, Matthew 16:21).
Christianity is a lie without Jesus’ resurrection.
KEY TAKEAWAY: OUR ETERNITY WOULD BE HOPELESS WITHOUT THE RESURRECTION
God’s plan to put creation back together hinged on the resurrection. Christ defeated death so we could, too. Because Jesus rose again on the third day, God will make us new again. It’s the hope of the gospel and the heart of the Christian message.
“And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” —1 Corinthians 15:49–53
MAKE THIS YOUR CHURCH’S BEST EASTER YET
We hope these sermons aid you in proclaiming Christ in a way that helps people understand the gospel in a fresh way this Easter. Of course, we also know there’s more to Easter than just the message. To have the best opportunity to reach new people this year, make sure you’re completely ready for Easter, and develop a comprehensive follow-up plan for engaging your church’s holiday visitors.
To discover a comprehensive guide and checklist for effective Easter follow up, download the free ebook, Retaining Easter Guests, today.