Talk about pressure—the Resurrection is the biggest event in the history of the world. Individuals and families who rarely darken the doors of a church will find their way into your sanctuary on Easter. While our culture has morphed the moment into lilies, butterflies, eggs, and bunnies, people still desire to hear this story. And why not? It is the greatest possible Good News!
Of course, your preparation for Easter goes beyond the sermon, but undoubtedly you’ve had this Sunday circled for a while. How do you prepare for a moment like this?
I have kept notes over the years from preaching on Easter. Some of the sermons I am proud to have preached, others have just been meh. However, I offer these ‘starters’ with the hope that some might help preachers communicate the amazing, bedrock truth of the Resurrection to an unbelieving and needy world.
Here are ten ‘Easter Sermon Starters’ to help you think about preaching that Easter Sermon.
1. It’s About Forgiveness (Mark 16:7)
The angels were clear to instruct the disciples to include Peter in the meet-up in Galilee; meaning his denial of Jesus was not going to be the final verdict on his life. This is an indication that there is forgiveness and restoration. In fact, all who sin can find forgiveness through the Risen Christ.
2. Be afraid…in a good way (Mark 16:8)
Mark’s Gospel says that the women left the tomb and they were afraid. The Resurrection is such a massive event that if you are not afraid, you don’t understand it. Perhaps it has been domesticated in the life of the modern church; placed on the shelf of religious ideas. However, the Resurrection should ignite a healthy sense of fear and trembling in every follower of Jesus Christ. Presumably, it means that the world as we knew it is being replaced by the world as God wants it.
3. Religion’s End (Mark 16:1)
In the Resurrection accounts, the women come to the tomb with spices; out of duty and devotion, they are there to anoint a dead body for a proper burial. But, the Resurrection effectively ends all proper religiosity. The ancient rituals to make dead bodies last are over. He rose from the dead; ancient spices are no longer required. As John Stott put it: “We live and die; Christ died and lived!”
4. The Evidence That Isn’t There (Mark 16:6)
The miracle of the Resurrection is about something NOT being there: the body. His tomb is empty. The grave is not final. This is a reversal of the common foe that every person in every culture has to face: Death. Now, death is not the end for those who believe. The Resurrection of Christ shows us that death has been defeated. In fact, most people want to cheat death. But Christ didn’t cheat death; he defeated it.
5. The Stone: Escape or Access? (John 20:2)
The Resurrection will stand as proof that everything that Jesus said about himself was true. What he said he would do, he did, and what he promised it meant, it means. The Resurrection is the validity of the Gospel message. To prove that the stone was rolled away. In fact, the stone was rolled away NOT so that Jesus could ‘escape’, but so that the disciples could go in!
6. Debt Paid; Debtor Freed (1 Cor. 15:3)
Imagine we were all hopelessly behind on a massive, accumulated debt. We could never dig out of the hole we had made for ourselves. Every day would be a pointless exercise in trying to pay off what could never be paid off. Then one day a prince came and gave everything he had…even his own life… for everything we owed. We owed a debt we could not pay; he paid a debt he did not owe. Then, as a sign of a whole new order of a debt-free world, he was raised from the dead. Then he could live with us…and we would live with him. We’d be free.
7. Prophecy Fulfilled (Ps. 22:16, 35:11, 41:9, 69:4, Zech 11:12-13, Is 50:6, 53:7, 12—and many more!)
The single most important prophecy that Jesus gave in his ministry concerning himself was this: that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7). This has been fulfilled in the Resurrection. Furthermore, we can now look back and see that ALL the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, the work of the Savior, and the promise of redemption…all of these prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s faithfulness to his promises gives us hope for the future.
8. Running? (John 20:4)
One interesting observation about the Resurrection is that everyone is running to the tomb or running to tell others about it. No one runs in the New Testament except at the end in every account (in Mark, the women flee the tomb; i.e. run!). At the promise of the Resurrection and the news of the Resurrection, everyone starts running. The disciples are running all over the place; they are out-running each other (John) to get their first or be the first to tell others. Question: do you run anymore about anything regarding your faith or are have you slowed way down?
9. Four Simple Words (Matthew 28:6-7)
The Gospel of Matthew has four keywords that should animate and mobilize every listener in the room and every hearer of the Good News. Here is the four-point plan to change the world spoken by the angel: “Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead…” What a mission plan! Come. See. Go. Tell.
10. Set Right and Sent Out (Matt 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21, Acts 9)
There are about a dozen specific stories of the Risen Christ, thirteen when you include Acts 1. (Though, yes, there were hundreds of witnesses.) In every single one of these stories, the effect is the same. Every person who encountered Jesus or the announcing angels was ‘set right and sent out.’ They were set right in their faith, doubts, worries, their fears, depression…and they were sent out to live it and proclaim it.
There you have it. Ten ideas to get the ball rolling. It should go without saying that it would be a bad idea to use more than a couple of these ideas in a single sermon.
As you prepare, remember Griffin Thomas’ advice to young preachers. I have kept this in my bible for years: “Think yourself empty; read yourself full; write yourself clear; pray yourself keen; then enter the pulpit, and let yourself go!” Pay close attention to that first advice—Easter sermons can be clouded by the pressures we put on ourselves to ‘say something meaningful.’
May the Lord be with you.