The upcoming yearly celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ can be challenging to preachers who want to find new angles on preaching this central event in the life of the church. Easter has potential preaching challenges: On what should I preach? How can I make the Resurrection fresh for my listeners? What’s my role as a preacher in teaching and preaching to my congregation on this important Sunday?
Sure, a preacher may take character studies, preaching from different angles of the narrative of Jesus’ resurrection. Or, one preaches from a different Gospel each year—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are many options of sermonic approach.
Of course, we want to be creative in our preaching—who doesn’t? There are, however, essential elements of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that serve as potent reminders of our faith for our listeners, reminders that we don’t want to forget and we don’t want our listeners to forget, too.
Jeffrey D. Arthurs writes that we engage in “preaching as reminding” as noted in his important book, by the same title. When Resurrection Sunday occurs each year, we have the privilege to remind our listeners about the full-orbed aspects of this important event.
Below are essential elements of the Resurrection narrative that we don’t want to forget as we prepare to preach this Easter. These reminders provide a full picture of the meaning of Resurrection Sunday.
Preach the Uniqueness of Jesus
There is no one who appeared before Jesus—even Moses or Elijah—or emerged after Jesus who compares with him. Paul reminds us that Jesus is:
… the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:15-20).
Reflecting on the creation narrative in Genesis, John emphasizes the incomparable person of Jesus. He states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4).
At Easter, preachers have the privilege of speaking about the uniqueness of Jesus.
Preach the Mission of Jesus
From the outset of Genesis, where the mission of the Messiah was mapped—“… he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15)—to the words of Jesus to his disciples—“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10)—preachers have the privilege of preaching about the mission of Jesus. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) underscores Jesus to those who questioned his mission.
This life-saver, this Lord, fulfilled his Messianic mission and as preachers we have the opportunity to underscore Jesus’ mission, especially at Easter.
Preach the Life, Death, Burial, Resurrection, Ascension, and Promised Return of Jesus
The life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and promised return is at the heart of the gospel—the good news.
Jesus was a real person who came to a real earth, which had real need for salvation. He really and truly died—but was really and truly resurrected on the third day. He really ascended into heaven and is really coming back.
Paul underscores this truth when he writes,
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. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
If Jesus’ resurrection was a farce, then, as Paul emphasizes, “we are to be pitied more than all people” (1 Cor. 15:19).
We preach the gospel—not only at Easter, but throughout the year. Yet, at this time of the year when the focus is keenly on the content of the gospel, preachers can preach it with confidence and zeal.
Preach the Atonement
The Atonement is central to the uniqueness, the mission, the gospel of Jesus Christ. John writes in his first epistle, “He [Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). A few paragraphs later, John underscores that God the Father “sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
When writing about the priestly work of Christ, the author of Hebrews emphasizes:
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” He continues, “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Heb. 9:11-15)
Preachers at Easter cannot ignore the central message of the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
Preach the Promises of Jesus
One of the promises of the resurrected Lord includes the promise of the Holy Spirit. He breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21) and told his followers earlier, “But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Before his ascension, Jesus promised, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8).
Not only can preachers assure listeners of the promise of the Holy Spirit, but also Jesus assures us of his presence at all times: “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). This promise is consistent with the covenant that God made with his people—Deuteronomy 31:6—and is fulfilled in Christ: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
A final promise about which to preach is Jesus’ promise to his followers that he will return again to earth saying, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). The angels at the ascension also spoke of this promise, “This same Jesus, who has been taken into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Preachers have the privilege to preach the promises of Jesus at Easter.
Although this great holy day repeats year-to-year, let me encourage you never to tire, disregard, dilute, or ignore the power and importance of Resurrection Sunday. This day makes a difference—makes the difference—and the celebration of it has stretched from the time of the Gospels to today. We know this because as Christians every week we’re reminded of the Resurrection, as we celebrate on Sunday, the first day of the week, the Day on which Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
The Easter essentials are just that, the essentials of the Christian faith, essentials about which every preacher benefits by reminding himself or herself, and one’s listeners, on Resurrection Sunday and all throughout the year.
Scott M. Gibson is the Professor of Preaching and holder of the David E. Garland Chair of Preaching at Baylor University/Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He also served as the Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he was on faculty for twenty-seven years.