This week we are featuring Leith Anderson's Easter sermon from 2009 to help inspire ideas for your own sermon for Easter 2010. As you read the sermon, you'll see that Anderson was keenly aware that his audience on Easter morning would be comprised of plenty of seekers. With his audience in mind, then, he is very careful to explain each term he uses, and he finds ways to tie the gospel story to current circumstances in the world (in this case, the recession that continues to rock our nation).
In 1930, a Catholic bishop put up a 14-foot bronze crucifix at the Calvary Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas. Fifty years later it was valued at $10,000 when thieves cut it off at the base and stole it. They apparently wanted to chop it up and sell it as scrap metal. The police estimated at the time that the 900-pound cross probably brought around $450 at a junk yard. (Based on an illustration from Lee Eclov's sermon The Agony of Victory, PreachingToday.com)
I'd say those thieves didn't realize the value of that cross! In fact, many don't know the value of the cross of Jesus. Some have thought it was just a piece of wood or just a symbol of history or just a piece of jewelry. The truth is that the cross of Jesus was, and is, infinitely valuable. It cost him his life! Jesus voluntarily died on the cross to save us sinners from an eternity without God.
This past Friday was the anniversary of Jesus' death on the cross. Of course, lots of people died on crosses in the Roman Empire, so Jesus was not unique. Because that was the case, the value of Jesus' crucifixion needed verification—and that's exactly what the world got three days later.
Dark, difficult days—until Easter
At the time of Jesus' earthly ministry, people faced dark and difficult days. I suppose every generation thinks times are unusually tough, but in this case, they really were. The Roman Empire had conquered nations from Europe to Asia. Millions were forced into slavery. The economy would roar one minute and crash the next. They had no modern medicine, no Social Security, no health insurance, none of our civil rights. Life was hard.
Some had pinned their hopes for a better future on Jesus of Nazareth. He had healed the sick, fed the hungry, defended the poor, taught the truth, and promised the best. But when he died, their hopes were buried with him.
But then came Easter.
Of course, they didn't use the word "Easter." That's an English term they had never heard before. For them, it was a Sunday they would never forget. On the Sunday after the horrible events of Friday, the One who died was alive again. Jesus was alive!
If this is true, this is spectacular. There is no greater miracle. We try to heal the sick—to delay death—but no science can turn death back into life. If Jesus really rose from the dead, this proves the power of God, proves everything Jesus taught, and gives us hope for the future. Without the Resurrection, we're all just stuck with hard lives that end with death. The resurrection of Jesus is a big deal. It changes everything.
The eternal benefits of the Resurrection
But let's go beyond that first Easter and all the excitement about Jesus' resurrection. What happened to those who were there—those who believed? What was life like in the weeks and months and years that followed?
Peter was there. He believed in Jesus' resurrection. What was life like for him? Well, the following years were hard. He wrote about the long-term impact of Jesus' resurrection 37 years after the fact—when Peter was past our modern retirement age. He writes:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Despite the dark days that followed, Peter's Easter faith had not disappeared. After 37 years it was deeper than before. That's the kind of faith true believers in Jesus have—a faith that grows deeper and stronger with time.
Peter praises God who has "given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." That's really what the Easter resurrection of Jesus is all about for us. When we believe, we receive "new birth into a living hope." We are born again. We get an advance jolt of our own future resurrection. It's a fresh start. A new beginning. Just as we were once born physically, we are now born spiritually. Our sins are forgiven. The past is left behind us. We get a new birth certificate recorded in the files of heaven.
I hope you've experienced this new birth. It's sensational. If you haven't and you would like to, let me tell you how: First of all, admit you need a new beginning. Admit you're a sinner who needs God. Second, acknowledge your belief that Jesus died on the cross for you and was resurrected. Then, commit to following Jesus as your Savior and leader. If you do these things today, you will receive new birth today. Today's date will be recorded as your day of salvation in the records of heaven.
But Peter didn't stop with the idea of new birth. Based on his 37 years of post-Easter life, he made a list of side benefits that come with new birth.
I know that given the current recession, it's a bit touchy to touch on the idea of benefits. A lot of Americans have lost their jobs, homes, insurance, and retirement savings. Benefits that we thought were guaranteed have declined or disappeared. Retirees are wondering how they are going to make it, and younger workers are worried about the loss of future benefits. Perhaps this is exactly why I should point out the greater benefits that Peter lists as a result of Jesus' resurrection!
The first benefit is hope. Hope is the expectation of a better tomorrow. Hope is what gets us through the difficult times of life. When we believe in Jesus and his resurrection, God gives us the benefit of a living hope, promising that the best days are ahead.
The second benefit is an inheritance. When we believe in Jesus, we become the daughters and sons of God. We become the eternal heirs of God's wealth. This is not a pension that can fail or a 401(k) that can shrink or a Social Security benefit that can be eroded by inflation or a savings account with a limited FDIC guarantee. God himself guarantees our eternal inheritance and promises that it "can never perish, spoil, or fade."
The third benefit is heaven—the wonder of living with God for eternity in a place where "[God] will wipe every tear from [our] eyes," where "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
The fourth benefit is joy. "In this you greatly rejoice," Peter writes. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is on the surface; joy is deep down inside. Happiness is about immediate circumstances; joy is about deep realities. Joy comes from the belief that God is in charge and will make everything turn out right. To help you understand, think about going to the hospital for major surgery. It will hurt in the short term, but it will make you healthy for years to come. You're not happy about the operation, but you are joyous about the future. That's what Peter is getting at when he writes: "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials." We believe that the God who brought Jesus through crucifixion to resurrection is the God who can get us through today's problems and into tomorrow's victories.
The fifth benefit is faith. Faith is like muscles; the more faith is exercised, the stronger it grows. When God allows us to stretch and grow our faith through current circumstances, it is not to take us down but to make us strong. It's like the runner in training for a marathon. The pain of running eight miles today is worth it when crossing the finish line next week.
The sixth benefit is salvation. Peter concludes his list by saying that "the salvation of your souls" is the big goal. God sent his Son to save us. The benefits are great, but salvation from sin forever is the goal.
Saint Peter said it well—so well that it's worth reading his words once more on this Easter Sunday:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for you.
To see an outline of Anderson's sermon, click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________