3 Easter Sermons You Can Preach This April
The sermon you preach on Easter Sunday is one of the most important messages you’ll give all year. Not only is this a time when churches see a massive influx of visitors and people who don’t normally go to church, but the content of your sermon revolves around the most significant piece of the gospel: The resurrection of Christ.
It’s the climax of Scripture. It’s the greatest expression of Jesus’ divinity, and the reason Christians trust in the promise of heaven, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and the forgiveness of sins. And on Easter weekend, you’re almost guaranteed to share this truth with non-believers.
But for pastors, the weight of this sermon isn’t the only challenge. Easter sermons are difficult because you preach them every year. You can’t just rinse and repeat. You need to present the same core message of the resurrection while finding new ways to celebrate the significance and life-giving truth of this event with your congregation.
To help you prepare for Easter, we’ve outlined three sermons you can preach on Easter. For each one, we’ve included key passages your message could focus on and some of the major points you can make.
1. The greatest event in history
If the resurrection didn’t happen, Christianity has no leg to stand on. If it did happen, then it’s the only thing that matters, and it’s impossible to argue that Christianity isn’t true.
Christians are bound to have doubts about God and question their faith. And on Easter Sunday, there are always going to be non-believers in the room. So it’s the perfect opportunity to explore the historical reliability of the resurrection. This is your chance to bolster the faith of Christians and challenge non-believers to reconsider the truth of the gospel.
There are plenty of passages you could draw from for a sermon like this, but you may want to focus on the ones that highlight who witnessed the resurrection, and 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.”
There are four written accounts 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 eye-witness accounts. Jesus’ disciples were most equipped to provide a record of his ministry and resurrection, and they did.
Mark is believed to have been written by a man named John Mark, who was a traveling companion of Paul and Barnabas in the Book of Acts (Acts 12:25) believed to be close with Peter (Acts 12:12; 1 Peter 5:13). Tradition holds that the Gospel of Mark is actually Peter’s account of his time with Jesus, which John Mark transcribed.
Matthew, Luke, and John are each respectively believed to have been written by the disciples they’re named after. And while scholars debate authorship and the exact dates they were written, there’s good reason to believe these were written within the lifetime of the apostles—and countless other people who would have been able to discredit them—if they could produce Jesus’ body.
Did the disciples move 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 there’s a problem with that. The disciples weren’t expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. They had no reason to create a hoax.
Like most first-century Jewish people, the disciples assumed the Messiah would restore the kingdom to Israel by physically overthrowing the political powers that were oppressing them (i.e. Rome). When Jesus died, the disciples thought his movement died, too. They were adrift and leaderless.
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?
People who claimed to be witnesses died when they could have recanted
Church tradition holds that all of 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.
Martyrdom aside, the early Christians faced intense persecution from Jewish leaders and the Roman government. And they were specifically persecuted for claiming Jesus rose from the dead, and that he was the son of God.
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.
If the disciples didn’t want to die, all they had to do was say they made it up. But they were willing to die for Christ because they believed that his resurrection changed everything—it meant they could conquer death, too, by continuing to place their faith in him.
Jesus appeared to more than 500 people
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul cites Jesus’ appearances to other people as evidence of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–8). He’s saying, “You don’t have to just take my word for it. More than 500 people saw him at once.”
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. Reasons Jesus had to die
When people hear the gospel, one of the more perplexing pieces is why Jesus had to die. “Couldn’t God find another way?” Focusing on this aspect of the cross and the resurrection lets you show how the resurrection was truly the climax of creation, and that the story of our need for a savior goes back all the way to the beginning, when as a result of our free will, sin entered God’s perfect world.
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.
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.”
Sin corrupted God’s perfect creation
God always intended to have a perfect, mutually loving relationship with people. When he made Adam and Eve, he declared that his creation was very good (Genesis 1:31).
But sin entered the world. From Genesis 3 on, the Bible is the saga of God’s plan to restore creation to its original very good state—before sin corrupted everything.
The Law couldn’t fix the problem of 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.
But the problem was that our sinful actions were just symptoms of an underlying condition. Sin had penetrated our hearts and our minds, and as Jesus demonstrated, the Law didn’t demand enough to make us holy (Matthew 5:21–22), and it didn’t provide a true path to 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).
The payment for sin is death
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 says that the wages of sin is death. It’s what our rebellion against God earns. But the catch is, someone has to die. It doesn’t necessarily have to be us. Which is how Jesus, who was completely innocent, could take our place.
Jesus paid the price for our sin
Through Jesus sacrifice on the cross, God himself paid the price for our sin (John 3:16, Romans 3:25), so now we don’t have to pay with our own lives. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul puts it this way: “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).
This was only possible because Jesus was without sin (or else his death would only pay the price for his own sin), and that was only possible because Jesus is God. 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.
Jesus set an example of the kind of love He expects us to have
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
When we exhibit the same love to others that Jesus shows us, that’s how people know we’re his followers. But at this point in the gospel, Jesus hadn’t modeled the greatest love of all. Two chapters later, he reminded his disciples to love as he has loved, but he makes an addition:
“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.
Jesus destroyed the devil’s work
From the beginning of creation, Satan was at work, corrupting what God made. Sin was Satan’s magnum opus, his master plan to ruin God’s work. And in 1 John, we learn that undoing this work was part of the reason Jesus came and died.
“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. Why does the resurrection even matter?
Without the resurrection, our faith is useless. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 15, and it’s true. If Jesus didn’t conquer death, then we’re still stuck with our sin, and we will never defeat death, either. We have no hope of a restored relationship with God because we can’t earn our righteousness (Romans 3:20).
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.”
Without the resurrection, we’re wrong about God
Paul says that if Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead, Christians are “false witnesses about God.” We’re liars. And you know what else? So is Jesus. Because He promised multiple times that He would come back from the dead (John 2:19, Matthew 12:39–40, Matthew 16:21).
If Christ didn’t rise from the dead, the truth of Christianity unravels.
Without the resurrection, there is no eternal life
The resurrection was a crucial component of God’s plan to inaugurate his kingdom and restore his creation. Christ defeated death so that we could, too. And through the resurrection, we’ll all be made new.
“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 the most of this opportunity
We hope these ideas help you put together an Easter sermon that encourages your congregation and shares the gospel with non-believers in a powerful way. But don’t forget: the sermon is just one piece of the experience. If you want to make the most of this chance to reach new people, be sure your church is fully prepared for Easter, and create a clear follow-up plan for communicating with visitors.
To discover a comprehensive guide and checklist for effective Easter follow up, download the free ebook, Retaining Easter Guests, today.