Today, ministers awoke throughout the world thinking about Easter Sunday. For those of us who preach each week, the opportunity to proclaim the gospel on Easter is one of the great joys in life. In some churches, they will hold services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Some churches will have enormous events on Saturday or on Sunday afternoon. Worship leaders, music ministers, deacons, church staff, and leaders of every level will prepare for the highest attended day of the year. But, for the preacher, much of the week’s emphasis will be on the sermon.
A few in our ranks knew months ago what passage they would use and have already planned the sermon. Others have identified the passage and will prepare the message this week. We will all pray, read, study, and pray some more as the week speeds by. The following are a few of my own thoughts about preparing for the Easter sermon.
1. Be persuasive. The sermon is an opportunity to be winsome. The biblical example we have from Paul is to persuade (Acts 18:13; 2 Corinthians 5:11) rather than offend. Let the gospel be the stumbling block where necessary, not our manner.
2. Set Easter as your standard and not your exception. Holidays like Easter and Christmas can be treated as the times to ratchet out your best preaching. This year, I want to make them the standard by which I will teach all year.
3. Pray well. I’ve read it in various places (but have never found the original citation) that Martin Luther said (or wrote), “He who has prayed well has studied well.” We would agree that the statement is true. Study for a sermon without prayer is a fruitless endeavor.
4. Don’t be a jerk. We’ve heard the stories that are painfully true of the preacher who, at the conclusion of the Easter message, wished the crowd a Merry Christmas because “that’s when we’ll probably see some of you again.” If you are tempted by such embitterment, see statement #3 and pray some more.
5. Hold Jesus higher than your church. We love our churches. We should. As leaders, we are called to such a love. In our Easter message, it is fine and appropriate to describe the beauty of being a part of the church, benefiting from, and contributing to her ministries. But there is a limit. On Easter, celebrate Him more than anything else. Test your Easter message to ensure that you do not talk more about programs than Jesus.
6. Talk about sin. A temptation will plague you to avoid anything that feels negative. After all, you want new people to come back. The devastating consequence of sin, however, is a subject that people need to hear. To share the gospel, we must share the necessity of it.
7. Offer hope. I don’t know of anyone who would say, “I have enough hope.” On Easter, offer people the substance of what they intrinsically desire. As you preach, point toward the One who makes all things new.
8. Tell them how to respond. On Easter, you and I will declare that spiritual life is found in Jesus. Many who will be in attendance do not know how to respond to the gospel. As you preach, tell them how to respond to Jesus. Your church has its normal manner by which people can respond to the gospel. On Easter, declare the goodness of Christ and plead with people to place their faith in Him.