As Easter Sunday rolls around each year, preachers everywhere wonder, “How can I preach a fresh sermon on the resurrection?” “How can I preach something that doesn’t sound just like last year, and the year before, and the year before….?”
This crisis is often caused by focusing too narrowly on the facts of the resurrection narratives in the Gospels. If all we do is narrate the historical facts of the resurrection, then, yes, we’re going to sound as if we’re on “loop.” However, there are a number of ways to “freshen up” our resurrection sermons so that they’re not just the “same old, same old.” In fact, I’d go further and suggest that we have a duty to ensure that such a glorious truth does not become mundane through our inability to think more imaginatively and creatively.
Preaching the Predictions
Why not try to preach a sermon on one of the Old Testament texts that predict the resurrection many hundreds of years before it happened? The classic text would be Psalm 16:9-11 which the Apostles tell us was predictive not of David’s resurrection but of Christ’s (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35). There’s also Isaiah 53:10-12, Psalm 22:22-31, the sign of Jonah, or the implied resurrection in Zechariah 12:10
Another group of related texts are Old Testament verses that predict the resurrection of believers (e.g. Psalm 17:15; Isa. 26:19; Job 19:25-27; Daniel 12:13) which the resurrection of Christ alone makes possible (1 Cor. 15:12-19).
Preaching the Reactions
Another way to invigorate our resurrection sermons is to focus on the different reactions to Christ’s resurrection. You could include all of these in one sermon or just pick one at a time. There’s the women’s surprise that turned to fear, then amazement, then joy (Mark 16:6-8; Matthew 28:8). There’s the disciples misunderstanding (Luke 24:25-26), doubt (John 20:24-29), and, eventually, faith and worship (Matthew 28:17). Or you could focus on the attempts of the authorities to quash reporting of it (Matthew 28:11-15). These varied responses could then become the basis for challenging hearers as to their responses or lack of them.
Preaching the Apology
1 Corinthians 15 would be the most common go-to text for an apologetic sermon on the resurrection. There, Paul outlines the horrendous implications of there being no resurrection: preaching is pointless, faith is futile, we are still in our sins, the dead are damned, and we are the most pitiable (vv. 14-19).
Having then taken us to the edge of despair, he then pivots to the glorious implications of Christ having indeed being raised from the dead (vv. 20-22): preaching is the most momentous activity in the world; our faith is well-grounded in a living Savior; our sins have been wiped off; our records and are being worked out of our hearts; blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; and we believers are of all men to be envied!
Preaching the Physicality
The physical resurrection of Christ deals a death blow to all gnostic dualism and hyper-spirituality that down-plays the human body. Easter Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to underline the whole-person salvation that Christ accomplished. We can point to the emphasis Christ himself placed on his physicality in his resurrection appearances (Luke 24:39; 42-43; John 20:27). Or we can return to 1 Corinthians 15:35-48 for the Apostle’s showcasing of the believer’s resulting glorious resurrection body.
Preaching the Future
Just as we looked back to the Old Testament past for resurrection sermons, we can also look forward to the future. We can anticipate the glorified soul and body that Christ will not only come back with (Acts 1:11) but will give to each of his people as well (1 Cor. 15:50-57; Philippians 3:21).
Preaching the Present
The resurrection is not just a fact from the past; nor is it merely a future hope; it is also a present experience. The Bible encourages us to draw from the power of Christ’s resurrection right now, to live in and through his resurrection power each moment of each day (Phil. 3:10). Yes, the fullest experience of this is future, but tasters of it can be enjoyed even here, even now.
Preaching the Experience
The historical facts of Christ’s resurrection shouldn’t just inform our minds but should also influence our spiritual experience. In the Scriptures, Christ’s resurrection is associated with peace, with joy, with confidence, with courage, with worship, and, above all, with hope. Again, each of these is worth a sermon, or sweep them all together into one magnificent experiential tour de force.
Preaching the Alternative
From time to time we also have to remind our hearers that there are two resurrections ahead, one to eternal life and the other to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2), and that our response to Christ’s resurrection will determine which of these will be our eternal destiny.
There’s no reason for our hearers to yawn over a re-heat of last year’s Easter sermon. God has provided a vast diversity of texts for us to preach the resurrection in a captivating and stimulating manner.
About: Dr. David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He is also pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. He was a pastor in Scotland for 12 years before accepting a call to teach at Puritan Reformed Seminary in 2007. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Reformation International Theological Seminary for his work relating Old Testament Introduction studies to the pastoral ministry. You can read his blog at www.HeadHeartHand.org/blog or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray. David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 3 to 20 years old, and they love camping, fishing, boating, and skiing in the Lake Michigan area.