Pastors, it is the weekend we mark on the calendars every year. People will be more inclined to attend church if invited than any other time of year. Folks who have not been to church but a couple of times, if any, will get up and get their family ready for church. It is Easter weekend.
It will likely be the largest gathering you will preach in front of all year. It is worth getting excited about. It is worth all the extra focus on getting the message “just right.”
In light of this great opportunity, I want to offer three things we—and our sermons—must be.
The gospel is the good news that God graciously uses to awaken dead men and women to life. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. If we do nothing else on Easter weekend, we must make the gospel clear. There is no need to be clever, cute, or gimmicky. The gospel proclaimed as good news to sinners is the aim.
Yes, our sermons will emphasize different angles of the death and resurrection of Christ. But we must proclaim these things while making their implications clear. Why is the death of Jesus good news? Because the wrath of God was poured out on His Son for sinners, and we, by faith, become partakers of grace when we believe it was for a sinner like us.
The cross is good news because it points to the gospel of God’s saving grace. Why is the resurrection good news? Because by the resurrection Jesus shows the sacrifice was accepted. The wages of sin is death, so if Jesus’ sacrifice is truly going to defeat sin, then it will be demonstrated by defeating death. The empty tomb shows sin was defeated. For those who put their faith in Christ, his resurrection is a pointer to both our justification and future hope of resurrection.
Be clear about the gospel as you preach on the cross and empty tomb.
Not only should we be clear, we must be compassionate. We are going to have people join us who have not been to church in months, perhaps years. If the content and tone of our message is such that people feel judged for their sporadic—or nonexistent—church attendance, then it will likely be the last time we see them. I am not saying our sermons should lack conviction. Far from it. If the gospel is clear, then it is automatically convicting. Let the reality of sin bring conviction, not a judgmental tone in our message.
Rather than a tone of condemnation from our sermons, let’s make it clear how happy we are that folks who rarely attend church chose to attend ours this weekend. Let’s empathize with them on the realities of a hectic life, but share with them how rewarding, joyful, and blessing-filled walking with Jesus in community is. Remember that many, if not most of them, are carrying the weight of raising kids, stress at work, marriages that are struggling, financial strains, the pressure of juggling school and jobs, and hearts seeking joy in all the wrong places. Augustine reminds us that our hearts will remain restless until they find their rest in God. Let’s be compassionate to these restless hearts and point them to the lover of their souls.
Let your tone and content be sprinkled with compassion.
We must deliver a clear and compassionate message. But additionally, it must be compelling. We want our message to be compelling so that it engages the listener. The truth of the gospel is the most important thing in the universe, so shame on us if we present it as anything less than that. This does not happen by sprucing it up to look better than what it really is. It happens when we communicate it for what it really is, with a posture and temperament that matches the glory of it.
John Piper uses the incredible illustration about a microscope versus a telescope. Microscopes make small things look bigger than what they really are. Telescopes make large things, that appear small, look more like what they really are. Our preaching is like a telescope. We are making the largest, most important thing in all the world look more like what it really is. One of the ways we do that is by letting our affections for Christ and the gospel to radiate through our preaching. Lets not say true things in a dull way.
We must preach a compelling message by igniting our own hearts by the beauty and goodness of the gospel.