An Easter Collection
A tailor-made Gospel opportunity – that’s really the only way to describe Easter. LUKE TATTERSALL shares a collection of talk outlines for Easter.
Source: Perspective Vol4 No1 © Perspective 1999
At other times of the year it may be difficult to casually introduce the subject of the death of Jesus into your conversation. But not at Easter. People are getting a huge long-weekend because of what Jesus has done. They’re ready to hear about his death.
When it comes to thinking about your Easter sermons you need to plan with the visitor in mind. If your church is typical, then you’ll have your fair share of visitors on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Make sure you grab this opportunity with both hands and use it to best effect!
It may even be worth encouraging the members of your congregation to invite their friends at Easter. Try to make the service as “user-friendly” as possible. Above all, at Easter I try to make sure I work extra hard at my sermon. I want people to hear what Easter is about in a way that’s clear and unambiguous – why Jesus died and rose again, and what its got to do with them.
Here are some short talks I’ve used at Easter – talks that I think have worked well. You may be able to get a few ideas for your own Easter talks.
Good Friday Talks
If I’m OK and You’re OK Then Why Did Jesus Die?
Every year, the message of Easter seems to get more obscured by the media. I remember a few Easters ago a little boy had been watching TV when he went into his mother and said “I know what Easter means.” His mum was impressed that her young son had cottoned on to what Easter was about so she said “Tell me, what does Easter really mean?” He looked up at her and said, “Easter means real savings at Lismore Shopping Square.”
Save Lives This Easter – Give Blood
Sometimes, though, advertisers can get the Easter message right – even without knowing it. A friend of mine was using an Automatic Teller Machine at the ANZ Bank. While waiting for the machine to process his transaction a community service message came up on the screen. It was from the Red Cross. It said this: “Save lives this Easter. Give blood.” They came very close to actually getting it right. Easter IS about saving lives – it’s about Jesus saving lives. Easter IS about blood being given – it’s about Jesus giving his blood.
At Christmas retailers don’t mind dealing with the true story of Jesus – the baby in the cowshed, the angels and the stars – but at Easter they won’t touch it. I often wondered why. Well I think I may have come up with the answer.
I’m OK – You’re OK
I think most people like to think they’re basically good. You know the attitude… “I’m OK – you’re OK”. We know that we’re not without fault, but we try to reassure ourselves by saying things like “Nobody’s perfect”; or, “After all, we’re only human”.
We think if we overlook the imperfections and shortcomings of others then hopefully they’ll do the same for us and everything will be OK.
If I’m OK & You’re OK Why Did Jesus Die?
This is where the Easter message comes in. The message of Jesus dying on the cross shatters the cover-up. The Jesus who died on the cross won’t let us think “I’m OK – you’re OK”. Listen to what Paul says to the Romans about the death of Jesus. It’s from Romans 5 verses 6 to 8.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus died on the cross because of our imperfection – because we are sinners. Jesus died on the cross because we’re not OK. And that’s the message people don’t want to hear. It simply doesn’t sell. It’s the part about Easter people want to avoid. When you face up to the real message of Easter, you’re confronted with the fact that you are a sinful person who needs help. And nothing less than the death of the Son of God on the cross can change that situation. People don’t want to embrace the Easter message because to do so would be to admit that everything is not OK – and we don’t like to admit that.
I was surfing once on the northern beaches of Sydney. It was on the end of a point and the surf was a fair size. Just near where we were surfing there was a guy swimming. It wasn’t the safest place to be swimming. He seemed to be bobbing up and down – and spending more time under the water than above. Finally my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him “Are you alright, mate”. I’ll never forget his answer. In a most casual way he said “No! Actually I’m drowning”. This guy wasn’t willing to admit he had a problem. He simply wouldn’t ask for help! If I hadn’t asked, he simply wouldn’t have faced up to the fact that he was drowning. He thought if he just tried a bit harder or put in a bit more effort he would be OK – and it almost cost him his life. But everything wasn’t OK – he was drowning and needed help.
When we look at the cross of Jesus we’re reminded that things are not OK. We’re reminded of our short-comings, that sin has tainted our lives. We’re reminded of the debt that stands between us and God. The cross of Jesus confronts us with our own sinfulness – which is no doubt bad news. It says we’re not OK. There’s a debt we owe. But today is the day we call Good Friday. As we look at the cross we see that the debt has been paid in full. And that’s good news.
The Insults, the Innocence and the Irony
At 9:06pm on the 7th of April, 1995, Nicholas Ingram was put to death by means of the electric chair in a prison in Jackson, Georgia in the United States of America. It was a story that made the news right around the world. Ingram had been sentenced to death for the murder of a man in Georgia. He’d been on death row for 12 years. The sentence was finally carried out just before Easter. I read a few newspaper accounts of his execution. One account was written by an eye-witness – a reporter who had followed the trial and execution. It was chilling to read his account. And it was intriguing to see what stood out to him as he watched the execution take place. He was struck by Ingram’s anger as he entered the room to be executed. He was struck by the lack of emotion from the guards and those who carried out the execution. He was struck by the crowds who stood at the prison gate and cheered as the hearse came to collect Ingram’s body.
This morning we’ve heard three Bible readings from Luke’s Gospel – the account of another execution – the execution of Jesus. For Luke there were three things that struck him about the death of Jesus: the insults; the innocence; and the irony.
From the time that Jesus was arrested right through to the time of his death on the cross he had to face the INSULTS of those around him. He was INSULTED by the guards who were holding him prisoner (Luke 22:63-65). He was INSULTED by those who stood at the cross and watched him die (Luke 24:35). He was even insulted by one of the criminals who was hanging on the cross beside him. Jesus was not only executed – he was exposed to insults and ridicule when he deserved nothing like that.
Nobody likes to see someone punished for a crime they didn’t commit. (eg. The Birmingham Six in the UK – people were horrified at the injustice). Luke’s account of the death of Jesus stresses that he was an innocent man. Three times Jesus was taken before Pilate – the Roman Governor – and three times declared innocent. Even one of the criminals could see Jesus was innocent. Why the stress on this point in Luke’s account? Luke stresses that Jesus was innocent because he needed to be innocent. Jesus had to be innocent in order to take the place of the guilty.
Only a matter of days before his death Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was proclaimed by the people as King. Just a few days later they’re calling for his crucifixion. Another irony is that they crucify an innocent man and let the guilty man (Barabas) go free. But the greatest irony comes from the religious leaders – Luke 23:35-37. They call on him to save himself because they couldn’t see that he was dying to save others.
The story of the death of Jesus is not simply a story about man’s inhumanity to man. Nor is it simply a story about injustice. In the death of Jesus there was a PURPOSE. The man who “had no sin” came to die for the sin of the world. The only truly innocent man who ever lived was willing to die for a world guilty of rejecting God. But the pardon isn’t automatic. We have to accept it for ourselves. Have you accepted the pardon that God has offered to us in Jesus?
Easter Sunday Talks
The Desire to Live Forever
The Desire To Live Longer
Somewhere in the United States today there is a fridge with Walt Disney’s name written on it. His name isn’t on it because it’s his fridge. His name is on it because he’s IN the fridge. It is called cryogenics. Walt’s hope was that in the future they would find a cure for the cancer that killed him. And that they’ll be able to thaw him out, and bring him back to life. Cryogenics is a major growth industry in the USA.
We live in a world that’s obsessed with wanting to live longer. That is why we are told to eat less fat, lower our cholesterol , give up smoking, eat less salt, and do more exercise. If you do those things you will live longer. (Or like the old joke says, even if you don’t, it’ll sure feel like it!)
The Desire To Live Forever
But the obsession goes further than that. People would really like to to live forever. This isn’t something new. It’s been going on for thousands of years – the pyramids, the fountain of youth. And we see it just as clearly today as well. A recent front page Sydney morning Herald Article was entitled “One day we’ll live forever – but not in our lifetime”. The article opens like this line. “Chicago, Sunday: Death may not be certain after all”. The article went on to talk about research with fruit flies and how they had managed to double their lifespan.
But Why The Desire To Live Forever?
Why the ingrained desire to live longer and live forever? I suppose that the answer is OBVIOUS really. People fear death – they don’t know what stands on the other side of this life – and they don’t really want to find out. So they try to squeeze all they can out of this life and this body. And they’ll do it however they can. But it goes beyond fearing death. It goes to the heart of what makes us tick as people. Each of us knows that there is an eternity. I think that’s why Walt Disney had his body put into the freezer. I think that’s why they’re trying to make fruit flies live longer in Chicago. But ultimately they won’t be able to make the fruit flies live for ever – or humans for that matter. And Walt Disney’s hope of living for ever will never come through advances in science or medicine. He’s going to stay frozen – or some day they will give up and just defrost the fridge. In the end those things are out of man’s control – they’re in God’s hands. (John 5:21).
Jesus And His Promise
In John 5 Jesus says that HE can give eternal life (John 5:24). He says that eternal life is something you can have – starting right now. Jesus says whoever believes his words HAS eternal life. Eternal life begins the moment you start believing in Jesus. That is not to say that you will never grow old or that you’ll never suffer a physical death. But Jesus promises that even though we die we will live (John 11:25-26).
Jesus And His Resurection
Well I suppose the BIG question that you are left with is this – “How can I be sure that what Jesus said is true?” I suppose it is really impossible for someone to prove their view of what lies beyond death. That is, of course, unless they come back from the dead. If Walt ever steps out of the freezer, he’ll be an instant celebrity. An expert on death.
But Jesus has done it already. And this is where the message of the resurrection of Jesus is so important. Jesus is the one who promised that he could give eternal life. And as a guarantee of that he rose from the dead.
The article in the Sydney Morning Herald had this headline: “One day we’ll live forever – but not in our lifetime”. But the headline that Jesus gives is different. He says this: ” You can live forever – starting right now”. In all this there’s a choice to be made, and the choice is simply this: You can hope for the eternal life they are looking for in the science laboratories in Chicago. If that’s the case then you had better go and buy your freezer now. Or, you can believe in Jesus – the one who claimed to be able to offer eternal life and came back from the dead to prove he could.
I think you could safely say that for people who aren’t Christians the biggest stumbling block in Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. For some reason people just don’t like it or can’t accept it. We live in a scientific age that wants to test and measure everything. If we can’t see it we won’t believe it. And people rising from the dead – well seriously!
Thomas – The First Doubter
But doubting the resurrection isn’t just limited to our age. There have been people in all ages who have doubted that Jesus was raised from the dead. Strangely enough the first person to doubt the resurrection of Jesus was not someone opposed to Christianity. It was in fact one of Jesus’ closest supporters- a man by the name of Thomas. Because he had not seen Jesus resurrected with his own eyes he wouldn’t believe. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples. (John2:24). When Jesus appears to Thomas he said “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).
What About Us Today
Well that’s all well and good for Thomas but what about us today? What about the people today who find it hard to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Well unfortunately we are not in the same position as Thomas. All these events took place about 2000 years ago. If you are the Thomas type who says “I won’t believe until I see”, then you are going to be disappointed. When all this happened 2000 years ago, you obviously weren’t there to see it. But that doesn’t let you ESCAPE the issue. You still have to decide if you believe it is true. Saying you don’t believe in the First World War because you didn’t see it with your own eyes doesn’t make it any less true. But what you can do is investigate the facts – check the books, read the papers from the time.
Believing In The Ressurected Jesus
And when it comes to investigating the resurrection of Jesus the same evidence is there. In the Gospel accounts we are given eye witness evidence. Look at what John – an eye witness – had to say ( John 20:30-31).
The Consequence of Believing
When Thomas saw the risen Jesus he knew immediately what the consequences were. Look at what he says as soon as he realises that Jesus has come back from the dead (John 20:28). There was no escaping it. Jesus was who he claimed to be – he truly was the son of God. And when you believe that Jesus is the risen Lord then the consequences are obvious – you believe in him and you trust him.
John also tells us that believing in the risen Jesus has a reward (John 20:31). The reward that goes with believing in Jesus is life- real life. Placing your trust in the risen Jesus is a life changing experience.
If you have come here this morning as someone who already believes in the risen Lord Jesus then today is a day for you to be reminded of the hope that you have. Jesus rose from the dead and because he lives you too have the certainty of eternal life. If you have come here this morning like Thomas was – unsure about Jesus being raised from the dead then Jesus says this to you: “STOP DOUBTING AND BELIEVE.” Make sure that this Easter you check out the FACTS about Jesus. John, who was an eye-witness to Jesus rising from the dead says this to you this morning: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, The son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”. (John 20:31)