It’s likely that more unbelievers will attend church on Easter Sunday than on any other Sunday throughout the year. It makes sense, then, that pastors would keep this in mind as they prepare to preach. Though the corporate gathering is aimed primarily at believers, pastors should want unbelievers to understand the gospel and the response it requires.
The Historicity of the Faith
Given some of the common objections of unbelievers, some pastors emphasize the historical reliability of Christ’s resurrection, hoping to show the reasonableness of the Christian faith. Again, this makes perfect sense. Trusting in Christ is not an irrational leap in the dark, nor does it run contrary to historical facts. Pastors, like all believers, should be able to “make a defense” to those who are curious about the Christian’s hope (1 Peter 3:15).
The resurrection accounts in the Gospels include various historical details. The apostles themselves make a big deal about having seen the things they wrote about. Peter claimed that he, James, and John were “eyewitnesses” of Christ’s majesty (2 Peter 1:16). John claimed to have heard, seen, and touched Jesus (1 John 1:1). Paul informed the Corinthians that over five hundred people had seen the risen Christ, and most of them were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing (1 Corinthians 15:6).
In short, Scripture doesn’t shy away from its own historical reliability. And neither should we. If Jesus didn’t rise bodily from the dead, then our preaching and our faith are “in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). The historical reliability of Christ’s resurrection matters.
Why the Resurrection is Compelling
At the same time, pastors shouldn’t be content with convincing people that the resurrection is reasonable. We should also help them see it as compelling. In other words, don’t just show them that it happened but also why it is good news.
This doesn’t mean the effectiveness of the sermon is dependent on your ability to make the resurrection sound compelling. Unbelievers are naturally blind to the truth and hostile to God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Romans 8:7). Only the Spirit can awaken them to their true condition and grant spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14). However, the Spirit often does this through the proclamation of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures themselves lay out some astounding implications of Christ’s resurrection.
Consider three different reasons unbelievers (and believers) should see the Easter story as good news.
The resurrection means a sufficient payment for sin has been made.
The resurrection is not merely a divine demonstration of power (though it’s certainly not less than that). It’s also a divine stamp of approval. God certified publicly that the death of Christ is a sufficient sacrifice for sinners.
So, as you explain to unbelievers their spiritual condition apart from Christ, let them know that the empty tomb is calling them to give up on their fruitless attempts to earn God’s favor. A full and satisfactory atonement for sin has already been made. And God has announced this by raising Jesus from the dead. Urge people to trust in the One who was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
The resurrection means the sting of death has been overcome.
Every unbeliever is acquainted with death. Whether it’s losing a friend or relative, or simply worrying about a medical condition, everyone has been, or will soon be, confronted with their own mortality. We need to help them see that death is the consequence of sin (Romans 6:23) and that it cannot be wished away (Hebrews 9:27). Gratefully, though, that’s not the only message we have.
We have the privilege of proclaiming Christ’s resurrection as the only sure hope in the face of death. His resurrection is the guarantee that all who trust in him will be raised to new life (1 Corinthians 15:22–23). This doesn’t mean we’ll never grieve over death again (on this side of heaven), but it does mean we don’t have to grieve as if there is no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Death, for the Christian, is a defeated foe. Therefore, invite unbelievers to trust in the One who is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
The resurrection means the new creation has dawned.
No one in your Easter service needs to be convinced that there’s something wrong with the world. Whether it’s war, cancer, natural disasters, racism, the economy, crime, family dysfunction, or a host of other problems, everyone—believers and unbelievers alike—would like for some things to look different.
Again, this is where the message of Easter offers such hope. Christ’s resurrection is the sign that God is, in fact, making all things new (Revelation 21:5). The tyranny of sin and death has been broken for those who belong to Christ (Romans 5:12–6:11). We’re now part of a new kingdom, the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).
Of course, we don’t experience all of the blessings of Christ’s kingdom in this age. We still battle sin, and suffering is always close at hand. But Christ’s resurrection assures us that this promised kingdom will one day arrive in its fullness—a new heaven and new earth where there will be no more tears and no more funerals (Revelation 21:4).
Sin will be replaced by righteousness. Justice will be carried out. The world will be made right. And anyone who puts their trust in Christ becomes part of this new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Pastor, there’s nothing wrong with explaining to people that Christ’s resurrection has strong historical support. But don’t neglect to show them why the resurrection is such good news.