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Easter 2024 – Sermon Notes

By March 31, 2024Sermon Notes

Several years ago, my dad gave me an envelope with instructions for his funeral, on the outside he had written…”Don’t open until I am very ill or gone.”

I opened it that day…I didn’t want to commit to something I had not seen, I wanted to discuss it with him ahead of time.

“You will be gone” I said, “The service will be for us…about you, but for us.”

After 38 years in ministry as a pastor and 26 as an AF chaplain, as you can imagine, I’ve done a fair number of funeral services.

Some have been “easy”…the person walked with God, loved people, and lived a long life.

Some have been hard…because they showed no evidence of relationship with God, or they were consistently self-serving people, or some died very young.

These three factors can make it very hard for everyone.

At Easter we celebrate a death, the Lord Jesus.

But more precisely we celebrate his resurrection…but of course there is no Resurrection Sunday without a crucifixion Friday.

There is a lot cultural confusion over Easter…much has been made about the fact the name was borrowed from a pagan celebration…but the resurrection of Jesus overwrote that background…for a long time at least

Now, the cultural aspects have in many cases taken over the biblical reality of the Resurrection.

My grandkids call me “G”

Last weekend I asked my youngest, Joseph, who is 3.5, what Easter is.

He said, “Finding eggs.”

“What else?”

“Putting the eggs in baskets” he answered.

“It’s also about Jesus raising from the dead.”

“You’re not dead yet!”

“Jesus, not G” I said.

“Oh” He said.

There is always going to be a lot of cultural clutter around anything we celebrate…especially Biblically events turned into cultural celebrations.

I’m personally okay with putting eggs in baskets…it’s fun to watch.

But we teach the truth of the gospel, the point of Easter, the celebration of the resurrection…to our young ones and if we both teach it and live it…they can learn to separate the fact from the fiction.

Historical fact: Jesus, God incarnate, died a physical death in the first century. He rose from the dead, in a physical resurrection…fact of history.

Theological fact: Here is what that means: His death and resurrection paid the penalty that our sins deserve and provided the way for us to have relationship with God.

Personal Fact: Unless the Lord returns in my lifetime…I will die.

Today as we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, who has made a way for us to have eternal life…to live, even though we will die.

I want to use the funeral outline that I have used dozens of times to form the outline of my preaching.

I use, essentially, the same three points whether the person gave evidence of relationship with God or not, was a nice person or not, lived long or not.

How is it possible that the same three points work in all those cases?

Well, the three points are universally true.

My three points describe the purpose of the ceremony itself.
These same three points, form an outline for the purpose of living as well.

I begin with: We are here to:
1. Celebrate a life worth celebrating
2. Comfort one another
3. Confess the gospel that give us hope

Celebrate a life worth celebrating

“What if you were asked to do Hitler’s funeral?” How is that a life worth celebrating?

That’s a bit extreme…but…

I have not done a funeral for a person who was outright evil…I have done funerals for people who have left a trail of brokenness in their wake.

In this room, I lead a funeral for man who had taken his own life…on my right was his formely secret girlfriend and her family and on my left, his biological family…wife, kids, etc.

They glared across the aisle as I stood in front of them.

How do you celebrate that life?

I certainly don’t try to make them better than they actually where…that would not honor the Lord or those left behind.

The gospel is real, sin is real, heaven is real, hell is real…I’m not going to introduce some unreality about a person into something as reality focused as a funeral.

But even for those who did not live their lives well, I’ve always found something worthy of celebration.

I’ve not done a service for a person whose life was perfect in either direction…perfectly good or perfectly bad.

But even if a person lived a life that was void of having done anything worthy of celebration.

All humans are made in the image of God…they are created by him and are of great value to him.

My granddaughter Jemma lived minutes…she wasn’t able to “do” anything in her short life.

But I can assure you, we celebrate her.

What people actually do with the stewardship of their life is another question…but I can always, at the very least…tell the biblical truth that each life is precious to God.

I celebrate the God who has made this person…our value derives from him, not what we have done.

I can also use this as an opportunity to focus, usually at the conclusion of the service on the importance of being faithful with the stewardship of our lives.

God has given us the gift of life…we must not squander that gift.

So, we should live lives worthy of celebration by others…we should live our lives in a way that will make it easy for others to celebrate us when we are gone.

Not for our own glory…but for the glory of God and the good of others.

Comfort one another

-I usually mention that the word for the Holy Spirit (paraclete), the Comforter, comes from the same word family as the word for human encouragement (parakaleo).

-In funeral services we sit side by side and offer comfort to one another…we bring the ministry of our presence to the lives of family and friends

-People who have lived in biblical community are best positioned to give and receive the comfort from others…and they have trained over time, to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve seen this over and over…and it is a great joy.

But, on the other hand…I have lead funerals where there is little comfort between those present…because years of unforgiveness and brokenness have left them divided and alone.

About a year ago I lead a funeral for a man whose only daughter sat stone faced and hardened in front of me…she had long been estranged from her dad, had not spoken in years…now it was too late to repair things.

But even then…maybe especially then…

I cac confess the gospel that gives us hope

If we are still alive…we still have time to know and love God…we can be forgiven of past guilt and assured of a future hope.

-This is always my foundational point.

Because a funeral without the gospel is a funeral with no future hope…and in many cases, a past full of deep regret.

If all we have is memories of the past, then when all who remember the deceased are themselves dead…when their brain synapsis have stopped firing, the memory is gone.

Then the person who was loved, celebrated, who made such a difference…well they are gone forever, nothing of them will remain…nothing of their lives matters.

This is death without hope…death without gospel.

But we do not, Paul said, mourn as those who have no hope.

We mourn, but with hope.

Funeral comes from a Latin word for death.

-It’s common now to not call it a funeral…but a Celebration of life.

That’s fine…but there is sometimes the sense of avoidance of the reality and finality of death in this word change.

“We are not having a funeral; dad would not want us to be sad…we are having a celebration of life.”

But if the person lived any kind of life at all…they left sad people behind them.

Of course, we are sad…it would be bad if we were not.

They are in fact dead…and death in the bible is a bad thing.

It is called an enemy.

So, we face the fact of death…and the reality of loss and sadness.

Jesus wept at the death of a friend.

So, we weep, and we celebrate the fact that death has become a perpetual loser because of the Gospel.

To this point…I almost always read from 1 Cor. 15, normally at the graveside as we leave behind the physical remains, and we leave some of our tears on a piece of ground along with them.

I point out that for the believer, because of the gospel…we do not leave the person behind, and we do not move on without hope.

Our loved one, is not in the dirt…he or she is with the Lord.

I’m going to read a few selected verses from this great chapter on our gospel hope, then I want each of us to think through our lives using that three-point outline.

1 Cor. 15 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

What’s the point of all that…well, that the gospel is a historical fact, not a mere “religious” belief.

If you put the gospel in a category that is unlike: The signing of the declaration of independence, The Chiefs won the super bowl, or even you had a sandwich for lunch yesterday…. then you will fail to understand the gospel.

It happened…it’s not a myth, or “spiritual truth” whatever that means.

It is a historical fact…in space and time, God sent his Son to die and to raise from the dead.

But it is not just a mere historical fact, so on the other hand, it is totally unlike what you had for lunch in what it means, or even the founding of America…it much more important.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

If Christ has not been raised, if this is not real…then what we are basing our lives on is a lie…and are sins remain unforgiven.

Pity us…because we are pitiful…we are basing our whole lives on this.

By implication…he is saying…if Christ has been raised then all who are not trusting him are to be pitied…they are the ones wasting their lives.

But he’s not doubting…he knows.

He is saying…look, everything depends on this one thing…Christ has risen from the dead.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

But how does this work? People asked then and now

I mean you really believe in this resurrection stuff?

Do I?

You know of the reasons it took me so long to make peace with becoming a pastor was that I didn’t want to spend my life with people thinking…he acts that way or says he believes that way…because he has too…he’s a pastor.

No…I believe this way because it is true.

Do you really believe in the resurrection of Jesus and in your own future resurrection.

Of course I do, how can I not? The evidence is conclusive.

God himself, who has made me…has made this clear in his word, in history, in changed lives, and in the powerful witness of the Spirit in us, in me.

Of course I…I can’t get my mind around it, but I know enough to know without doubt it is true.

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead.

He’s using analogy from the natural world.

We get used to the wonders around us…even though natural world is supernatural in its origin.

I look at that Oak tree just outside the building…and marvel that an acorn, plus dirt, water, sunlight…turned into that majestic wonder.

“Ah, it’s just photosynthesis…just nature.”

I promise you if you lived in a universe without Oak trees, and you saw one grow from a seed…you would marvel at it.

Just because we have become used to the wonder of the created world, doesn’t mean…it is not amazing.

Years ago, I showed this picture to our kids upstairs…I asked them if they thought it possible that it happened by chance?

That maybe crayons melted on an piece of paper left in the sun.

Of course they said, “No way”

“No way at all?”


“What if it was over a really long time.”

“No way.”

Even kids know design when they see it.

Then I showed them this picture…what about this…did it just happen through time and chance?

God has made us, God will resurrect Christians from the dead…it really is not hard for him.

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

This body is destined to destruction, and it is also destined for resurrection.

God who made all things in the beginning…can easily remake things…and Jesus, is the promise that this will be the case for those who trust him.

45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam(Jesus) became a life-giving spirit.

So, we will die…but we will live in Christ.

Paul, knows death is an enemy, it is the result of human sin…it is not the way things should be or were intended to be.

Back in verse 26 he wrote:

“The last enemy to be abolished is death”

In the natural world, death has now become the norm…but it is because of a break in the way God designed the world.

If you have ever been there at the end of a life…you know it is not how things are intended to be…it’s common, but not normal.

If I think of my mom, dad, friend Paul…granddaughter Jemma…being dead…not alive…it is an abnormal state of affairs.

I know they are alive in Christ…but even that they died a physical death…it is clearly not how things were designed.

Without the gospel, where what has been broken will be made whole…there are two approaches people take in regards to the enemy of death.

-They don’t think about.
-They change it into some kind of wish-thinking (a star, an angel, back to mother earth). -Or They spend their lives avoiding it. (eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die)
-A description of a life of folly
-Some even embrace it, another kind of denial…a “good death” “Long sleep”
-Their denial is not of the reality of death but of the fact that death is an enemy to be defeated not a normal thing to be embraced.

Despair: The second approach is despair.
-To turn all of life into vain, meaningless, emptiness because in the end we die, so what difference does it make what we do with our lives?

The right approach to death is that it is common, but abnormal…and it is an enemy not to be denied nor to live in despair over…but we celebrate the gospel that gives us hope in life and death.

Death hasn’t won…Christ is the victory.

Christ is our victory.

54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

In your Bible these verses are given as poetry not prose.

This is a song, a taunt.

In 1980 Wichita state was crushed by the University of South Carolina.

They had a pep band with a ton of electric and base guitars…and a whole bank of speakers pointed towards the field and as the game came to a close we heard…

“Bomp, bomp, bomp”…the deep thumping was in our ears and feel it in your chests.

77,000 people sang in an epic taunt…”Another bites the dust.”

Yeah, Epic taunt for an epic beating.

This is how we are to understand and what we to feel about what Paul is writing here.

Christ has crushed death…this fearful foe, is being taunted by Paul.

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Death itself is now, Paul wrote “Gain”

To live is Christ to die is gain.

But this is only true because Christ has won the pardon for our sin…he has taken death’s sting.

Sin’s power was in our inability to please God, to fulfill what his law requires…but Christ had fulfilled the law for us…he has taken sins power, and death’s sting…he has given us victory.

So, we suffer, we mourn, we weep, we are troubled…but we have the gospel hope.

Here is what Peter wrote about this…

1 Peter 1
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Hope through the resurrection…a sure inheritance…all kinds of trials now…purpose in all of it.

Back to 1 Cor. 15

At the end of Paul’s majestic words on the reality of the resurrection he doesn’t end with poetry, or theologically flowery talk…he ends like this.

Like a coach in the locker-room as the team is going back on the field.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

“Therefore” harkens back to the reality of the gospel…all he has said up to this point.

Since all this is true…you…be steadfast, be an immovable object…don’t anything move you off this foundation.

Don’t let despair, death, sin…push you around…be immovable.

Get after full throttle faithfulness…because nothing you do as a faithful follower of Christ is in vain.

If Christ has not risen, nothing matters.

Since Christ has risen…it all matters now…get after it.


Okay, back to our three-point outline.

You’ve probably heard, “What would you want on your tombstone?” as a kind of self-reflection exercise..

I get what the point.

But I personally don’t care…in fact, I don’t care if I have one…whatever, whoever is still around wants is fine by me.

I’ve been to some very old graveyards in England, and you can’t read the gravestones anyway.

Time washes the words even off of stone itself.

In I Cor. 3:3 Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth that they were letters from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone by on tablets of human hearts.

This is the promise of the New Covenant…Paul understands that what matters the most is the gospel…revealed in changed lives.

Neither Time, nor eternity itself will not wash this from the hearts of people transformed who have by the gospel.

So, let’s have your funeral before you are gone…. when you are gone it will be about you, but for those who remain.

Let’s make this for you…since you still remain…make this as personal as you can.

If you don’t like thinking of death…you should ask why.

We should not become morbidly curious about it…it is an enemy.

But we should wisely contemplate it…Ps 90:12…teach us to number our days, so we will gain a heart full of wisdom.

Are you living a life worth celebrating.

Are you living a faithful life?

Are you overly self-focused or are you living in a way where there will be great celebration and sadness when you are gone?

Who cares if there are 5 or 500 people there…will those 5 celebrate a life of sacrificial service?

Not for your glory, but for the glory of God expressed in a life lived for the good of others.

Selfishness has never worked…it is a universally failed strategy for human happiness.

Give your life away for others.

Comfort one another

God has designed us to thrive in the church…we are the body of Christ.

If you are an Easter only attender, I’m glad you came…but you are missing so much.

You are missing God’s design…missing his best.

You are designed by God to be a part of a body…and to live outside of God’s design is to suffer.

Furthermore, if you have brokenness between yourself and someone that God has called you to love…as much as you can, go make it right.

Paul is a realist…he wrote as much as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.

It may not depend on you…so be it…but if you are the one harboring a grudge…stop it…forgive.

It won’t matter in the end; it doesn’t matter now.

Confess the gospel that gives us hope.

Of course, you will have no gospel hope if you have not believed and obeyed the gospel.

Have you been born again?

If you have, you must continually hold to this hope…we leak hope, just as we leak perspective.

We must continually fill our hearts and minds with the truth of the gospel.

We must fill our mouths with the truth of the gospel.

So, stop just talking about things that ultimately won’t matter…some are important maybe…but temporary.

If you mouth is filled with March Madness, and Elections, and whatever else…okay.

If your mind is filled with online stuff…okay.

But you must, spend more time speaking to one another of the reality and hope of the gospel.

Your self-talk must be more about the gospel…and less about self.

You must fill your mind with the gospel…you can and you must.

If not, you will leak hope…and live without the hope that is your birthright in Christ.

You have actual hope, if you are Christian…God will ensure that your hope is fulfilled.

But you will have lived an unnecessarily hopeless life…if you fail to focus on the gospel.

Please don’t live that way…you don’t have to.

3 specific applications
1. Life a life worth celebrating: Confess sin. Turn from selfishness and stop making life about yourself.
-It will be empty in the end, I assure you that it is empty now.

2. Commit to whole and healthy relationships. Forgive and ask for forgiveness.
-The silly stuff that divides us won’t matter then, if it won’t matter at the end, itdoesn’t matter now.

3. Celebrate the gospel: Be born again. Commit to filling your mind, and life, and mouth with the gospel.
-Train your mind and mouth to dwell on gospel hope.