Rick Warren: The Easter Invitation: Calling People to Decide What to Do with Jesus
As I write this, millions of Christians and church leaders are getting ready for Easter weekend, and it's a huge opportunity for the church to spring into action to invite and welcome lost people to hear the gospel. And so as we Pastors prepare to preach about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we desperately need the power of God - the same power that raised Jesus from the dead - to be at work in and through us.
The resurrection of Jesus was the greatest demonstration of the power of God in all of history. Let me explain why.
After Jesus died they put His body in a tomb. But the tombs were different in those days than they are today. Today we put somebody in a coffin and put them in the ground and we cover them up with dirt. In those days they buried people in caves. They often would use it for many, many bodies. It was not just one burial; lots of people would be buried in the cave. So they'd find a cave and they'd build a trench in front of it and they'd put a giant millstone in front of the opening of the cave. Then when somebody died, they'd roll the stone wheel back, toss in another body and roll it back. A cave would often have many, many people who died in one burial ground.
Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who had bought a cave for his own burial. It had never been used before. So they wrapped Jesus' body in the burial clothing. They put Him in the tomb and they rolled the stone in front of it. But the opponents of Jesus were worried about His claims that He would be raised from the dead. To stop the disciples from making it appear that this had happened, Pilate agreed to allow them to seal the tomb. Isn't it ironic that Jesus Christ is the only person is history whose grave was guarded to keep Him from coming out?
Notice what happened. Acts 1:3 "He [Jesus] showed Himself alive to them after His passion by appearing by many demonstrations." Notice it wasn't just a one time shot like "Surprise! Here I am!" and then He's never seen again. That could have just been a psychological vision. It could have been a dream. It could have been mustered up in the midst of people in deep grief. No, it says many, many demonstrations that He was alive. It says for 40 days He continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God. He didn't just show up once. For forty days He's walking around the streets of Jerusalem and all kinds of people are seeing Him.
That's why about half the city became believers. Archeologists and historians tell us that within twenty years of the resurrection, Jerusalem, a city of about quarter million people, had between 100,000 and 125,000 believers. Why? Because so many people had seen Him. That's the guy we just put on the cross! That's the guy the Romans killed. He claimed He was God, and look! He's back. Romans 1 says, "By being raised from the dead He proved He was the mighty Son of God with the nature of God Himself."
Here's the amazing thing, a little secret just for your benefit. The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, it is available to you to help you with your problems when you invite Jesus Christ into your life, and everyone whom you lead and to whom you speak can have that same power too. That's why preaching on Easter weekend ought to be powerful and positive and filled with hope. We have every reason to preach with a sense of victory.
And as you preach, preach for a decision. That doesn't mean applying undue pressure. As I wrote last week, evangelism isn't a one-time shot but an ongoing relationship. As you preach, teach, and lead this weekend, allow the story of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection to help you call people to three important decisions.
1. Invite people to love Christ. Even if God never did anything else for me, He purchased our salvation with His own blood and by giving His own life. He went all the way to death on the cross to purchase us out of the slavery of sin. He certainly deserves our love and our devotion. I should love Christ with all my heart. The Bible says, "We love because He first loved us."
2. Invite people to hate sin. Why? Because it was my sin and your sin that put Jesus on the cross. So when I watch television and I laugh at sin or I watch a movie and laugh at somebody sinning, that is Satan's way of getting me to lower my standards. Sin is not a laughing matter. Just look at the cross. It is a serious matter and I should hate sin and do everything I can to fight against injustice in the world.
3. Invite people to tell others. The Bible says in Ephesians 1, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. No longer counting peoples' sins against them. This is the wonderful message He has given us to tell others." If somebody died for you, wouldn't you want to know about it? I think so! Jesus Christ died for your next door neighbor. Jesus Christ died for your mom and dad. Jesus Christ died for your brother and sister. He died for your best friends. Jesus Christ died for the people you work with and go to school with.
This is why we do everything we do at Saddleback Church, why we build buildings, train leaders, direct traffic, love kids, and develop small groups. It's so we can reach one more for Jesus. The typical person that you really want to reach is sitting at home right now totally oblivious to what Jesus has done for them and how much God loves them.
To put it more simply, call on people to believe in Jesus, to grow deeper in Him, to find their place in God's family, to discover their shape for ministry, and to live on mission with God telling others the good news.
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