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April 1, 2012–Deserving Death?

Contributed by Brian Hiortdahl, Chicago, IL


Warm-up Question

Do you wear a cross?  Why or why not?

Deserving Death?

The African nation of Uganda continues its ongoing debate on a proposed bill, reintroduced last month, that would make homosexual acts under certain circumstances punishable by death. An advocacy group in Uganda has now filed a lawsuit in Massachussetts, USA against a Christian pastor, claiming that he has violated human rights through his leadership in creating  fervent  local support for the popular bill:


Discussion Questions

  • What, if anything, do you believe is so heinous that it should warrant the death penalty?
  • What examples can you name from your country that illustrate difficult entanglements of religious belief and civic law?  What do you think about them?
  • Is homosexuality sinful?
  • What are the strengths and dangers of a democratic process that enacts laws based on the will of the majority?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 1, 2012 (Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday)

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Philippians 2:5-11

Mark 14:1–15:47

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

This Sunday we will enter Holy Week, turning to read Mark’s Passion account of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, condemnation, and death.  The story happens quickly:  Jesus is charged, tried, convicted and executed in less than 24 hours.  All of this transpires despite conflicting evidence and the fact that the Jewish authorities who sentenced Jesus did not have the power, reserved by the Roman Empire, to enforce the death penalty.  Moreover, Jesus is found guilty of blasphemy, a crime against Jewish religious law (see Leviticus 24:16), not imperial law.  (Presumably Jesus would need to be sentenced for treason against the emperor.)  The Roman governor, Pilate, consents to the death penalty only after the offended authorities have sufficiently stirred up the crowd against Jesus.

Along the way, Jesus is betrayed by one of his disciples, denied three times by another, and abandoned by nearly everyone; he even cries out asking why God has forsaken him.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  In a final ironic twist, the real verdict in this case is spoken by a Roman soldier who sees Jesus on the cross, dead:  “Truly this man was God’s Son.”

Discussion Questions

  •  According to John’s gospel, the high priest Caiaphas views Jesus much like certain Ugandan leaders view homosexuals:  as a threat to the life of the whole society.  Caiaphas concludes, “It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:50).  Is Caiaphas right?
  • What parallels do you see between the situation in Uganda and the passion story?  Are there other current situations in the world that remind you of what happened to Jesus?
  • Who are the scapegoats for society’s problems today?
  • Does following and enforcing God’s law ever conflict with doing God’s will?
  • When have you felt abandoned?  When have you regretted failing to stand up for someone else?

Activity Suggestions

Closing Prayer

God of unsearchable grace, the death and resurrection of Jesus give us hope that your hands can reshape the violent mix of human life, law, danger, and death into the story of our salvation.   Give us the courage to follow you wherever you lead, even when you are leading us to the cross.  Amen

March 4, 2012–Not What Anyone Expected

Contributed by Lindean Barnett Christenson, Bozeman, MT


Warm-up Questions

Has a parent, teacher or coach ever expected too much, or too little, from you? What was that experience like?  Have you ever expected too much, or too little, from a parent, teacher or coach? What was that like?

Not What Anyone Expected

Jeremy Lin is becoming a household name for basketball fans and for anyone who pays attention to sports media.  Now playing for the New York Knicks, Lin was captain of his high school basketball team his senior year. That team (Palo Alto High School) finished the 2005-2006 season with a 32-1 record, upsetting a nationally ranked school for the California Interscholastic Federation Division II state title.

Lin was named first-team All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year.  Yet at 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and with a high school GPA of 4.2, Lin was offered no college basketball scholarships. He chose to attend Harvard University and had a great college basketball career there.

No one selected him in the NBA draft and before becoming a star for the Knicks, Lin was cut by two other NBA teams. Now “Lin-sanity” has swept across, not just New York, but the sports world and regular news media as well. Why? Opinions vary. Lin is the first NBA player to put up the kind of numbers he did in his first five starts – at least 20 points and seven assists per game. He is also the only NBA player who is an American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.

Jeremy Lin has defied expectations and stereotypes and many do not know what to do when someone defies expectations in such a grand manner. From ESPN (which fired one reporter after he used a racist word in a headline) to Saturday Night Live, Lin’s skill on the court and the media’s reaction to it are ongoing topics of conversation.


Discussion Questions

  •  How would you account for all the media hype about Jeremy Lin?
  • Which is the bigger story – Lin’s basketball skills and recent performance or the media’s reaction to it? Why?
  • What is the difference between a stereotype and an expectation?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 4, 2012 (Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

Jesus’ response to Peter was more than Peter expected.  In our reading from the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus predicts for the first time his impending betrayal, trial, execution, and resurrection. That prediction proves more than Peter can handle, so Peter pulls Jesus aside to try to set him straight, “No way! That’s not how things are supposed to go!”

But it is, and Jesus sugar-coats nothing in telling Peter how it must be. Jesus’ passion prediction was not what Peter expected of a Messiah, of a Savior, even after so much time spent learning from and watching Jesus. And certainly it’s not what Peter was hoping would happen to his friend. Even all these years later, when we stop to think about it, death on a criminal’s cross seems an unlikely ending for the Son of God. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when the life of faith turns out not to be easy all the time–when we are faced with difficult choices or put in uncomfortable situations because we strive to follow Jesus.

Our Lord hits us point blank, just as he did with his disciples and the crowd: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” As Deitrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

If this was all we knew of the story it might make us wonder why anyone would ever want to become a follower of Jesus in the first place. Jesus doesn’t just say we should deny ourselves something, like giving up chocolate for Lent. He says we should deny, or disown, our selves, meaning that his followers don’t belong to themselves anymore.  We belong to him.

Jesus knows something about us, that on our own we will strive to gain the world and lose our souls in the process. We will set our minds on human things, not divine things. We prefer strength and comfort and security, over weakness, suffering, and trust.

Life with Jesus is not always what we expect it will be, unless we expect our sinful selves to be surprised, over and over again, by grace, forgiveness, and the presence of God in the most unlikely places.

Discussion Questions

  •  If someone were to ask you what it’s like to follow Jesus, what would you say?
  • On a day to day basis, what do you expect God to do?
  • When/how have you experienced God at work in situations of weakness, loss or suffering?

Activity Suggestions

  • If appropriate in your context, watch the opening sketch from Saturday Night Live on February 18th together. Keep track of all the stereotypes named. Ask: which stereotypes are offensive? Are there any that are not? What makes the difference? How do stereotypes get handled at school? In your congregation?
  • Invite an experienced saint from your congregation to join your conversation, and ask about times they have been  surprised in following Jesus.

Closing Prayer

O God, it is not always easy to follow Jesus. Give us strong hearts and bold spirits to lose our lives in his life and death, that we may find our lives in his death and life. Bless us during this season of Lent, with faith to trust and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

April 13-19, 2011–Technology + Betrayal = Ruined Lives

Contributed by Jay McDivitt,Grace Lutheran Church, Thiensville, WI

Warm-up Question

When you feel betrayed or bullied, how do you deal with those feelings?

Technology + Betrayal = Ruined Lives

The New York Times recently ran a very long article on the dangerous and relatively new world of “sexting” gone terribly wrong . The article focused primarily on a case in Olympia, WA.  A racy cell phone photo went viral when a friend betrayed another friend and sent the photo around the community (and quickly, around the country), combined with nasty names and accusations.

This feature story is just the latest in a long line of tragic stories of technology combined with betrayal to ruin lives.  At the beginning of this school year, a spate of cyber-bullying cases around the country – particularly targeted at lgbt people – led to suicides. That rash of bullying led to a massive video campaign (“It Gets Better”), in which ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson participated. In March the White House launched a significant campaign to combat cyber-bullying, and states across the country are taking up legislation to control “sexting” and other technologies which can be devastating to young lives.

People have always been bullies. And contrary to what many of us might think, it’s not just kids who find themselves betrayed by friends, bullied for being different, abandoned, or left out.  When love is lost or jealousy takes over, people of all ages deal with all the deadly emotions that come to the surface – and often turn to hurting other people to make themselves feel better.

Bullying and betrayal are nothing new; it’s just that technology has magnified the effect, scope, and duration of the pain inflicted. Digital pictures can be sent to billions of people with a few clicks of a button – and they can stay on phones, servers, and hard drives forever. Every good tool can be used as a weapon, and available technology has made it possible, with very little effort, to inflict lasting and devastating harm  in an instant.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has bullied or been bullied online or via cell phone?  Do you know people who once were friends but turned against each other? (You’ll probably want to change names to protect both the guilty and the innocent…)
  • Do you think there should be some legal controls on how young people use technology?  How should the legal system, schools, parents, or others deal with the rise in things like “sexting”?
  • How can you be helpful when people are being bullied or betrayed?  What is your role as a Christian when people are using technology (or just good old-fashioned words) to make life hell for other people?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 17, 2011 (Sunday of the Passion)

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 26:14-27:66

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

This is one very long story. In all four Gospels, Jesus’ “Passion” (the events from his betrayal, through arrest and trial, to his death on a cross) is by far the longest story.  This story, full of heartbreak, may be the most familiar story in Christian life, but that doesn’t make it easy to read.

Part of why this is such a hard story to hear is because it is so full of terrible things that hit close to home for most people. Think about it.  How many people do you know who have

  • been betrayed by one of their closest friends, sold out for chump change, popularity, or prestige (26:14-16, 20-25, 47-50);
  • been deserted and abandoned by friends when friends were needed the most (26:40-45);
  • been falsely accused (26:59-62, 27:11-14);
  • had a friend pretend they didn’t know or like them at all – just to fit in (26:69-75);
  • been abused, teased, called names (27:39-44);
  • felt like God was nowhere to be found in the midst of struggle (27:46)?

The vicious beating and excruciating death may not be common in the halls of your school, but it is a reality all over the world in places where powerful  people abuse, mistreat, and kill with impunity those who challenge or oppose them. This is, literally, one Hell of a story.  And as the awful scene unfolds, it’s impossible not to find ourselves in almost every character’s sandals.

So what’s the good news in this endlessly scary story?  Hanging on the cross is One who knows intimately everything we know and experience – and much more. Jesus has walked in our shoes.  He knows what it is to be betrayed, abandoned, mocked, teased, and deserted.  He knows what it is to doubt and to struggle to see God’s face in the midst of tragedy and loneliness. He knows our story and he carries all our loss and grief in his own body into the grave.

We know how the story ends. “It Gets Better” is a grand understatement for the triumph of Easter morning.  But for many of us and our neighbors Easter dawn isn’t quite here yet.  We still carry the stories of betrayal, loss, loneliness and grief with us as we begin this Holiest of Weeks. Without the brilliance of the empty tomb the cross feels meaningless.  Until Easter breaks perhaps this is enough: You are not alone. Ever. Jesus knows what you’ve been through, knows who you are, and walks with you and for you in the midst of whatever awful things you experience.  He’s been there. He’s there right now. And he will not leave you until it all gets better.

Discussion Questions

  • To what character or moment in the Passion story do you most relate? Where do you find yourself in this story?
  • Why do you think the writer of Matthew spends so much time telling this story?
  • For most churches, this story is told on the same day that we tell the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (two donkeys in Matthew…weird, I know) and being greeted by joyous and worshipful crowds of people waving palm branches.  Not much time passes between that story and the story of betrayal and death.  When have you experienced such a sudden change or turn in your life or the life of someone you know?
  • When life is hard, is it helpful to know that Jesus has been there, too?  Is that enough?  What do you need to hear when you’re living through grief or pain or confusion or loss?

Activity Suggestions

Find or make wallet-sized cards (business card size). Each person makes 2 or more cards. Write “You are not alone” on the card.  Add some Bible verses or other words of encouragement. If possible, laminate them. Then think to yourself about a person who may need to hear this good news – someone who is being bullied or left out, someone who has lost friends or changed schools, someone who needs a friend. Pick someone you plan to give one of your cards to.  Carry the other one around with you – for encouragement when you’re feeling lost or lonely, or to give away the next time you see someone hurting.

Think of another way to share the good news that “you are not alone” with someone who needs it.  Talk with the group about what would be a meaningful or effective way to tell people that they are not alone – that it will get better. How can you be Jesus for someone who has been betrayed?

Closing Prayer

Jesus, you know me and you love me with your whole life.  Help me to know and feel your presence when I  feel lost or abandoned; then help me to share this good news with all those who are desperate for a word of hope. Amen.

June 3-10, 2009 – Idaho man fails to sell “hand of God” rock on eBay

Contributed by Pastor Julie A. Kanarr
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Port Angeles, WA

Warm-up Question: Where would you look for signs of God’s presence?

Paul Grayhek, a resident of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, decided that a giant rock he discovered in his backyard after a small landslide looked like the hand of God. Grayhek, age 52, had lost his previous job and was praying for a sense of direction in his life when discovered the rock on March 8, 2009. Grayhek determined that the rock’s appearance and proximity to his house was a direct sign from God that he should follow his dream of becoming a counselor for troubled youth. “I prayed between licking my wounds and looking for a job,” he reported. “We rarely get rockfalls and this formation is twenty feet from my house. It’s definitely a symbol of the hand of God in my life.”

Grayhek recently put the rock formation on eBay, intending to auction it off and use the money to help pay for his education. His idea was that the massive nine foot by four foot “hand of God” rock formation would actually remain in his yard, and that the buyer would be purchasing the “complete and exclusive rights” (including literary and movie rights) to the rock.

Grayhek’s rock formation did garner a lot of attention, and at one point, his eBay listing had over 5,000 “hits” in an hour. Grayhek was pleased by all the publicity “his hand of God” rock received. He was interviewed by multiple radio and newspaper reporters from around the world and received over 800 e-mails. He attributed the interest in his “hand of God” rock to a deep spiritual hunger in people’s lives. “There were days when I didn’t get a lot of sleep,” Grayhek said. “I answered 95 percent of all those messages. I think it touched a lot of people.”

Grayhek’s rock attracted a high bid of more than $16,800. But as all three of the top bidders backed out, Grayhek realized that he was being “played.” Grayhek noted that he wasn’t very sophisticated when it comes to on-line auctions, and admitted that he had “muddled” the auction. Still, he was unfazed.

Although nobody actually ended up buying the rights to his rock, Grayhek did grant free permission for a picture of it to appear in a book that Harry Charon is writing. Charon’s book will also feature a grilled cheese sandwich bearing a possible image of the Virgin Mary, a tree trunk that might have an imprint of Jesus, and a picture from the Hubble Space Telescope that some people believe shows an image of Christ. “I don’t know if it (the rock formation) would mean anything to me, but that’s not the issue,” explained Choron. “The issue is what it means to the person who discovered it. I think in general people just want to feel they’re connected somehow, that miracles do occur, and it’s something that supports their faith.”

As for Grayhek, he has decided that the purpose of his rock was to help him spread the word of God. “I’m convinced now that’s why the hand showed up in my backyard” he explained. “It wasn’t just a symbol for me to strengthen my faith; I was supposed to share it.” He still intends to finish his master’s degree in social work and become a counselor for troubled youth, but hasn’t yet figured out where he will get the $10,000 he needs to pay for his schooling next year. “I have no idea,” he said. “It’s just called faith and trust. I’m surprisingly calm about it.”

For more information and to see a picture of the rock, check out:

Discussion Questions
  • What thoughts and emotions do you have in reaction to Paul Grayhek’s ideas about his rock? (For instance, are you sympathetic toward him? Cynical? Skeptical? Amused?)
  • Do you think that God communicates with people through personal, private signs? Why or why not? Is it possible for something to be an answer to prayer without being a direct sign from God? Why or why not?
  • How would you determine whether or not something is a sign from God? What criteria would you use? What might happen if someone falsely concluded that a particular event or object was a sign from God?
  • Do you think that living with an expectation that one might find signs of God in ordinary objects is supportive of faith in God? Or is it a hindrance to genuine faith?
  • Think about a time in your life when you have had an important decision to make (or imagine a time when you may have to make such a decision in the future). Do you tend to make those kinds of decisions on your own or in consultation with others? Where do you turn for guidance? What role does prayer play for you in this? How might you seek to discern God’s will for you at such a time? Where do you see the “hand of God” at work in your life?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 7, 2009.
(Text links are to

oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The readings for today (Holy Trinity Sunday) invite us to consider how God chooses to become known to us. In the Gospel, we hear the story of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night to ask him questions about God and faith. Nicodemus approaches Jesus with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. On the one hand, Nicodemus recognizes that the “signs” that Jesus has been performing are an indicator that Jesus is a “teacher who has come from God” (verse 2), but on the other hand, he struggles with what Jesus has been teaching because it does not fit in with his existing understanding of God and salvation. Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus is filled with misunderstanding and ambiguity. The confusion arises because the Greek word “anothen” (verse 3 — pronounced aah-no-thin) means both “from above” and “again.” Nicodemus wonders how it is possible for a person to be literally born “again” (anothen) while Jesus describes how one must be born “from above” (anothen) (verse 7).

Nicodemus seeks signs of God’s hand in the world, but he has difficulty recognizing that the sign of God’s presence is fully embodied in Jesus, “the Word made flesh and living among us” (see John 1:14). As his conversation with Jesus unfolds, he becomes increasingly confused (compare verse 2 with verse 9). By the end of this passage, Nicodemus has disappeared quietly back into the night. However, Nicodemus does appear at two other points in John’s gospel. He challenges the other Pharisees who want to judge Jesus without giving him a fair hearing (John 7:50-51). He also accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to seek Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body from the cross, brings the spices to prepare his body for a proper burial (John 19:38-42). Nicodemus is on a journey that finally leads him toward faith.

Like Nicodemus, we also seek signs of God’s hands, and like him, we may struggle with confusion and misunderstanding and look for those signs in the wrong places. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus reminds us that signs of God’s work don’t come to us as private messages or hidden in ordinary objects. God’s love is for the whole world, shown through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus names the cross as the sign of God’s love for the world. In John’s Gospel, the cross is portrayed as the instrument of God’s redeeming love. Jesus is the one who demonstrates the greatest love by laying down his life for his friends (see John 15:13). By being lifted up on the cross, Jesus draws all people to himself. This sign of death becomes a symbol of life and salvation. The hand of God is at work in the cross of Jesus to bring redemption and life for all.

Discussion Questions

  • Compare and contrast the experiences of Nicodemus in the Gospel with the experience of Paul Grayhek (from the “hand of God” rock news story). What was each of them seeking? In what ways were each of them disappointed? In what ways were each of them transformed?
  • Imagine that Jesus, Nicodemus, and Paul Grayhek from the news story were in a conversation together. What do you think they would say to each other? What questions would they ask one another? Where would each of them see the hands of God? Invite three persons from your group to “role-play” that conversation.
  • What do you think about when you look at a cross? How, where, and when do you (and/or your congregation) use the sign of the cross (either as a physical object or as a gesture)? What meaning does that carry for you?
  • In what ways is Jesus a sign of God’s love for the world? Where might you look for signs of that love today? In what ways do you experience God’s presence through worship? In what ways does God’s love for you shape how you live your life?

Activity Suggestion

Signs of God; Signs of faith

Name as many signs and symbols of faith as you can that are in your church, or that you are familiar with.

  • What are they and what do they represent?
  • Do you know the history of some of them? (cross, water, sea shell, fish, candles and light, liturgical colors, loaf of bread, etc.)
  • Considering today’s world and your generation, what new symbols of faith and God can you imagine or create that would communicate our Christian faith with others? God’s love for all people everywhere? If you have a special youth meeting space or room, use some of the new symbols of faith to “decorate” your space and as springboards to discussion. (Keep any existing or traditional symbols or signs up as well.)

Closing Prayer

Dear God, we give you thanks that your love and forgiveness is for all people everywhere. Help us to never forget your presence in our lives and that you call us to do your good work – to be your hands – in the world. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

March 25-April 1, 2009 – Americans less willing to sacrifice, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Says

Contributed by Jennifer Krausz
Bethlehem, PA

Warm-up Question: Who has ever sacrificed something for you? What was it? How did you feel about it?

When Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was growing up, he says he constantly heard messages like “Learn to do without,” “Prepare for a rainy day,” and “No one owes you a living.” In a speech given at Washington and Lee University, Thomas told an audience of nearly 400 that “those truths permeated our lives.” When John F. Kennedy urged Americans to serve their country rather than look to be served, he said, “It all made sense.”

Justice Thomas contrasted the messages of his boyhood with the attitudes of today. “These days, there seems to be little emphasis on responsibility, sacrifice and self-denial,” Thomas said. “Rarely do we hear a message of sacrifice, unless it is used as a justification of taxation of others or a transfer of wealth to others.”

In his speech, Thomas blamed the “me” generation of the 1960s for the shift from service and sacrifice to selfishness and self-indulgence. “Today the message seems to be, ‘Ask not what you can do for yourselves and your country, but what your country can do for you,’” Thomas said.

Thomas made the rare public appearance at the request of student Robin Wright, a senior from Little Rock, Arkansas, whose mother is a federal judge. Although he did not mention any political party or specific politician by name, he did make it clear that he thinks people are too quick to look to the government for help when hard times come. “Our country and our principles are more important than our individual wants,” he said.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you identify more with the messages Clarence Thomas grew up with or the messages he says exist today?
  • What do you think is the most common attitude of society today? Do you think most people expect the government to help them? Do you see differences between the attitudes of youth and adults? How would you describe them?
  • If you think Justice Thomas is right, why do you think people might be more reluctant to sacrifice or deny themselves things today than in past generations?
  • What do you think is a good reason to sacrifice something? Are there any bad reasons? If so, what are they?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 29, 2009.

(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

 Jesus’ sacrifice involved agony that not many human beings have ever experienced. The biblical accounts of the crucifixion are sometimes so matter-of-fact that we can pass right over the ripped flesh that resulted from beatings and whippings, the nails hammered through his hands and feet, the sharp thorns cutting his head, and the many other humiliations he suffered. We can’t think that Jesus, being God, was above it all and just doing it for shown and theatrics. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus felt all the pain any of us would feel if we were tortured and humiliated. He was completely human just as he was completely divine — the Son of God.

Jesus knew ahead of time what it would be like, and his soul was troubled (v. 27). Still, he chose to sacrifice his life for the sins of each one of us. Hopefully, we never get to the point where we’re so familiar the stories of Jesus’ sacrifice that they don’t seem like such a big deal. His death on the cross made possible our being welcomed into eternal life with God. The alternative was for all humanity to suffer for eternity the consequences of sin, failures, and weaknesses. (v. 25)

In these verses, Jesus calls his followers to follow him, even in sacrifice. He asks us not to love our lives so much that we can’t bear to lose them, and to serve him and our neighbors. If we follow Jesus and seek guidance from him, he will lead us through the sacrifices that we will face throughout life. And when he does, we will be blessed.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever made a sacrifice for someone else, a cause, or special reason? How did you feel about doing so? Would you do it again if you were faced with the same situation?
  • You must have heard a story at some point about a person (other than Jesus) who sacrificed much, maybe even their life, for someone else. Share one of those stories with the group. What did you think of the person who sacrificed? What motivated their sacrifice? What did it accomplish or influence?
  • In what ways do you think a lifestyle of sacrifice might make the world a better place? How would you describe the life and actions Jesus modeled for us and asks us to follow?
  • Can you think of any drawbacks to sacrificing? How does God gives us the courage, wisdom, ability to take risks, resources, and comfort to live lives or service and sacrifice? What other things might we ask of God to help us make sacrifices for others?

Activity Suggestions

Identify people or groups who have sacrificed something for you personally. (Some obvious ones might include parents or grandparents, people serving in the military, emergency first-responders, a trusted friend, a brother or sister, etc.)

Write a short and sincere note of gratitude to one person who has sacrificed for your benefit. (Leaders, if your budgets permit, provide blank notecards or stationery, envelopes, and stamps for students. Make sure the notes get sent.)


Gather the following supplies: Posterboard or newsprint, magazines for cutting, colorful markers. On a large posterboard or piece of newsprint, make a collage of pictures or have students write and draw pictures of people who have sacrificed for them over the course of their lives.

Closing Prayer 

Jesus, we thank you for your sacrifice for us on the cross. Help us to be willing to follow you in making sacrifices for those in need around us; guide us in those efforts. We also thank you for your example and the presence of the Spirit that has led people to sacrifice for us as well. Thank you for the blessings of your presence and for the eternal life with God that we have because of your undeserved love and sacrifice. Amen.