Objective: The purpose of this lesson is to introduce participants to the concept that Jesus is God in the flesh and that His life, death, and resurrection are actually significant for their lives. Ideally they will walk away from the lesson understanding that Jesus claimed to be God and that the Bible backs up His claims. In addition they will begin to think about the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection. In the final two weeks of the study we will probe the crucifixion and resurrection in more detail, so do not feel the need to answer every question on these topics this week.
Discussion Prompt 1: What kind of person do you think Jesus was? Have you read or heard anything that influences your opinion?
You are looking here for general impressions, e.g. “Jesus was kind,” “Jesus was wise,” “Jesus was righteous.” Probe your group members to explain where they got those ideas about Jesus (from the Bible, from media, from family or friends). Even if somebody has strong negative feelings about Jesus, at this point simply ask them why and keep the discussion moving…avoid a major argument. At the end of the discussion you can clarify the biblical perspective. Make a point of asking people to support their opinions as well. If somebody says that Jesus seems weak or unkind or angry or anything negative, ask them to clarify what they mean and from where they get that opinion.
Possible follow-up questions: What does the media say about Jesus? How does your family feel about Him? What do most of your friends think?
What attracts you to Jesus? What repels you or scares you away from Him?
We have found that most people have generally positive impressions of Jesus, even if they have never read the Bible. However, most people do not necessarily believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, so the next several questions are intended to address that issue.
Discussion Prompt 1: What is the significance of Jesus’ claims about Himself?
Read the following passages with your groups and begin a discussion about their significance:
John 10:30-33 – The key points here are (1) Jesus’ claim to be one with the Father; (2) the reaction of His contemporaries (they try to stone Him for blasphemy). This passage should make it clear that Jesus actually did claim to be equal to God.
Mark 2:5-11 – Only God has the authority to forgive sins. Jesus validates His authority to forgive sins by actually healing the paralytic.
John 14:6 -- Jesus claims to be the unique and only way to have a relationship with God and eternal life.
Your objective with this question is not primarily to tell them the right answer, but to lead them there. Some people might disagree, but that’s okay right now (again you can clarify the right answers later). Focus on moving the group to discuss the significance of Jesus’ claims to deity. If people wish to debate the reliability of the passages at hand, simply refer them to the lesson on the reliability of the Bible from last week and remind them that from this point on we are operating under the assumption that the Bible is basically true. If they still disagree, talk with them after the discussion about it; do not let this issue prevent the forward progress of the discussion at this point.
Ideally, participants will agree that Jesus made some very bold claims of equality with God. You might want to follow up and probe them about the significance of these claims. If Jesus claimed to be God and is not, what are the implications? How would that affect your opinion of Him?
Discussion Prompt 2: Do you agree with Jesus’ claims? Why or why not?
This will give you a good idea of where your group members are spiritually at this point. Your goal is to determine the reasons why they may disagree and help them approach solutions.
We have found that non-Christian participants may be reluctant at this point to share disagreement with Jesus claims. Gently encourage them to speak us. If they disagree, ask them why and ask them to support their opinion somehow. Depending upon the particular objections they have, you might want to provide some supplemental material about the deity of Christ, such as C.S. Lewis’ writings on the subject in Mere Christianity.
Discussion Prompt: What do you observe about Jesus’ death? Why is it significant?
Have them discuss why everybody focuses on Jesus’ death: Why do people wear crosses around? Why do people celebrate Good Friday? For most great men we celebrate their lives; why do we focus on Jesus’ death?
The purpose here is to simply get them wondering why such a good person died. What was the point of Jesus’ death? Why was he killed? Did his death accomplish anything? You want to move toward the idea that Jesus was killed for our sins, although we will discuss this a little more in the final weeks.
Non-Christians might wonder at this point why He had to die, and we are not at the point in the study where they will be provided with a clear answer. If anybody is particularly troubled by this, simply reassure them that in the final two weeks we will clearly answer this question.
Discussion Prompt 1: Read Matthew 28:1-7. Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?
Talk here about some of the group’s feelings about the resurrection. Do they have significant problems believing in it? Why or why not? Can you offer any evidence to help them walk through the issue of Jesus’ resurrection?
For example, if they believe that Jesus’ body was stolen, ask how that could be possible given the large number of Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. If they believe that Jesus simply fainted, ask how a person could survive 6 hours on a cross, a spearing in the side, followed by mummification and 3 days in a dark tomb. How could He have then rolled the stone away?
If his body is still in the tomb, why did the Jewish leaders not simply produce it in the first century to prove that Jesus never really rose?
Do not be antagonistic, but gently probe some of the inconsistencies of unbelief in the Resurrection. Many people will still choose to disbelieve in it after this discussion, but they should at least reach a point where they understand that it is not an unreasonable or crazy doctrine.
Discussion Prompt 2: Assuming Jesus did rise again, what is the significance of His resurrection?
For leaders to read ahead of time: 1 Corinthians 15:1-19. Jesus’ resurrection is significant because it demonstrates that Jesus conquered death and sin. Our sin did not eternally kill Him. It demonstrates that He has victory over our sin and we therefore have salvation. It also demonstrates once and for all that He is the unique Son of God.
Read Matthew 28:1-7 as a group.
Follow-up questions: Has anybody else ever risen from the dead? Do you believe that Jesus literally rose again? Why or why not?
What is the significance if Jesus really did rise from the dead?
Try to help them understand the dramatic significance of the resurrection. No other religion makes such a dramatic claim, rooted in historical fact. The resurrection sets Jesus apart as completely unique and different from every other religious leader or person in history. If His claim is true, then He is clearly superior to every other human being and His claims of deity ring true. In addition, His promise of salvation to those who believe in Him carries the mark of authenticity.
Discussion Prompt 1: Do you think Jesus is relevant in today’s world? Why or why not?
You are trying to provoke discussion about the value of Jesus in a world that worships a number of other deities and objects. If they say Jesus is irrelevant, ask why. If they believe the resurrection to be true, gently stress that Jesus must be relevant to everybody if His death and resurrection are the only way to have a relationship with God.
Again, non-Christian participants will probably be reluctant to say that Jesus is irrelevant. Try to draw them out and get to the heart of their feelings on the subject. They may not understand at this point why Jesus is relevant, but they should begin to have a sense that He is somehow different from other religious figures and that His life, death, and resurrection have clear implications for our lives.
Discussion Prompt 2: Do you think Jesus is relevant to you personally? Why or why not?
Ask them to think about their life. What difference would it make if they really could be assured of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? What difference would it make if He really has risen from the dead? How would it affect their relationships with family, significant others, God, themselves?
Some may feel that He is relevant for moralistic reasons but not that He is the only way to have a relationship with God. If that is the case, you may want to talk with them after the study and review Jesus’ claims and the claims of the Bible regarding His life, death, and resurrection.