As a Bible teacher, the hardest lessons for me to teach are the Christmas and Easter lessons. These are especially challenging because my group members are so familiar with them. What new thing can I possibly say?
As teachers, we often feel the pressure to teach our group members something new—to tell them something they don’t already know. That’s what teaching is, right? So how do you teach the familiar and well-known passages of the Bible? More specifically, how will you approach the Easter lesson this year?
1. Who says you have to say anything new?
When it comes to teaching the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection, remembering the old is more necessary than looking for the new.
On the night before He died, Jesus was concerned that His disciples remember: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). On resurrection morning, the angel addressed the women’s fear with a call to remember: “Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed … crucified, and rise on the third day’? And they remembered his words” (Luke 24:6-8). Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He commissioned His disciples and told them: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). “Remember” is a recurring theme throughout the gospel story. An old hymn says,
“Lest I forget Gethsemane; Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me, Lead me to Calvary.”
This week’s lesson is an opportunity to lead our group members to Calvary and the emoty tomb, lest they forget what Jesus did for them.
2. What happens during our Bible study group time is less about imparting information and more about life transformation.
There’s an old adage that says, “We don’t teach the Bible; we teach people.” This is true but is a half-truth. We teach both—the Bible and people—and it’s important we keep these two in proper tension. What happens when we lose our balance? William R. Yount has summed it up: “Too much emphasis on Bible content, without consideration for learner needs, results in ‘unrelated history’: Bible study that never touches learners where they live. Too much emphasis on learner needs, without commitment to letting God’s Word speak, results in group therapy; sharing our opinions and experiences but never learning what God has said” (Created to Learn, p. 8). What we need is an abundance of both.
Some Bible lessons need a greater emphasis on content. This is particularly true of less familiar or difficult passages. In other lessons, however, a heavier emphasis needs to put on application and appropriation of truth. This might be true of the very familiar passages. As you teach on familiar story of the crucifixion this week, aim for the heart, not just the head. It’s not just about the “what,” it’s the “so what.”
3. Don’t focus only on the “it”; focus on the “He.”
In teaching on the crucifixion and resurrection — it’s not the events themselves that need to be our primary focus. Rather, the primary focus is on He who died and rose again. Paul did not say, “we preach the crucifixion.” He said, “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23, emphasis added). Remember Martha, who believed in the resurrection— “I know that he [Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus moved her from the doctrinal to the personal: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:24-25, emphasis added).
You’ll likely have members in your class who are well versed in the methods of Roman crucifixion and evidences of Jesus’ resurrection. They too need to be led to the Christ of the cross; it is the message of Christ crucified that moves our hearts to conformity to Him. Recall, for instance, how Paul dealt with the Philippian believers’ problem of selfish pride and church conflicts (Phil. 2:1-3):
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity. …
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—even to death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8).
Concerning himself Paul said, “My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Phil. 3:10). When Paul wrote those words, he had been a believer and apostle for around 25 years. But he had not outgrown the message of the cross. His goal was (1) to have an ever-increasing knowledge of the power of Christ’s resurrection in his daily life (appropriate the truth) (2) and to share Christ’s sufferings by dying to the self-centered life (live the truth).
The cross is not for beginners only. It is not simply the way into salvation. It is the way of life for all who confess Christ. What a wonderful opportunity we have this week to present the gospel story!
Mike Livingstone works at LifeWay Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials.