Grades 3-6 Sunday School Lesson
Easter Sunday: Where’s the Sting?
Author’s Notes: Many of us will be celebrating Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday, Easter Sunday. And rather than add much commentary, this week’s lesson will primarily be reading through the Biblical accounts of the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, and encouraging the students to listen as if they were really there, themselves. It’s a story that never gets old, no matter how many times one hears it. And I hope it will bless your class, today, whether it’s their first or fifty-first time hearing it. It is the greatest love story ever written!
Jesus’ enemies appeared to have won, as the crowd cried out for Pilate to hand Jesus over to be crucified. Can anyone explain what happens when a person dies from crucifixion? Crucifixion was a very cruel form of punishment. It involved the tying or nailing of a criminal or enemy to a tree or a cross, and leaving the person there until they were dead. The person could live up to a few days. And usually died of infection to the wounds they received from being whipped before being put on the cross. Or they might die of dehydration. And some died from asphyxiation (or not being able to breathe). If they wanted to have a quicker death, the criminal’s legs would be broken, causing additional trauma, and making breathing nearly impossible. Crucifixion was intended “… to provide a death that was particularly slow … gruesome… humiliating, and public.”* It was a punishment usually reserved for the worst of criminals.
And yet, that was the sentence demanded by Jesus’ enemies. And that is the sentence that Pilate allowed them to carry out. Our lesson today will begin in the hall where Pilate made his decision to release Jesus to the murderous crowd. But before we read through the account of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, we’re going to look at our memory verse, because it lets us look ahead in the story to see the final outcome. Yes, Jesus will suffer unimaginable pain. But in the end, He will be victorious over Satan, death, and sin!
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:55,57
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for the wonderful news that Jesus is alive today! Give us ears to hear this message of salvation, today. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: Where’s the Sting? (Matthew 27:22 – 28:10)
For today’s lesson, we’re going to read the account of Jesus’ death and resurrection to you, from the gospel of Matthew. And as I read, I want you to listen very closely. Try to picture in your mind the things that are going on. I want you to try to imagine that you are there, and can hear the things that are being said and done; and really think about what Jesus, His disciples and His family must have been feeling as He went through this incredibly difficult time. We’ll stop, now and then, along the way to talk about what was happening.
Remember, Judas betrayed Jesus to the soldiers of the chief priests. These soldiers had taken Jesus to stand trial before the high priest and his council. That court spent some time questioning and torturing Jesus, then they sent Him to the Roman governor, Pilate, hoping that he would convict Jesus, and sentence Him to death, because the Jews could not execute prisoners. Only the Romans could do that. That is where we’ll start today.
Imagine that you are standing in the crowd. The Roman governor, Pilate, has come out into the courtyard with a man others say is Jesus. It’s hard to tell from where you are. This man’s clothes are torn. And it looks like His face is swollen and bleeding. You heard someone say that He’d spent most of the night on trial before Caiaphas, the high priest. And that the council had been brutal to Him…mocking Him, hitting Him, spitting on Him. And now, it was up to Pilate to decide what would finally be done with Him.
Just moments before, Pilate had offered to release Jesus. But the chief priests and scribes were going through the crowd, urging everyone to ask for the release of the murderer Barabbas, instead. Let’s watch and listen, as Pilate makes a final plea.
22Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
23And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
If you were one who had been following Jesus, and all around you people who you’d always respected, men of great authority, and even rulers in your church were yelling for Jesus to be crucified…what do you think you would do? Would you have been confused about who was telling the truth? Jesus said He was God. Yet there He stood, as a prisoner. And the religious rulers who are supposed to know about God were telling Pilate to kill Jesus. What are you supposed to believe now?
24When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
25Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
26Then released he Barabbas unto them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Wait…what just happened? Pilate let a convicted murderer go, was delivering Jesus into the hands of people who are going to kill Him, and claimed to be innocent of the whole thing? Wasn’t it his choice? Didn’t he say that he found Jesus innocent?
And why the scourging? A scourge was a whip with many strips that often had pieces of metal or glass on the end, meant to rip open the flesh of the one being scourged. Jesus is about to be hanged on cross by an angry mob. Was this beating really necessary? Maybe Pilate thought that if he punished Jesus this way, the crowd would be satisfied and drop the whole thing. But that certainly is not what happened.
Not only did the soldiers whip Jesus, they also felt the need to completely humiliate Him.
27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
28And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
29And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
30And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
31And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.
As the soldiers led Jesus back out into the crowd, He was probably unrecognizable and extremely weak from the beatings. They had put His cross on His back. But He was too weak to carry it Himself.
32And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.
33And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
34They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
The Romans offered this drink to dull the senses of the one being crucified.** It lessened the pain. But it also caused the person who drank it not to be able to think clearly. Jesus would not have wanted anything to deaden His ability to think straight in the midst of such a torturous ordeal. What if He had taken it, and decided that He didn’t want to die after all? Could He have gotten Himself down from the cross? Yes, but then the payment for our sin wouldn’t have been complete. So He said “no.”
35And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
(Psalm 22:18 says, “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”) What do you suppose those soldiers would have said and done if someone had a copy of that scripture, and showed it to them? Do you think it ever occurred to them that the things they were saying and doing had been prophesied hundreds of years before?
36And sitting down they watched him there;
37And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
It was Roman practice to nail the accusation on the cross so that all those who came to watch would see what terrible crime was worthy of such a horrible death. The ironic thing is that there was another accusation nailed to Jesus’ cross. But human eyes could not see it. Colossians 2:14 tells us that when we come to God for forgiveness of our sins, He takes the accusation against us “out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” In other words, when God looked at the accusation on the cross, He saw our sins…yours and mine. And that accusation was worthy of death. But the One paying the price was not the one who had committed the sin. You and I are the ones who deserve such punishment. But “God so loved [you and me], that He gave His only begotten Son” in our place. (John 3:16)
38Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
39And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
40And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
41Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
42He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
43He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
44The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
It was not enough that He was suffering on a cruel cross, and that He had already endured hours of mocking at the court of the high priest. Even as He hung there, on the cross, the priests continued to mock. Could Jesus have done just what they said, and come down from that cross? Back when He was arrested in the garden, Jesus told Peter that if He chose to, He could ask His Father, and He would send more than twenty legions of angels to help Him. But it was not the Father’s will then, nor was it His will as Jesus hung on the cross. And Jesus’ only desire was to do His Father’s will.
45Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
We can’t possibly imagine how painful all of that must have been for Jesus. He has been with His Father for all of eternity. And now, with the sin of the world upon Him, His Father had to turn away. Even creation itself seemed to react to the overwhelming pain of its Creator. If you are ever lonely, and think that no one else understands how you feel, remember this moment for Jesus. He has been through greater loneliness that we can ever know. So there is no one who can help you like He can!
47Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
48And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
49The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
But as they watched to see what would happen, it wasn’t what they expected.
50Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
No one took Jesus’ life from Him. When it was time, He willingly gave it up. In fact, He had told His disciples some time earlier that this is what He would do. John 10:17b -18 says, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” And as Jesus submitted to His Father’s will,
51…behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
52And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
We don’t have any more details about these people coming out of their graves. But we do know that the earth was shaken up as its very Creator died. And the fact that the veil in the temple was torn would have caused quite a stir, as well. There had always been a separation of the Jewish people from where God had dwelt, in the Holy of Holies. But now, that veil had been torn away, and anyone who had been saved by the blood of Christ could come to the Father without fear. This was God’s own invitation to come to Him, through Jesus’ sacrifice.
54Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
55And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
56Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedees children.
John’s gospel also includes the fact that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was there as well. How difficult it must have been for her to watch her own Son being tortured and mocked. Perhaps she remembered back to the day when she and Joseph brought Jesus, as a little baby, to be dedicated at the temple, and a man there named Simeon prophesied that not only would Jesus be the Messiah, but that “a sword shall pierce through [her] own soul also.” (Luke 2:35) And that’s just what it must have felt like for Mary, watching her son die that day.
57When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:
58He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
59And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
60And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
61And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
Then John adds this detail, “And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.” (John 19:39)
62Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
63Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
64Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
Do you think that the Pharisees were really concerned that the disciples would come? Or do you think that perhaps they were a little worried that what Jesus had said might just happen?
And here’s something else to think about: the Pharisees remembered that Jesus said He would rise again. Did His own disciples remember or believe that? There is no indication that they did. If they had, doesn’t it seem like they’d have been at the tomb, waiting for Jesus to come back out? But that was not the case. In fact, Luke tells us in His gospel that when the empty tomb was reported to the disciples, “their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” (Luke 24:11)
But Pilate and the Pharisees certainly seemed to think that something was going to happen.
65Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
66So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
1In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
Why do you think the women came to the tomb? Do you think it was to see if Jesus had risen like He had told them He would? Mark tells us that faith isn’t what brought them. He says they “had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.” (Mark 16:1) The women came to add spices to Jesus’ dead body, because they hadn’t been able to do that when He was buried, because it was the Passover.
But when they arrived at the tomb, they were in for quite a surprise. They were about to witness the moment God had been preparing for since before time began. Satan, sin, and death were all about to lose, and Jesus was going to be the Conqueror!
2And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
3His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
4And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
5And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
6He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
Now imagine that you were with this group of women. It wouldn’t do you any good to be one of the soldiers, because they were so stunned, they were like “dead men.” But the women looked on, as an angel from Heaven spoke to them about what they were seeing. What do you think you would have done? How would you have felt? Afraid? Happy?
8And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
Then, the most exciting thing of all happened!
9And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
10Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
The angel was right! Jesus really was alive, and standing right there with them! He had done just as He said. He had lain down His life, then taken it back up again. He had died as our Sacrifice, and risen as our Redeemer. It wouldn’t have been enough for Him to have just lived a sinless life, then ascended up into Heaven. His perfect blood had to be shed to pay for our sins. And it wouldn’t have been enough for Him to die without rising from the dead, because that would have meant He wasn’t God, with the power to forgive and cleanse us.
Today’s verse says, ““O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:55,57 The verse in between says this: “The sting of death is sin…” (1 Corinthians 15:56)
God’s perfect plan to rid us of the sting of death was for His own Son to come to earth and be our sacrifice, because only the sinless blood of God could cover the sins of the world. And He had to be born as a man, to pay for man’s sin. And He did it all out of His great love for us. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And we are His friends if we do what He asks us to do (John 15:14).
Jesus’ death and resurrection was for you and me. Have you accepted His sacrifice as the payment for your sin? If not, today…the day we especially take time to remember His death and resurrection is the perfect time to accept Him as your own, personal Savior. Then it would not only be a day to celebrate Jesus’ coming back to life, it could be a day to celebrate your new life, too!
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, we first need to thank You for the incredible sacrifice that provided our salvation. And we also thank You for Jesus’ victorious resurrection. We love you, Lord, for being willing to do that for us! And if there’s anyone here who has not yet taken that gift of salvation for themselves, help them to clearly see their need for Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for their sins. And give them the courage and desire to step out in faith to invite You into their hearts and lives. In Jesus’ name, amen.
In gratitude to Jesus for all He has done for us, today let’s take some time to make a list of things we are grateful to Him for, starting with His sacrifice on the cross. Then, we can spend a few minutes in prayer thanking Him for all he has done.