Grades 3-6 for Sunday School: 
Imitators of Christ – Sacrificial Love

Teacher’s Notes:  We, who call ourselves “Christians,” are called to be like the One whose name we bear, Jesus Christ.  In our last few lessons, we have learned what it means to be Christ-like.  We have studied examples of His knowledge and use of God’s Word; His great compassion; His incredible humility; and His voluntary submission.  This week will be our last lesson looking at Jesus’ examples for us, and we will focus on Jesus’ sacrificial love.  We will be specifically looking at His death and resurrection, and how love led Him to the cross of Calvary, for us. 

Next week, we will begin to look at other Bible characters who also lived Christ-like examples.  

Opening comments/story:
Begin by asking the students who were with you last week if any of them tried to imitate Christ this week by being submissive to someone in authority, hopefully willingly and without complaining.  Ask them if they would like to share what they did, how they felt while doing it, and how the person they submitted to responded.  Encourage them to remember that Jesus wants them to be submissive, as He was.  Then ask if anyone remembers the verse they learned last week, and if time permits, review the verse with them, to help reinforce what they’ve already learned. 
Last week, we learned that submission is yielding to someone else’s will, especially to someone in authority over you.  Jesus demonstrated His submissive attitude toward His Father by being willing to die on the cross for our sins.  We learned that it was certainly not an easy decision for Him.  Not only did it involve a lot of physical pain, it also meant rejection, for a time, by His own Father.  But Jesus response was “not my will, but Thine.”   What Jesus was willing to do for us, He did for one reason.  Love.  And that extraordinary love is what we’re going to look at in this week’s lesson.
Have you ever said the words “I love you” to someone?  If you did, what does that word “love” mean?  Does it mean that you feel all tingly inside when you see them?  Sometimes love feels that way.  But sometimes it’s something much deeper inside.  Let’s think about that word “love” for just a minute.  Is there any thing or person in your life that you would say you love?  Something or someone you think you just couldn’t live without?  If you wanted them to know that you love them, what might you do to show them that it’s true?  (Allow the students some time to share what they might be willing to do for someone they love.)   Now, what if someone came and took away that thing or person that you love, and said you couldn’t have them back unless you paid a lot to get them back?  How much would you be willing to pay to get them or it back?  And one last question.  What if getting them back meant you would have to die?  Do you think that you love that thing or that person enough to be willing to die for them?
There is Someone who loves each and every one of us so much, that He was willing to send His Son away, knowing that if He did, His Son would have to die.  But He did it anyway, just for us.  And there is Someone who loves each and every one of us so much, that He allowed the very people He had created to torture Him, and put Him to death…so that we could be free from our sin and its penalty.  Who in the world could have that much love?  Well, it isn’t really anyone from this world.  It is our God, Himself, who showed such sacrificial love!   Let’s take a look at today’s memory verse.  Then we’ll talk about what Jesus did to show His love for us, and what He wants us to do, in response. 

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.)

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”  1 John 4:10-11

(Explain that the word “propitiation” means a sacrifice that satisfies God’s justice, and gains His favor.)

Opening prayer:  Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today.  And thank You for the lessons we’ve learned about what You are like, and how you want us to be.  Please open our eyes, and ears, and hearts now to learn about the sacrificial love You showed by dying for us.  And give us a desire to be loving, just like You.  Amen.

 

This Week’s Lesson:  (Jesus love for us takes Him to the cross, and back again)

 (Suggested Bible Reading):  Matthew 26:59-60, 63-68, 27:11-14, 20-28:10 (This week’s passage is long.  So if your students are familiar with the account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, you may want to skip reading it, and just refer to the verses as they are mentioned in the lesson.)
59Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; 60But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses…  63But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.  64Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.  65Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.  66What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.  67Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, 68Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?
11And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.  12And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.  13Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?  14And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. 15Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.  16And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.  17Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?  18For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.  19When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.  20But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.  21The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  36And sitting down they watched him there; 37And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.  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.  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?  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.  50Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.  51And, 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.  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.  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.  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.  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.
Matthew 28 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.  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.  8And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.  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.
We can say the words “I love you” many times, and in lots of different ways.  But the best way to convince someone that we really love them is to show them that it’s true, by our actions.  John 15:13 says this:  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  And listen to the words of Romans 5:8:  “But God commendeth [or demonstrates] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus created us so that we would be His friends - that we would walk and talk with Him, like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.  The Bible tells us that He loved us even before we were born!  But something took us away from Him (like we talked about earlier, when I asked what you would do if someone took away something or someone you love).  Satan, and sin took us away from our friendship with God.  When we have sin in our hearts, we cannot keep our friendship with God going, because He is holy, and cannot tolerate sin.  But God loves us so much, that He wanted to make a way to take care of our sin, and keep us close to Him.  But that way would not be easy.  It would require a great deal of sacrificial love – a love that would mean leaving His home in Heaven, enduring pain and suffering.  Even death.  But God knew it would be worth it in the end.  And that it was the only way.  You see, the Bible tells us that our sin nature (that we talked about a couple of weeks ago – the “old man”) came to us through one man.  That was Adam.  And just like sin came through one man, the answer to getting rid of sin also came through one Man.  But this time it was a God-Man, Jesus Christ.  Our sin required blood to be sacrificed to pay for it.  And because Jesus was God, Himself, His blood was the only blood able to cover the sins of anyone and everyone who accepts it.  And that meant Jesus was going to have to suffer and die.  Do you think you would have left a perfect, beautiful home in Heaven to come to earth, just to die?  And not only that, let’s look at Romans 5:8 again.  (refer back to the verse, above)  It says, “while we were yet sinners.”  Do you see what we were like when Jesus decided He would be willing to die for us?  Does it sound like we deserved the great sacrifice He made?  Jesus didn’t go through all that suffering because we loved Him so much, and were so good, and deserving of His love.  He loved us just because He chose to do so.  Just because He is God.  And 1 John 4:16 tells us that “we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love;” Yes, God is love, through and through.  And everything He does is based on that love.  That’s why He didn’t leave us to die in our sins.  Instead, He made a way to redeem, or buy us back, from Satan and Hell. 
As we learn from our Scripture passage, today, Jesus Christ’s love for us cost Him a great deal.  Let’s take a few minutes to look a little closer at all Jesus had to sacrifice in order to save us, because He loves us.  First of all, Jesus had to leave His home in Heaven.  What do you know about Heaven?  (Allow the students to share things they’ve learned about Heaven.)  The Bible has not given us many details about Heaven.  Perhaps because it is just beyond anything that our human minds can imagine.  But here are some things we do know.  Because God is holy and perfect, His home must be, too!  There is no sin, there.  No one gets sick. And God’s glory is so bright, they don’t even need a sun for light.  There are more angels there than we could probably count.  All of the Bible saints are there.  And our loved ones who have trusted in Jesus as their Savior, and died, are there as well.  There are rivers and beautiful trees with blossoms and fruit on them.  There are streets made of gold that’s so shiny it looks like glass.  And there is a gate that is covered with about every gem and jewel we could ever think of.  And God’s throne is there, too.  Can you imagine choosing to leave such a place to come to earth?  Jesus knew very well that coming here, to live in a human body would mean he would get tired, hungry, feel pain, and eventually die a horrible death on a cross.  But that’s just how great His love is.  That’s just how much He was willing to sacrifice to save us from our sin and the penalty that comes with it…separation from Him, forever.  Perhaps that’s why God chose to include so many details about His crucifixion, in the Bible.  So we would know just how much Jesus was willing to go through for us.  Our passage in Matthew tells us that He allowed Himself to be interrogated by Caiaphas, the high priest.  Caiaphas brought in false witnesses who claimed that Jesus had done terrible things.  He accused Him of blasphemy.  Does anyone know what “blasphemy” is?  (Blasphemy is insulting the honor of God.)  Jesus would never do such a thing!  He was accused of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God.  But He claimed to be the Son of God because that’s exactly who He is.  But most of the Jews, including Caiaphas, did not believe this.  So to them, this claim seemed like an insult to their Heavenly Father.  Caiaphas then allowed the soldiers to beat Jesus, and mock Him, and spit on Him.  But Jesus did nothing to defend Himself against any of it because He knew He needed to endure it all to save us.  His great love for us drove Him to submit to all that Caiaphas and his hoard would bring. 
Then Jesus was sent to appear before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  Pilate had the authority to release Jesus, and he even thought he should do so, finding Him innocent of the charges brought before him. But Pilate feared the people, and the Roman authorities over him, so he let the people choose.  He brought before them a violent offender, sentenced to die, and gave them the choice of having him or Jesus released.  And Jesus had to endure watching and listening as the crowd cried out to have the criminal, Barabbas, released; while calling out for Him to be crucified.  Jesus had to suffer the rejection of the very people He had come to save.  Only a deep, sacrificial love could do that!   Then, before Pilate released Jesus to the Jewish officials for crucifixion, he had Jesus scourged.  Do you know what a scourge looked like?  It was a whip made of long leather straps.  They were tied together, and sharp pieces of metal were stuck in them.  So as Jesus was being stuck with it, the pieces of metal would have ripped into His skin.  This was a very painful torture.  But again, Jesus did not fight back.  Out of love for us, and for them, He endured it all. 
Finally, Jesus was made to carry a heavy wooden cross on His whipped and bleeding back, to the hill where He was to be crucified.  There, they pounded large spikes through His wrists and feet, to hold Him on the cross until He was dead.  Do you think that because He was God that He felt any less pain than we would if it were you or me on that cross?  Hebrews 4:15 tells says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”  He felt every bit of the pain.  Heard every mocking word.  But stayed right where He was on the cross, out of love for you, and me…and even those who looked on as He died, there.
There were others, in this account, who demonstrated sacrificial love, too.  The Heavenly Father suffered right along with His Son.  Anyone who is a parent knows how hard it is to watch one of their children suffer.  He knew all that Jesus would go through when He came to earth.  But He let Jesus leave Heaven, anyway…because He loved us so much.  John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  God, the Father loves His Son a great deal!  But He also loves us, enough to give up having His Son in Heaven with Him, for a time, so that we could be saved.
Then after Jesus died, there were several people who showed their love for Jesus by sacrificing their own safety to give Him a proper burial.  Verses 57-60 of chapter 27 tell us that a man named Joseph of Arimathea begged Pilate for Jesus’ body, then laid Him in his own new tomb.  He was helped by another man named Nicodemus.  Both of them well known, well-respected men.  And they were risking being arrested, themselves, by identifying themselves as followers of Jesus.  But they loved Jesus enough to take that risk for Him.  There were also several women who came to the tomb on the first day of the week, to add spices to His body.  They, too, would have been risking arrest by coming to His tomb.  But they loved Jesus so much, that they were willing to let others know that they were His followers.
There is one more illustration of Jesus’ sacrificial love that we will look at, and it comes from John’s account of what happened after Jesus died on the cross.  John tells us that after the angels spoke to the women and the disciples at the empty tomb, and then everyone left; that Mary Magdalene stayed behind.  And that while she was there, alone and crying, Jesus came to comfort her and assure her that He was, indeed, alive.  Don’t you think Jesus would have been very anxious to go to Heaven and see His Father?  He’d been away from Him for so long.  And now He had accomplished what He came to earth for.  But before going back, Jesus took the time to see Mary, and assure her of His love for her and the disciples.  What a thoughtful, loving Savior we have…that He would put the feelings of His followers before His own desires to be with His Father. 
There has never been anyone else who loves us so much!  Jesus is our Creator, and our Savior.  Our Shepherd, and our Redeemer.  He proved just how much He loves us by dying on the cross for our sins, and taking our punishment so that we can be with Him, forever, in Heaven.  What do you think we should do in response?  Do you think that Jesus deserves our love, in return?  And if we say that we do love Him, does it show?  Can others tell, by what we say and do, that we love Jesus?  Let’s look at one more passage before we close today.  1 John 4:20-21 says this:  “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”  What do these verses, along with today’s memory verse, say we should be doing if we really love God?  We should be demonstrating that love to those around us, especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to show love to those who are not saved.  We are to follow Jesus’ example.  And He loved even those who did not love Him in return.  And He expects the same from us.  If we have His Holy Spirit living is us, we should be able to love others as He does.  His love is in our hearts, and can flow right out of us, to those around us!  Do you have the love of Jesus in your heart, today?  If not, you can.  You only need to accept the loving sacrifice He made for you on the cross.  Ask Him to forgive you for your sins that put Him there.  And accept the grace and mercy He offers. 
Closing Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for the incredible, sacrificial love You showed by coming to this earth to live here among us, then die on the cross for our sins.  You set aside all You had in Heaven to be our Savior.  And Lord, we love You so much for doing that for us!  Help us to forever be thankful for what You did.  And help us to live loving lives that will show others that Your great love is living in our hearts.  We love You, Lord! Amen.
Class Discussion/ Activity

(Bible lesson Tic-Tac-Toe)
If you are familiar with the game Tic-Tac-Toe, you can use it to quiz your students on today’s lesson.  Here’s how it can work.  Divide the students into two teams.  One team will be X’s, and the other O’s.  Make a Tic-Tac-Toe board (draw it with chalk or even in the dirt if you have a dirt floor) with 9 spaces: three across, and three down.  Number each of the spaces using the numbers from 1 to 9.  The object of the game is to be the first team to get 3 of their marks (X’s or O’s) in a row on the board.  Have the teams take turns earning the right to put their mark on by answering a question from today’s lesson (for example:  who was the woman Jesus appeared to after His resurrection?).  If the team answers correctly, they can put their mark in a spot on the board.  To keep the game simple, you can let them choose where to put it.  To make it a little more challenging, you can make little numbers ahead of time, perhaps writing them on little pieces of paper, and have someone from the team draw one of the numbers to determine where the mark will go if they answer correctly.  Then, the next team takes a turn and is given another question to answer.  If you are using the numbers to determine where their marks go, they may pick a number the other team has already picked, and replace that mark with their own if they get the answer right.  Have fun! And the game works best if you have the questions prepared ahead of time.

 

Have the students finish this sentence:  Jesus can tell I love Him when I __________.  Have the students  think of ways they can show others that they love them this week, and share them with the class.  And encourage them to be ready to share with the class next week those loving things they were able to do. 

Encourage the students, as they are at home this week, to remember Jesus’ sacrificial love for them.  Challenge them, first of all, to make sure that they have accepted Jesus great sacrifice as the payment for their sins.  Then, challenge them to be loving to those around them this week, especially to their own families, and other Christians.

Devotional Poem:

 

Sacrificial Love

The blood of Jesus, shed for me,
Upon the cross of Calvary,
Was from a sacrificial love
That brought Him down from Heaven above.
He bore the payment for my sin;
Cleansed my sin-stained heart, within;
Covered me with His own grace;
And now, in Heav’n, prepares a place.
Yes, Jesus loves me – this I know;
His sacrifices tell me so!

Lisa DeVinney, March 2017