As we approach Holy Week and prepare our hearts for Easter, it’s easy to become caught up in the excitement of egg hunts, palm branch crosses, and chocolate bunnies. It can even grow tiresome to talk yet again about what may seem an “obvious” Christian story. But students can benefit from focusing on details of this time in Christ’s life, and many may have questions come up that for us as teachers remind us how amazing were the sacrifices made by our Lord.
Notes: This lesson is a bit longer in length and quite detailed. Feel free to choose elements of focus or break up into chunks, if possible. Also, most passages reference the book of Mark, as it tends to have the most details of Christ’s final week. However, all gospels can be used to share the events of the crucifixion and resurrection.
Bible Focus: Holy Week, including the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus
Student application: Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of God’s plan…the crucifixion is the crux (pun intended) of the Bible! Never grow immune to the wonder of resurrection.
Lesson Opener: Tools of torment…begin with a few pictures (shown via projection or passed around papers, as available tools allow)…show students several methods of execution and ask for what words, thoughts, and emotions come up when they seem them. Show pictures of a noose, a guillotine, electric chair, and even ancient torture devices like the rack or prison chambers. Ask children how they would feel about wearing one of those as a charm on a necklace or bracelet. Then display a picture of the cross and perhaps a crown of thorns to go with it. What does this represent? We certainly feel different about the cross due to the new meaning that Christ’s death and resurrection has given it. What else do we know about the death of Jesus? Why is it so important and critical to our Christian faith? How do we know the truth of the story?
Lesson and Verses: If possible, continue using pictures with this story as you go step by step through the elements of the Messiah’s last night on earth. Explain the historical background in this way, but emphasize the significance of why Christ died so painfully and how His resurrection gives us hope today.
Begin with a quick review of Holy Week events, beginning with Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry. (Share picture of donkey and/or Palm branches) Explain that Jesus came into Jerusalem this way in fulfillment of another Old Testament prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. -Zechariah 9:9
After this initial victorious and celebrated introduction into town, the Savior encountered some challenges in His final few days of life. (Show picture of temple and/or whip) Remind students of the clearing of the temple, and why Jesus did it. Mention that this action, too, hearkens back to a prophecy:
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.” -Isaiah 56:7
Coming down to the last night of the Messiah’s life, discuss what happened during the Last Supper. (Feel free to show a picture of the classic “Last Supper” painting or a more historically accurate depiction upper room arrangements). Walk through some of the actions and conversations Jesus had with His disciples. Why did he wash their feet? Discuss the prediction of Peter’s denial and the dismissal of Judas. Bear particular importance on Communion.
2 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. -Mark 14:22-24
(Show pictures of olive trees and location of Gethsemane). Upon leaving the house, Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, wishing that somehow things could be fulfilled differently, but knowing that the Father’s will would be fulfilled. It is following this prayer (and the disciples’ subsequent snooze) that Jesus is arrested and the ultimate trials begin. Field from students what details they know already about the long night of crucifixion. Walk through the various encounters of His trials:
- Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin for questioning; at this time Peter denies knowledge of Him (Mark 14: 53-72)
- Jesus is brought before Pilate for questioning. Pilate would rather not have anything to do with Jewish drama, so He tries to appease the situation but the crowd demands Christ’s crucifixion (Mark 15:1-14).
- Jesus is flogged and handed to soldiers, who mock and beat Him (Mark 15:15-20).
- Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha, with the help of a man named Simon. It may be that he was too weak and tired to carry himself. (Mark 15:21-22).
- Jesus cries out to God and dies (Mark 15:33-37)
- Joseph of Arimathea embalms the body and Jesus is buried (Mark 15:42-46)
Obviously, this is a devastating turn of events. Good Friday commemorates the darkest hour in history. Jesus suffered and died a criminal’s anguishing execution. But fortunately, we know that is not the end of the story. What happens next? Easter Morning comes, finishing God’s final plan and fulfilling Christ’s destiny and reason for coming. The tomb is empty. Hope is realized. Jesus defeated death. He is risen; Hallelujah!
(Show pictures of first century tomb and burial techniques. If desired, emphasize story points with a video clip, either from a film on Jesus or even another tale with sacrificial elements. Recommended: Aslan’s resurrection in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe).
- Why did Jesus have to die? (Basic, but critical question with regard to faith) Jesus took on the guilt and sins of humanity. The wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23), and God gave His son to pay for those sins and allow us eternal life.
- Why is it so important that He rose from the dead? Christ arose in fulfillment of the prophets and what God did. His resurrection defied and defeated death and Satan and bridged the gap between human sin and God, providing a pathway to Heaven and to hope.
- Why did Jesus wash the feet of the disciples? Jesus was acting as servant, providing an example and emphasis that He came to lay down His life in every way and to serve.
- We may criticize Peter and the others for denying and fleeing Jesus, but how do we sometimes do the same? We yield to peer pressure sometimes and deny Him ourselves, or we give in to gossip and ignore genuine prayer and devotion to God.
- Are we ever like Pilate, trying to just wash our hands of Christ and be done with it? Sometimes it may seem easier or more “universal friendly” to abandon our faith or to allow for other beliefs and practices. But Christ is the way and the truth and the life. If we abandon Him, we abandon all hope truly.
- Why did Jesus cry out to God? Had God truly abandoned and forsaken His son? This was the final desperate breath of Christ, echoing earlier prophecy and pleading as He had done in the garden. Ultimately God did not turn away from Jesus (just as He would not have given up in the garden), and was at that time still one in the same with Jesus.
- Who do you most identify with in this story?
Weekly Challenge: Explore the details…Take some time this week to truly examine the events of Christ’s crucifixion, in order to appreciate its meaning and significance. Read the story in all four Gospels to understand what we know. Take time to prayerfully consider and grasp Christ’s sacrifice and what it means to us.
More Sunday School Activities
- Easter Coloring Pages
- Easter Crafts for Sunday School
- M&M Poem for Easter
- Bible Worksheet about Easter
- Video Easter Story for Kids (direct download link)
- 15 Powerful Easter Songs for Children’s Worship
- Easter Game & Object Lesson for Sunday School
- Browse all 101 Easter Resources for children