SMALL GROUP CURRICULUM (Download PDF)
Spend the week studying Luke 23:32-43. Consult the commentary provided and any additional study tools to enhance your preparation.
Determine which discussion points and questions will work best with your group.
Pray for our pastors and this week’s message, the upcoming group time, your group members, and their receptivity to God’s Word.
Focus on the Main Point. No matter how hopeless you are today, you can find hope in Jesus.
Ask those who feel comfortable sharing to tell about a time when their own mistakes or failures caused them to feel hopeless. What happened? Why did hopelessness ensue?
Do any of your past mistakes and failures still affect you in the present? How so?
Did anything good come out of this hopeless situation?
We have all, at various times in our lives, given into despair on account of our own mistakes or moral failures, particularly when we are forced to face their devastating consequences. If we are not careful, such hopelessness will eventually overwhelm us and stamp out our hope. Today we are going to look at a man who encountered Jesus in the most hopeless moment of his life—the hour of his own execution. In the midst of his deepest despair, Jesus spoke to him the kindest, most gracious words he ever heard. By looking at this man’s encounter with Jesus, we will be reminded that no matter how hopeless we are, we can find hope in Jesus.
HAVE A VOLUNTEER READ LUKE 23:32-39.
Luke described how Jesus was crucified between two criminals. What might Jesus’ position between such people communicate to those watching? Why?
Jesus’ placement between two thieves was a position probably intended to disgrace the Lord. But even the position of the cross fulfilled prophecy, since Isaiah had said, “[He] was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12).
Luke includes three statements Jesus made from the cross, the first one in verse 34. What does Jesus’ prayer tell us about Him? How might this prayer be a source of hope for us in the midst of despair?
What do you think motivated the thief in verse 39 to “hurl abuse” at Jesus (vv. 34-36)?
From the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus’ prayer held out hope for a spirit of repentance to take hold in the hearts of the soldiers, criminals, and religious leaders who mocked Him. They sinned out of ignorance. This emphasized the supernatural nature of a God who could forgive even the most heinous sin. What greater demonstration of grace could there be than for Jesus to ask His Father to forgive those crucifying an innocent man?
HAVE A VOLUNTEER READ LUKE 23:40-43.
On Sunday we learned that initially, both thieves mocked and insulted Jesus. What did their mockery reveal about the condition of their hearts?
What attitudes might move someone who is clearly guilty to mock and insult Jesus? What attitudes move people to mock and reject Jesus today?
Being rightly convicted criminals currently undergoing the just penalty for their sins, these two were utterly hopeless, and their hopelessness drove them to cynicism and despair. Scripture describes Satan as “the accuser“ (Rev. 12:10), because while he knows that his defeat is certain (Mark 1:24; Col. 2:15), he continues to accuse people by trying to convince them that they are hopeless just like him. We see a similar spirit in the criminals as they initially mocked Jesus in the midst of His suffering. They knew that they were guilty and that their situation was dire, so they mocked the One whose ministry centered on giving hope to the hopeless.
Unlike Jesus, the men being crucified on either side of Jesus were guilty criminals receiving the just punishment for their sins. Why do you think these two guilty men had such drastically different responses to Jesus?
Perhaps it was Jesus’ prayer for his enemies in verse 34, or perhaps it was the way Jesus embraced His suffering, but one of the two criminals radically changed his tone toward Jesus in verse 40. Whatever it was, this criminal’s eyes were opened to the identity and power of Jesus. This hopeless man’s encounter with Jesus resulted in a changed heart. He rebuked the other criminal, saying,“Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment?”
According to verses 40-41, what did the second criminal understand about himself? About God?
What can we learn from this criminal in terms of acknowledging our own desperate condition before God apart from Christ?
The man who chastised the other admitted, “We are punished justly.” He admitted guilt, and the fact that he deserved his punishment. Appropriately, this attitude of “owning your sins” is required of all those who seek forgiveness. Jesus, however, did nothing wrong. This proclamation of Jesus’ innocence emphasized a key truth of the crucifixion—Jesus died as the Just One in place of the unjust.
The criminal’s admittance of his unjust life is an example for us of a repentant heart. How would you describe repentance? Why does God value a repentant heart so highly?
What did the repentant criminal ask of Jesus? How was faith involved in his request?
How might Jesus’ words to the thief in verse 43 have changed his perspective on his current circumstances? How did Jesus’ words give him hope?
After a defense of Jesus, the repentant criminal made a request. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” This man saw something in Jesus that impressed him. He asked that Jesus not forget him when He claimed His future reign. We cannot know how much this criminal understood about Jesus’ nature, but the repentant man did confess an openness to Jesus’ saving mission. Jesus responded to the man with a word of assurance: “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Immediately the repentant man would experience a full relationship with Jesus. Paradise depicted a place where God’s people will abide forever with Him in the world to come. According to Jesus, this criminal received an eternal relationship with God that day.
How has your faith in Jesus freed you from the oppression of hopelessness? How might remembering God’s grace in freeing you in the past change your perspective on your present difficulties and challenges?
In what areas of your life are you still prone to feelings of despair? What is one step you could take this week to entrust those areas of your life to Jesus?
What are some practical ways we might demonstrate the hope we have in Christ to the lost and dying people around us?
Read 1 Peter 3:18. What did Jesus’ death on the cross accomplish for those who believe in Him? How might we, as a group here at Pinelake, help one another center our lives around the death and resurrection of Jesus?
Jesus accomplished everything God had planned for Him to do. What actions can we take to accomplish more of what God has planned for us to do?
Thank God for sending Jesus to us in the midst of our despair in sin. Pray that we would let go of our seemingly hopeless lives and situations and embrace the eternal hope that can only be found in Him. Pray that God would help us to center our hope, purpose, and joy in Christ and what He has accomplished for us. Ask God to use us to both proclaim and demonstrate this hope to the lost and dying people around us.
Midway through this week, send a follow-up email to your group with some or all of the following:
- What, if any, limitations have you been placing on God’s ability to work in your most difficult life situations?
- How does your faith in the Lord affect the quality of life you experience in the present and your confidence of resurrection in the future?
- Spend time this week discussing the concept of “belief” with your family. Engage your children in conversation about things they believe to be true, and use this as an opportunity to teach them about what it means to believe in Jesus.
23:32-37. As Jesus trudged toward the site of crucifixion, two other victims accompanied Him (v. 32). Luke identified them as criminals—literally,“evildoers.”Luke didn’t name the nature of their crimes. Other Gospel writers used a different Greek term for these two that can mean either “robbers” or “revolutionaries” (see Matt. 27:38; Mark 15:27). Appropriately, Jesus spent His last hours in the midst of sinners, the very people for whom He came to die.
The entourage proceeded to a place called The Skull (v. 33). Many Bible students presume that the term rendered “The Skull” (Greek, “kranion,” from which the English word “cranium” is derived) originated from a geological shape that appeared in the side of the hill. The King James Version here uses the Latin term “Calvary” to identify the place of crucifixion. Other Gospel writers also included reference to the Aramaic- Hebrew name “Golgotha” (see Matt. 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17). At this spot they crucified Jesus. Luke provided few details of the elements of crucifixion. He preferred an emphasis on Jesus’ spiritual battle. During a typical crucifixion, death came slowly. The victim could live as long as two days. The soldiers suspended the victim from the cross using ropes and nails. Usually they stripped the person of clothing. Death came from exposure, blood loss, and dehydration. Crucifixion was a painful, humiliating death.
From the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (v. 34). Jesus’ prayer probably was a reference to those present who were responsible for this event—soldiers and religious leaders. He held out hope for a spirit of repentance from them. They sinned out of ignorance. This emphasized the supernatural nature of a God who could forgive even the most heinous sin. According to custom, the soldiers divided His clothes and cast lots. They gambled away the last of Jesus’ possessions. This final insult pictures Jesus giving everything He had in death. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate forgiveness.
Certain people stood watching as the scene unfolded (v. 35). A crucifixion often attracted curious onlookers. Luke offered no record of their thoughts at this point. The leaders, however, responded in character. They kept scoffing at Jesus. These religious leaders insisted on Jesus’ death and got it. But they kept on with the attack even as Jesus died. The scoffing alluded to Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. In His ministry, Jesus performed miracles that saved people from demons, illness, and death. In the view of the leaders, then, if He truly was God’s Messiah, the Chosen One, why did He not save Himself? They mocked what appeared to be true—the helplessness of Jesus. They looked for a Messiah who represented physical power. They failed to realize that they spoke the truth. He could have rescued Himself from the cross. He refused, however, to use His divine power for selfish reasons. Instead Jesus chose to obey God’s call to a different purpose—to give His life in sacrifice.
The mob mentality around the cross dominated (v. 36). Roman soldiers carried out the execution on behalf of the government. They too mocked Him. They offered Jesus sour wine. This cheap drink possibly came as a kindness to the condemned. More likely, however, the soldiers scornfully gave a supposed drink of kings to Jesus, who came to be a King. The inscription tacked to the cross above Jesus possibly spurred their actions (see 23:38). Then the soldiers took up the taunt of the leaders, “If You are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (v. 37). As He did with the leaders, Jesus made no response to this abuse. He let His actions speak for themselves.
23:38-39. Even the dying criminals who were crucified beside Jesus got in on the mocking act as one of them echoed the Jewish cry (v. 39). The Messiah should at least be able to save Himself. While He was doing that, He might as well show His power by saving those who were dying with Him. Surely this criminal deserved his fate, showing his character to the end. Suffering the most insulting of deaths, he hurled insults at the only one who could save him.
23:40-41. The word “rebuked” (v. 40) is the same term Jesus used in casting out demons (4:35,41; 9:42), healing the sick (4:39), and calming the storms (8:24). The second thief thus followed Jesus’ advice in an ironic way, catching his fellow thief in a sin and rebuking him. The second thief confessed his sins and invited the other thief to join his confession (v. 41). They deserved to die. They were guilty. As such, they stood in sharp contrast to Jesus. How this thief came to recognize the innocence of Jesus we are not told, but his statement incorporates a great theological truth: Jesus did not deserve to die. He was the sinless dying with sinners, the innocent sharing the fate of the guilty, the pure Lamb of God taking on Himself the sin of the world.
23:42. The repentant thief had rebuke for his fellow thief but a request for Jesus. He wanted to be remembered when Jesus entered His kingdom (v. 42). This thief did not know all he asked, but he had enough faith to ask to be part of whatever Jesus was up to. He had no more life ahead of him, but he sought eternal blessings beyond the cruel death he was enduring. When Jesus raised the dead, some decided to kill Him. When they killed Him, one decided to join Him.
23:43. The time frame of the thief ’s request is not clear, but Jesus’ response was quite clear. The thief did not have to wait even one day (v. 43). His faith, whatever its source, secured him an immediate place with Jesus. He would be part of Jesus’ kingdom “today ... in Paradise.” The expression is borrowed from the Persian language, where the word “paradise” means a park or garden. The Hebrew equivalent appears three times in the Old Testament (Neh. 2:8; Song of Solomon 4:13; Eccl. 2:5). Here we see a central New Testament text on eternal life. Jesus promised this believing thief that he would share life with Jesus in paradise today. The thief had asked for participation in Christ’s kingdom, and Jesus appeared to grant the request.