Spend the week studying 1 John 2:2 and 4:10. Consult the commentary provided and any additional study tools to enhance your preparation.
DETERMINE | which discussion points and study questions will work best for your group.
PRAY | for our pastors and this week’s message, the upcoming group time, your group members and their openness to God’s Word.
LANDING POINT | God’s not mad at you, because Jesus took your punishment.
Remember the 4 Rules for Small Group Discussion
- Confidentiality. What’s said in the group stays in the group.
- No cross-talk. Be considerate of others as they share. Refrain from side conversations and texting during group time.
- No fixing. We are not in the group to fix each other. Jesus does that part.
- Sharing. Be sensitive to the amount of time you share. Don’t talk too much or too little. Every person brings something valuable to the group.
As your group time begins, use this section to introduce the topic of discussion.
The cross is an image that has become synonymous with Christianity. For 2,000 years it has been a symbol of the faith and one you see nearly everywhere. Unfortunately, much of the cross’ meaning has gotten lost in our culture. People simply don’t see its importance.
In this series we’re going to take a closer look at the cross and its significance. Your group will discuss four theological aspects of Jesus’ death on the cross—propitiation, justification, redemption and reconciliation. Together, your group will define each term and discuss how they bless and change the way believers live.
By the end of this study, we hope you will see that Christianity is not a moral ladder to climb, but a cross. What distinguishes Christianity from other religions is that there’s no moral ladder to climb, because Jesus climbed it for us. And the cross is evidence of that.
In a single word or phrase, what comes to mind when you think about the cross?
Where do you see images of the cross in culture? How would you describe its significance in those places?
Select 2-3 question from this section to answer.
Seeing the Cross Differently
Historically, crucifixion was one of the cruelest ways to die. It was widely used during Jesus’ day and was specifically designed to make death slow and painful. And the Romans viewed it as the highest penalty in their empire.
Dying on a cross was one of the most shameful and degrading things imaginable. However, Christians see something else in the cross. Yes. They acknowledge its cruelty and shame. But there’s something about the cross that imbues Christians with great hope. This hope comes from what Jesus’ death on the cross actually accomplished. The cross wasn’t just a symbol of self-sacrifice (as some believe). It represents something more. The cross shows God’s immeasurable love for sinners.
Why do you think the Romans used crucifixion as a device for execution? What was its purpose?
What’s the difference between the cross as a symbol and the cross that accomplishes something?
At the cross, Jesus became the propitiation for our sins. To understand the meaning of this term we need to, first, understand sin. The Bible sees sin as rebellion against God. It’s not simply disobeying God; it’s a way of living against His design for you, which is to worship and serve God in a love relation- ship with Him.
According to the Bible, our sin is so great that it deserves divine wrath. Why? Because God is holy and just and cannot let sin go unpunished. On the cross, Jesus received the punishment sin deserved and turned away God’s wrath from us. Essentially, that’s what propitiation means. It’s the removal of God’s wrath for sin, because another has paid the penalty for it. Propitiation is something similar to mercy, because both show how God doesn’t give us what we deserve.
God is love, and His love compelled Him to do something about sin. Jesus took initiative and fully atoned for sin at the cross. And He provided the solution to the problem of sin we couldn’t solve. The Apostle John put it this way: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Why is it important to understand sin before understanding propitiation?
Can you recall a time when you had to take the initiative to forgive someone? What did you learn from your experience?
Select 2-3 questions to discuss as a group.
What effect does propitiation have on your daily life? The following are four ways you can respond to Jesus’ paying the penalty for sin and taking on God’s wrath for you.
It’s not enough to simply know what Jesus has done for sinners. God wants to know you personally, and Jesus makes a renewed, reconciled relationship with God possible. If you’ve never accepted God’s forgiveness through Jesus, now is the time to do that.
In your opinion, what does it mean to accept God’s forgiveness through Jesus?
Jesus’ sacrifice should fill you with gratitude towards the Lord. God’s love caused Him to act, despite our sin. Timothy J. Keller describes it this way: “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
Respond to Keller’s definition of the Gospel. What stands out to you?
Don’t live in fear
God is not mad at you. When you received God’s forgiveness through Jesus, your relationship with God totally changed. God’s anger was poured out on Jesus. He releases you from any fear of God’s wrath, because Jesus’ perfect obedience (or righteousness) covers you.
What difference would it make in your life to believe “God is not made at you”?
Walk in obedience
Sin begins to lose its appeal when we see how costly it is. Sin cost God His Son, because He sacrificed Jesus to save you. Knowing the costly penalty Jesus paid at the cross for sin should stir our hearts to live in greater obedience to God.
What’s one practice you can implement in your life to remind you of Jesus’ costly sacrifice?
Select 1 question from this section to ask your group.
Living out God’s mercy together
Propitiation isn’t a term only found in theological dictionaries. It’s a term mentioned throughout the Bible that shows love in action. Jesus acted by offering Himself as an atoning sacrifice for sin. That sacrifice turned away God’s wrath.
In the same way, your community can reflect God’s mercy in a thousand points of light. The world responds to wrath with wrath, hatred with hatred and violence with violence. As Christians, we live by a different ethic. And we live by a different example—Jesus.
Paul tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” As a community, God has given you an example—and power—to show mercy and turn away wrath. The Bible tells us “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” And God has called us to be the embodiment of that truth.
What distinguishes our ethic as Christians from the world’s ethic? What are some real life examples of this ethic in action?
How can you, as a community, embody the truth of God’s mercy to others?
First, thank God for His mercy and for making Jesus the propitiation for your sin. Praise Him, because He took the initiative to provide a solution for sin through Jesus. Pray for ways to live out His mercy in your life. And ask for God’s wisdom to live differently to those that have yet to receive God’s forgiveness.
Midway through this week, send a follow-up email to your group with some or all of the following:
Memorize 1 John 4:10 and reflect on how God’s love is seen in Jesus’ offering Himself as the propitiation for your sins.
Was there a time this week when you had the opportunity to respond differently than the world to wrong done to you? Explain your experience.
Crucifixion in detail.
In its day the cross was a symbol of suffering and humiliation. Those being crucified were openly mocked and condemned by onlookers. Jouette M. Bassler describes the process of crucifixion as: “Condemned persons were nailed or tied to the stake or crossbar, sometimes upside down, some- times with other sadistic touches added at the executioner’s whim. Several features became fairly standard. The victim was often flogged and then paraded to the site of execution wearing around the neck a wooden placard proclaiming the crime. The condemned person also carried the crossbar (not the whole cross) to the place of execution, where the upright stake was already in place. Because deterrence was the primary objective, the cross was always erected in a public place. The prisoner was stripped and affixed to the crossbar with nails through the forearms or with ropes. The crossbar was then raised and attached to the upright stake and the victim’s feet were tied or nailed to the stake. The weight of the hanging body made breathing difficult, and death came from gradual asphyxiation, usually after a few hours. To prolong the death and thus increase the agony, a small wooden block was sometimes attached to the stake beneath the buttocks or feet to provide some support for the body. Then death came only after several days and resulted from the cumulative impact of thirst, hunger, exhaustion, exposure, and the traumatic effects of the scourging. After death, the body was usually left hanging on the cross.” 
Jesus: our merciful and faithful high priest.
Hebrews 2:17-18 says that, “For this reason [Jesus] had to be made like [us], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” In the Old Testament a priest offered a sacrifice as atonement for sin. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest offered a sacrifice for his sins and the sins of the nation. Because of this system, Jesus had to become a man to be the high priest that offered a once-for-all sacrifice for sin. Hebrews 2:17-18 tells us Jesus did that and lived as one of us in every way (yet without sin). He became human to serve as our high priest and represent us before God. Moreover, as a man, He understands our brokenness and helps us overcome our weaknesses and temptations.
Power in the blood; power in the cross.
The blood of Jesus satisfied God’s righteous demands for sin and turned away His wrath. Jesus’ death on the cross not only atoned for sin, but also vindicated God as being holy and just. While God longs to be merciful, He must also uphold His holiness and justice. He simply can’t overlook sin and the infinite offense it is to His character. The wonder of the cross is that God maintained His mercy, holiness and justice through Jesus’ sacrifice. At the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for sin and received its due punishment. This upheld God’s holiness and justice. But the cross also demonstrates God’s mercy, because divine punishment for sin was inflicted on Jesus, not sinners.