STUDY | Spend the week studying John 3:1–21. Consult the commentary provided and any additional study tools to enhance your preparation.
DETERMINE | Many questions have been included in this guide. Read through this lesson to determine which questions will work best to encourage, push, and grow your group.
PRAY | As you prepare, pray for the preaching of God’s Word this coming weekend. Pray also for your time in this week’s study and your group’s openness to God’s Word.
LANDING POINT | The cross is God’s love in action.
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.
LOVE IN ACTION
Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem before His death and resurrection. Each gospel records this event, and the symbolism is rich. When Jesus arrived, the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). The message was clear. The promised Messiah (or Savior King) had arrived to establish God’s kingdom.
Then the story takes an unexpected turn. Not a few days later, Jesus is arrested and sentenced to die. He’s beaten, mocked, abandoned by His friends, and rejected by His own people as a criminal. Instead of a crown of gold, He’s given a crown of thorns.
How can this be? The hero triumphs over His enemies, right? The gospel is a different story, and Jesus is a different hero. He didn’t defeat His enemies like most kings do. He won by dying. He overcame His enemies by loving them. Jesus points to this in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus came to reveal God’s love, and He will prove that love on a cross.
Love is a verb. We don’t want love that’s only conveyed in words. We want a love that puts itself on the line for us and takes action. This week your group will discuss how the cross is God’s love in action and how that kind of love changes us.
Q: What kind of king do you think the crowds expected Jesus to be?
Q: How would you explain the phrase “love is a verb” in your own words?
Select 2-3 questions to discuss as a group.
LATE NIGHT CONVERSATION
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and Pharisees were the antagonists who opposed Jesus during His ministry. They were the religious elite in Jesus’s day, but they were also prideful and self-righteous. But there was something about Jesus that intrigued Nicodemus. There was something different about this traveling teacher. He was performing miracles and doing things no mere man could do. So Nicodemus decided to visit Him.
Because he was a Pharisee, Nicodemus risked his reputation to meet with Jesus. When he meets Jesus, he acknowledges that Jesus was sent by God and had done miraculous things. Then Jesus takes the conversation in a different direction. “Unless you’re born again, you can’t see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is perplexed. “How can this be?” he asks. But Jesus was talking about spiritual rebirth, not physical birth. To be born “of water and the Spirit” spoke of a new birth that cleanses and transforms someone.1 This is something we can’t achieve on our own. It’s the work of God.
READ: Read John 3:1–21. Imagine yourself as Nicodemus. What would you be wondering about Jesus?
Q: Spiritual rebirth (or salvation) is something only God can do. So why do we often live and relate to God as if we can achieve it on our own?
What comes next is one of the best summaries of the gospel story. God’s love for the world compelled Him to send His Son to save it. Belief in the Son, not your good works, is what gets you eternal life. Jesus is the “light” who came to expose sin and our need for God. But sinners love the darkness (sin) and don’t want to be exposed. Essentially, the human race is divided into two groups, those who come to the light (believers) and those who remain in darkness (unbelievers).
Split into pairs. Take turns sharing the gospel in your own words using only John 3:16–21.
Q: What does it mean to come to the “light”? What happens when you do this?
Select 2-3 question from this section to answer.
How could Nicodemus, a religious expert, miss what Jesus was saying? The truth is, what Jesus taught him was a radical way of thinking and living. Almost every major religion throughout history tells us what we need to do to work our way to God. Christianity is different. It shows us how God came to us in Jesus and exposed our need for a Savior. We don’t need to be better, go to church more, or join a small group. These things are good, but they simply aren’t enough to close the gap between us and God, caused by our sin. We need a new heart. We need spiritual rebirth.
Q: How are you living radically for Jesus? How are you playing it safe?
Q: Why do we need a new heart? What damage has sin done to your heart?
THE GOOD NEWS
Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world. He came to save it. Jesus gives Nicodemus a glimpse into His saving work by saying that the Son of Man must be “lifted up.” This refers to His death on the cross, but also His resurrection and exaltation. Jesus was lifted up on a cross as a sacrifice for sin, but He was also lifted up as the One who overcame sin and death by His resurrection. The Good News is that Jesus paid the penalty for sin. He endured the punishment we deserved. His sacrifice made a way for us to get back to God, not by works but by faith in what He did for us.
Q: What happens when we only talk about Jesus’s death and not His resurrection? What’s missing from the gospel story?
Q: Where in your life do you need to be reminded of the good news of the gospel?
LONG LIVE THE KING
Jesus’s death, as gruesome and unjust as it was, was actually His greatest triumph. On the cross Jesus became king, not by violence, but by total surrender. He was the Suffering Servant spoken of in Isaiah 53. He died so we could live. He suffered so we could have a relationship with God and enjoy Him forever.
Q: Is God calling you to surrender something to Him? If so, what?
Q: What would it look like for you to live with Jesus as your king? How would you be different?
Spend time praising God for His boundless love and saving work in Jesus. Confess your need for a Savior and thank God for sending His Son at great cost to bring you back into relationship with Him. Finish by praying specifically for friends, family, and others that don’t yet know Jesus as Savior and ask God to open doors for gospel conversations with them.
Midway through this week, send a follow-up email to your group with some or all of the following:
Read Isaiah 53 and reflect on how Jesus fulfilled this prophesy that was given hundreds of years before His birth.
Ask the group to share any stories or lessons learned where they see God at work in their lives.
Jesus the Messiah
The gospel reveals Jesus as the promised Messiah sent to fulfill the story of Israel and establish the kingdom of God. His life, death, and resurrection show Him to be the rightful king who reigns over all creation. The gospel is about more than our personal salvation; it’s about the kingdom of God. The gospel leads us out of our tiny kingdom-of-one and into God’s greater story which shapes us into a people who live and proclaim the story of Jesus.
A Snake in the Desert
In verses14–15, Jesus was referring to Numbers 21:4–9, when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness and had become impatient and were complaining. God sent poisonous snakes to afflict them and many Israelites died. The people repented and asked Moses to ask God to take the snakes away. So Moses made a bronze snake and set it on a pole. Anyone bitten who looked at the bronze serpent would live. Jesus was foreshadowing His death, resurrection, and exaltation. Anyone who looks on Him (i.e., trusts in His saving work) will be saved.
The Wisdom and Power of God in Christ
Jesus’s death on the cross is foolishness to the world. Paul acknowledges this in 1 Corinthians 1:18–31 but says that God chooses what is foolish to the world to shame the wise. So often God uses unconventional means and people to accomplish His purposes. God does this so He can get all the glory for the work He does. When you think God could never use you, remember that God is a God of the unconventional.
1. D. A. Carson, “The Gospels and Acts,” in NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 2151.