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Hope, Week 1

Lazarus Raised

John 11:1-45

Whatever happens, remember how powerful God is.

Everywhere Jesus went, crowds followed. Some wanted to be healed. Others wanted to learn something. And some simply wanted to be near Him.

But the religious leaders had a different reason for following Jesus. They wanted to trap Him.

These leaders had spent their whole lives teaching people to stick to complicated rules. But Jesus said that people should focus on just two things: “Love God. Love others.”

“That’s not fair!” grumbled the leaders.

What’s more, it seemed that Jesus was claiming to be God. “Don’t believe me unless

I do the works of my Father,” Jesus told them.

The religious leaders were so angry with Jesus that they tried to arrest Him and even throw stones at Him! Jesus’ friends were eager to get out of Jerusalem. Together with Jesus, they traveled east and crossed the Jordan River.

Peter was likely outspoken as usual. “Those pompous fools!” he railed. “Jesus is way too smart for them.”

But soon after, a messenger arrived from Bethany—a small town near Jerusalem where Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived.

“Lord . . .” gasped the man, out of breath from running. “I have a message . . . from Mary and Martha.”

“Well, what is it?” demanded Peter.

Thomas may have offered water to the messenger. “Let him take a drink, at least!” he exclaimed.

After a long drink, the messenger tried again. “Mary and Martha say, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’”

“Who’s sick?” questioned Peter. “Lazarus?”

“And is this like really sick,” wondered Thomas, “Or, ‘I don’t want to go to school’ sick?”

Jesus held up a hand for silence. “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory. God’s Son will receive glory because of it.”

“Whew,” said Thomas, relieved. “That’s good!”

“Yeah,” agreed Peter. “ ’Cause we sure aren’t going anywhere near Jerusalem again!”

Two days later, though, Jesus told His disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” Peter gaped. “Remember that thing about the Jews trying to kill you?” “Lazarus has fallen asleep,” Jesus told them. “I’m going there to wake him.” “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get better,” Peter pointed out.

“Lazarus is dead,” said Jesus.

His friends all stared. Thomas found his voice first. “Wait, WHAT?” he exclaimed.

“For your benefit, I am glad I was not there,” Jesus told them. “Now you will believe. But let us go to him.”

Still shocked and on edge, Jesus’ friends followed Him back the long, dusty road toward Jerusalem. Just outside Bethany, they met friends of Mary and Martha. “Lazarus has been buried four days now,” the mourners told them.

Martha heard that Jesus had come at last. She raced to meet Him, tears streaming down her face. “Lord,” she cried. “I wish you had been here! Then my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you anything you ask for.”

Jesus looked directly in her eyes. “Your brother will rise again,” He said. “I know he will rise again,” she responded. “On the last day.”

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus told her. “Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and took a deep breath. “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God. I believe that you are the one who is supposed to come into the world.”

“Where is Mary?” Jesus asked.

Martha hurried home to find her sister, who was surrounded by friends trying to

comfort her. “The Teacher is here!” she exclaimed. “He is asking for you.”

“Why, why did He wait so long?” Mary wondered. She sprang up, face blotchy with tears, and hurried to the place where Jesus waited outside town. Then she threw herself at His feet.

“Lord, I wish you had been here!” she wept. “Then my brother would not have died.”

“Where have you put him?” Jesus asked.

Mary couldn’t answer, but the other mourners gathered around. “Come and see,

Lord,” they said.

Overwhelmed by the broken hearts of those around Him, Jesus allowed the tears to

pour down His face. Everyone was amazed. “See how much he loved him!” one man said.

“Yeah, but He healed a blind man,” said another. “You’d think He could’ve prevented his friend from dying.”

The entire group soon reached the cave where Lazarus’ body had been placed. A massive stone blocked the entrance.

“Take away the stone,” commanded Jesus.

“Lord!” gasped Martha. “It’s been four days. It won’t . . . smell good.”

“Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” asked Jesus.

No one spoke. It seemed such a terrible, hopeless act to open the tomb. But Jesus had told them to do it. Martha nodded, and several strong men stepped forward. Straining, they rolled aside the huge rock.

The mouth of the cave gaped—an empty, black hole.

But Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me. But I said this for the benefit of the people standing here. I said it so they will believe that you sent me.”

Then He called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Again, stunned silence kept everyone in place. No one could move or even breathe.

Then, they heard rustling. From the mouth of the cave, a figure emerged, wrapped tightly in strips of linen cloth. Lazarus was alive!

At first, no one dared to run to him, but Jesus grinned. “Take off the clothes he was buried in and let him go.”

Mary and Martha rushed to their brother, hugging him hard, as the rest of the crowd pushed in to touch this impossible, wonderful, living miracle.

Jesus had just proved what He’d told the religious leaders—that He could do the works of God, who is more powerful than anything . . . even death.

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What are some difficult things that have happened to you or your family?

Take a few minutes and share. Whether it’s messing up on a big test or getting sick, or having to move—or even something as huge as losing a loved one, God sees what you’re facing. He knows what you’re going through. And God is so powerful that He was able to defeat even death! He doesn’t promise to “fix” your problems in the ways you might expect or hope. But He does promise to be with you every step of the way and to give you His peace and strength, even when things seem dark. Pray that each of you would be able to feel God’s peace and strength when going through something difficult.

Coming Soon

Hope, Week 2

Palm Sunday

John 12:9-16

Whatever happens, remember God keeps His promises.

Inspired by God, the prophet Zechariah had once written:

City of Zion, be full of joy!
People of Jerusalem, shout!
See, your king comes to you.
He always does what is right.
He has won the victory.
He is humble and riding on a donkey.

Centuries had passed since Zechariah had shared these words. Now many Jews were convinced that Jesus was their King from God. The Jewish religious leaders were shaken—especially after Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead.

“He’s a menace!” grumbled a lanky Pharisee. A roly-poly expert of the law grimaced, too.

“He’s making such a mess
The Romans will step in
And the trouble will begin
He’s doomed us more or less.”

“He’s spreading mischief!” added the first man.

“It’s better that He die
so the nation can be saved
and the Romans kept at bay.
We’re gonna get this guy!” quipped the lawyer.

Jesus knew the religious leaders were plotting to kill Him. So for a time, He stayed in the desert near the town of Ephraim, a day’s journey from Jerusalem. But as the Passover neared, many people wondered whether Jesus would come to Jerusalem for the celebration.

“What do you think?” asked a fishmonger. “Is He going to show up?”

“He better stay away, bless His heart!” sighed an elderly lady as she checked out sardines.

“Why’s that?” wondered the seller of fish.

“Why, bless your heart, don’t you know?” asked the lady. “The priests have ordered everyone to tell them if Jesus so much as sets foot in Jerusalem. So they can get Him! . . . Don’t bless their hearts.”

Despite the danger, Jesus traveled back toward Jerusalem, stopping in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

His close friends, including Peter and Thomas, were likely on edge. “So many people following Jesus now!” marveled Peter.

“Because He raised Lazarus,” Thomas pointed out.

“He’s making Himself an easy target for the religious leaders,” Peter worried.

The disciples may have hoped that Jesus would slip quietly into Jerusalem. But before Jesus even started out, the crowds who had traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover got word. Hundreds of people broke branches from palm trees and hurried out of the city toward the Mount of Olives to meet Jesus on the road.

From the hill, Jesus and His friends could see the crowd. Jesus knew the time had come for Him to fulfill the prophecy:

City of Zion, do not be afraid.
See, your king is coming.
He is sitting on a donkey’s colt.

So Jesus chose a young donkey.

Peter whipped off his outer coat and laid it across the donkey’s back. “Here, let me make a seat with my coat.”

“Use mine, too!” Thomas offered.

Jesus got onto the donkey’s back and rode it slowly down the road toward Jerusalem. The crowds went wild as they caught sight of Him.

“Hosanna! Hosanna!” they cried, waving their palm branches like banners and tossing their coats down onto the road in front of Jesus. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel.”

But in the midst of the joyful praise, several glowering religious leaders pulled Jesus aside.

“You’re mad!” hissed the lanky Pharisee. The expert in the law nodded.

“Make Your friends put a stop
to this silly parade.
We must be obeyed.
Or we’ll stamp it all out from the top.”

No threat could sway Jesus. He knew His mission. “I tell you,” He warned, “if [these people] keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Jesus and His friends made their way into the city, leaving the religious leaders to stew in their own fury.

“This whole thing is no fair!

It’s time to move fast

Before our chance is past

The people chase Him everywhere!”

Though the religious leaders refused to see it, Jesus had just shown His followers yet again that God was fulfilling His promises—and would keep on doing it, no matter how dark things became.

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What are some promises that you’ve made? Did you keep every single one of those promises?

Truth is, we often promise more than we can deliver. You want to keep people happy or stop them from bothering you, so you promise you’ll feed the dog soon. Or you promise to invite a friend over to play your favorite game. Or you promise to get along with a sibling. But then you forget, or get lazy or frustrated—and you break your promise. We all do it . . . except for God. He never, ever breaks a promise that He’s made to us. Even if His answer isn’t on our timeline, He always comes through. Take a look at some of these promises God has made:

He gives strength to those who are tired. He gives power to those who are weak (Isaiah 40:29).

If any of you needs wisdom, you should ask God for it. He will give it to you. God gives freely to everyone and doesn’t find fault (James 1:5).

But God is faithful and fair. If we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure (1 John 1:9).

“I know the plans I have for you,” announces the Lord. “I want you to enjoy success. I do not plan to harm you. I will give you hope for the years to come” (Jeremiah 29:11).

My God will meet all your needs. He will meet them in keeping with his wonderful riches. These riches come to you because you belong to Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

Which of God’s promises do you need most right now? Pray together, and ask God to remind you of this special promise every time you need it this week.

Coming Soon

Hope, Week 3

Crucifixion and Resurrection

John 18-2-:1-18

Whatever happens, remember Jesus is alive.

Jesus once told His followers that not even the actions of a single sparrow are outside God’s watch, which means that God cares even more about people—about each person who has ever lived.

As Jesus approached His final Passover meal, ready to lay down His life for us, a sparrow may have darted down from the eaves of the home and slipped into the rafters of the upper room. There, the sparrow would have heard Jesus share His heart with His friends over the meal. And perhaps, with a swish of its brown tail feathers, the sparrow followed when they left.

“In a little while, you will no longer see me,” Jesus told His friends as they walked. “Then after a little while, you will see me. . . . Now it’s your time to be sad. But I will see you again. Then you will be full of joy.”

Jesus and His friends traveled the narrow streets to a garden across the Kidron Valley. A bird’s-eye view showed Jesus praying for His friends beneath an olive tree—while soldiers and officials approached the garden, flaming torches and swords in hand.

The mob was led by Judas, one of Jesus’ friends who had chosen to betray his Lord for thirty silver coins. Jesus knew exactly what Judas had done. Calmly, He walked out to meet the mob.

“Who do you want?” Jesus asked.

“Jesus of Nazareth!” demanded an official.

Jesus nodded. “I am he.”

The whole crowd with Judas fell to their knees. Jesus gestured to His friends, who straggled up behind Him. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go,” He told the mob.

Jesus’ friend Peter couldn’t take it a moment longer. He leapt forward, awkwardly swinging a sword. “You can’t take Him!” Peter cried out.

Peter’s sword slashed, cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant.

“Put your sword away!” Jesus commanded. “Shouldn’t I drink the cup of suffering

the Father has given me?”

Jesus allowed the soldiers to tie Him up and haul Him away to stand trial before the religious leaders. The disciples scattered, but Peter and John slunk along behind.

The sparrow, drawn to the lights, would have followed. Perched on a window ledge, he could see Jesus standing inside in front of the high priest. False witnesses told lies about Jesus, who did not say a single word in His own defense.

At last, the high priest demanded: “Are you the Messiah?!” “I am,” said Jesus.

“He says He’s God!” the high priest shrieked. “That’s worthy of death!” The people there broke out in shouts and cries of agreement.

Confused by the shouts, the sparrow hopped off the ledge onto the rough cobblestones of the courtyard. Here, he found Peter warming his hands at a small fire. Peter had claimed just that evening that he would die for Jesus, but when bystanders got curious about him, Peter panicked.

“Are you one of those men who follow Jesus?” asked a servant girl. “Who, me?” asked Peter, hands shaking. “No way!”

Three times, Peter denied he knew Jesus. After the third time, just as Jesus had predicted, a rooster crowed, and Peter realized what he’d done.

The sparrow would not have been fond of roosters. In a twitter of wings, he took flight. Below, he could see soldiers leading Jesus toward the palace of the Roman governor, Pilate. The sparrow darted down, hoping for crumbs from the royal kitchen. But what he witnessed took away his appetite.

Pilate wanted to pardon Jesus. “I find no reason to charge Him,” the governor told the crowd.

But the mob screamed for punishment, so Pilate ordered soldiers to whip Jesus, and then brought the prisoner out once more. “Look, here He is,” announced Pilate. “He’s not guilty of doing anything wrong.”

Only one thing would satisfy the crowd. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” they screamed. Pilate didn’t want to make the Jews angry, so he gave in. He handed Jesus over to

the soldiers, who marched Jesus right out of the city.

The sparrow might have felt compelled to follow, into the rising sun. He flew high over the city walls, swooping and circling until he spotted the mob’s final destination . . . a hill called Golgotha. The sparrow lit on some heavy beams of wood, but quickly fluttered up again as soldiers grabbed the rough wood. They nailed Jesus to the beams and raised Him up on the cross between two common thieves.

Dizzy and tired in the growing heat of the day, the sparrow settled to the dirt in the shade of several weeping women and Jesus’ friend John.

Though Jesus was in great pain, he saw His mother’s grief. He told her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And to John, He said, “Here is your mother.”

Jesus had completed His mission. He was willing to face a death He didn’t deserve because He cared so deeply about His friends and His enemies. With a final gasp, He cried out: “It is finished.”

Darkness fell.
The earth shook.
Huge rocks split wide open.

The sparrow would have seen enough. He launched himself as high as his weary wings could go and swept through the sky until he spotted a green garden with a running brook. The he dropped to Earth and settled into the branches of an ancient olive tree.

Later, as the sparrow foraged for seeds in the cool of the evening, two men arrived. They carried Jesus’ body, wrapped in strips of linen, and placed it inside a cave.

The sparrow darted closer to see, but quickly retreated as soldiers arrived to roll a massive stone across the mouth of the tomb.

Over the next days, the sparrow rested in the garden while soldiers stood guard outside the tomb.

The day seemed long.

Empty.

Though the garden was peaceful, the sparrow couldn’t settle down.

Couldn’t sleep through the long, dark nights . . .

But on the third day, as the sun crept over the edge of the horizon, the earth shook once again! Sudden light blinded the sparrow. When his sharp eyes could see again, the guards had fled. The stone was rolled away.

THE TOMB WAS EMPTY!

God had raised Jesus from the dead! He appeared first to His friend Mary.

“Mary,” said Jesus.

In that instant, Mary recognized Him. “Teacher!” she cried.

Above them, in the branches, the sparrow would have sung his heart out.

Jesus was alive again. He cared so deeply for every person God created that He entered into death—and defeated it for all time.

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Jesus is alive.

If you’ve grown up hearing this, you may have forgotten what an incredible, amazing, big deal this is. (Or if you aren’t sure you believe it yet, do your own research and ask God to reveal the truth to you. The Case for Christ or The Case for Christ for Kids is a great place to start.) The truth is, every single one of us has done wrong things. We’ve broken our relationship with God. And the payment for that is the worst thing ever—to live apart from Him. But God loves us so much He chose to make a way for us to come back to Him. His own Son, Jesus, came to live among us and willingly entered into death and separation from God—and He did it for us! When God raised Jesus back to life, He defeated death and made a way for everyone who believes in Jesus to live forever with God. That means no matter what is going on right now in your life, no matter how dark things seem, you can live forever with God. The end of your story can be more amazing than you could ever imagine . . . all because Jesus is alive! Pray for each other, that you would live each day in the hope that comes from knowing Jesus is alive.

Coming Soon

Hope, Week 4

Jesus Appears to Thomas

John 20:19-29

Whatever happens, remember God is bigger than your questions.

Thomas stared at his friend John in disbelief. “You’re joking,” he said at last. John shook his head. “Would I joke about this?” he asked. “The stone was gone from the entrance. The tomb was empty!”

Though it was still early Sunday morning, Peter and John had just returned from the garden tomb where Jesus’ body had been buried Friday evening. Now John paced the room where Jesus’ friends were staying.

Peter kept checking out the window. “Do you think we were followed?” he wondered.

Thomas, still groggy with sleep, rubbed his eyes and tried to follow. “Hold on,” he said. “There were soldiers at the tomb. What about the soldiers?”

“We didn’t see anyone in the garden,” Peter told him. “I mean, except Mary.” Thomas tried once again to follow the story. “Why was Mary with you?”

“You didn’t hear her pounding on this very door an hour ago?” John asked. “She was the first one to find the tomb was empty. She ran here to tell us.”

“Let me get this straight,” Thomas said, and took a deep breath. “Someone shoved the huge stone out of the way. Someone took Jesus’ body. And the Roman soldiers just ran away?!”

“Looks like that,” Peter agreed.

“But it doesn’t make any sense,” John added. “We’re missing something.”

Thomas was waking up now. It was bad enough their Friend and Teacher had been killed. But now someone was playing games with them.

“Yeah, we’re missing something,” he nearly shouted. “The body of our Friend!” Peter grabbed John’s arm. “Just stop pacing, will you?”

“Stop checking out the window,” John shot back. “You’re making me nervous.”

“Sit down! Both of you!” ordered Thomas. But just then, the men heard running footsteps on the hard-packed dirt of the road outside. They all squeezed together to see through the tiny window.

“Mary! It’s Mary,” cried John.

The three men dashed for the door. Thomas threw it open as Mary arrived on the doorstep, and stopped, head down as she gasped to catch her breath.

“Are you okay?” asked John.

“What’s wrong?” demanded Peter.

They all expected to see Mary frightened or crying. But when she raised her face . . . she was beaming. Glowing.

Thomas led her inside. “Mary! What is it?”

As they shut the door, Mary told them, “I . . . I have seen the Lord!”

The three men gaped. Then they exchanged troubled glances and tried to calm her

down.

“It’s been a rough week,” pointed out Peter. “You’re exhausted.”

“Maybe you saw a gardener?” suggested John.

Mary lifted her chin. “I know what I saw. Jesus is alive!”

“Get some rest,” said Thomas. “Then we can talk. When you’re . . . thinking more clearly.”

“Fine. But you’ll see!” exclaimed Mary, eyes flashing.

Later that evening, Peter and John, along with several of Jesus’ other followers, huddled together with the door locked. They were still confused.

“What if the Jewish leaders turn on us next?” asked Peter.

“Or the Romans,” Thomas added. “They’re saying we stole Jesus’ body!”

John sighed. “If we stay locked away much longer without food, we’re going to starve anyway.”

“I’ll get something to eat,” Thomas decided. “Make sure you lock the door behind me.”

In the marketplace, Thomas tried to blend into the crowds as he purchased bread and fish for his friends. He returned to the house as quickly as he could and knocked quietly.

“It’s Thomas. Let me in, okay?”

The door flew open. Thomas was instantly met with a babble of voices. He picked out confused phrases: “Jesus was here! . . . door still locked . . . ‘Peace be with you’ . . . wounds in hands and side . . . sending us out.”

“Hold it. Hold it!” Thomas shouted. “One at a time!”

There was a brief moment of silence, and then John exclaimed: “We have seen

the Lord!”

Thomas sighed. “Oh, you too, now? It’s time to face reality.”

“I know this is difficult,” said Peter. “But Mary was telling the truth! It’s not just one

person now who’s seen Him. It’s all of us!”

Thomas set down the bread and fish on the table.

“It’s impossible,” he said flatly.

“Maybe,” agreed John. “But it’s true. You can believe it!”

Thomas shook his head. “First I must see the nail marks in his hands. I must put my finger where the nails were. I must put my hand into his side. Only then will I believe.”

Nothing the other disciples said could persuade Thomas. And since they still weren’t sure what would happen next, the group of men laid low for the entire week and kept their doors locked.

One evening as they argued about what to do next—suddenly, impossibly, Someone appeared between Thomas and Peter!

It was Jesus.

“May peace be with you,” He said.

Thomas gaped. Somehow Jesus had shown up among them, even though the door was locked. Deep scars were visible in His wrists, and He seemed radiant, more alive than anyone Thomas had ever seen.

Jesus held out His hand to Thomas. “Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas could hardly breathe for a moment, much less speak. At last he gasped,

“My Lord and my God!”

“Because you have seen me, you have believed,” said Jesus. “Blessed are those who have not seen me but still have believed.”

Thomas nodded, heart pounding with joy. Instead of being angered by Thomas’ doubt, Jesus had graciously answered his questions. God was bigger than all of it.

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What questions do you have for God?

It could be anything, from whether He’s real, or why your pet died, to what happened to the dinosaurs, or why God doesn’t stop that mean kid at school from teasing you. Take a few minutes and share some of your questions with each other. Now, here’s the amazing thing. God wants your questions. God will never get mad at you for having doubts or asking questions, like Thomas did. In fact, He wants you to ask your questions and bring Him your doubts, instead of trying to stuff them down. God doesn’t promise to give you every single answer right now, but He does promise to give you Himself. To be with you and to guide you by the power of His Holy Spirit. Pray together and give God all the questions and doubts that you talked about. Ask Him to show Himself to you and help you through these things.