Saturday, March 23, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Jesus' Life As Part of the Atonement

I am going to try to post a summary of the Sunday School lessons I teach each Sunday, but, due to the timing of those lessons, the posts will publish on Saturday and be about the lessons from the previous Sunday.  This was my intent at the beginning of the year, but I am recommitting to try to make it happen, starting today.  I also am going back and posting summaries of some of our former lessons.  They will be dated according to when the lessons were taught.

Thus, the following is a summary of the lesson from last week:


We talked today about the part Jesus' life played in the Atonement.

1) We read Luke 2:52: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."

I pointed out that in order to "increase" in something, someone has to start at a level less than complete - less than "perfect", in the Biblical sense of being "complete, whole, fully developed"). Thus, the Bible says that Jesus developed over time and gained favor with God as a result. 

2) We read Luke 2:41-50 - the account of Jesus at the temple at the age of 12. We read the entire account, and I pointed out that we always focus on the "good" part - that he was a precocious young man who could astound the church leaders of the time. What we overlook is that he put his parents through Hell for almost a week, not knowing where he was and searching frantically for him. They traveled a full day toward home, then a full day back, then three days searching for him. The mortal young man probably was enjoying himself and didn't stop and think about what he was doing to others.

Literally, he caused pain and suffering - so the Atonement included paying for that instance of him being the one who hurt others - paying for the pain and suffering they felt because of him. We talk about how he suffered to pay for the actions of people, but we never talk about how HE was one of those people whose actions caused that for which he paid.

3) We listed on the board all of the "major" events we know about his life outside his actual ministry: He was born in Bethlehem; he lived there (in a house) until the wise men visited (probably about 18 months, give or take a few - but I emphasized that we don't know and only can estimate based on clues in the story); he moved to Egypt for a while (duration unknown); he was raised in Nazareth; he was in Jerusalem at the age of 12; he started his ministry at age 30; he died at age 33. I pointed out that the experience in the temple at age 12 is the only specific thing we know about his life from an early age until he turned 30.  There are huge gaps in our record of the actual life of Jesus, the "man" - the son of Mary and Joseph. 

4) We read John 15:13 ("Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."), and I pointed out that "laying down one's life" doesn't have to refer to dying. We talked about the fact that Jesus, of Nazareth, had a life of his own - and the only details we have of his life are AFTER he laid down his own life and started his "mission" life. I mentioned that we don't know one way or the other, but he might or might not have left a wife - and kids - and a career - and friends in order to serve others. He was a man, and he had a man's life - whatever that was in his case.

5) We talked about what his mission was - what he did and for whom he did it. We mentioned publicans, sinners, tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers - and I then back to the word "atonement" (at-one-ment) and talked about how that word can refer to more than just an individual's unity with God. We talked about the Intercessory Prayer, especially John 17:21, in which Jesus used the words "they", "we" and "us" - all plural forms - and prayed for collective unity like the unity he shared with his Father. We talked about the difference between "individual atonement" and "communal atonement" - and how Jesus' mortal ministry was focused on taking a broken society (one that was made up of distinct "parts") and working to make it united ("at one"). He served those who were cast off, ignored, marginalized, condemned, etc. - the outsiders. We talked about Zion and what keeps that from happening - that can be the accepted ones - the "in crowd" - the "faithful" who reject others and destroy unity, not just those they reject or who reject them.

6) We talked about how we can "apply the atonement in our own lives" - and I pointed out that we can't suffer FOR the sins, pains, afflictions, sicknesses, temptations, etc. of others, but we can suffer WITH others (for example, mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who stand in need of comfort) - especially those who are not supported by most people. I mentioned that I can't lay down my life in the same way Jesus did, since I have to continue to support my family, but we can give up some of our time and money and other resources to help others. I asked them to consider who the people are that they tend to avoid - who are considered "unclean" in our current society. I told them that if they want to apply the atonement in their own lives, they need to be willing to build Zion to whatever extent possible in order to take our own broken and fragmented society and help make it "at one" - to really love (through active service) those who constitute now what a friend of mine once called "Christ's kingdom of nobodies".

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