Note to the Teacher:
The scripture today is the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. While this passage includes references to the Trinity as well as the very prominent John 3:16 verse, our focus is on the idea of “identity.” The discussion and activities focus on Jesus’ experience of being labeled and finding our identity in Christ through similar experiences. Students are invited to reassess their own perceptions of Jesus.
Ice Breaker: Two Truths and a Lie
Each student and Leader writes down three “facts” about themselves, with one of those “facts” being false. Statements can be about hobbies, preferences, or experiences they’ve had. To set the tone, you may offer a few statements (included below) as examples and designate a leader to go first. The speaker always says two true statements and one false statement. Then, it is up to the others to determine which statement is false about the speaker. The group finds a consensus by voting on which statement is the false one, and the speaker reveals if the crowd is correct or not.
- I can speak another language
- I play harmonica
- I have been bungy jumping
- I have never broken a bone
- I won a drawing contest
- My relative is famous
- Math was/is my favorite school subject
- I can juggle
- I have never traveled outside this country
- I knit scarves
For large groups, leaders may want to use breakout rooms to allow enough time for each student to participate.
Were there any students or leaders who surprised you either with their “truths” or the things they made up? As others voted on your statements, how did it feel as they guessed correctly or incorrectly? In our scripture today, we meet Nicodemus, who believes some things about Jesus and is trying to discover more about Jesus’ teachings.
How does Nicodemus approach Jesus? What does his approach tell you about what Nicodemus thinks of Jesus? Nicodemus’s opinions might have been in the minority among the Pharisees (some of the priestly religious leaders at the time). What might Nicodemus have been risking by meeting Jesus and asking these questions, searching for truth?
Nicodemus puts several labels on Jesus (rabbi, teacher). Are there other labels or nicknames that you have heard used for Jesus? Why do you think there are so many labels? (Eventually, we want to get to an answer that has something to do with how we each experience different aspects of Jesus at different times, but allow youth to explore and wrestle with this question.)
The labels that Jesus puts on himself are interesting compared to the labels that Nicodemus puts on him. Assign the verses below to a student to look up and share, or provide them on pieces of paper to pass out and read:
- John 3:36 (bread of life)
- John 8:12 (Light of the world)
- John 10:11 (Good Shepherd)
- John 11:25 (Resurrection and Life)
- John 14: 6 (Way, truth, life)
- John 15:1 (true vine, Father is the gardener)
How do you think Jesus’ own labels and Nicodemus’s labels compare? How do you feel about your own identity versus the labels others place upon on you? Can you share a label you’ve been given before that didn’t feel like it fit you? For example, nerdy, lazy, quiet, teacher’s pet, bossy, etc.
Did Nicodemus’s labels for Jesus affect Nicodemus’s confusion around Jesus’ answers? How?
Say something like: Maybe Jesus loved giving answers that were not exactly clear cut. Maybe, by giving answers that required more thought and conversation, Jesus invites people into honest conversation and real relationships. We all know what it feels like to be misunderstood or mislabeled, and, believe it or not, many of us still have a tough time understanding all of who Jesus is. We should work to avoid mislabeling others and mislabeling Jesus. What would our faith start to look like if we were to take away the labels we place on Jesus, and instead listen and use the words Jesus used to describe himself? Could that create a different picture of Jesus that we try and follow?
Nicodemus was right to ask questions, and Jesus invites those questions and replies by challenging Nicodemus. Let’s explore how we can each challenge our assumptions about Jesus.
Arrange ahead of time for a visitor to join your meeting. Examples of people to recruit are:
- a popular teacher or coach in a local school
- a beloved previous Sunday school teacher
- a recent college grad the students miss
- Pastor or another leader in the church
If meeting in person: Either keep the masked visitor behind a screen, dress him/her up in a costume if you happen to have one easily accessible, or coordinate with the individual to call in virtually with the video off.
If meeting virtually: The visitor can be literally masked with a costume, use a virtual filter to disguise his/her appearance, or the visitor can keep the video off.
Students take turn asking yes or no questions to determine the visitor’s identity. (You may want to have two or more visitors in the wings just in case the first visitor’s identity is discovered quickly.)
Allow time for catch-up and visiting, especially if the guest is someone the participants do not get to see often.
- Give the visitor(s) time to describe the experience of being “masked.”
- Did any questions the visitor was asked stick out? Why?
- How did it feel when the group guessed quickly or was stumped?
- Would the visitor use the word freedom to describe the experience of being disguised? If not, what word would the visitor choose to describe the experience?
- Could you tell easily who the visitor was, or were you thrown off by an answer or feature of the guest?
- Once you knew the identity of our masked visitor, did that affect your opinions or expectations of the answers?
- Did you learn something new about any of the guests?
Say something like: Just as we had to search out the identity of each visitor, Nicodemus works to understand the totality of Jesus’ identity. Many times, we have assumptions made about us; likewise, we carry assumptions about other people. When those assumptions don’t match reality, it’s important to stop and reflect. Jesus was not exactly who Nicodemus thought he would be. We can find our assumptions about Jesus may not match the understandings that others carry about Jesus. Perhaps all our assumptions come up short of all that Jesus really is. Luckily, we have many ways (and one another) to learn more, discovering who Jesus can be for each of us.
Close your time together in a manner that is typical for you. Consider taking joys and concerns, then asking for a volunteer to close in prayer.
- Two or more volunteers to visit
- In-person: screen or costume to disguise visitors
- Virtual: costume or virtual filter