Here is a free lesson to use for youth ministry for the first Sunday of Lent. Technically speaking, Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter. It begins with Ash Wednesday, and leads up to Holy Week. On Ash Wednesday, many churches will have services, during which ashes are placed on congregants’ foreheads or hands in the shape of a cross. In the following days, many people will give up something for Lent, a practice that is known as fasting. There are many different things people may “fast” from, including food, social media, television, sugar, etc. Holy Week is the period of time in which people remember (and sometimes re-enact) the passion, which is the series of events that led up to the crucifixion of Christ.
Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
Luke 9:18–24 ESV
Heal the sick in it and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.”
Luke 10:9–11 ESV
This week we join the trail of Jesus as he turns toward Jerusalem, the cross, and the rolled away stone. This week of Ash Wednesday, we hear our Creator’s words, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19) and mark this moment of repentance and remembrance as our trailhead. Listen alongside the disciples, first to his question and then to his invitation to journey.
First, hear his question: Who do you say that I am? Speak it softly so that your own ears can hear it. Before we leap into our own responses, hear his question. Jesus asks this question not as a classroom teacher or football coach; he asks in a spirit and posture of prayer. Jesus and the disciples are coming to this conversation in prayer, a prayer that prompts the question of how they understand his identity. If you’re anything like me, I tend to listen to people with more than my ears. When we listen to Jesus, we hear better when we join him in his Spirit and posture; then, our response may be one of revelation rather than reaction. (Pause here and imagine with me the sounds of prayer, the smells of the disciples, the sight of a praying Jesus.) Now, hear it again, Who do you say that I am?
Second, hear his invitation to journey: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. The invitation is in the if. It does our ears and hearts good to place ourselves in the spirit and posture of this invitation. Jesus, our true trailblazer, has been rightly named as the Christ of God, and he calls us to join his journey. He has humbled himself by offering it and been fully transparent about what it will cost him, and what it will cost us.
Lastly, join the journey with the disciples hearing the reality of the kingdom in each of our challenges and circumstances from Jesus, “Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.” Listening to him here at the trail’s beginning, sure of nearness of the kingdom, we are ready for our first habit: worship.
Perhaps the most revolutionary of self-denying habits, worship is the natural outcome of proclaiming Jesus as the Christ of God. Worship requires a few things from us. It requires time, an obvious but overlooked act of self-denial; you are literally giving moments of your life fully to God. It requires humility, by naming clearly that you are not the Lord of your life. It requires transparency, that you have a need both to hear a proclamation of forgiveness while openly proclaiming the triune God as the one who forgives.
Hear from Jesus the invitation: to deny self, carry our cross, and follow-ship. This is your invitation to Lent and life. We are designed and invited to hear from the Lord. The denial of self in worshiping Jesus is not a loss of identity, but claiming the only full and true identity available to us. We are sinners. We are sons and daughters of God. We are saints. This will be our prayer through our journey, marking each day with identity in Jesus.
- Join your Ash Wednesday service as a worshiping act of confession, self-denial, and willing reorientation to the kingdom. Take a picture and post it online with #ListentoHim to mark how you are beginning the journey.
- Set an alarm on your phone or calendar for the remainder of the week, with the simple note attached: Who do you say I am? —Jesus
- Hear this question from Jesus as an encouragement to worship him as the Christ of God. Let it reorient your ears to listen to him, and your eyes to see his glory and the nearness of his kingdom.
- Then, pray our sinner-to-saint prayer of identity:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a son/daughter.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a saint.
If you enjoyed this lesson, you can get the rest of them as part of the church-wide kit Listen to Him. Included in the kit are: 1) 40-Day Daily Devotional book 2) Six video sessions, delivered via DVD and streaming 3) Sunday Sermon Outlines, delivered digitally (will deliver week of 1/21) 4) Small Group Discussion Guide, delivered digitally 5) Children’s Teaching Plans, delivered digitally 6) Youth Teaching Plans, delivered digitally. Get it from our store here.