Labels: Jesus Replaces Rejection with Love (exploratory Bible study)
All of us live with labels. Some we wear proudly. Others haunt us with shame. In this 4-week series in Luke, we explore the burdens we carry and how Jesus looks under the surface of our lives and uncovers the person beneath the labels.
- Week 1: "Disappointment" becomes "Irreplaceable" (Luke 15:11–24)
- Week 2: "Overlooked" becomes "Celebrated" (Luke 15:25−32)
- Week 3: "Unlovable" becomes "Chosen" (Luke 19:1−10)
- Week 4: "Unwanted" becomes "Embraced" (Luke 23:32−43)
Each week includes:
- Discussion questions to go along with the story
- An application question
- A spiritual practice to try
”Disappointment” becomes “Irreplaceable” (Luke 15:11-24)
Religious leaders in Jesus’ time had strict rules about who was worthy of belonging in their community. Jesus tells this story to “stick it to them” and their rules.
Read Luke 15:11–24 and Discuss
- The younger son demands his inheritance while his dad is still alive. How does he view his dad?
- How does Jesus describe the misery of hitting rock bottom? You may not have hit rock bottom, but describe how you feel when you are in a low place.
- The son decides to go home, but he can’t imagine returning as a family member. He hopes he'll be accepted as a servant. How might he be treated as a servant?
- What do you like about how the father responds to his son?
- Jesus tells this story to describe how much God loves us. Where are you in the story?
- Far from God
- Hitting rock bottom and pondering returning
- Walking back toward God
- Home in God’s arms
Walking toward the Father is an intentional journey. Are you willing to put the time and energy into seeking God these next three weeks?
Coming home to the Father means becoming a follower of Jesus. What is one question you have for Jesus in order to figure out if he is trustworthy with your life? Bring this question back next week and tell us what happened.
Let’s practice experiencing God’s embrace and lavish love for us. Pick one of these emotions that you have experienced most this week. We are going to invite God’s love into our souls and feelings.
Anger | Loneliness | Numbness | Sadness | Anxiety | Other
Pray this prayer: Jesus, I have been feeling [emotion]. Would you please speak to me about this right now? Pause. Fill me with your love. Share with the group which emotion you picked and how you felt during prayer. This week, practice this prayer everyday: “Jesus, I give you my old labels. I embrace the new label of ‘Loved by God.’ Help me feel your love today.”
”Overlooked” becomes “Celebrated” (Luke 15:25-32)
Last week we talked about the younger son who turned his back on his dad, hit rock bottom, came back home, and shockingly was treated like family. The older son has a very different story from his younger brother. This son is a jaded workaholic. Will he embrace this label or exchange it for something better?
Read Luke 15:25−32 and Discuss
- How does the older son view his father? How does he view his brother’s return?
- Why does he refuse to join the party?
- How does he feel about working for his dad?
- Jesus ends his story with a cliff-hanger. Do you think the older son will join the party after this little chat? Why?
- The father was generous with the younger son in the first part of this story. Why does the older son see his father as stingy?
Many of us struggle with wanting to work for God like a servant. But God wants you to be his child, not working for him. God wants to throw his arms around you and hold you. What might be holding you back from experiencing God’s lavish love?
The older son hangs around his father’s estate but is not close to his father. He also does not want to be around his messy younger brother. The older son represents the religious leaders who judged Jesus for hanging around with “sinners.” The problem with religion is that it makes us like the older son, as we settle for rules instead of intimacy with our Heavenly Father. God’s love heals broken relationships just like the father tries to do in this story between his two estranged sons. Let’s do the same today. In prayer, let’s each bring our relationships to Jesus where we feel disappointment. This may include getting ghosted, feeling shamed, or being labeled by someone.
Pray this prayer: Jesus, show me which relationship needs your healing and compassion. Let your love flow through me to [person]. Show me one concrete way I can mend this relationship this week.
”Unlovable” becomes “Chosen” (Luke 19:1-10)
Highly religious Jews avoided associating with known “sinners” since they were considered unclean, like in this story. Zacchaeus betrayed his people by becoming a tax collector and skimming off the top and exploiting them. In turn, they labeled him “unclean,” “tax collector,” and “corrupt.” These religious Jews avoided associating with Zacchaeus, a known sinner. Jesus isn’t stopped by Zacchaeus’ behavior or his labels when he transforms this community.
Read Luke 19:1−10 and Discuss
- What do you like about Jesus in this story?
- What do you like about Zacchaeus? What does he have to overcome in order to follow Jesus?
- Jesus transforms the trajectory of Zacchaeus' life from greed to generosity. What would this day be like for the poor and oppressed in Jericho?
At the end of the story, Jesus honors Zacchaeus and reinstates him into the community. Labels are reversed. What is one label you wish Jesus would reverse in your life?
Jesus is good at seeking out people like Zacchaeus, like the father who runs to his son in Luke 15. Ask Jesus to seek after you.
Pray this prayer: Jesus, how do you see me? Pause for 20 seconds and see if you feel or hear anything from him.
”Unwanted” becomes “Embraced” (Luke 23:32-43)
In missional communities, seekers and skeptics all learn together from Jesus. At the end of his life, Jesus was accused of trying to become king. They sentenced him to die what was considered to be the most painful and brutal death: death on a cross. This is the story of those who died with him.
Read Luke 23:32−43 and Discuss
- What do you like about Jesus in this passage?
- Compare and contrast the attitudes of the two thieves who are dying.
- What do you admire about the second criminal?
Asking for help can be unpleasant. Think back on this week. Have you been more like the first man, looking down on others, or the second man, willing to ask others for help?
We have a choice. We can ask Jesus for help, or we can pretend we have it all together. What would it take for you to tell Jesus that you would like to be with him now and forever? Let’s take a few minutes together to discuss what it means to become a follower of Jesus.
Read and respond to this invitation to faith together.