Ethos Education

Gravity: Why did Jesus choose to sacrifice his life?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of what Christians believe about the identity of Jesus.
  • Consider key moments in the ministry of Jesus.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the difficulty of choosing between competing options.
  • Analyse the reasons behind an act of sacrifice by a character in a clip from the film Gravity. Analyse Bible passages to identify similarities and differences between Jesus, Peter and characters from the film.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a newspaper article about Jesus’ attitude towards his death.


Invite a volunteer to play a game of Hard Choices. Explain that you are going to give them a series of questions, each of which requires them to choose one of two options. Here are the questions:

  • Cinema or DVD?
  • One Direction or Tinie Tempah?
  • Maths or English?
  • Burger or pizza?
  • Downton Abbey or Doctor Who?
  • Sport or music?
  • Lose an arm or lose a leg?
  • I’m a Celebrity or Strictly?
  • RomCom or superhero film?
  • Warm and hungry or cold and full?
  • Save a baby’s life or save a pensioner’s life?

You could invite other members of the class to suggest questions of their own for the volunteer to answer.

Ask the volunteer which questions were the hardest to answer. Draw out that some of the questions weren’t that important – it doesn’t really matter if you eat burger or pizza, assuming that you like both – whereas others had more far-reaching consequences. In some cases people have to let something precious and valuable go in order to achieve something even more important.

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about the idea of deliberately making a sacrifice for a good reason, and in particular looking more about the sacrifice that Christians believe Jesus made in laying down his own life.


Introduce the clip from the film Gravity (Warner Bros, 2013, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that a team of NASA astronauts have been caught in a shower of space debris while working on machinery outside of their shuttle. There are only two survivors, experienced astronaut Matthew Kowalski (George Clooney) and scientist Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), who is making her first journey into space. In this scene the two astronauts are attempting to reach the nearby International Space Station. Stone is running out of oxygen while Kowalski’s jet pack (their only means of controlled travel) is running out of power. Ask the students to think about the decisions each astronaut has to make during the clip.

  • Start time: 0.27.00 (in chapter 3 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.36.04
  • Clip length: 9 minutes and 4 seconds

The clip starts with Kowalski towing Stone through space. The first line is Kowalski saying, ‘Well, I’ve got good news and bad news.’ The clip ends with Stone shutting the hatch having climbed through the airlock. If you want a shorter clip, you could stop at 0.33.37, after Kowalski says, ‘I’m afraid that ship already sailed.’

Please note that there is an instance of swearing in this clip. If you want to avoid the swearing, you could start the clip at 0.29.46 (first line: Stone says, ‘Gotcha’).

Ask the students why they think Kowalski released the clip tethering the two astronauts together. What other options were open to them at the time? Draw out that he had realised that if they remained tethered, they would both die; if separated he would die but Stone would have a chance of reaching the airlock before her oxygen ran out.

Now ask the students to read one or more of the following Bible passages: Matthew 16:21-28; Mark 8:31-9:1. Please note that these are parallel passages, both describing the same event.

Working in pairs or small groups, ask them to identify significant parallels between Jesus’ understanding of his forthcoming death, and Kowalski’s actions in the film clip. Ask them to also identify any significant differences between the two.

Draw out that while neither Jesus nor Kowalski actively wanted to die, both of them were willing to lay down their lives as the only way of saving others. The main difference is that Kowalski acted in response to a series of events that didn’t go the way he hoped, whereas Jesus’ sacrifice seems to be something that he has long known he would have to do. Also, Jesus knew that after his death, he would be raised to life, whereas Kowalski had no reason to expect his death not to be final.

Ask the students how they think Stone would have felt about what Kowalski did? Invite a number of responses, drawing out the mixture of gratitude, grief, and even guilt that people might experience in such a situation. Remind them of the way that she tried to stop him from detaching, and then wanted to use the shuttle to come and find him rather than going directly to the Chinese space station.

Ask the students to look back at the Bible passage and think about Peter’s reaction to what Jesus says about facing death in Jerusalem. In what ways do their earlier discussions about Stone’s reaction to Kowalski’s actions help them to understand Peter’s response here? Why does Peter try to talk Jesus out of his plan, and why does Jesus rebuke him so strongly for doing so? Draw out that Peter was focusing only on Jesus’ death and missing the bigger picture of what Jesus’ death was going to achieve. Whereas Kowalski’s sacrifice was to save one life, Jesus’ sacrifice was the central part of God’s plan to save and restore the whole world.


Ask the students to write a newspaper article telling the story of Jesus’ decision to go to his death. The article should focus on his awareness of what he was doing and his personal reaction to it. Students should refer to Bible passages used in the lesson as source material, and they can choose whether to set their account after Jesus’ crucifixion, after his resurrection, or before his trial and crucifixion. Regardless of when they choose to set their account, it should reflect their understanding of the respective significance of both Jesus’ death and his resurrection for Christians.


  • A copy of Gravity and the means to play it.
  • Bibles.

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