Music Discussions


Main Point: No matter what you’ve done, or who you’ve hurt, you can find redemption through Christ.

The Music Video: Hurt
The music video for Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt was filmed in February of 2003, only seven months before the music legend’s death. It centers on the decaying and closed House of Cash Museum in Nashville. The gripping video features the late Johnny Cash singing amidst imagery of decaying fruit and flowers, interspersed with a montage of clips of Cash in his early days, and an appearance from his late wife June Carter Cash.

Since Cash’s death, the video has become widely recognized as his “epitaph.” The video won a host of awards, such as CMT’s video of the year (2003), a Grammy in 2004, and was rated the #1 on CMT’s 100 Greatest Music Videos (2004). The video continues to be recognized today: Rolling Stone voted it 15th on its Best Songs of the Decade list and in 2010, Myspace rated it the 5th Most Influential Music Video of All Time. Finally, in July of 2011, Time Magazine placed the video in their Top 30 Music Videos of All Time.

Introducing the Song:
How many of you have heard of Johnny Cash, or ever heard any of his music?

Johnny Cash was definitely before your time, but I’ll bet that most of you have still heard some of his music, even if you don’t realize it’s his. Johnny Cash was a superstar of music in his day, far more popular than most current musicians you can think of.

Today, I want to show you a music video that Johnny Cash made in 2003, only seven months before his death. I know that we normally focus on more recent artists, and more recent music, but I wanted to show you this video because it’s a very powerful message that still speaks today. As recently as June of 2011, Time Magazine rated it as one of the 30 Best Music Videos of All Time.

Before we watch the video though, you have to understand a little bit about Johnny Cash’s life. He was brought up in the Christian faith, and even started his career in music with the intention of singing Gospel music. As Cash began to gain popularity though, he began to slip into a reckless lifestyle. He became heavily involved in drug use, he slept around with countless women, he drank heavily, and he was arrested not once, not twice, but SEVEN times! His adultery and drug use was so bad that it caused his first wife to divorce him.

Cash eventually became so desperate that he actually attempted to kill himself in 1968; before he could succeed though, he said he suddenly felt God’s presence with Him. Shortly thereafter, Cash rediscovered the Christian faith and decided to give his life to Christ. Though, he would continue to struggle with drug use on and off throughout his life, His life was clearly different.

The song is entitled “Hurt” and was not actually written by Johnny Cash but by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. The video was created in 2003, shortly before Cash died. It is basically Johnny Cash looking back on his life and reflecting on what his life has meant. There will be clips throughout the video of Cash in his younger days. You will also see a woman throughout the video. The woman is his second wife, June Carter Cash.

Let’s watch the video together and see what Johnny has to say about his life

Play the Video:
The video can be viewed here:

The video does contain one clip of Johnny Cash saying “You stay the hell away from me.” This is pretty tame compared to what most of your students hear regularly at their schools, on TV, etc. However, as always, you should use your own judgment in what to show your group. If you are not comfortable showing the video to your group with that clip, you can use this version that I edited. It is exactly the same as the other except that I cut out that one clip. That video can be found here:

Song Lyrics:

I hurt myself today
to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
the only thing that’s real
the needle tears a hole
the old familiar sting
try to kill it all away
but I remember everything

what have I become?
my sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end
and you could have it all
my empire of dirt

I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
upon my liar’s chair
full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
beneath the stains of time
the feelings disappear
you are someone else
I am still right here

what have I become?
my sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end
and you could have it all
my empire of dirt

I will let you down
I will make you hurt

if I could start again
a million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

Transitional Statement:
You can always tell what’s most important to a person by how they spend the closing chapters of their lives. It’s almost as if they understand they’ve only got a little while left and they know they need to make every second count. According to that song, Johnny Cash spent the closing years of his life reflecting on the hurt he’d caused himself and others. But he also knew how he would get through the self-inflicted damage: Jesus Christ. Let’s spend some time talking about that for ourselves.

Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s split into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come together for a final word.

CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.

Discussion Questions

  1. AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we get started, let’s all take a second to share our names and who we think the most famous dead person in history is.

  2. ASK A FEW: What are some of the messages you saw in Johnny Cash’s video?

  3. ASK A FEW: From looking at the lyrics and watching the video, how do you think Johnny Cash feels as he looks back at his life?

  4. ASK A FEW: Does it seem like he has any regrets? Why or why not?

  5. ASK A FEW: Cash makes it clear that his sin has caused hurt. In the video, who all does he say his sin has hurt? (Leaders – He says his sin has hurt himself, his wife (sweetest friend), everyone he knows, and even Jesus.)

  6. ASK A FEW: Why do you think the video showed clips of Jesus being nailed on the cross? (Leaders – Some possible answers include Cash realizing his sin not only hurt other people but Christ himself or Jesus was crucified and died for Cash (and our) sin and hurt.)

  7. Read the following passage from the Bible:

    NOTE: You may want to say this to your students: This passage was written from Paul to Timothy. At the time this letter was written, Paul was most likely sitting in a Roman prison awaiting his execution. Paul had been arrested and thrown in prison for his faith in Christ. As he wrote this letter, he knew that he was about to die.

      2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NIV)
      6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

  8. ASK A FEW: What does Paul seem to think about his life as he looks back on it?

  9. ASK A FEW: How is Paul’s attitude similar or different from Johnny Cash’s?

  10. ASK A FEW: Do any of these verses remind you of anything we saw in the video? (Leaders – In verse 6, Paul refers to his life as being like a drink offering. This verse is very reminiscent of the shot in the video where Cash pours out a glass of wine onto the table. You may explain that a drink offering was wine that was poured out onto an altar as a sacrifice to God, i.e. Paul viewed his life as an offering to God.)

  11. ASK A FEW: Do you think this means Paul didn’t have any regrets about things he had done in his life? (Leaders – Some of your students may already know a lot about Paul and his former life as Saul and understand this question immediately. If they say no to this question, you may give them a quick overview of Paul’s life as a persecutor of Christians before he knew Christ. You could direct them to verses like Acts 7:60, Acts 9:1-2.)

  12. ASK A FEW: Given what we know about some of the horrible things Paul did, how is it he can seem so confident about how he lived his life? How can he say that he has “fought the good fight” and that God is going to reward him?

  13. Say:
    Let’s look at one more passage, also written by Paul, that may help clear this issue up for us.

    Read the following passage from the Bible:

      1 Timothy 1:12-16 (NIV)
      I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
      15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

  14. ASK A FEW: Who does Paul say he was before knowing Christ? (Leaders – He says he was a blasphemer, persecutor, violent man, ignorant, unbelieving, the worst of sinners. Pretty wicked!)

  15. ASK A FEW: According to these verses, why can Paul look back and be confident about his life and his eternal destiny? Is it because of anything he has done? (Leaders – No, he says that it was because of the grace shown to him through Christ.)

  16. AROUND THE CIRCLE: If you knew you were going to die in one week, what would you think about your life?

Wrap Up:
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Wow! Everybody has regrets and failures in life…including me.” And you’re right. In fact, that’s what we wanted you to be focused on tonight: the fact that you have sinned, just like Johnny Cash, just like Paul, just like me, just like everybody else on the planet.

If we just read the first passage from Paul (about his confidence), without reading this second one (about his sin), we might be tempted to think of Paul as some spiritual giant that we could never live up to. We might think he’s this guy who preached all the time and never did anything wrong. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. Paul said he was “the worst of sinners.” Yet, he found grace and forgiveness through Christ.

A lot of times students run from a relationship with God because they think they have messed up so bad or they have done so many things wrong, that God could never forgive them. Or maybe other people have made fun of them to the point they start to believe that God could never love them, or want to have a relationship with them.

The message we see in the life of Paul is that this is not the case! Paul says, “Have you killed anyone? Have you tortured anyone, specifically because they believed in Jesus? Then you haven’t messed up worse than me, and still God showed me grace through the cross of Christ!”

So no matter how many times, you’ve messed up or what you’ve done, Jesus died on a cross, so that you could be forgiven of those things.

We saw a similar message in the video. Johnny Cash said he was a drug addict, an alcoholic, that he hurt himself, God, and everyone around him. Yet at the end we see clips of Christ being nailed to a cross for Johnny Cash. Jesus died to take the pain, the punishment, the “hurt” for his sins. And because Johnny had faith in Christ, he found redemption.

The message is the same for us today. No matter how bad you think you’ve messed up, it isn’t beyond God’s healing work. Jesus was crucified on a cross for you. He died so that if you put your faith in Him, you can find redemption, healing, and forgiveness for all the hurt you’ve caused.

If you’d like to receive that forgiveness and restoration, ask Jesus to forgive you and promise to follow Him for the rest of your days. Then…let’s talk about that decision one-on-one.

Close in Prayer

Written by Brandon McCarroll


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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