Scripture Reference: Luke 3:2-18
Suggested Emphasis: Have soft and repentant hearts so that we can learn about God
John the Baptist was a fiery preacher who preached a convicting message of repentance. He boldly proclaimed God’s message to both the common man and the hypocritical Pharisees of his day. John fulfilled prophecy by preparing the way for the Messiah. If John convicted them to repent then they would truly be ready to hear the coming Messiah. He did this by preparing the hearts of men and softening them through repentance.
About 17 years have passed since Jesus visited the temple at the age of twelve. John the Baptist is now about 30 and his cousin, Jesus, is probably 6 months younger. John was living in the desert country where he had grown up (Luke 1:80). John’s clothing was rough and durable, and his food was what he could find in the desert (Matthew 3:4). Roasted locusts are said to be very nutritious and not so bad to the taste (?!), especially when dipped in honey. Wild bees stored honey in crevices of wilderness cliffs. Since his parents were old when he was born, they were probably dead by the time he began preaching.
The Jordan River runs through desert for the last few miles before it reaches the Dead Sea. This is where John began to preach (Matthew 3:1). Later he preached in other parts of the country around the Jordan (John 3:23). John was telling people to repent of their sins and be baptised as a sign of that repentance. That was the way to get ready for the new king of the Jews – the Messiah. John was the voice crying in the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3-5). He prepared the way of the Lord (Luke 3:4). In doing this, John fulfilled the prophecy.
John said that repentance involved changing one’s actions. Just saying you are sorry is not repentance. One’s actions show what is in the heart. It is not true repentance until it shows. This is the kind of heart that we should all strive to have.
John seems to be preaching to a Jewish audience. He tells the Jews not to take their salvation for granted just because their parents were Jews. They had to obey God from the heart.
John told people not to be selfish. He told the tax collectors to be honest and to stop stealing from the people. He told the soldiers to be honest and not to mistreat people.
Some people thought John was the Messiah that had been promised long ago (Isaiah 9:6-7). John made it very clear that he was not the Messiah. He was only an announcer to tell the people that the king was coming (John 1:19-23).
The baptism that John practiced was different than the baptism that was practiced after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. John said that he baptised with water but the Messiah would baptise with the Holy Spirit. John’s listeners did not understand all of this. Years later, when Jesus was about to ascend to heaven, he told his apostles that they would soon be baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). In Acts 2 we read that Jesus did pour out the Holy Spirit onto mankind in general and specifically into the hearts of those who were baptised.
Although not covered in today’s lesson, we know that John was beheaded when he bravely preached his message of repentance to King Herod (Mark 6:14-29).
- What happened before this story?
- What happens after this story?
- List of all Bible stories and themes on this website.
Way to Introduce the Story:
Help the children to make honey and butter sandwiches. Talk about how good the honey tastes. Also discuss how honey is made and the fact that people used to find nests of bees in trees and other places. They could eat the honey from those natural hives. “Today we are going to learn about someone in the bible who used to eat honey. We first heard about this man when he was just a baby. His parents were very old and they were so happy to have a little baby. Do you remember who that was? (John) When John grew up he went to live in the wilderness. While he was there he ate wild honey and . . . locusts!” How many of you wish you could eat some locusts on your sandwich?”
Ever since John was a baby his parents knew that he would be special. Just the fact that he was born was a miracle. It was a miracle because his parents were very old when he was born – way too old to have a baby. Only God could make that happen.
John grew up in the desert. There is not much food in the desert. John had to learn to eat all kinds of unusual things. He found some wild bees and was able to eat some of the honey from the honeycomb. He also ate something else that was unusual. John ate bugs! Sometimes people back then would eat locusts. In some places today, people still eat locusts.
John also wore unusual clothes. He wore animal skins instead of regular clothing.
John was a good man. He obeyed God and always tried to do the right thing. God gave John a special job. John’s job was to get people ready for Jesus to start preaching.
What kind of things do you think he needed to do to get the people ready? John did not build a church building or hand out invitations to hear Jesus preach. John knew that Jesus would want people to have good hearts. So John taught people how to have soft hearts. If a person has a “hard heart” that means that their heart will never change. If they have a “soft heart” they will let God change their heart into the kind of heart that he wants. John knew that the people needed to have soft hearts so they would be ready to hear Jesus preach.
John did not preach at the temple or in a church building. John would go down to the Jordan River and begin to preach by the water. Soon crowds of people gathered around John and listened to his message. When John talked about soft hearts there was one word he used to say a lot. That word was “repent”. John told all the people they needed to repent. Repent means to be very sorry for what you are doing wrong and then to stop doing it. It also means to begin doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing. Just saying you are sorry is not repentance. Repentance means being sorry and then stopping the bad thing and changing.
John told the people they must stop being selfish. They must repent and start sharing the way God wanted them to.
He told the tax collectors that they had to stop cheating people. They must repent and start being fair like God wanted them to.
He told the soldiers that they needed to stop blaming people when things were not their fault. The soldiers must repent and stop complaining about people.
Then John told everyone that they needed to be baptised in the Jordan River to show everyone that they really meant what they said. The baptism would mean that they repented of the things they were doing wrong. It would show that their hearts were sort and good.
Many people listened to John and repented of their sins. Lots of people were baptised in the Jordan River.
This story can be told using a variety of methods. Always remain true to the facts found in the Bible but help children connect to its meaning by using drama, visual aids, voice inflection, student interaction and/or emotion.
Click here for visual aids and story-telling methods.
A slideshow and set of illustrations can be downloaded downloaded directly from http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/gnpi-012-john-baptist/.
- What kind of food did John the Baptist eat in the wilderness? Wild honey and locusts
- What was the important message that John the Baptist preached? Repentance
- What does “repent” mean? It means to be very sorry for the wrong thing you are doing and then to stop doing it. It also means to begin doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing.
Learning Activities and Crafts:
- Make honey sandwiches. To discuss John the Baptist, you might want to put candy “bugs” (like gummy grasshoppers) inside the sandwich. That will be a fun surprise. You could also use plastic locusts (bugs) but be sure no one actually swallows one!!
- Divide the class into two teams. One team can act out a bad behaviour. (You might want to write some behaviours cards and let the children draw the cards this will help you control the situation) The other team can act out the behaviour after repentance. Switch off teams.
- Do as above except tell the team to act out the bad behaviour and then change their acting when someone holds up a sign that says “repent.”
- Make any craft using a heart shape (paint, dough, sewing, paper cut-outs, etc.) Soft heart-shaped cookies would be yummy.
- Discuss things that you used to do and that you have now repented of. Obviously, this should be age appropriate for the children in your class. Talk about your sorrow and consequences of the sin and compare that to the joy and consequences after repentance.
- Use salt dough (or any clay) to make hearts. Before class bake some of the hearts to show what a “hard heart” is like. Let the children mold and shape hearts out of the rest of the dough. They might add red Tempera paint for colour. Talk about how soft the hearts are and how they can be easily changed. Compare their hearts to the hard, baked hearts. God wants us to have soft hearts so he can change them to the way they should be.
- Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that are adaptable to any lesson.
Other Online Resources:
- Colouring pages and worksheets about John the Baptist from calvarycurriculum.org
- Colouring pages and worksheets about John the Baptist at the end of his life from calvarycurriculum.org
- Craft: Doorknob hanger from sundayschoolcrafts.ner
- Craft: Make a heart stamp from an empty toilet paper roll from rustsunshine.blogspot.co.nz
- Online activities and games from gardentofpraise.com