Suggested Emphasis: We should 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:
(From Matthew 3:4) 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.
Another special thing about John was that he was the cousin of Jesus. They were born only a few months apart.
When he grew up John lived 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. .This was a job that was planned by God many, many years before.
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.
To repent means being very sorry for the bad thing or things you have been doing. But repentance is more than saying you are sorry.
To repent means to be sorry and then to also stop doing the bad thing. But repentance does not just mean being sorry and then to stop doing the bad thing.
Repentance also means to be sorry, stop doing the bad thing AND THEN to change your life and start doing good things instead.
To repent means to change both your heart AND your actions.
Many people came to hear John preach. Some of them wanted to change their hearts and their actions and some did not. Some asked John what they should do.
John told some that changing their hearts meant that 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 the people who were listening that they needed to be baptised in the Jordan River to show 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 soft and good.
Many people were baptised when John preached. That is why he is called “John the Baptist”.
All of the Jewish people knew that a Messiah would come some day to save the people. John the Baptist was a great preacher. Was John the Baptist the Messiah?
No! John the Baptist was just the one who was getting everyone ready to listen to the Messiah. JESUS was coming. JESUS was the Messiah who would save his people.
Ways to Tell the Story:
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.
Click here to download the slideshow or click here to download the pictures to print. Be selective. Each teacher is unique so only use the illustrations that best relate to the way YOU are telling the story in THIS lesson. Too many illustrations can be confusing so eliminate any that cover other stories or details you do not wish to emphasise in this lesson.
- 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.
- I Can Be a Missionary Song
- I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Song
- Refer to the Song Page on this website for more options.
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!!
- Explain that our behaviour is a reflection of what is in our hearts. Repenting means changing our behaviour. For this activity individuals or pairs prepare and then act out a bad behaviour (like throwing a fit or stealing something). When the group calls out “REPENT” the actors will change their behaviour and act out how to good.
- 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 (Calvary Curriculum)
- Colouring pages and worksheets about John the Baptist at the end of his life (Calvary Curriculum)
- 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