Whether as an infant, adult, or in between, baptism is something that is practiced and viewed differently by some, but is always significant. Why should we bother with it, and what does it mean? Well, for one thing, Jesus was baptized at the start of His ministry, and His example sets a standard for us and for the symbol of what baptism represents. This lesson highlights that as well as the importance of being set apart by God.
Lesson focus: The baptism of Christ was a statement and preparation; our own baptism represents cleansing as well as that same statement of faith.
Passage: Matthew 3:1-17
Target Audience: Kindergarten-6th Grade (adaptable older or younger)
Materials Needed: Water, coffee filters, cone cups or papers, string, sponges or “miracle grow” creatures; coffee filters; wet wipes; messy items; water colors; paper plates.
Lesson Opening: Start off the lesson by getting a little messy. Have a bowl of something “icky” prepared: this could be shaving cream, whipped cream, pudding, dirt, Jell-O, noodles…whatever works. Hide something representing the lesson within the bowl. For younger audiences, this might be a simple toy or Bible verse…older students can use something more abstract, like a wrapped “Three Musketeers” bar for the Trinity in the story.
Have students dig around to find the items, and allow them to sit a minute with dirty hands. After a while, provide wet wipes and ask if those are sufficient to clean up all of the goop (probably not). They might need more. Explain that in today’s lesson we will talk about how to make ourselves clean on the inside. Water is not enough to do that!
What is baptism? Start by asking students what they know and understand about this sacrament, and why (or even if) they think it is important. Does baptism itself take away our sins? What does it mean? Ask students if they know that Jesus was baptized. We know that Jesus never sinned…why and how, then, was He baptized? Introduce the character of John the Baptist:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[a]
4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. -Matthew 3:1-6
Well, this is clearly a strange guy. Camel hair clothes? Eating bugs and honey? Many people thought he was a little out there, but John had followers and disciples of His own. In fact, some people asked if He was the Savior, but he emphasized that his job was to point to Jesus:
“I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” -Matthew 3:11-12
John was about the same age as Jesus, and in fact a cousin (remind children of Mary visiting Elizabeth when she first learned of pregnancy, if appropriate). But he knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah to take away the sin of the world. When Jesus came to John, he hesitated at first, but Jesus insisted:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Emphasize what is going on here: What is the trinity? Remind children of the three parts, and point out that all of them are present here (Jesus the son, God the Father, and Holy Spirit).
Discuss again why we baptize: now that Christ has come, our baptism symbolizes dying to sin and coming again to life with Jesus. We remember how He died and rose again for us. In John’s day, people were baptized to show that they were genuinely sorry for wrong doing and that they wanted to change their lives. Now, obviously Jesus was not sinful. But He sets an example for us here…
Provide a further illustration: have a piece of paper with a writing or drawing in white crayon. This should be invisible to the naked eye of kids…take some water color and paint over the paper, watching as the crayon becomes noticeable. Now, point out that the crayon was always there. The water did not make it there, but revealed what it was. Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. In being baptized, He pleased God the father and publicly declared who He was, revealing that special nature and preparing Him for His ministry. It allowed communion with the Holy Spirit and symbolized His being. Our baptism symbolizes our communion with God, commitment to Him, and internal cleansing through God’s grace.
Dangling Dove…help students cut paper plates in the shape of bird bodies (or have them cut ahead of time for younger audiences). Add color and decoration, if desired. Put a slit and hole punch in the bird and slide coffee filter “wings” in the center and a ribbon to hang the birds. Remind students of the Holy Spirit appearing as a dove in the story. Add a caption for the craft with the verse (Matthew 3:17).
Close with prayer and reminder of God’s work in our lives. Thank God for the cleansing of the Holy Spirit and ask for help as we walk in His ways.