Jesus in the Desert

Jean Baptiste de Champaigne, 1680, The Louvre


In our lessons about Jesus’ baptism we noted that this was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This story, of Jesus time in the desert and satan’s temptations at the end of Jesus’ 40-day fast, happens right after his baptism. It is important because it clues us in to the nature of Jesus’ ministry.

In The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder argues that the Jesus’ temptations were temptations insofar as they attempted to provoke Jesus to be Savior, Messiah, and King on his own terms.  Demonstrations of power and might might bring Jesus the kind of acclaim that would lead people to see him as a kind of superhero. Jesus seems to know that the Father has something else in mind. The character of the Messiah is different than is expected.


We thus turn again to the question we have asked all along and especially since Advent: What does this story tell us about what kind of Savior Jesus is? What does this story tell us about God?

This story has a few challenges since it is often overly individualized. Our first tendency is to talk about sin, our temptations, our time in the wilderness, and following Scripture as Jesus does. While all of these things are important, this story is not about us in a primary sense, but about Jesus and his identity–in other words, who Jesus is for us and for the world.

Gather: Take a bit of time to check-in with your students this week. Ask them about school or how things are with family and friends. Some of your students may want to color or have snack while you are talking with them.


(1.) To tell the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.

(2.) To share one quality of Jesus as the savior.

Hear the Word

Read the story for today from Matthew or Luke (for older kids, you may want to read from both and ask them to compare accounts. You can also read the story from one of our children’s Bibles (I will put a couple out at the front of the commons room for your use on Sunday). To encourage active listening, ask your kids to listen for each of the three temptations in the passage. When your students hear each one they can raise their hand.

Respond to the Word

(1.) Retell the story/Act it out: Divide up the roles from the passage. One student can be Jesus, three students can play one of the temptations (one student/temptation), another can be the narrator. Remaining students can act as an audience that helps Jesus make the decision after each temptation. Once your class has acted out the story, they may wish to switch roles and act it out again. Have a conversation about why Jesus might have been tempted by each of Satan’s offers. If Jesus had made a different decision (succumbed to the temptation), what might have happened? Do you think it was good that Jesus resisted temptation? Or, do you think all would have been fine either way? Which temptation do you think was most difficult for Jesus to refuse? Which was easiest?

(2.) Stones and Bread: Cut out three oval shaped pieces of paper for each student (older kids will be able to cut their own). On one side, ask them to draw loaves of bread and on the other rocks. Satan first tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. Talk about how this might have been a difficult temptation because Jesus was very hungry after fasting for so long (make sure to define fasting for your students). Then, talk about how a lot of the people who knew Jesus were also hungry–not because they were fasting, but because food was limited. If Jesus had turned stones to bread, how might these people have responded? How do you think they would have treated Jesus? 

(3.) Superhero vs. Jesus Game: Provide your students with two Popsicle sticks or tongue depressors. Make a Jesus figure with one stick and a superhero stick with the other. Line your students up and ask them to respond to each question by raising Jesus or their superhero stick. Here are some suggestions for each question:

  • Leaps off tall buildings. but can’t get hurt (“Leaps tall buildings in a single bound”)
  • “More powerful than a locomotive”
  • “Faster than a speeding bullet”
  • Flies faster than a hawk
  • Shoots webs out of his wrists
  • Becomes rich and famous (even if only their superhero identities do)
  • Walks around in the desert for 40 days
  • Fasts and gets hungry and thirsty
  • Turns down food when he is hungry
  • Puts on a costume or uniform to rescue people
  • You may be able to think of more

Talk about how sometimes we think that Jesus is our superhero, but that Jesus is actually something much more, our Savior. First, Jesus is fully human and experienced all of the same temptations that we do. In fact, Jesus experienced the temptation to save the world on his own terms, but God had a different plan. Jesus didn’t do the same things as some of our superheros because God wanted Jesus to be the right kind of savior for all of us. You might want to ask your students what kind of Savior Jesus is? Is it better than having a superhero?

(4.) Imagine: Narrate the story with your students sharing what it might have been like to be in the desert for 40 days and nights. You might start like this: “Close your eyes with me and imagine that you have been in the desert for a long time. You are hungry and thirsty and there is no water in sight. What do you see? Now imagine that someone offered you food. Not just enough food for you, but enough for everyone you know…..” Go through each of the temptations. Ask you students to share what they see at each stop along the way. How might they have responded?

You may be able to think of more activities. If you have anything in mind, let me know and it might end up here!

Close in Prayer


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