Jesus in the Wilderness


Alright, this week we move into the New Testament. I know that it seems like a big jump to move not just to the New Testament, but to Jesus’ ministry. Remember that Church School is not the only place that the children are hearing stories from Scripture, so even though it seems like we are skipping some things, we hear the story of Christ’s birth in a stable, the visitation of the Magi, and Christ’s Baptism every year.

That said, you may want to do some brief framing before you move on to our story for today. Here’s some ideas on how to get to the New Testament and the ministry of Jesus.

  1. The youngest groups can hear the transition this way: “God’s people waited for a very long time for God to do something amazing. Something that would change their lives and the future. Ultimately, that amazing, life-changing thing was sending Jesus, God’s only Son, to be the Savior of the world, as a tiny baby.” This gets your class to Jesus–his birth, the magi, and his baptism–the stories that even these classes probably know well from Church this year.
  2. Middle classes (perhaps as young as the K/1st grade class, but certainly by the 2nd and third grade):  brainstorm all of the things you know about the time between the exile and the ministry of Jesus. Big things to cover: Babylonian captivity comes to an end. Cyrus of Persia allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. This is a complicated time because the exile has been so long (___ years). The people who were left behind have made things work in one way, and those who were in exile have learned to worship God in different ways. There’s some conflict between these two groups. Ultimately, the Jews come under Roman rule. Jesus is born. The Magi visit the Christ child and return home a different route to avoid sharing what they know of Jesus with Herod. Jesus grows up. He teaches in the temple. He is baptized. Your class may come up with some other things from the story. Great! But there are the ones that need to be covered.
  3. Our oldest group might like to do the brainstorming above and then read the account of Cyrus’ decree from Ezra 1 together:

Years ago the Lord sent Jeremiah with a message about a promise[a]for the people of Israel. Then in the first year that Cyrus was king of Persia,[b] the Lord kept his promise by having Cyrus send this official message to all parts of his kingdom: 2-3 I am King Cyrus of Persia. The Lord God of heaven, who is also the God of Israel, has made me the ruler of all nations on earth. And he has chosen me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. The Lord God will watch over and encourage any of his people who want to go back to Jerusalem and help build the temple. Everyone else must provide what is needed. They must give money, supplies, and animals, as well as gifts for rebuilding God’s temple. Many people felt that the Lord God wanted them to help rebuild his temple, and they made plans to go to Jerusalem. Among them were priests, Levites, and leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The others helped by giving silver articles, gold, personal possessions, cattle, and other valuable gifts, as well as offerings for the temple. King Cyrus gave back the things that Nebuchadnezzar[c] had taken from the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem and had put in the temple of his own gods. Cyrus placed Mithredath, his chief treasurer, in charge of these things. Mithredath counted them and gave a list to Sheshbazzar, the governor of Judah. 9-10 Included among them were: 30 large gold dishes; 1,000 large silver dishes; 29 other dishes;[d] 30 gold bowls; 410 silver bowls; and 1,000 other articles. 11 Altogether, there were 5,400 gold and silver dishes, bowls, and other articles. Sheshbazzar took them with him when he and the others returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia.


Once we arrive in the New Testament, we are ready to begin the stories of Jesus ministry. Jesus’ public ministry begins with his baptism. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus spends 40 days in the desert and satan’s temptations happen right at the end of this long fast. You can see why we are starting here. This story puts us right in the middle of the Lenten season.

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.

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.


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 as it is a common one. I like the telling in the Jesus Storybook Bible. 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 it seems 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? This could inspire some pretty intense debates!

(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 might look for photos of desert scenes to show  your students along with this activity.

(5.) Create a Desert Garden: Follow up by creating desert gardens to reflect on Jesus’ time in the wilderness. Small, shallow containers of sand (there is colored sand in the supply closets and regular sand in the sandbox outside. I am supposed to find out soon if our playground will be open again soon. I will let you know if it is.). Pour the sand into a small shallow container. Add rocks from the supply closet or items gathered from outside. Show students that they can pray by drawing pictures with their finger in the sand (oh! each of the rocks could have one of Jesus’ temptations from the story written on it!).

Close in Prayer


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