Note to the Teacher
The scripture we read is from the Gospel of Matthew, and it tells the story of Jesus’ baptism. The opening activity has students playing a fun water game and talking about their craziest water experiences. The discussion encourages students to understand the significance of Jesus’ baptism. The activity and discussion has students revisiting the story from some unusual perspectives and then looking over the baptismal vows of The United Methodist Church. Times are based on a fifty-minute lesson period but may be adjusted.
1. Ice Breaker: 'The Great Water Challenge' (10 minutes)
Start by filling up a cup full of water (as full as you can get it). Then have another cup half full of water. invite students to come forward one at a time to tell one quick water story. The story can be anything involving water; or invite students to say to say whether they prefer the ocean, lake, or river. After students have told their stories, they must put one drop of water in the already full cup. Have students continue doing this until someone makes the cup overflow.
Note: You may want to try this before you share it with your group just to know how much water to use in each cup.
2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)
Our scripture reading today is the story of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. While we read the scripture, try to put yourself in the scene and imagine what is happening when Jesus comes up out of the water.
Read Matthew 3:13-17.
3. Discussion (15 minutes)
- At the beginning of this passage, what was John doing?
- Does the text tell us why Jesus was being baptized by John and not the other way around?
- How did John react to Jesus wanting to be baptized by him?
- What happened after Jesus was baptized?
- How would you have reacted if you were there to witness Jesus’ baptism?
- How do you think it made John feel to baptize Jesus? How do you think Jesus felt?
- Can you tell us the story of a baptism you witnessed? How does our church do baptisms?
- How would you explain baptism to someone who has never seen or experienced it before?
- What does it mean to be baptized? What does it mean to you?
- Why is it important to be baptized today? (If you aren’t clear on the United Methodist teaching about baptism, review this resource ahead of time.)
- Note: Take a few minutes at the end of your discussion time to allow your students to ask questions about baptism. If you’re able, invite a pastor to join you during this time. If not, you may want to write the questions down and give them to a pastor to answer and bring back to the class the next time you meet.
4. Activity and Discussion: 'Who/What/Where/Why/When' (20 minutes)
Explain to your students that today you are going to read back through the story; however, this time you’re going to take on the persona of a character from the story—not just John and Jesus, but other such things such as the river, the dove, or the heavens opening. Re-read the story and then talk about the who, what, where, why, and when.
For example, if you chose the dove (who) coming from the heavens (where), flying down toward Jesus (what), right after Jesus comes up out of the water (when) as a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence (why). Be creative with this activity and allow your students to grapple with this activity. It might help to hand out paper and pens to allow students to write down what they are experiencing.
Take a few minutes to read the baptismal vows of The United Methodist Church with your group.
- What stood out to you the most after hearing these vows? Does our church include or add to these vows during our services of baptism?
- What didn’t make sense or was confusing? What would you like to learn more about from our pastor?
- How would you sum up, in your own words, these baptismal vows?
- If you were to rewrite these vows for a younger generation to better understand, how would you do that?
- Close your discussion by going back over the vows and asking students what they think about each part.
Wrap up your lesson by reminding students that baptism is an outward sign of an inward change. Jesus’ baptism was a symbol of what the work of a disciple would be all about— to take up their cross and follow him.
Close your time together in a manner that is typical for you. Consider taking joys and concerns, then asking for a volunteer to close in prayer.
Total time: 50 minutes
- Pen or pencil
- White paper
- Plastic cups
- Jug of water