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How Did the River Feel? (Baptism of Jesus 1)

July 7, 2010

Subsequent lessons on Jesus’ Baptism will address the themes of baptism (one of which is already posted here).  This lesson introduces a technique for Bible study that emphasizes imaginative engagement with a story in order to gain deep and personal insights into the Word of God as expressed in the story.  The technique is not, by any means, my own invention.  It has a long history that reaches into many different strands of the Christian tradition and has served countless people well in their journeys.  It also nicely connects to the themes of Epiphany.

Things to know about this lesson:

  • It is a very simple lesson which you may need after the rush of Christmas.

How Did the River Feel? (Baptism of Jesus 1)

Open with prayer (see tip sheet)

Introduce the Story

Christmas is over.  Does anyone know what we call this time of year in the church calendar?

It’s called Epiphany.  Epiphany is from a Greek word that means to shine a light on something – to make something visible or known.  So the season of epiphany is when we think about the ways that Jesus is made known to us – the ways in which we can see Jesus and know that he is God’s Son.

The Bible is an important way in which we see Jesus.  For thousands of years, people have been learning about Jesus and getting to know him by reading the Bible.  One way they have found to be helpful is to use their imaginations to really get into a story – to be able to see the sights, smell the smells, hear the sounds, and feel the feelings. We’re going to practice this today while we read about Jesus’ baptism.  Listen carefully and really use your imagination.

Read the Story

John the Baptizer (or Baptist) was a prophet who lived at the same time as Jesus. He travelled around, telling people that they needed to change their lives – to stop sinning and to start living the way God wanted them to. He also told people that God’s chosen one was coming soon – the one who would change the world and bring all the people who follow God’s ways into the perfect world of God

One of the things John did was baptize people in a river called the Jordan River. Being baptized was a way of showing that you were going to change your life. The person who went under the water was not the same as the person who came out of the water – their sins were forgiven and they tried not to sin anymore.

One day, when John was busy baptizing people in the Jordan River, Jesus came to him and asked to be baptized, too. John knew that Jesus was special. He said, “I shouldn’t be the one baptizing you! I need you to baptize me”. Jesus knew it was necessary, though, and he said, “No, at this time, you must baptize me.”

John eventually agreed and he went with Jesus into the river. John put his hands on Jesus’ head and pushed him down into the cold water. When Jesus came back up, he saw the heavens open up and the Spirit of God flew down like a dove and sat on him. A Voice from heaven said “This is my beloved Son. I am very pleased with him.”

(Matthew 3:13-17)


What was John doing?  Why was he doing it?

Where was John baptizing people?

How did it feel to be in the river?  To be baptized?

What did John do when Jesus came to him?  How do you think he felt?

What happened after Jesus was baptized?

How do you think that made Jesus feel?

The two main characters in the story are Jesus and John but there were other characters, too.  Who else was there?  What about non-people?  (make sure the river, the dove, and God are mentioned).

We’re going to read the story again.  This time, I want you to think about those characters – everyone and everything except John and Jesus.

Read the Story Again

Introduce the Activity

What did the River Jordan/Dove/God/riverbank/bystander see?  Hear?  Feel? Think?

Recap how Jesus and John felt, if necessary.

Assign roles, including the non-person roles.  Students can take on more than one role at a time.

Now we are going to act out the story.  I will read it and, when your character is mentioned, you act out what they are feeling or thinking.  You can make noises, too.

Entering Into the Story

Read the story and help the students interject as appropriate.  They may need help with what exactly they should do.  You/they may also want to repeat the activity after they have settled on their acting strategy or in order to allow them to play different roles.


Ask the students which role they liked playing best (if they played multiple roles).  Or ask them which character they liked best.  Why?

Closing Prayer

Dear God, thank you for showing us Jesus in the stories in the Bible and for giving us imaginations to help us get to know him better.  Amen.

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