Writing a children’s sermon on Matthew 21:23-32 brings a particular challenge, even if it’s a familiar one. How to find a kid-friendly facet of the text to focus on?
There’s a parable in the second half of the passage. Usually I’d gravitate to that, especially since it includes two kids — though we don’t know their ages, and they don’t sound little. It’s the one about two sons, the first who says “NO!” but then does what he’s asked, and the second who says “YES!” but actually doesn’t do it.
If I focus on the parable out of context, as if it’s about any ordinary family, and the behavior of the kids, then it is going to sound moralistic. (Believe me, that parable has come to mind more than once in my own life as a parent…) I don’t like children’s sermons to be moralistic, telling kids “Be good. Be obedient.” It’s tiresome, and brings all kinds of risks and problems in less than happy families.
But if I focus on that parable in context it would likely strike some as anti-semitic. He’s speaking it against the Jewish authorities. I don’t want to go there. And honestly, the parable is deeply bound to the context.
The context of the story is an argument over Jesus’ authority. Do kids really care about that? Probably not.
Jesus’ first salvo is to put his interrogators in a pinch based on what they will say about John the Baptist’s authority—again, do kids really care?
But there is something in this story that is familiar from childhood. Kids with power, trying to boss around kids without power, or trying to get them in trouble. Let’s go with that.
You can tell me how you think it works in this children’s sermon on Matthew 21:23-32.
A Children’s Sermon on Matthew 21:23-32
Good morning, kids! I’m so happy to see you. I’m glad you are here in worship today, and I’m especially glad you came up to hear the children’s sermon.
In the Gospels there are lots of different kinds of stories.
Some are stories about Jesus healing people who were sick.
Some are stories about Jesus teaching groups of people.
Some are stories about Jesus spending time with his friends.
Today’s story is another kind of story. It’s a story of people trying to get Jesus in trouble.
Actually there are quite a few stories where people try to get Jesus in trouble.
Maybe you’ve been in situations like that. Sometimes bullies and mean kids try to get other kids in trouble—at least they did when I was a kid. Let’s see what Jesus did when some people were mean to him and tried to get him in trouble.
At the Temple
One day Jesus said to some of his friends, “Hey, let’s go to the Temple!”
Peter said, “Okay. But how come you want to go to the Temple?”
And Jesus said, “I want to teach the people about the Kingdom of God.”
So off they went.
When they got to the front door of the Temple, some big guys in fancy robes stepped out in front of them, their muscly arms crossed. “Not so fast, Jesus” said the biggest of the big guys, sticking his arm out to block Jesus. He actually pushed Jesus back down the steps! “What do you think you’re doing, coming into this Temple? We’ve heard all about you.”
“I’m here to teach the people about theKingdom of God,” said Jesus, stepping back up toward the door.
Questions About Authority
“Stop right there, Jesus,” said the biggest man. “Who gave you the authority to teach about the Kingdom of heaven?”
“Maybe you should come listen,” said Jesus. “Then you can decide for yourselves.”
And he took another step forward, between the two biggest men. But the two biggest men moved together and blocked Jesus from going in.
“Look Bub,” said the biggest man, “We’re in charge here. This is our territory, see? If you don’t answer our questions we’re not letting you in. Who gave you the authority to teach here?”
“I’m not going to answer your question,” said Jesus. “I’m going in, to teach.”
“But you have to answer our question,” said the big man.
“Okay,” said Jesus, “But only after you answer my question.”
“What? Wait!” said the big guy. “What question?”
By now quite a crowd was gathered to see what was going on between Jesus and the big guys. “You remember my cousin, John the Baptist,” said Jesus. “Well, he came and baptized lots of these people.”
The people in the crowd were nodding and smiling as they remembered John the Baptist.
“John was a prophet!” shouted someone, and a rumble of agreement went all through the crowd.
Someone else said “He baptized my whole family!”
“Okay, big guys,” said Jesus. “These people here remember John the Baptist. So tell me: Did John’s baptism come from God? Or did he just sort of make it up?”
Fearing the Crowd
There was a rumble through the crowd, sort of like “Oooohhh.”
Then there was an awkward silence. The two biggest guys whispered together for a moment. Then the biggest one said “We don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” asked Jesus. “You say you’re in charge of the temple, but you don’t know if John’s baptism was from God?”
“Well,” said the biggest guy quietly, like just to Jesus, “If we say he was from God, you’ll ask why we didn’t go get baptized.”
“Yeah. And if we say he made it up,” whispered the other big guy, “this crowd here will cause a riot.”
“So we decided we won’t answer,” said the biggest guy.
“Yeah,” said the other big guy. “So there.”
“Okay, then,” said Jesus, smiling. “Then I won’t tell you where my authority comes from either.”
Getting Into the Kingdom
Then, Jesus and his friends went into the temple to teach. They squeezed past the big guys, and lots of people from the crowd started to squeeze past too, to get good seats.
But Jesus turned back and called out to the big guys. “Hey, you know, you should come too. All these other people are going to get into the Kingdom of God ahead of you!”
Then Jesus and the disciples laughed, and he started teaching.
I wonder how those big guys felt when Jesus wouldn’t answer their question?
I wonder why Jesus hardly ever gave anyone a straight answer to their questions?
I wonder how the people in the crowd felt when Jesus taught them in the Temple?
You are, of course, free to use this children’s sermon, or adapt it as you find most useful. But, if you use it, please do one (or more!) of the following.
- You can let me know that you are using it, either in the comments below, or using the contact form above.
- You can put a little notice in your church bulletin that your children’s sermon is adapted from one published on GaryNealHansen.com.
- You can support my work over on Patreon. (Just $1 per month brings my children’s sermons straight to your inbox about two minutes after they go live. And every little bit keeps me going…)