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(WT) Jesus and Zaccheus Bible Skills and Games Workshop Lesson Writing Team

Jesus and Zaccheus

"Challenge to Change" Bible Games Workshop

Summary of Activities

Students will play two games to learn about and reflect on the unconditional love of Jesus that Zaccheus' story illustrates and consider ways to display that love to others.

Game 1: The "Seeking Jesus" Challenge – a story-themed race with obstacles.
Game 2: “Sharing the Surprising News” – pass messages about the story and be more like Jesus.

The outline of this lesson uses a unique learning progression: Discover the love of Jesus, Develop a passion for the Word, and Display his love to others.  Learn more about the "3D's" in the endnotes.

Scripture for the Lesson

Luke 19:1-10

Key/Memory Verses: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10, NRSV)

Lesson Objectives

See the Bible Background at for insights and this set's complete list of objectives.

Students should understand that Jesus loved and accepted Zaccheus when no one else would. Zaccheus had a change of heart when he experienced that love. Jesus did not love him because he changed. Zaccheus changed because he realized Jesus loved him.

Preparation and Materials

  • Read the Bible Background and scripture.
  • Print at least two copies of the Zaccheus story cards, pages 2-10 (attached to this lesson at See the lesson note below about how many copies of the story illustration cards you should print; it is dependent on the number of students you'll have.
  • Print pages 1 and 12 of the Zaccheus story cards for the teacher's use.
  • Gather a variety of shapeable materials for the name-building activity such as pipe cleaners, Play-Doh, or aluminum foil.
  • Sheets of paper to lay their name-creations on
  • Items for "Seeking Jesus" challenge games:
    • Clothes for Explorer game—vest or backpack, Bible, jacket, hat, binoculars, boots, etc.
    • Bean bags or similar items to toss (such as small pillows, plush animals, rolled socks)
    • 6-foot play tunnel (or tunnel made out of blankets or cardboard)
    • A "tree" made using a 6-foot step ladder or similar construction
    • A bucket to attach to the "tree"
    • Tape to mark a "toss from here" line on the floor
    • Timer (such as one found on your cellphone)
    • Whiteboard or easel, and markers (optional)

Lesson Plan

Opening ~ Discover the Love

Child's name is shaped using playdohWelcome each child as they enter and direct them to "write" their name by shaping it with the materials you've collected (pipe cleaners, Play-Doh, etc.).  Invite those who finish early to help late-arrivers catch up. Create a shaped name for yourself.

Once everyone has shaped their names, begin the lesson by having everyone share their name and creation, then move their name-creations out of reach while you read the Bible story using the following "game" approach.

Zacchaeus story cards thumbnailDistribute the Zaccheus story cards among your students. If you have only a few students, print a packet of cards for each student. If you have more than four or five students, divide up two or three packets of story cards among them. Explain that they are to lift up the story illustration that they think represents what they're hearing as you slowly read the scripture. Point out the correct illustration after they have raised theirs and continue reading.

Reshape Your Name

Present your own name-creation and slowly begin to smoosh and then reform your name (invite others to as well) as you share the following thoughts:

Share this statement: When a person sins—when you are mean or lie or hurt others, when you are dishonest and things you do don't honor God, your sins begin to ruin what other people think of you—they ruin your reputation. And eventually, your sins begin to ruin your OWN opinion of yourself! They make you feel bad about yourself and your life, and you start to believe you are not worthy of God's love.

That's what happened in our Bible story today. People in the town of Jericho thought Zaccheus was a terrible sinner and unworthy of God's love. (Your Play-Doh should be smooshed by now. INVITE your students to lightly deform their names as well.)

And then one day Jesus comes to town, sees Zaccheus up in a tree, and says "Come down Zaccheus, I want to go to your house! Salvation has come to you today!" (Begin to reform your name and have them do the same with their name. If someone needs help, that too is a teaching point!.)

Shaped-Name mangled by sin

Continue Sharing: That's what Jesus does for all of us. Jesus accepts and saves us even though we are sinners. No matter what we have done, or what other people think about us, OR what we think of ourselves—to Jesus we are all God's beloved children.

And that love not only RESTORES us to God's family and RESTORES our feeling of self-worth—when you believe in Jesus, his love begins to RESHAPE who you are, making you more loving and more accepting of others just like he has loved and accepted you.

Ask: What do you think SOME people in the crowd that day started to think about Zaccheus when they heard Jesus call him a "saved son of Abraham?"  (Yes, Zaccheus probably wasn't the only person whose outlook on life began to change that day!)

Say:  Let's play some games to remember this terrific story and its good news.

Game 1: The "Seeking Jesus" Challenge ~ Develop the Passion

Intro to the Seeking Jesus Game:  In this game, each player will become Zaccheus preparing to go see Jesus, struggling around obstacles, and "climbing" to see Jesus. Players will run the challenge and be timed. Bonus points are to be awarded for enthusiasm and bravery!

Note to teacher: Form into teams of at least two players to take the pressure off individual student performance. Keep "time" but also award random bonuses for "valiant attempts," "precision," and "attitude" as needed to keep it fun and relatively non-competitive. Adjust the level of difficulty and "rules" as needed. Demonstrate each station ahead of time.

See game options and "adaptations" at the end of this lesson.

Zaccheus seeking Jesus game equipment

How to Play the Seeking Jesus Challenge:

On "GO!" one student races to put on the "explorer" clothes and objects found in a basket at the first station. There they must also gather up beanbags (or other small soft obJects), then race through a "tunnel" of obstacles blocking their path and arrive at Zaccheus' TREE. When you arrive at the tree, you have to get your beanbags "up" into the tree (the bucket) by standing behind a line on the floor and tossing the beanbags into the bucket. When all your beanbags are in the bucket, time stops, and the player puts their explorer clothing back in the basket for the next player or team's turn.

  • While putting on the explorer clothes we will be cheering you on using a word that Zaccheus and Jesus would have understood: Alle !! (pronounced: "all-lay") which is the Old Testament Hebrew word for "praise." At sporting events, it is chanted meaning "Go! Go!"
  • When you are crawling through the tunnel and getting around the obstacles, we will be grumbling at you using the funny word Luke wrote in the story:  "Gong-good-so" which means "grumble, grumble."
  • When you get all your beanbags in the bucket, we'll cheer you with the Greek word for "hooray" which is Zito !!  (pronounced: "zee-tow") Jesus and Zaccheus would have known this word too!

After everyone has played the Seeking Jesus Challenge, ask these 3 questions:

1. What's your biggest obstacle or challenge to:

  • reading your Bible?
  • climbing the "tree" of Sunday School more regularly to see Jesus?
  • accepting and being nicer to other people?

2. What sorts of things can help a person "climb up" (or "do") to see and hear Jesus in their life?

3. How helpful was it to hear everyone cheering?  How are Sunday School and church like a "family cheering section" for your faith?

Game 2: The "Sharing the Surprising News" ~ Display/Share the Love

Telephone type game to share Jesus' loveHow to Play: Arrange students in a row for a game like the "telephone" gossip game where a statement is passed down the line by whispering it into the ear of the person next to you. You'll need at least four people in a row to make it work. Create two or more "teams" if needed adding helpers to balance things out. If children have a hard time whispering softly, have the team members stand 5 feet apart so they don't overhear the whispered message until it's their turn to receive it. Have the last person repeat the message out loud. If they received a garbled message, decide if you want to restart the message with the first person. The repetition in the game is the learning device!

Say: Sometimes we hear things that are surprising or even hard to believe. In our story, there were several things that the crowd and Zaccheus heard that probably surprised them. I'm going to speak some of these surprises to the first person in your row/team, and they in-turn will whisper it to the next. See if you can accurately pass on what you hear.

1. Here comes the first surprise!
Pass the whisper:  "Jesus wanted to go to the sinner's home."
When all the teams are done, have the last person to receive it speak it out loud.

Ask: Why was it a surprise to the people that Jesus would care about sinners?
How do you treat your friends and family members when THEY sin and make mistakes?

2. Here comes the second surprise!
Pass the whisper:  "Jesus knew Zaccheus' name and told him that he was part of God's family."
When all the teams are done, have the last person to receive it speak it out loud.

Ask: Do you think Jesus knows your name? Did you know that you too are part of God's family just like Zaccheus was? How does it feel?  How do we show others that they too are part of God's family, even if they didn't know it?

3. Here comes the third surprise!
Pass the whisper: "Zaccheus was willing to give up a lot of his money."
When all the teams are done have the last person to receive it speak it out loud.

Ask: When Zaccheus said he "gives half" of all his money to help others, and was willing to repay anyone he may have cheated, was he being grateful to Jesus? Or was he trying to "bribe" or make Jesus accept him?  Or did he want to show that he wanted to change his life?  (When we come to worship and learn about Jesus, it shows our heart too.)

4. Final Message Lightning Round!

If you have two teams/rows, make this a competition to see which team/row can most completely transmit the following sayings. Award a point for each "most" correct transmission (doing so will help team members stay focused on doing it right). Add a teaching comment after each "final message" before moving on to the next.

Say: I'm now going to whisper to you several things that this story teaches us. Do your best to transmit each message correctly.

Here we go!

  1. We are all sinners in need of Jesus' acceptance and love.
  2. We need to stop "Gong-good-so-ing" about other people's problems and mistakes.
  3. Kindness and acceptance are rich gifts everyone can afford to give.
  4. Jesus wants to go home to your house today and change your life.

Closing Prayer:
Jesus, thank you for loving us no matter what. Please guide us as we try to be more like you in all that we say and do. And never let us forget that we are part of your beloved family forever. Amen


Seeking Jesus Challenge Game Options and Adaptations

If you don't have a play tunnel you can substitute cardboard boxes or a "blanket fort" to crawl through. For added "obstacles" or difficulty, have a teacher with a pillow try to block the students from getting from the tunnel to the beanbag line, or make the students crawl through the tunnel on their back.

If you have a small group that needs more of a challenge, place three beanbags at the entrance to the tunnel but only allow them to carry one bean bag at a time through the tunnel to toss it into the tree-bucket. Then they have to scramble back to get the next bean bag and so on.

If you have a safe manner in which to climb up something that represents the "tree," such as an outdoor climbing gym, go ahead and substitute a literal "climbing" activity or apparatus. (In our "indoor" version of the game, tossing the bean bags into a bucket on top of a ladder is your "tree.") Students can carry the beanbags in their backpacks and toss them from the "tree" into a bucket on the ground that's marked "Jesus."

For Younger Students:   

  • For the name activity: If needed, write the student's name in big letters on a piece of paper and have them shape Play-Doh following the lines of their name.
  • Use a big bucket in the Seeking Jesus Game.
  • Shorten the phrases in the "Sharing the Message" Game.
  • If you have time, close with a reading of the book: Ordinary Mary’s Positively Extraordinary Day, about a young girl who inspires others with positivity and kindness through a variety of ordinary deeds!

For Older Students:

Make them crawl through the tunnel on their backs. Make the bucket smaller or farther away.

For those with more class time:

Ask the students what "surprises" are in the story. List them on the whiteboard and then use their surprises in game 2.
Share some of the additional questions on pages 1 and 12 of the Zacchaeus Story Cards.

For those with less class time or in need of a simpler lesson plan:

Eliminate the "name" activity or simply demonstrate it using your name shaped in Play-Doh. Cut back on the Game 2 surprise messages.

Notes and Sources

This sequence of games in this lesson is inspired by a concept of teaching known as "the 3D's." Discover (Jesus’ love for you), Develop (a passion for His Word), and Display (His love to others), used at Athens First United Methodist Church, Athens, GA.

Written by Robin Stewart and the Writing Team
Copyright Inc.

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Images (5)
  • Shaped name
  • Story card samples
  • Name smoothered by sin
  • Seeking Jesus Zaccheus Game
  • Whispering
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Last edited by CreativeCarol
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