Monthly Archives: April 2012

War in the World

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are at war. This war is not fought far afield; it is not the Battle of Bunker Hill, with families picnicking in safety as they looked on. This is not trained soldiers facing off in lines or in trenches, with their women and children safely back at home. This is barbaric, Vandal and Visigoth-type warfare. This is an enemy who crashes right into our homes and places of work; into our schools and even into our places of worship; and violates men, women and children alike, old or young, educated or ignorant. This is an enemy who attacks whole families, whole communities from the air, without our ever seeing the faces of our attackers. This enemy is vast in number and is almost always completely invisible to the naked eye.

I am referring, of course, to germs.

(Perhaps you thought I was writing about something else.)

We all know how pervasive and how dangerous germs are. We are all made aware from infancy how important it is to fight and to avoid germs. We have all heard of plagues and pestilences which wiped out whole villages, decimated populations, caused untold suffering. So, why are we not living in a state of constant terror? Well, I know that there are germophobes who DO live in constant terror, but they need more help than I can offer in this forum!

We do not live in fear of germs because we know how to fight them. And, 99 percent of the time, we are successful. We do not fall ill day after day. When we do become ill, we generally recover. Knowledge is power, and we acquire this knowledge early on. Who does not remember his mother admonishing: “Wash your hands before you eat. Don’t eat food off the floor! Stop kissing the dog on the lips! Wash that apple before you eat it. Cover your mouth when you sneeze. Get in the tub, you’re filthy!” As we get older, we learn even more about combating the enemy: we cook our food thoroughly; we refrigerate it adequately; we keep our homes clean and disinfected; we teach our kids how to avoid getting sick. Because this knowledge is too important to keep from our children.

Wait. Maybe I AM writing about something else!

I have had parents and teachers tell me that they will not teach their children about Satan and his demons because they don’t want them to get scared. What would happen if we did not teach our children about germs? They would get sick all the time; they might even die of an illness. Ignorant children are not germ-free children; they are actually MORE susceptible to germs than knowledgeable children. There’s no need to terrify our children with stories about germs, but they do need to be made aware of the existence of germs and of what they need to do to protect themselves. It’s the same way with the forces of evil. There’s no need for anyone to be terrorized by demonic activity if they are adequately knowledgeable about the enemy and how to avoid or defeat it. Prayer is our greatest defense, and the name of Jesus will send the enemy running. Keeping our minds and hearts clean helps prevent a great deal of infection by the wiles of our enemy, and knowledge of Scripture helps us combat the lies he whispers in our ears. Knowledge is power: God is the greatest power of all!

There is a kind of magical thinking among some parents and teachers that causes them to believe that keeping children ignorant will protect them. “What they don’t know can’t hurt them,” they say. I contend the opposite: What they don’t know will certainly hurt them! Without knowledge, our children are helpless and defenseless before a ruthless enemy who is out to destroy them. Don’t be deceived: Satan wants our kids! There’s no need to be alarmed by this. There is great need to be aware of it!

I was myself first confronted by a demon at age seven. I didn’t know what it was and didn’t know what to do. Over the past 30 years that I have spent in teaching children, I have discovered that my experience was hardly singular. A great many of our children have been attacked by the enemy, and being unprepared, they had no idea what to do. Most were too afraid or confused to tell anyone about their experiences. Many who dared to alert an adult of their experiences were dismissed as having an over-active imagination. This is a shameful state of affairs. If we are the people of the Book, as all believers should be, we ought to know our Scriptures well enough to realize that we have an active enemy who has no scruples, no conscience, and is not ashamed of attacking the young and helpless rather than the older and better-armed.

There are ways of teaching our children how to combat the enemy without terrorizing them, just as there are ways of teaching them to avoid germs without undue emotional stress. Just be matter-of-fact, and tell them the truth. Tell them that our God is greater than the enemy and is able to protect them, and that His Name is all-powerful! Teach them to pray. Teach them the Scriptures. Teach them that they can tell an adult what happened to them and they will be believed. Encourage them to talk about their concerns and fears, and know your Bible well enough to be able to answer their questions.

I Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your anxieties upon Him, for He cares for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.”

James 4: 7 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

It’s hard to keep vigilant when you haven’t been told to be vigilant. It’s hard to resist the devil when you don’t know anything about him. It’s easier to resist the devil when you know that we are all in this fight together and none of us are alone in battling the enemy. It’s easier to confront the powers of evil when you know the power of “the mighty hand of God”.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war. Arm yourselves and your children and prepare to fight!


Filed under Uncategorized

Teaching Children the Truth of the Scriptures: Part Two

Here’s the second installment in my re-posting of my original blog entries. I would really appreciate feedback and comments. I would love to be able to learn from the ideas of other like-minded educators.

How then should we teach the Scriptures to children? We must remember why God gave them to us in the first place. Rather than consistently focusing on the child, we must return to focusing on God. Too many children’s Bible stories are obviously written with the end goal in mind: “how can this story help the child live a good, Christian life?” These stories perpetuate the mistake of Robert Raikes. I am not saying that applicability is not important, but it is of secondary importance. God gave us the Scriptures primarily so that we can know Who He is. In particular, the Old Testament reveals to us the heart of God the Father and Creator, and His Messiah Jesus Christ, most vividly and as completely as mere mortals are able to comprehend.

Here, then, are the guidelines I would propose in teaching Scripture to children, and in particular, teaching the Old Testament:
First, please don’t make the mistake of thinking of this precious time you have with the children as baby-sitting time. We are not just trying to keep the children occupied while the adults take part in the “real” ministry. Humans learn best before the age of six. After that, their learning patterns are fairly well set. I don’t want to say that it’s too late to teach people after they reach adulthood, but adults have a much more difficult time learning new things. Why wait? We have them in our classrooms NOW! Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to make a difference in these children’s lives. I suggest that the “real” ministry is going on in the children’s classrooms, and the adult teachers or ministers are just keeping the grown-ups occupied until the children are finished.

Second, begin by making certain they understand that the Bible is ONE book, ONE story; the story of God dealing with His people. It begins at creation and ends after the early church is established (actually, it ends at the end of time!). Yet the ONE STORY still goes on, and we as God’s people are a part of that vast, overreaching history. Make the child feel part of the story and events recorded in the Bible will seem that much more relevant to them.

Third, make certain the children understand that the WHOLE Bible, Old and New Testaments, is about Jesus. He is right there in the first chapter of Genesis, and He is there throughout, on every page. The Old Testament Scriptures are the story of God preparing the world for the coming of His Messiah. He spent thousands of years preparing for this all-important, culminating event. Do we dare deprive our children of this preparatory process? There are plenty of resources available to help you “find” Jesus in the Old Testament, but once you are accustomed to thinking this way you won’t be able to help seeing Him everywhere on your own. The Bible is HIS story, and that is the primary reason for studying it.

In this area, I imagine my proposition will receive the most objections. Christ appears in the Old Testament most often in types, or pictures as I prefer to call them when teaching children. It is conventional wisdom that children cannot understand abstract ideas until they reach their teens; that typology and symbology are beyond their comprehension. This is nonsense. The same experts who claim that children cannot grasp symbology will strongly advocate teaching infants the alphabet and telling them the names of objects in order to give them a good start on vocabulary. What are letters or words but symbols of sounds or objects or ideas? There is nothing intrinsically “A-like” about the three lines we put together and to which we ascribe the sounds we call “A”. People in other countries may put three lines together in the same way and ascribe different sounds to it. “A” means “A” because we say it does. That is symbology. It is the same with words. An English-speaking mother will tell her child “eye”; a Spanish-speaking mother will say to her child “ojo”. Both mothers will point to the same object as they say these two different words in the instinctive understanding that they are speaking a symbol and that the object of that symbol must be pointed out to the child for understanding to be accomplished. Mothers also know instinctively that this process is not immediate. For symbols and their objects to become part of the child’s thinking, it is necessary to repeat the alphabet and the words many times. Repetition and usage are the keys to any kind of learning. It is the same with Scripture. Repeatedly saying the symbol, or type, and pointing to the object of its meaning will make these concepts such a part of the child’s thinking that it will seem to him as if he’d always known them, just as it seems he has always know that “A is for Apple”. This aptitude for absorbing language and symbols is greatest when the child is an infant and grows less as he grows older. It becomes more and more difficult for them to learn these concepts as they approach their teens. Start them young or they will always be at a disadvantage! Take the words of linguist J.R.R. Tolkien to heart: “Therefore do not write down to the Children or to anybody. Not even in language. . . . an honest word is an honest word, and its acquaintance can only be made by meeting it in a right context. A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one’s age-group. It comes from reading books above one.” The same is true of Spiritual concepts: Don’t teach down to the children. Use the correct words for spiritual concepts, explaining as you go, and let their minds expand.

Fourth, make connections week by week, so the children understand that they are not learning a new story from the Bible each week but a small part of the continuing saga. This is, of course, much easier to do if you teach them the Scriptures in order, but not strictly necessary if you have a good time line to aid you. Here again, repetition will aid in the children’s process of learning. Don’t just review last week’s lesson, go back many weeks and connect each to each before beginning each new lesson. Ask the children what they can remember, for hearing the stories from each other is even more helpful than hearing them from you.

Fifth, do not try to force application where there is none. Remember, Scripture is not about the child but all about God. I have seen this done in ways which actually twist Scripture into meaning the opposite of what was intended! Which brings me to my last point:

Sixth, be completely honest with the children. I don’t mean that you have to go into detail: just admitting that David took something that didn’t belong to him is enough for a two-year-old. That David killed a man so he could marry his wife is graphic enough for a five-year-old. Include the facts that David was sorry for his sins, was forgiven, yet had to suffer the consequences of his actions. Emphasize that God brought His Messiah, Jesus, through David’s family as a way of honoring David’s faithfulness. Don’t try to clean up Bible characters. Kids need to know that they were real people with real problems, just like them. It is not helpful to give them super-heroes to emulate; they know they can’t be perfect and this will just discourage them.

Additionally, don’t make the mistake of teaching a Bible story only in order to teach other skills: my biggest pet peeve is the “story of Joseph and the coat of many colors”. Yes, it’s a great way of teaching pre-schoolers their colors. Yes, it makes a beautiful picture in a story book. By all means, tell them that Jacob gave Joseph this wonderful coat, but tell them the truth about it. Every child knows instinctively that there’s something wrong in this story. Every child knows that Jacob should not have shown preference to one of his children at the expense of the others. And what reason do we give them for this shocking display of favoritism by Jacob? I have seen too many of these stories end with the touching moral: “Jacob loved Joseph just like God loves you!” If God is like Jacob, how unfair He must be! What child has not had the fear that Mom or Dad will love one of his siblings more than they love him? No, be honest with the children–Jacob was deliberately disobeying God by conferring the birthright on Joseph instead of on Judah. Children deserve to have their discomfort with this story acknowledged rather than brushed under the rug.

Being honest with the children often means reconsidering what you might have thought about age-appropriate material. Teachers (and parents) often try to protect children from unpleasant or frightening truths by simply not teaching them these things. This is, in fact, the opposite of protecting them. Knowledge is power; ignorance is dangerous. We cannot protect our children from sexual predators, for example, by keeping them ignorant of such dangers. Yes, it’s not a fun topic and it’s a little scary; but it will be a whole lot scarier for a child to be confronted with a situation for which he has not been prepared. I bring this up because there are two topics which the Bible discusses a great deal but which tend to be ignored in order to protect children from being frightened. First, Scripture deals with sex and uses sexual imagery extensively. Just as there are ways to protect a child from potential molesters without being too graphic, there are ways to teach the Proverbs and other such scriptures without being too graphic. Small children can understand that it’s wrong for two people to pretend they are married when they are not, for example. They don’t have to know the specifics of the situation. Second, Scripture gives us a great deal of information concerning the devil and his angels. I have known teachers who feel that teaching about demons might overly frighten the children, but keeping children in ignorance of demonology actually makes them easy prey for the evil ones. I was confronted by a demon myself at age 7, and having had no teaching on such things, I didn’t know what to do. I have taught children for 25 years now, and have met many children, some as young as 5, who have had demonic experiences. I’m talking about children who are raised in loving, Christian homes. The devil wants our children, and we must teach them what to do to avoid his snares. The best weapon we can give them is knowledge. We can give them weapons they can wield themselves: prayer, and the assurance that they can come to an adult with such matters and be both believed and supported. The best way I have found for teaching children about demons is to compare them with germs. Both are out to get us, both can be dangerous; but there’s an easy way to avoid germs–wash your hands! And there’s an easy way to avoid demons, as well–pray!

One of the worst trends in teaching children Scripture in the past several decades has been teaching about God’s great love for them without the balance of teaching them of God’s judgment. Adults seem to be afraid to introduce this subject with children, but it’s exactly what children like to hear about. Kids love to hear about the bad guys getting what they deserve. Adults don’t like to hear about God’s judgment because it makes them feel condemned, but kids almost never identify themselves with those being judged. Tell them the truth about Noah’s flood: yes, eight people were saved, but hundreds of thousands died. This story is not about a lot of smiling animals on a big, cute boat. It’s about cataclysmic judgment over the entire earth–valleys were carved, mountains raised up, the weather was changed forever. The animals, and the people, on the ark were, no doubt, terrified by the ferocity of the storm and the waves. The kids will invariably identify with Noah’s family and the animals, feeling relieved at their rescue and gratified that the bad guys went down. Where do adults today get the idea that a loving God would never send anyone to hell? They got that idea in Sunday School! Teach children while they are young that God cannot let sin go unpunished. Otherwise, Christ’s death makes no sense.

Two examples on this last point: I was once teaching a group of five-year-olds about Jesus cleansing the temple. To illustrate this story, I had been provided with coloring pages depicting animals running out of the temple. My kids were horrified! “Jesus didn’t hit the animals, did He Mrs. MariLynn? He just hit the bad guys, right?” I painted them a picture of Jesus the Mighty Hero driving all the evil bad guys out of the house of God. They loved it! I understand that whoever prepared those coloring pages did not want to depict the loving Son of God whipping people, but that’s what happened and that’s exactly what children want to see! They need to see Jesus as He really is–the Conquering Hero! Better than Superman! They need to know that God can beat the bad guys. It makes them feel safe and secure in His hands.

One year later, I was teaching six-year-olds the Book of Acts. As we approached the story of Ananias and Sapphira, I grew nervous about how to present this story. Would the kids think that God was going to zap them the next time they told a lie? I was still fairly inexperienced or I would never have thought this. The children listened to the story and all nodded wisely. It was then that I realized that children are much closer to God in the area of judgment than adults are. Adults expect mercy and are surprised and dismayed by judgment–even resentful of it. Children, on the other hand, expect judgment and are surprised by mercy. They take the “wages of sin” being death very seriously. Why take this wonderful quality away from them? Yes, they can seem mercenary and even blood-thirsty in the joy they take in the bad guy “getting his”, but that is easily dealt with by gently steering this just impulse towards empathy rather than trying to mold them into adults who take mercy for granted and thus miss the whole meaning of the cross.

One last point: I have a suspicion that God added in the gory details of battles and such just for the interest He knew little boys and girls would have in them. Don’t deprive them of this! I once tried to steer around the graphic, nasty details of Herod’s death by simply stating that “God said Herod must die for his pride, so he did.” My kids did not let me get away with that! They had read the text for themselves (and they were seven and eight years old!) “Tell us about the worms, Mrs. MariLynn! We want to hear about the worms!” Give ‘em the worms! Let them have the whole truth of the Bible, pretty or not. If God thought it was important enough to include in His Holy Word, who are we to say, “eeewww!”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Teaching Children the Truth of the Scriptures

This is a re-posting of my first blog entry, with a few little changes. I began this crusade for better Bible instruction for children many years ago, and I am making little headway! Now that my blog is being read by more people, I wanted to re-emphasize the reasons I began it in the first place–to improve teaching methods for Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools. Our children are the future of the church! They need to be prepared to lead. They need to be taught truth!

Deuteronomy 11:18-19. “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul. . . . And you shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” When God commanded that His words be impressed on our hearts and on our children, the only words there were to impress were those in the Pentateuch. How far we have diverted ourselves from this simple command of teaching God’s word in its entirety, difficult parts, “boring” parts and all.
Up until about 240 years ago, the Bible was taught to children in the same way it was taught to adults: it was read to them. Most children in English-speaking nations, in general, learned to read by reading the Bible. Families were all together in church services–children heard the same sermons as the adults, and the parents would talk to them about the message afterward. I’m not advocating going back to that way of teaching, and we have many more resources available to us which we should take advantage of. But it served human-kind well enough for thousands of years, and I am not sure that adults of today who learned under modern methods of teaching are better educated than those who came before.
Along came the Industrial Revolution. In the 1780′s an upper-class gentleman in England, Robert Raikes, noticed that children of the poorer classes were no longer attending school or church, but were being forced to work in factories to help support their families. He became concerned about what kind of adults this generation of uneducated children would grow up to be, and so he conceived of a “Sunday School” to be held on the only day the children had off of work. This was the beginning of the concept of Sunday School that we have today. Unfortunately, it was Raikes’ primary goal to teach the underprivileged to read and to be good, moral citizens of Great Britain. Their spiritual enlightenment was secondary in his mind. Therefore, he chose to teach the children only those Bible stories which he could adapt to his agenda of moral values, leaving out any details that might detract from his goals. For example, he might teach them about the patriarch Jacob by expounding on his faithfulness and how he was blessed by God, leaving out the parts where Jacob lied, deceived people, and ran away like a coward. The Bible stories were presented as isolated tales rather than as part of a vast history, so that anyone attending his schools would come away with the impression that the Bible was like Aesop’s Fables: a book of unrelated moral tales with unreal, perfect characters.
As the years passed, printing in color became easier and cheaper, and colored story books for children became all the rage among the wealthier Victorians in the mid- to late-1800′s. Bible stories, with beautifully colored wood-cuts, were popular presents for Christmas and birthdays. Naturally, the stories in these books were chosen for their illustrative qualities, and the narratives themselves were often questionable. When the wealthy Victorians got wind of the Sunday School movement among the poor, they grabbed onto the concept with their own twist-–illustrated Sunday School cards and papers. Again, these stories were presented as isolated, moral tales and chosen for their illustrative qualities. The Bible was cleaned up and disinfected so that the children would never know that David committed murder and adultery; that every living thing on earth, except those in the ark, died in Noah’s flood; that when Ehud stabbed Eglon, Eglon’s fat stomach closed over the hilt of the knife. In other words, the Bible began to be unreal and unhistorical, and those whose only knowledge of the Bible came from Sunday School grew to have a warped and one-dimensional idea of what the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is all about. A warped view of the Bible means a warped view of God, and there was a great falling away from the faith as the children taught in this way grew to adulthood.
Darwinism took hold, and the Bible began to be seen by many, even by Christians, as unscientific, even mythological. By the 1950′s and 60′s, the Bible was being taught more and more as a lot of unrelated, moral fables rather than historical truth–-as a way of teaching children how to behave rather than teaching them to know their Creator and Savior. Even those churches which remained fundamental in doctrine often used inferior Sunday School material which failed to emphasize the historical accuracy of the Bible. Lessons were still chosen for the cute crafts and pretty coloring pages that could be created to enhance the stories, and so the less “pretty” stories were ignored. Think of the vast amount of material which is never presented in Sunday School, or in other venues of children’s education: most of the Judges, most of the Kings, most of the prophets. Fascinating, enlightening stories which children would love, which never-the-less would be difficult to illustrate tastefully or to create appropriate hand-work for. The adults raised in these Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools thought they knew what was in the Old Testament and so never bothered to read it for themselves. The Old Testament began to be seen as irrelevant to adults, to be set aside with books of fairy tales.
Many of us who now attempt to teach the Scriptures to children today received our earliest Bible instruction in the 1960′s style Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools. You might argue that they were better than nothing and that no other curriculum was available to be taught at that time, and that is certainly true. But the tragedy remains. Ask any adult of our generation a question about the Old Testament and see if they can answer it. Look it up and make sure YOU know the right answer yourself! How many adults today are fully literate in Old Testament theology? I have known many intelligent, well-educated Christians who are very knowledgeable in the New Testament Scriptures but have only the most rudimentary grasp of the Old. I have even heard arguments for abandoning the study of the Old Testament Scriptures since they have been “replaced” by the New! I sincerely believe that this attitude comes from a Sunday School mentality of Old Testament study. Since people are being taught the Old Testament as a collection of isolated morality tales, they can’t understand how these Scriptures can be relevant to adults. They don’t understand what they are missing, because they have never really been taught Scripture as a serious, historical document.
How then should we teach the Scriptures to children? I’ll share my ideas on this tomorrow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Teaching Children the Truth About Christ’s Death Part Two

Teaching children about the death of Christ is difficult in today’s America. Post-modern Americans are used to hearing all kinds of filthy language and sexual innuendos in their daily lives, but bring up death and they are offended beyond endurance. The Gospel has in many churches been “cleaned up”, with all mention of blood or suffering excised from hymnals and Sunday School material. As violent as our society is, you would think Americans would be immune to death, but instead they purport to be shocked by it. Look through many children’s Bibles and you will notice that the text skips from the Last Supper to the Resurrection with barely a mention of why the Supper was Jesus’ last and why He needed to rise from the grave. And yet, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Do we really dare minimize it when teaching our children? Do we dare leave it out?

Here is the second part of a lesson I wrote for elementary age children in which I attempt to explain Christ’s death and resurrection truthfully in words they can understand. I find no need in being melodramatic–I find that children respond favorably to a matter-of-fact delivery when it comes to difficult subjects such as this one.

Last time we were together, we talked about the Last Supper and why Passover is important. Now I’ll tell you what happened next.
Jesus and His disciples left the house where they had eaten the Last Supper and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, a sort of little park on the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem. There, Jesus prayed and waited for Judas to bring the soldiers to arrest Him.

Soon the soldiers came, a detachment of them. I had a hard time finding anything to tell me about a “detachment”, but from what I gathered, it would have been about 30 soldiers. That seems a little excessive to arrest one man, doesn’t it? Now here’s an interesting thing that happened: Jesus went forward to meet the soldiers and asked them whom they wanted. “Jesus of Nazareth”, they said. “I am He,” Jesus said. When Jesus said, “I am”, everyone drew back from Him and fell to the ground! Why do you think they did that? Do you know what God’s own name for Himself is? It’s Yahweh, and in English that means “I Am”. When Jesus said, “I am”, He was pronouncing His own name for Himself, His “God” name, and everyone who heard it fell over. That’s the kind of power God has–no one can even stand up to the sound of His name! But even though Jesus could have just walked away, He allowed Himself to be arrested and taken to trial.

Was it a fair trial? Of course not! The Jewish religious leaders had already decided that they wanted Jesus killed. They weren’t going to let a little thing like truth or innocence stop them! And Jesus did not try to defend Himself, either. He knew He had come to earth for just this very reason; to be the Passover Lamb that would save the world from the destroyer. His blood must be shed in order to save us from sin.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus’ death saves us? God said in the very beginning, to Adam, that sin would bring death. “The wages of sin is death”, God says. What is death? “Death” means separation. When our physical body dies, we are separated from this world and our loved ones, and from our body, but our souls are still alive. Our souls and spirits never stop being alive. It’s just a question of where our souls are. Real death, the kind of death Jesus saves us from, is separation from God. Separation from God is separation from all that God is: separation from love, beauty, creativeness, hope, peace. That’s what hell is–separation from God. Jesus’ death saves us from that. We deserve to die and be separated from God forever. But Jesus died our deaths for us, so that we can live with Him forever. That’s why it was important that Jesus become a man. Only a human can die for another human, so Jesus had to be human. But He is also God, sinless and perfect. Only a sinless, perfect human could die for another human. I can’t die your death for you; if I die, I die in payment of my own sins. I can’t die for your sins, I have my own to die for! Jesus had no sin to die for. And His death was so powerful, that He not only could die my death for me, He could die the death of everyone in the whole world who ever lived or who is ever going to live.

The Gospel of John describes Jesus’ death briefly, pointing out many of the ways prophecy was fulfilled at that time. David had prophesied that the Messiah’s clothes would be gambled for, and sure enough the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus gambled with each other for His robe. David also said that Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced–it says all this in Psalm 22. Although the soldiers broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus, no bones of Jesus were broken. This was a prophecy from Exodus 12 and from Psalm 34. Instead, the soldiers thrust a spear into Jesus’ side, fulfilling a prophecy by Zechariah.

After Jesus was dead, He was taken down and buried in a rich man’s tomb, just as the prophet Isaiah had said would happen in Isaiah 53. The rich man’s name was Joseph of Arimathea, and he was a Pharisee. He was the only member of the Jewish court that disagreed with putting Jesus to death. Joseph and Nicodemus took care of Jesus’ body, wrapping Him in linens and placing him in Joseph’s own tomb. Isn’t it kind of cool that a man named Joseph helped take care of Jesus when Jesus came into the world as a baby, and another Joseph helped take care of Jesus when Jesus left the world?

Just as important as Jesus’ death for us is the fact that He rose again. The apostle Paul says, “If Jesus were not raised, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Jesus did not physically walk out of that tomb in His own human body, then our faith in Him is worthless. But we know that Jesus did come out of the tomb! When some of the women who had believed in Him came on Sunday morning to anoint His body, the tomb was open, Jesus was gone, and some angels were sitting there waiting to tell them that Jesus had risen! An earthquake had happened and the Roman soldiers who had been guarding the tomb had fainted! And Jesus had walked out of the tomb right past them.

The women ran to tell Jesus’ disciples what had happened. Peter and John raced to see for themselves. John ran faster and reached the tomb first, but could not bring himself to go inside; he just looked in and saw that the burial linens that had been wrapped around Jesus’ dead body were lying there, empty. Peter soon caught up, but he did not stop outside of the tomb; he ran right inside and looked closely at the burial linens, and at the separate head covering that was now neatly folded away from the linens. They saw these things but still did not understand what had happened.

Apparently, Mary Magdalene had followed John and Peter back to the tomb, and when they left, she stayed and wept for her missing Lord. But then Jesus appeared to her. The first person Jesus showed Himself to after He rose from the dead was not one of His twelve disciples, but a woman from whom He had once cast 7 demons. Isn’t that encouraging? Any ordinary person is just as important to Jesus as those who are leaders in His church.

That evening, Jesus did appear to the eleven disciples who were left. Judas, of course, was no longer with them; he had not been able to live with what he had done by betraying Jesus, and had hanged himself. Jesus appeared to His people many times for 40 days after He rose again, and then He went up to heaven to be with the Father.


Filed under Uncategorized

Teaching Children the Truth about Christ’s Death

There is an unfortunate tendency in modern Western culture to “protect the innocence” of our children by neglecting to teach them the truth, or sometimes even by actively lying to them in order to hide the truth. Nothing could be more harmful to our young than this unfortunate, sentimental desire of ours to wrap them up in cotton-wool and let them believe that all the world is rosy-tinted and nothing sad ever happens. When it comes to laying the foundations of our Christian faith, it becomes all the more urgent that we speak the truth and let our children learn the difficult teachings that our beliefs are based upon.

As Resurrection Day approaches, I am struck by the grievous lack of emphasis upon the death of Jesus in children’s Sunday School material. The triumph of Palm Sunday will be emphasized tomorrow. The triumph of the resurrection will be celebrated next Sunday. Christ’s suffering and sacrifice will be mentioned, as bloodlessly as possible. And yet, the death of Messiah is the central tenet of our faith. If Jesus had not died our death for us, we would have no hope.

I hope to give some ideas in the next few posts to help us tell our children the truth in a way that the youngest of them can grasp. This first installment concerns the Last Supper.

Most of the Gospel of John takes place during the last week of Jesus’ life. Chapters 13-17 of John tell about the Last Supper. I think the fact that John spends five whole chapters describing this one evening in Jesus’ life tells us how incredibly important it was! Why were Jesus and His disciples having a special feast that night? It was Passover, and every Jew was commanded by God to sacrifice a lamb for that night and eat it together with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. What were the Jews remembering with these elements? Yes, they were remembering how God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Specifically, they were remembering how God had delivered them from the final plague, the death of the first-born of every family. Can any of you remember what the Israelites had to do before that last plague? They had to kill a perfect lamb and paint its blood on the sides and top of the doorway to the house they were in. When God saw the blood, He promised He would “pass over” that house and protect it from the destroyer. To “Passover” means to cover, like a mother hen “passing” her wing over her chicks to hide them. God saved His people from this plague if they obeyed Him, and used the plague to change Pharaoh’s heart so that the people could be free from slavery.

Of course, everything that happened was a picture, or symbol, of what Jesus was going to do for everyone in the world. We are all slaves of sin, and we are all going to be destroyed by that sin. But Jesus, God’s perfect Lamb, was killed to save us. Just as the Israelites in Egypt had to apply the blood to the door of their homes, Jesus’ blood is applied to our hearts. When God sees the blood of the perfect Lamb, He covers us to save us from the destroyer.

There are four cups that are poured during the Passover meal. The third cup is the Cup of Redemption. What does Redemption mean? It means “to buy back”. Sin owned us, but Jesus bought us with His blood out of slavery to sin. This is the cup that Jesus took and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is poured out for you.”

Another important part of the Passover seder is the Unity, or Echad. (ek-AHD) This is a bag or napkin with three pieces of matzoh, or unleavened bread in it. (It would be a good idea to have a large cloth napkin, folded in quarters, with three loaves of matzoh, one inside each fold, to show.) Echad is a Hebrew word meaning “One”. Can you think of a reason why three things together should be called “One”? This represents the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Remember the “Sh’ma”, that we learned earlier this year: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”? The word “One” at the end of that verse is “Echad”. Up until this particular Passover, the Jews would just talk about the Echad, the unity, and how God had commanded them to eat only unleavened bread for Passover. But Jesus did something different. He took the middle loaf of matzoh out of the unity, broke it, and handed pieces of it to His disciples. (Take out the middle loaf of your unity and break it, giving pieces to the children.) “This is My body, broken for you,” Jesus said.

Does this remind you of anything? It’s communion, or the Lord’s Supper, isn’t it? This is where it comes from. God designed the Passover seder with just this one evening in mind, the evening before Jesus died. Passover was God’s way of preparing the minds of His people for the death of the Messiah. The Jews celebrated it for 1,500 years without understanding what it meant. Now Jesus was finally going to show them what Passover meant. And He did it on the very day of Passover. You see, according to the way the Jews reckon days, each day begins in the evening and ends the following evening. When the sun goes down today, the Jews would say, “Now it’s Monday.” When the sun went down on the night of the last supper, it was the beginning of the 14th day of the month of Nissan, Passover. Jesus died the next afternoon before the sun went down, so it was still the 14th day of Nissan, still Passover.

Jesus did and said many other things during this special, important supper. It was His last chance to explain things to His disciples before His death. But we don’t have time to talk about all those things today! We’ll finish this story next time!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized