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.