What do you tell your kids when they ask about Easter? About the real story, the real reason for it. The truth about what Christianity is all about, not the Easter bunny hoopla, hunting eggs… the fact that Jesus was the only perfect man who ever existed, and was equally God. That none of us could make it to heaven because we’re human, we’re messed up, we are prone to wander and determined to have our own way. The fact that Jesus was and is the only way that faulty, imperfect, sin-prone mankind could ever come running straight to the Father, all debts paid, all sins forgiven, love abounding. What do you tell a young child when they ask?
I’ve heard and read people’s opinions that you should tell your preschooler or young elementary-aged children that bad guys killed Jesus, and He rose again after paying for the sins of mankind, and that He is our way to heaven. Well, that’s true enough. Except that it isn’t enough.
If we don’t gently share with our little ones the very real truth that WE are the bad guys, that it is OUR sin that put Jesus on the cross, then some day someone is going to tell them “Jesus died for YOU” and it is going to be an insult. If they grow up thinking that Jesus was taken by force, beaten, mocked and scorned, and then forcibly restrained and nailed to the tree… all because the bad guys took control… then the new information that THEY had anything to do with it, that THEY are the reason as much as any one else in creation, then what is the response? After having grown up fully secure in the knowledge that “bad guys” killed Jesus, what is the compelling reason to accept their equal culpability in His death? No wonder so many kids fall away from the church. The world is telling them that they deserve the best, they are a rock star, they are a winner. Self-esteem is this huge issue, as though any human child needs to be told again and again of their own importance when it is something that kids feel instinctively from birth. And self-esteem, pride, rears back its head and says, “Wait! What? You’re saying that I’m messed up, dirty, sinful? That I’m one of the bad guys who killed Jesus? NO WAY.”
Since our children were very young, and I’m talking 2 or 3 here, we’ve been gentle but we’ve been honest. We show them their sin. We admit to our own, and apologize to them and to God in front of them. We call it sin. We call ourselves sinners. We don’t pound the pulpit or judge, we simply point out who is in control of our hearts when sin takes place… and Who is in control of our hearts when love takes place. We call it like we see it through the eyes of biblical love and compassion.
We explain to our kids that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was not forcibly taken, restrained, nailed to the cross against His will. No, He did it willingly. He could have had legions of angels immediately rescue Him at any instant. God the Father could have destroyed the Earth in one blink to rescue His Son. But Jesus took the hurt and the shame. It wasn’t “bad guys”, it was all of us… the same ones who were crying “Hosanna!” and waving palm fronds just days before. Why did He do it?
- Because He loves us, as specific and individual people.
- Because it was and is the only way that each one of us can get past the stain and ugliness of the sin we carry around in our bodies, and join a resurrected Jesus and His Daddy, His Abba, in heaven. And He didn’t want to live without us.
- Because that was the plan from Genesis, and repeated throughout scripture, and God’s scripture is always true.
- And mostly, He did it because His love compelled Him to do so.
And our love should recognize that it isn’t an “us against them” good guys with white hats versus bad guys with black hats… it’s all of us, sinners, equally unworthy, that are rescued by Jesus and the work that He did.
I don’t believe that a child can be too young to hear that Jesus chose the cross because He wanted that child to be with Him in heaven, and that there was no other way for that child to be good enough. It should not instill shame in that child to hear that they are so beloved that a Savior would go to any imaginable lengths to assure their safety and security forever.
It is not a curse “You are dirty!” but a cry, “We are all dirty, unrighteous, un-able… but, God…” But, God… was pleased to see His Son die for us, because God loved us that much. But, God… was willing to become man and live a life on the Earth, to share our experiences and to suffer and die for us. But, God… never intended to leave us alone. He always intended salvation. And through Jesus, understanding and accepting that what He did and we celebrate joyously at Easter, He suffered through utter love for us. Kids get it. They see Mom and Dad’s fierce love for them, their joy with them, their compassion and the security the child feels with them… and they understand that God is the source of all of that good, and that they are God-esteemed.
We do our kids, even our very young kids, a disservice to imagine that they don’t know that choosing behavior that they know to be opposite of the directives of their loving parents is, actually, sin. We do them a disservice to not be honest with them in the explanation that Jesus is the only way to heaven, for ALL of us. None of us are good enough without Him. We do them a disservice to pretend that we do not sin, or to be unwilling to acknowledge and repent of it, change our ways and apologize. We do all of us a disservice not to accept that the Bible says that No one is righteous, no, not one. That ALL fall short of the glory of God. That the only way to the Father is through the atoning work of the Son. We need to prepare them for the truths that they will more fully understand as they get older. We should be gentle, compassionate, empathetic… but we need to be honest.
It must never be Rules and Laws, us versus them. It should focus on the relationship, always. We were, and our kids were, created for relationship with Him… so it is us and Him, not us and them. It’s a good thing. It is grace.