For about a year now, I have been wrestling with how to teach my boys - ages 6, 5, 4 & 2 - about Jesus, salvation, eternity, sin, resurrection and what it means to actually follow Jesus.
Since I was a kid I have struggled with the idea that Jesus had to die because I did bad things. I started learning about Jesus and religion at a fairly young age and I remember walking down to the front of the church because I wanted Jesus to forgive me for my sins and come and live in my heart. The idea alone that some grown man was going to come to live in my heart was difficult enough to figure out, but on top of that I was always curious why Jesus had to die. I just figured that I must be pretty evil for a 7 year old so someone had to die.
Fast forward 27 years. I was recently having a conversation with a friend, who asked me, "So, why exactly did Jesus have to die?"
To which I replied, "So that he could come back from the dead."
And just like that I had my answer.
Jesus' mission to this planet was not to come to simply die for humanity's sin (although this was part of it), but his mission was to come and crush and ultimately destroy evil. And the way to obliterate evil was to beat evil at its own game....take evil's best shot - death - and conquer it. And once death was conquered, this released an overarching plan of redemption, restoration, renewal and reconciliation.
This understanding makes Jesus much more powerful and actually makes the good news good. As I'm working through how to teach my boys about Jesus, I desire to teach them about the place that Jesus takes in my life and his desire to be the center of their own lives. I want them to understand that life with God is not about sin management, but it is about walking with God in a reconciled relationship. The problem for me lies in this traditional teaching that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for the bad things we might do. This reasoning seems quite anemic. Really? Is that the best Jesus can do? Simply forgive us for bad things? Seriously, how do you explain to a 6 year old that God killed his son Jesus because my son stole a cookie from his brother? So, now Jesus forgives you, but you need to quit doing bad things - like stealing cookies or peeing on the side of the house. See what I mean? It's weak. And honestly, who wants to follow a God who would kill his son because some 6 year old kid is stealing cookies from his brother.
So, now I am working a new way to explain Jesus and salvation; life and beauty; forgiveness and restoration; renovation and renewal to my boys.
It’s something like this....
Death sucks. Life is beautiful. When we do things that don't line up with God's goodness and love, it leads us away from beauty and life and God. Hurting ourselves and others is not cool. Doing good and loving others is really good. Not forgiving people is harmful. Forgiving people is freeing and loving. Jesus did die. But he died so that he could actually come back to life. And it's the coming back to life part that gives all of humanity the chance to live differently. When he came back to life he invited us to actually live really powerful and different lives, just like him (and superman and batman). He invites us to live lives in which we look to love Him, as well as love and forgive others; help others and work to make this earth more like heaven through blessing, making peace, living selflessly, extending mercy, creating beauty and on and on.
So, I know you stole that cookie from your brother. Now I'm not thinking that Jesus is really pissed, but perhaps there is a better way to approach this whole cookie situation. Do you think your brother feels loved when you take his stash? No? Then perhaps the Jesus way is to learn how to love your brother and practice the life giving solution. The solution that encourages love and unity; that is full of beauty and preferring your brother. The solution that gives life. And this solution is doable when we allow Jesus to shape our hearts, minds and lives.
And here's the deal…if this doesn't work....I can always revert back to the old school method:
"Jesus died to forgive you for your sins. So, if you don't ask for forgiveness and stop stealing your brother’s cookies, you're probably going to go to hell. "