Celebrating the glorious resurrection of Jesus from the grave is the centerpiece of the Christian Faith. Because He died in our place, rose from the dead, and is alive today, we have forgiveness for our past, power for the present, and hope for the future! Yet in the midst of this wonderful season, the concepts of Christ’s atoning death, and the graphic truth about what it means for the Messiah to become a sacrificial lamb, creates a challenge for parents. Moms and dads want to help young ones comprehend the magnitude of the love God has shown us while avoiding some of the disturbing concepts – and images – that often accompany that understanding. What are parents to do?
At Kingsland, we want to partner with you as we demonstrate the depth of Christ’s love. We also want to prayerfully balance the vivid, moving images of the season with the sensitivity to our youngest attenders. Therefore, we must all consider the following principles:
1. In order to teach on the atoning death of Jesus, it is impossible to avoid the subject of dying.
This means parents need to be ready to explain that, because our world is broken in sin, everyone dies at some point. You need not go into the gory details of death to cultivate the understanding of the concept. For younger children, it may be as simple as explaining that life ends, but Jesus came so that we could live forever. And that’s the key: as we are explaining death, Christians don’t have to make it a depressing subject. That’s the point of Easter! Because of the message of Jesus, death can be completely different: in Christ, we have the opportunity to live forever in Heaven. So even when someone dies on earth, if they have trusted Jesus as their Savior, the death we might see from our point of view is really just a gateway to being with Jesus forever!
It may be tempting to ignore the principles of Jesus’ death on the cross with younger children, but you’ll miss out on the joy of telling them the rest of the story: that the death of Jesus wasn’t permanent, and because of that they don’t need to fear death either.
2. Using the example of an animal dying, while still sad to children, may be easier to discuss than first talking about people dying.
In fact, that’s the very tactic that God implemented for the Israelites at Passover! By commanding every Hebrew family to bring a lamb into their home for sacrifice, God was providing a vivid, and graphic, picture of the death of a sacrifice. I’m not proposing that we sacrifice lambs to show our children how Jesus died, I do believe we can follow the same conversation lines: Many children face the loss of a pet in early childhood, or know someone who has. You might talk about the sadness of death in that sense, and then discuss how wonderful it is that Jesus died in our place – so we no longer have to fear death.
3. Children at different ages and levels of learning will respond differently to the same images.
Be very aware of their capacity to take in what you’re sharing. We can sometimes forget that young children simply don’t have the capacity to understand abstract images, and underestimate the confusion or trauma that we cause with images. For example, most preschoolers are very literal. Viewing a very vivid depiction in a live drama or even a movie that shows the crucifixion may be difficult to process as something that happened long ago, and something that ended in great victory. What you see as a great teaching tool they may see as a great tragedy.
On the other hand, it is healthy for young children to emotionally engage with the sadness of the cross so that they can appreciate the relief of the resurrection. Sharing the story of the crucifixion for the first time with a preschooler along with a storybook with softened pictures of the cross may be powerful. Don’t be surprised or alarmed if your child responds with tears, but be sure to continue the conversation so that they understand the story’s happy ending.
4. Don’t give into the temptation to ignore the cross and jump to the resurrection.
Even for young children, I recommend that you begin sharing about the powerful gift that God has given us when Jesus gave His life. There is tremendous value in our children feeling the emotional hurt of the cross – and the powerful reminder that our sins put Jesus on that cross. By investing in this teaching, the resurrection and new life that resulted from Christ’s sacrifice will be far more meaningful to your kids.
5. Listen to your children’s questions, and answer them honestly from the pages of Scripture.
Don’t be surprised if your children ask you something deep and profound. I’m constantly amazed at how the mind of a child begins to probe the depths of God’s love and the questions of the ages: “Why didn’t God make it where Jesus didn’t have to die?” “Why did they kill Jesus?” “Why did God the Father let Jesus die?”
It’s absolutely appropriate for you to say, “That’s a great question! Let’s look for the answer together so that we better understand.” And then spend some time looking through the Bible along with them. You can also access theology texts from our local Christian Bookstore, or email one of our pastors. FocusontheFamily.com has some wonderful online articles available to parents for free.
6. Take advantage of our at home “Journey to the Cross”.
Our wonderful Kingsland Kids staff is offering an at home version of Journey to the Cross filled with object lesson for families to complete together on Good Friday. You will have the opportunity to journey through five stations – each sharing a child-friendly object lesson about what Jesus experienced on our behalf. For example, one station will lead you and your child to experience an empty “tomb” where Jesus was placed after the crucifixion.
7. As your children grow, use these lessons to invite them to place their own trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Every man, woman, and child must choose how to respond to the work of redemption Christ has provided us. Look for times when the Holy Spirit is working in your child’s life to invite them to place their own faith in Jesus. There is no greater privilege as a parent than leading your child to new life in Christ!