The fallout from our culture’s growing reality of biblical illiteracy hit me hard a couple of years ago when the day after Easter my daughter-in-law, an athletic trainer at a large suburban high school, shared with me a conversation she witnessed between a group of a dozen student athletes who were in the training room. Everyone was chatting about their Spring Break when one of the students asked, “What the heck is Easter about?? I know nothing.” Multiple kids agreed that they didn’t know the story, and some jokingly said, “I think it’s something about Jesus. . . maybe his birthday.”
How is it that we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve become ignorant to the meaning and significance of the most important moment in all of history? While I’m not sure any of us can come up with a satisfactory answer, the reality is that we can lead the children and teens we know and love into a deep, lasting, and life-changing understanding of what it is that we celebrate this month. While there is much more to the life, death, and resurrection of the God-Man Jesus Christ than we can cover here, we can help our kids understand what God accomplished through His self-sacrifice on the cross, and the salvation it makes possible for those who come by faith to God through His Son Jesus Christ.
Let me suggest that during this month of celebrating Easter, you share four important words and their meaning with your children and teens. Each of these theological words is packed full of practical meaning that not only helps us understand the cross, but will fuel gratitude to God for the grace He has shown us through the events of that first Good Friday. Each of these words reveals an aspect of God’s answer for a particular human problem related to the fact that we are all sinners estranged from God because of our rebellion against Him. The Good News is this: because of the cross, we don’t get what we deserve!
Propitiation provides an answer to our problem of deserving God’s wrath for our sin and rebellion. The Bible tells us that God hates sin and evil, and that our sin arouses God’s wrath. Try as hard as we might, there is nothing we can do to appease and pacify God’s wrath. The just and proper punishment for our sin is death. But because God is a loving God, He has chosen to offer Himself up as the sacrifice for sin, unleashing all of His stored up wrath against sin on none other than Himself on the cross. Who does that?!? He substituted Himself for us! Propitiation is a word the Bible uses to capture the reality of appeasing one’s anger through a sacrifice. In I John 2:1-2 we read, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.”
Redemption provides the answer to our problem of finding ourselves in bondage to sin and under the constant influence of the enemy of God, the devil. Try as hard as we might to get out from under it, we are captive to sin. What we need is a divine Rescuer. Because we can’t extricate ourselves from our sin, we need someone to redeem us, that is, to pay a ransom price and buy us back from our captivity. The ransom price is paid on our behalf by God Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. who lived a sinless life and gave Himself up for us through His death on the Cross. Jesus Christ, God Himself, is our Redeemer! In the Gospel of Mark we read this: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45).
Justification is a legal term that takes us into the courtroom. Have you ever witnessed a court proceeding? The accused appears before a judge and a jury as they determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Our problem is that we stand condemned for our sin and we enter into the courtroom with our verdict already set: we are guilty. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But by God’s grace in the cross (Romans 5:18), God takes sinners who are guilty and worthy only of condemnation, and makes them acceptable in His own eyes. He acquits us of or our guilt, pardons us, and no longer counts our sin against us (Psalm 32:2). He forgives our sin on account of Christ’s righteousness and declares us righteous as well! Again, who does that?!? We are justified, a legal term meaning “acquitted.” Consider these beautiful words of Romans 3:24 that follow the verse already mentioned: we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Reconciliation offers an answer to our problem of being separated from God by our sin. This has been the case since our first parents rebelled against God way back in Genesis 3. Our relationship with God is broken and we have no ability on our own to gain access into God’s presence and see that relationship restored. But God, through the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, has changed our relationship from one of enmity to one of peace. In Christ’s taking upon Himself the cost of our hostility, enmity, and sin, we have been set free to once again come into union with God (Romans 5:1-11). We are adopted into God’s family through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.
Ask your kids what they know about Easter. Let them know that without the Cross, there would be no resurrection, nor would there be any hope at all for humanity. Take them deeper into their understanding by teaching them these four words. Pray that God’s Spirit would bring out of that a sense of wonder and awe at the depth and extent of God’s grace as shown through the sacrifice of Himself on the cross. Help them see that “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24). Invite them to return by faith in Jesus Christ to “the Shepherd and Overseer” of their souls (I Peter 2:25).
And one last Easter assignment. . . watch this. . .