It’s been a topic of conversation since Holy Week and Easter. Sweet Boy, he’s trying hard to figure out this Jesus dying thing. And when you try to explain it to a four year old you realize how confusing it can be.
The week of Holy Week, we moved around the room as I walk him through the stations on our way with Jesus to the Cross
I try to explain to my Sweet Boy the foil wrapped chocolate coins scattered on the table, how Judas traded thirty coin pieces for his loyalty to Jesus. My son, he just gobbles up the chocolate coin inside.
He moves over to the table with the pretend campfire. He wants to go on the other side of the table to touch it. I say, “Let’s just stay right here.” And we talked about how Jesus’ good friend Peter was so scared after the soldiers came to take Jesus away that when he was sitting around a campfire and people recognized him, three times Peter said he didn’t know the man named Jesus. Then Peter heard the rooster crow, just as Jesus said. And how Peter cried.
I try to help him draw three crosses in the sand for the three times Peter denied knowing Jesus, a reminder of the forgiveness that covers all. My son, he digs his hands deep in the sand, grabs fistfuls and then sprinkles it all over the table.
We wash our hands in a basin of water. He plays with the bubbles like he’s in the tub. I tell him the way Pilot tried to wash away any blame for handing Jesus over.
Then we move to the pokey crown. Now this gets his attention. The thorns are long and sharp and he touches them with his finger as I tell him that the soldiers made fun of Jesus and stuck a crown of thorns on his head. I ask him how he thinks that would feel. “It would hurt” he says.
Then we move to a beam of wood with writing on it, words that share the burdens we carry. We try to pick it up and we talk about how heavy it is and how Jesus carried a much heavier piece of wood on his back on his way to die.
Then we move to the next station where he picks up a hammer and pounds a nail into a piece of wood as I help him. I tell him that to make Jesus stay up on the cross they pounded nails into his wrists. He just looks at me, wonder and sadness in his eyes.
We move to a table with a rock that has a hole in it where he places the cross he wrote his name on made out of popsicle sticks. I tell him they put Jesus in a tomb and thought that was the end.
We move to the station with seeds and dirt and flowers and the word EMPTY. And I ask him, did Jesus stay in the tomb? And he says, “No. He came back to life again!” We plant seeds in a plastic cup and spray water on the dirt. I remember the words of Jesus right before that Last Supper night…
Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
We head to a table where we are invited to respond to what we have seen and experienced through creative art. Sweet Boy choses water color paint and starts to work. I go check on my girls as they move through the stations. When I come back, I see Sweet Boy painting crosses in pink and blue and purple and yellow. And what looks like a D. I ask him what he is painting. “Crosses and the garden.” The garden where the tomb was? “Yes… the tomb that’s empty.” I feel the Spirit here in this moment.
We finish our journey through the Scriptural Way of the Cross and load up in the car. I ask the kids, “What part was most meaningful to you? What sticks with you?” Sweet Boy yells out, “The pokey crown!” We tell Daddy about our walk with Jesus to the cross and Sweet Boy tells Daddy about the pokey crown. The pokey crown, that definitely left an impression.
It’s the first day of Eastertide. I’m doing the lunch dishes after putting Joy Baby down for her nap. Sweet Boy, he’s been thinking about the walk to the cross with Jesus because he asks me, “Why did Jesus die?”
Didn’t we go over this already? I am struggling to figure out how else to explain it. Because how do you explain the suffering and death of Jesus to a four year old boy? How do you explain thorn crowns and nails through hands and feet? How do you explain we are the reason… our sin… that his sin is the reason? How do you explain that Jesus died in his place, that he deserves death as the penalty for his sin, but Jesus, he took his place for him?
You tell the story. You tell the story… again and again. You keep telling the story.
So I sit down on the floor in front of the kitchen sink and he sits down on the floor with me and I tell sweet boy that the bad things we do, well, they can’t go unpunished. And God, he loves us so much that he sent his Son Jesus. And not only did Jesus show us the way to live, to be kind to others and to stand up for what was right, but he also died for us.
“On the cross? With the pokey crown”
Yes, son. On the cross. With the pokey crown. And when he died, he took the punishment for our sin so we didn’t have to die.
And I ask him what happened after Jesus died. “He came back to life!” That’s right sweet boy, he came back to life.
And you know what?!?
“What?” he says.
The amazing thing is if you ask Jesus to come into your heart, He will! Do you want to ask him?
“Yes” says Sweet Boy. He says Yes to Jesus.
So I pray right there with him. And he says the words after I say them. “God, I am sorry for the bad things I have done. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for dying on the cross. Please come live in my heart. Amen.”
I tell him that Jesus lives in his heart now. I ask him how that feels.
“I don’t feel anything” Sweet Boy says. I smile. That’s ok. You won’t always feel Jesus there, but He will always be there, whether you feel Him or not. Jesus is always with you. He will never leave you.
This is something I want Sweet Boy to hear. This truth I wish I could whisper to his heart every day of his life. I want this, if nothing else, to sink deep into his soul… Jesus is always with you Sweet Boy.
Because we don’t always feel Jesus with us. Sometimes God seems far off. But the truth is, Jesus is ALWAYS with us. The last words Jesus spoke on this green earth before He went back to be with the Father was the assurance that He is ALWAYS WITH US.
And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Later when we are sitting on the couch reading a book about Easter, he says to me, “How does Jesus get in there? In my heart? Does he drive a car?” I can’t help but laugh. Well… I begin. He has another thought. “Maybe he takes a boat. Or a plane. Yeah, I think he flies in there.” Such a dear, Sweet Boy. I finally think to say to him, well, however he gets in there, he is in your heart.
That night as I am putting Sweet Boy to bed, we pray. I thank God for Jesus dying. Then he says, “And He’s in my heart.” Yes, thank you Jesus that you are in his heart. He has no idea how thankful I am.
After we pray, Sweet Boy says to me. “Mommy, I think Jesus rides a golden motorcycle into my heart. That’s it, he rides a golden motorcycle.” What could be more marvelous to a four year old boy than a golden motorcycle. To him, it is definitely something fit for the King of Kings.
How do we explain to our children this faith we believe… that God loves us, so much so, that He sent His Son to die for us and that this Jesus, He rose again from the dead and He lives now in power and glory and if they ask Him to, Jesus will come live in their heart? How do we teach them this?
We just keep telling them the story. Tell it to them over and over again. And remind them over and over again that even if they don’t feel Jesus there, He is always there, because He promised. Jesus, He will always be there with them.
Sweet Boy goes to sleep… perhaps dreaming of golden motorcycles and Jesus… at least a Momma can always hope.
Resources for Telling Children the Story
There are so many good resources out there for teaching our children the Biblical Story. Below is a list of my top three favorite storybook Bibles I am using with my Sweet Boy to teach him the story of Jesus and of our God who loves us beyond our comprehension. I hope these are helpful resources for you!
- The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is absolutely wonderful. In every story she retells she shows the way each story leads us to Jesus. Wonderful illustrations by Jago make this a treat to read for both child and parent! There is also a set you can buy with an audio CD so you can listen to it in the car on the go!
- We received The Rhyme Bible by L.J. Sattgast as a gift when our first daughter was born and it has been absolutely one of my favorite books that tells the stories of the Bible in such a unique and creative way – through rhyme! There is something about rhyme that helps root the words into our mind and heart. My oldest daughter still can remember the line from one of her favorites in the book “Jonah Goes to Nineveh,” “Uh Oh, Jonah, you should have gone to Ninevah” or Nin-ne-nah as she said it as a two year old. The illustrations are by Toni Goffe are so well done. This is a great book for toddlers to tell the story of the Bible in a way that keeps them engaged. This version of the book is out of print but can still be ordered from third party sellers on Amazon. This is my go-to gift for all first time Christian parents.
- I just discovered this book and I love it! Kevin DeYoung’s sweeping storybook The Biggest Story tells the story in ten short chapters of the God who pursues us from the very beginning until the day He returns and we are together again with him. The illustrations by Don Clark are vibrant and filled with beautiful pictures and symbols that can provide so much material for conversation and wondering with your child.