Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -Matthew 19:14While learning about neighborhood places this week, I asked the question, "Where do we learn about Jesus?" I was looking for "church," but instead heard "school." For many of our students, this is true. They don't have any idea what happens at church, but they know that at school, we love and talk about Jesus a lot.
With that in mind, I'm constantly looking for ways to communicate the character of God to my kids in ways that they understand. For example, how do you tell the story of Noah without making God sound like a mass-murderer? How do you introduce kids to Bible stories while constantly pointing back to the most important story and the hope of the Gospel? This was the question I hoped to answer when I started reading The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.
I have a shameless enjoyment of children's books, and found myself unable to put down my new favorite, always wanting to turn the page and find where Jesus would be in the next story. After all, "there are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them."* I even tried reading my grown-up Bible with the same mindset, and soon I started seeing Jesus everywhere.
One afternoon, while reading about Jesus calming the storm, I stopped to think for a minute about this line: "The wind and the waves recognized Jesus’ voice. (They had heard it before, of course— it was the same voice that made them, in the very beginning)."* I never thought of that before. It's so true and easy, simple enough for a child to understand, but somehow the connection never occurred to me. Then I saw a pair of blue eyes sparkling in the dark, looking over my shoulder. "I like the pictures! Show me the next one!" In the dark of the kindergarten nap room, with all the other kids asleep, this little guy was wide awake and watching me.
So I quietly filled him in on the story, then turned the page. Since the day school started, I've never seen him sit so still or listen so quietly. We whispered so we wouldn't get in trouble as I read to him more stories about what Jesus could do, and explained that it was all because Jesus is God's son, and He has all the power that God has, power over everything because He made everything. Then I watched his smile fade as he heard about Jesus dying, which made my little friend very sad until I reminded him of why it had to be that way -- we had badness in our hearts, badness that keeps us from knowing how to love and from being friends with God. It's a badness that has to be punished somehow, but Jesus took all that badness on Himself and let God punish Him instead. Can you believe how much He loves us?
My friend had heard this story before, but what He didn't know was the rest of the story. He grew even more serious as I recounted how sad Jesus' friends were when He died, how they went to visit His grave, and how they didn't find Him there. He thought for a second about why. "Teacher, maybe His body went away and only the skeleton was left," he suggested. That's a good guess, but no. Jesus' body wasn't there because He wasn't dead anymore! He could stop storms and make a lot of food out of a little, and best of all He could even come back to life! And now that He's alive, He's back in Heaven with God, His Father, waiting for us to let Him take our bad hearts and give us new, good, clean ones. He wants to give us a heart like His, one that knows how to love God and how to love each other. Isn't it great that we can get new hearts?
Oh, how I wish you could have seen his eyes when I told him that Jesus is alive. Big, smiling eyes full of hope. Hope for a child who really struggles to be good, for the smallest kid in the class but with the biggest and softest heart. Hope that is simple and real. Hope for the 5-year-old, the 95-year-old, and anyone who listens close enough to hear its whisper.
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” -Luke 18:17--------------------
* The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally-Lloyd Jones