The other day I had a theological discussion with my 3 ½-year-old grandson. Like many discussions of this kind, it came out of the blue. There was no time to prepare a reasoned discourse, with appropriate Scripture references.
He wanted to watch a DVD, and chose one from my garage sale pile, a VeggieTales production called “’Twas The Night Before Easter.”
I read him the title. “What’s Easter?” he asked.
“It’s when we celebrate Jesus coming back from the dead,” I said. I love questions like this, especially when they have a straightforward answer. Discussion over. But not with a three-year-old, who has ten why’s for every answer.
Not so fast. “Why was he dead?”
“He died on the cross for our sins,” I said. How far were we going to go with this?
“What are sins?”
“Sins are the bad things we do.”
He considered this. “I don’t have any sins.”
“We all do bad things,” I said. “But Jesus loves us so much that he died for us.”
We still weren’t finished. “But why did he have to die?”
“It was God’s plan,” I said. “Jesus took our punishment for us.”
“That was a BAD plan,” announced my budding theologian, closing the dialogue. He settled in to watch cucumbers, tomatoes and French peas present the message of Easter. Sometimes I wonder if the Bible taught by garden produce is a good idea, but that’s another topic. I’m also waiting for the day when my grandson notices these verbal vegetables have no arms, yet they manage to build things, drive buses and cook meals.
But back to the plan. The plan that involves a suffering, dying, humiliated, defeated Savior. On the surface this doesn’t make sense, not to a young child, and not to a lot of adults. Because we like to meditate on God’s love, but not too much on his justice or his wrath. We prefer a kinder, gentler God, one who pats us on the head and says, “That’s all right.” Not a God who would subject his own son to a bloody, excruciating death.
It’s difficult to comprehend love and justice coexisting in one God. But Scripture insists both are true, so we must try. This is a broad subject, one that can’t be adequately discussed in a few hundred words. Here I can only sum it up by saying that because God is completely holy and just, sin must be punished. Justice must be satisfied. God would be less than himself if that were not so.
But out of love that is as strong as justice, God solved this situation by turning judgment onto himself in the person of his son, Jesus. In a brilliant move, the cross fully satisfies both God’s love and God’s justice. The seriousness of sin demands death; Jesus, out of obedience to his father and love for us, subjected himself to the worst kind of death the Romans could muster.
This is hard for a three-year-old to understand. It’s easier when you get a little older and start to comprehend your inability to live up to God’s standards, your failure, your downright badness. You understand God’s justice that rightfully declares you guilty. You realize that only God’s love and grace, freely offered, can bring you home to him, and it overwhelms you. Then you rest in the bedrock facts of the Easter event. We have a dead Jesus in a dark grave, leading to an earth-shattering, glorious resurrection. The power of sin and death is reversed.
This is huge, my dear grandson. It changes everything. As the years go by, I will share these big truths with you, praying you’ll understand them. I hope you’ll see that God’s plan was absolutely a good plan, the best, the most stupendous. And that I love you to the moon and back, but our great God loves you even more.