While recently checking out a new Bible story book this examiner came across the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. In discussing the night of the Passover, the book said the Israelites were instructed to mark their doors “red” so that they would stay safe. The picture showed someone marking the top of his door frame with a red substance of some sort.
This was disturbing because Exodus explains that the Jews were specifically instructed to kill a lamb and smear the lamb’s blood on the door. God was about to send one final plague on Egypt which would finally liberate the Jews from their bondage to Pharaoh—every firstborn in Egypt, including Pharaoh’s firstborn, was going to be killed. The Jews could escape this plague by sacrificing a lamb and marking the top and sides of their door frames with the blood of the lamb. Upon seeing the lamb’s blood, the destroying angel would “pass over” that home; hence, the name of the feast of Passover.
It wasn’t merely red paint that kept the Angel of Death from entering the Israelites’ homes. Why is this so important? From the vantage point of the New Testament, the Passover serves as a poignant foreshadowing of Christ, the true Lamb of God, whose blood would be shed for the sins of the world. Just as the blood of the lambs of the Hebrews protected them from dying on the night of the Passover, the blood of Christ keeps us from spiritual death. Christ identified himself with the Passover Lamb when, on the night before his crucifixion, he used the Passover meal as the occasion for him to institute the sacrament of Holy Communion. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul says, “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.”
Why would we want to miss out on the opportunity to connect the Passover story in our children’s minds with the gospel story of Christ’s death on the cross? Perhaps the authors of the Bible story felt that discussing animal blood would “gross out” young children or that it would be too graphic. Perhaps they felt that explaining why the animal blood was necessary would be too abstract for young children to process. It is certainly true that not all Bible stories are G rated. Nevertheless, we must be careful, lest in an effort to contextualize Scripture for our children we find ourselves inadvertently watering it down.
Exodus 12:23-27 says, “For Yahweh will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel, and on the two door posts, Yahweh will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to strike you. 24 You shall observe this thing for an ordinance to you and to your sons forever. 25 It shall happen when you have come to the land which Yahweh will give you, as he has promised, that you shall keep this service. 26 It will happen, when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 that you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of Yahweh’s Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians, and spared our houses.’ ” The people bowed their heads and worshiped.”
If all the gory details of the Passover night were described to children, it would be traumatic. There’s no need to focus on the gore. In the Old Testament, God specifically wanted Hebrew children to be taught about the Passover meal. God wanted Hebrew children, in all generations, to know that he had struck the Egyptians, but had spared Israel, because of the blood of the lambs. The focus ought to be on God sparing the people of Israel, how the lambs died so that the Jewish people themselves could be spared. The focus should be on the theme of sacrificial substitution, which is a perfect catalyst to go on to share the gospel.
Even young children can be taught the principle that the “wages of sin is death”, which means that when we sin—when we say “no” to God—the consequence is death. If we hope to be spared, we need a substitute, someone willing to die for us. That is what the Passover story is about, and that is what the gospel is about. We shouldn’t underestimate children’s ability to grasp the gospel.
In Luke 18:16-17 Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Dr. Richard Bucher, a Lutheran pastor, interprets this passage, saying, “According to Jesus, these babies had what it took to be members of the kingdom of God, feeble intellect and all!… Repeatedly Christ taught that faith in Him was the one way to become a member of God’s kingdom (cf. John 3:16-18). Therefore, when He says about babies, ‘for of such is the kingdom of God,’ He is telling us that babies can believe (for how else could they enter the kingdom?!).”
Of course, every child is different. There’s no one right way to communicate the gospel to children. Every parent has to decide for himself or herself. The point, though, is to be careful about “softening” some of the more gruesome elements in Scripture. We don’t want to misrepresent Scripture, and we certainly don’t want to fail to take advantage of opportunities to point out where Jesus is foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
On his radio program, Turning Point, this week Pastor David Jeremiah pointed out that on the road to Emmaus, Jesus used the Old Testament to teach Cleopas and his friend about Messiah. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
We must remember that, according to Jesus himself, the whole purpose of the Old Testament is to point towards his coming. When we teach the Old Testament to our children, remembering that every story is really most truly about Jesus is absolutely crucial.