There is probably no more joyful celebration in the church year than that of Resurrection Sunday, Easter. We gather to worship together in glad adoration, greeting one another with the loud and joyous refrain, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” Children sense the excitement—the music, pageantry, beauty, and other special traditions that often accompany the day in which we rightly recall Christ’s victorious resurrection. But it is equally important that we give children a proper context in which to understand this day, namely, what came before it—the crucifixion of Jesus.
If we are not careful and intentional, Jesus’ death on the cross can become a type of quick “flyover” between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday. That is why we must read and explain to our children what Jesus endured before His glorious resurrection: the mocking, thorns, nails, blood, suffering, and even the wrath of God that was poured out on Jesus so that His people might be saved.
How can we do this without unnecessarily weighing the story down with lengthy, deep, theological explanations? Here is one suggestion. Before or after reading about the crucifixion (the actual events) provide the children with a summarized context in which to understand why Jesus died on the cross.
This summary could include some of the following truths communicated in age-appropriate language:
- God created everyone and is the ruler over everyone (Psalm 24:1).
- All people are to honor God as their ruler by loving, trusting, and obeying Him (Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12-13).
- God is holy and righteous. He never sins or does anything wrong. His commands and rules are always right (Psalm 119:137; Romans 7:12).
- God's commands show us that we are all sinners. We do not honor, love, trust, and obey Him as we should (Romans 3:20, 23).
- Because God is holy and righteous, He hates all sin and is right to be angry at all sin. God's wrath is His fierce anger at sin (Habakkuk 1:13a; Romans 1:18a).
- God has decided that the right punishment for sin is death and hell—experiencing God's wrath forever (Romans 6:23a; 2:5).
- God is loving, merciful, and gracious. He is kind to undeserving sinners. He made a way for sin to be rightly punished and for sinners to be saved (Psalm 145:8; Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9).
- Jesus is God's holy and righteous Son. He is fully God and became fully human like us. But unlike us, Jesus never sinned (John 1:1, 14; Hebrews 4:15).
- Since Jesus is holy and righteous, He was able to be the perfect substitute for sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- God put the punishment of sinners on Jesus and poured out on Jesus the wrath He has against sin (Romans 3:25; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 4:10).
- God offers the free gift of salvation to those who repent and believe in Jesus (Mark 1:15; John 3:16-17).
Consider using the following resources in the days leading up to Easter:
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Explain what happened on the cross with these free resources: