A year ago, I talked about how presentations of the gospel sometimes makes Easter seem like a fictional story, and not a very interesting one at that. Once upon a time, Jesus did this, said that, rose from the dead, and everyone who believes in him lives happily ever after. We all know the ending. Yawn. No surprises here.
That’s why I think that the gospel is not just a three-point outline of sin sacrifice salvation. That might be necessary to make it fit on a tract, but it misses the beauty of the story that goes throughout the whole Old and New Testament. We lose the building of tension, the solutions that looked like they might work until the people failed God time and time again, the hints of a future Savior. We miss the sheer impact of the crucifixion and resurrection as plot twists when we repeat them over and over out of any historical or Biblical context.
And so our kids miss it too. And we wonder why they leave in church after they stop getting free pizza from youth group events. They know the stories. Noah and the ark, David killing Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den. And they know it’s important to be honest, kind, and obedient. But do they know the God of the stories? Do they know the overwhelming love that motivates right actions?
Last week, I suggested that it’s important to teach kids that the stories in the Bible really happened, and not just by saying that phrase somewhere in the lesson or storybook. This week, I’m going to make the claim that there’s something else we should teach kids: This points to Jesus.
That doesn’t mean stretching symbolism to figure out how to tie in Baalam’s donkey to a New Testament parable. But it does mean looking at the stories of the Bible as steps in the process of redemption that came to fulfillment in Jesus. There’s a reason this story was included in the Bible. What is it supposed to teach us about ourselves, God, or what’s coming next?
For example, a ton of stories—from the tower of Babel to the book of Judges to the many warnings of the prophets—show us that we are entirely incapable of beating sin on our own. Not going to happen, even if we know about a loving God who wants a relationship with us. That shows our need for Jesus.
Stories like God’s covenant to Abraham to bless the whole world through his descendants, or even the really ancient promise that someday, a descendant of Adam would crush the head of the evil serpent, are fulfilled centuries later in Jesus. They show the promise of Jesus.
And other stories show our rejection of God’s messengers to foreshadow people’s treatment of Jesus, people who sacrifice something out of obedience to God like Jesus did, and the fact that something has to die to pay the penalty for sins, a truth we clearly see in the story of—you guessed it—Jesus.
It’s all about Jesus.
Think I’m making this up? Stephen thought everything pointed to Jesus. Read his speech in Acts 7. The author of Hebrews 11 saw the same thing—all of the heroes of the faith were waiting for something, longing for it: the kingdom of God, inaugurated by Jesus. Also, Jesus and the apostles cited Old Testament stories (Jonah, Moses and the serpent, the Passover and the Exodus, the promise of a light to the Gentiles through the prophets, and on and on) and talk about how they relate to Jesus, his death, and his kingdom.
Kids need to know that Jesus wasn’t some kind of Plan B that got thrown down from the heavenly brainstorming board when none of the other options were working. Redemption was always the plan. God was always in control. He always loved his people enough to let his son die for us while we were still sinners.
And that means the Old Testament stories aren’t just some ancient sideshow on the way to the main event of the Gospels. They’re the build-up of tension, the important foreshadowing, the epic score to go along with what Jesus did for us on the cross. They mean something.
The story of the Bible is incredible, and the mini-episodes in between have great power too. They have the power to unlock understanding and faith where apologetics can’t. Let’s not waste that gift with fairy tale adaptations of Bible stories.