I won’t ever forget the first time I told my oldest son about Christ’s death and resurrection. It was right after he spit up on my shoulder, and just a few minutes before I placed him gently in his crib. I don’t think he understood much at all that evening. He certainly didn’t ask any questions. In fact, I’m pretty sure he already was asleep.
He was an infant, about six months old.
I’ve repeated that routine most nights since then, and have now incorporated it into a bedtime song. For his twin brother and sister, I began telling them the gospel message much earlier, right after birth.
With the Easter celebration upon us, parents often wonder: What’s the “right time” to talk to a child about such a concept as death—specifically, Jesus’ death? May I suggest the answer is now?
We tell our children every day that we love them, so why should we wait until they’re older to share with them a much greater message about love? That is, that the God of the universe loves them even more—so much so that He died on a cross for them.
For some parents, though, this can be a difficult subject. Here, then, are four suggestions to make it easier.
1. Be positive. Talking about Jesus’ death on the cross is easy because it has an ending far greater than anything Disney ever will produce. Sure, if the story only were about death, it would be difficult, even awful. But Jesus rose from the grave and is alive! When I tell the gospel to my children at night, I never stop at Jesus’ death. If we’re reading the chapter about the cross and the tomb, we don’t end there. I want them to go to bed knowing that the God of the universe conquered sin and death and couldn’t be kept in the grave—and because of that, they can have eternal life. It’s called “Good News” for a reason.
2. Be honest. Being positive is easy, but we shouldn’t overdo it. In other words, don’t mumble the words “Jesus died,” hoping no one hears. Explain why He had to die. Sadly, some children’s Bibles skip Jesus’ death by saying He “went away” for a while, as if He got lost on a long hike on a Galilean mountain. I tell my twin 2-year-olds: “Jesus died on the cross for your sins and my sins and He rose from the grave!” They know it by heart and get excited. My 6-year-old has never said, “Wait, Jesus died?”
3. Be encouraged. Believe it or not, our children know about death before we even tell them. Kids step on ants and see lifeless animals on the road. They watch flowers wilt and leaves fall. Death is all around them. Why should they think humanity is any different? Scripture seems to assume that children—even ones not told the entire gospel message since infancy—are able to “handle” the concept of death. In Deuteronomy, God commanded the Israelites to teach their children the “statutes and ordinances,” which included all sorts of commandments that referenced death and animal sacrifices. Children were to be told about the Passover—a story that has as its core the blood of a dead lamb being wiped over the door.
4. Be biblical. Stick with what Scripture says, and you’ll be fine. There are plenty of resources to help, from the Big Picture Story Bible (younger children) to the Jesus Storybook Bible (older children). Each tells of Jesus’ death and resurrection in simple language. There are good DVDs, too. We’ve enjoyed the Read and Share Bible DVDs, which are geared toward young children and recount Bible stories in 2- to 3-minute animated segments. Volume 2 in that series tells the Easter story.
The Easter story literally is the greatest story ever told—and it’s true! That’s reason enough for me not to wait.
— by Michael Foust
Foust is the father of three small children, a writer and editor, and blogs about parenting at www.michaelfoust.com.