The Gospel for Disobedient Children

Recently, while my pastor was away in Uganda I filled in for him by teaching our covenant children in their weekly catechism class. The questions we dealt with were WSC 39 and 40 which speak of the duty God requires of man (obedience to his revealed will) and the standard of duty revealed to us (the moral law). I asked them a question that I have often asked my six and four year old sons: Why did Jesus die? As you might imagine, all of the children knew the answer: for our sins. But then I asked them (the part my boys still can’t grasp) this question: Why did Jesus live?

There was silence, which was exactly what I expected. Now there are several “right answers” the children may have given me. They could have said to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15) or to always do what is pleasing to the Father” (John 8:29). The truth I wanted them to grasp was that not only did Jesus die for their sins, but that he lived to earn their righteousness. The first work of the law is to inform us of God’s holy nature, to reveal to us his will, to convince us of our inability to keep it and in this to drive us to Christ who as the second Adam and true Israel has kept the law being the righteous servant of the covenant.

As last year came to a close and we approached Christmas, we were reading in the first part of Luke’s gospel around the table after dinner during our family worship time. We came to the portion (the only portion which informs us of anything about Jesus’ childhood) of Scripture which records Jesus’ interaction with the teachers in the temple (Luke 2:41-52). Jesus’ parents had visited Jerusalem for the Passover and returning home they assumed Jesus was among the group they were traveling with. When they could not find him they returned to Jerusalem to find him in the temple or “in his Father’s house” as he said. The Scripture then records that Jesus returned with them to Nazareth and “was submissive to them” (v.51). I brought these words to the attention of my family that night and more recently to the children in catechism class to show them that Jesus was obeying the fifth commandment. We talked about the importance and implications of the commandment to honor our father and mother and how Jesus did this himself. We then spoke of how often we fail in keeping this commandment of God. At this point, the countenance of my boys began to change.

This happens often and does so for one of two reasons (or maybe a combination of both):

  1. They are being convinced that they have missed the mark and failed to live up to God’s standard, or,
  2. They are tired of hearing that they have missed the mark and failed to live up to God’s standard.

It is really easy to wrap things up at this point and instruct them in how they need to “do better” at keeping God’s command; and certainly they do. But understand that this is only bad news for them. They needed to know that, yes, they have sinned and are justly condemned for failing to obey their parents but that Jesus obeyed his parents not only for them to follow his example but precisely because they could not do it. He died for our sins, but he lived to earn and provide the righteousness required of us. He obeyed his parents because we could not so that those who are in union with Christ through faith might be counted by the Father as though they have kept this commandment from the time of their birth.

What a joy it is as a father to speak soberly to my children about the seriousness of sin and then to take them up in my lap, embrace them in my arms, and tell them that Jesus loves to do the same for sinners such as us.

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