This post contains notes from Ryan Golias at the Children Desiring God Conference 2011. Click here to see all the sessions.
No Longer Tossed To and Fro: Russel Moore
The text for this message was Mark 1:16-28. It is a big chunk, but worth reading through to follow the message below.
The Full Gospel for Children
We are used to seeing warning labels for children. On medicine bottles we see labels warning “Not for children”. On rides there are warning labels “This ride not for children under this height.” But I had never before seen a warning label on the gospel.
I learned about a children’s curriculum that had left out the story of the crucifixion and resurrection from their holy week lesson. In an official statement they said that the story of the crucifixion is simply too violent for children. And if you leave out the crucifixion and go straight to the resurrection that would confuse preschoolers. Our lesson ends with the last supper Jesus had with his friends, they said. Jesus wants to be your forever friend.
The curriculum publisher also stated that there was an “alternative version” available for churches that wanted to teach the story of the crucifixion and resurrection. What kind of world do we live in when the the “alternative end” to the Easter story is the Easter story? Behind this is an entire way of seeing what we are doing when we teach the next generation.
If we teach the crucifixion and resurrection to young children, it doesn’t mean that we teach it the same way to everyone. There are levels of maturity, and appropriate levels of teaching. We teach the virgin birth differently to a five-year-old than to a fifty-year-old. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to teach the full word of God.
The Word of God and Jesus’ Authority
The church in its infancy finds itself in a spiritual battle with Jesus—so has every following generation. This tossing to and fro, which Ephesians 4:14 speaks of, was happening from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This battle is important for us: if we do not have a grounding in the authority of the scripture we will never reach the next generation with the gospel.
- Authority in the Synagogue
Notice the authority Jesus teaches with in Mark 1. The people are astounded, they are taken back. Jesus is teaching with an authority that is different than the religious leaders. Jesus himself is personally reading the and interpreting the Old Testament.
The exact same thing will happen in your ministries when you teach the Bible. People will be taken back and astounded at the authority of Jesus. He astounds people because he holds to the authority of the Scriptures. Jesus is treating the Scriptures with a gravity and authority immediately noticeable to his listeners.
Is Jesus’ authority noticeable when you teach the Scripture to children? When you are teaching the Bible to children you are teaching them believe in the inspiration of Scripture. “For no prophesy was every produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the holy spirit”. (2 Peter 1:21) Jesus is speaking through Scripture, and He is speaking with authority.
- Authority in Calling People
Look again at Mark and see Jesus’ authority when he calls his disciples. Jesus speaks and the disciples drop their nets. Now this isn’t just leaving a job, like we might do today. When the disciples dropped their nets they were abandoning an economic engine that has been passed on from father to son, generation by generation. This was to be their means of providing for their family, and was to be a legacy they in turn passed to their children.
What is driving them to walk away from all of that? They are leaving all behind simply because Jesus speaks to them: “Come follow me.”
- The Bible’s authority is the voice of Jesus
When we are teaching children to love and revere the scripture we are not teaching them to respect a thing. We are teaching them to love and revere a person, Jesus Christ. When Jesus interprets the Old Testament he is interpreting something that he wrote.
When we teach on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture you are teaching children to believe in Jesus, to believe that he is trustworthy. When you teach the clarity of the Bible you are teaching them what Jesus said: “I am bringing together all my sheep, I am calling my sheep.” See John 10:28-30. If you are keeping your children away from the Bible, you are keeping your children away from Jesus. He is speaking in the Bible. That is why holding fast to the Word of truth is a person issue.
Jesus is speaking in every text of Scripture. I am fine with red-letter Bibles—Bibles that print the words of Jesus in red. I have one myself. I just wish they were honest: the whole book should be red. All these words are Jesus’ words.
Teach Children to Love Authority
One important thing to do when teaching children to love the Bible is to teach them to love authority. God loves authority. The entire universe is built on a kingship. This isn’t raw sovereignty; this is a gracious, salvation-working, caring kingship.
If you are tearing down a sense of authority by making a fetish out of youth, making a fetish out of triviality in your ministry, how do expect children to listen to Jesus’ authority when they hear it?
Having a sense of gravity in children’s ministry is of foremost importance. You do not need children workers that are like children, or who will pretend that they are children. You are not a peer with the children. You are a leader, a teacher; you are driving them toward maturity and to recognise and love authority.
When children see that authority is good, they learn something about the reality of the universe.
Your teaching and gracious exercise of authority is meant to point children to the goodness of God’s authority. What is happening in Mark 1 is the same thing that is happening when he talks to the wind and waves. The King is speaking with authority. Jesus doesn’t simply have authority over Bible interpretation, he has all authority.
- Authority in names
If I walked up to you and said “Hi Tina, how are you doing? You know, your name is going to be Laura now.” You would think I am crazy. You’d ask me what I was smoking up here.
Yet Jesus is consistently changing names. In every instance what he is speakings seems ridiculous. Peter isn’t a rock. Just after Jesus names him, he calls him Satan. Abraham the father of nations? He’s 100-years-old and has no heirs. Jesus is giving a new name to all his people, writing on a white stone. It would sound ridiculous now, but that is who he is making you into.
Children need to hear the words of God. When they hear them they are not just hearing stories, they are hearing the voice of Christ. When Saul’s life was turned around he was changed by a light and by a voice.
Jesus’ authority over spirits
Jesus authority is over the spirit world as well as Scripture. When Jesus teaches in Mark 1, right away a demon possessed man cries out. Jesus’ authority is being proclaimed, and it is stirring the spirit world into activity.
If you are going to have a gospel rooted children’s ministry, you must understand the dark forces that will come against it. Remember the parable of the sower and the seeds. One of the seeds is snatched away. This is an evil spirit acting out in response to the proclamation of Jesus authority.
We do not need to hide the dark aspects of the gospel. Children already know that something is wrong with the world. That is why every child loves Where the Wild Thing Are. They know something is wrong out in the world, and something is wrong with the themselves.
If we are going to lead children toward Jesus, we must teach them the whole council of God. That includes showing them the heroic, adventurous aspect of Jesus’ victory over the authorities and powers in the cross.
Jesus says the ruler of this world is coming, and he has no claim on me. Ever since the beginning of the world the devil has been telling people that they are guilty, that they belong in hell with him. In every instance before and since, this accusation of the devil is true.
Your children face this lie. They have imaginations. There is no question whether or not a dark influence will be present. The question is whether or not you will direct children’s fears and dark images to the message or the gospel. Or will you let that aspect of their imagination go to zombies and video games? With His word, the Bible, Jesus is able to drive back the dark forces and march forward, and he will do it in your children’s ministry too.
The Bible pointing to Jesus’ authority
Anytime the authority of Christ is taught, people don’t just ask questions about the authority of Scripture, they ask questions about Jesus. That authority points to Jesus.
The bible is always pointing to Jesus Christ, but it is also showing how every man is not Christ.
The great king David ends up shivering in bed, unable even to prop up his head. Wise Solomon left his kingdom to be split, and displeased God. Moses, God’s great, humble leader, is forbidden from entering the promised land. All over the Old Testament is showing us what to look for in the messiah, but also that He hasn’t come yet.
The way we often teach the bible, and never get to Jesus Christ, is exactly the way that the devil speaks to Jesus Christ in the wilderness. He comes to Jesus and quotes scripture. For the most part, the scriptures the Devil used are true, but they are abstracted from the gospel. Satan is even willing to have a world where Jesus is ruling: a world in which there is no porn, no abortion, no violence, no genocide, as long as there is not a gospel.
Prosperity gospel teachers are going around the world preaching the Bible. They are using the text of Deuteronomy, bypassing the gospel, and going strait to you. They bypass Jesus. That is often what we do when we teach children the Bible. “David had friends, you should have friends.” “Solomon was wise, you should be wise.” This is true, but is not helpful. You need to teach the cross in children’s ministry.
Sometimes we evangelicals are prone to jump from one bogeyman to another. We might only teach the indicatives of Jesus, God’s transforming grace, and never teach His commands. Jesus makes no distinction between indicatives and imperatives. We can easily put a hedge around the gospel. In order to protect ourselves from legalism, we will never teach what Jesus told us to do. Jesus tells us who we are, then tells us how we are supposed to live. His authority covers all of life.
Blood spattering is not just scary to kids. It is disturbing to Peter. The cross of Christ is outrageous and violent. Listening to Jesus brings a kind of enraged tranquility. This is the effect of Jesus authority, the authority we must teach.
You must know that teaching Christ to children will incite the principalities and powers. If you will teach the Bible, as it is given to us, and present Jesus in all his authority, you will hear voices saying “Have you come to destroy us?” And with all the authority in heaven and earth, that has been given to Jesus, and Jesus has given to us, you will be able to say back to them, “Yes.”
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