Does the charge to preach the whole counsel of God mean we need to dwell as much on the Sin=Death formula with our innocent children as the Bible seems to do?
Let’s start with the misconception that children are innocent. As believers of the word of God and its message to Adam’s fallen race, we know that is true neither doctrinally nor practically. Just consider what it is that makes a baby demonstrate a demanding, impatient, unyielding spirit – often several times a day!
The catechism lessons the past few weeks have dwelled on this query: Why did God give the Old and New Testament to us? With convincing clarity, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says “and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22a), and yet we know that only in Christ can anyone find salvation, so why all the seemingly unnecessary sacrifices?
With help from the New Testament, particularly Hebrews 9, we can peer back to better understand the practice of animal sacrifice in tabernacle and temple worship – no, go farther back to pre-Abrahamic days, back to the Garden right after the Fall.
Immediately after the transgression by Adam and Eve in eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God executed the "Sin Brings Death" formula, literally. No, not their physical deaths immediately and literally. They died spiritually upon committing the Original Sin, and brought the curse upon their descendants of natural generation. But as a picture of the blood atonement required, God killed creatures He had made so that skins could be prepared to cover the nakedness of His disobedient children. And He sent them out of the Garden to wait for the promised Redeemer. (Genesis 3)
We see with N.T. eyes that the blood of these animals was insufficient in completely satisfying the great and holy God (Hebrew 9:11-14), so why would He require it? The faith that penitents showed in believing that God would keep His word and the obedience that flowed from that faith pleased Him. And this crimson flow spilling the essence of life all over the ground would be a reminder of the propitiation equation that because Sin = Death, then without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.
The theme was reinforced in the account of Abraham’s obedient response to sacrifice his son, Isaac, interrupted by the substitution of another offering provided by the Lord Himself – the ram caught in the thicket (Genesis 22). In the psalms and prophecies, the picture becomes clearer: not just any sacrifice, but a perfect sacrifice, and as Adam and Eve eventually figured out, He had not yet come. The Seed of the woman would not be in their generation, in fact would not be born of ordinary generation, but of a Virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. This God-Man would be put on the altar, like a lamb led to the slaughter; His blood would spill to cover our sins. (Isaiah 53)
The skins of animals covered nakedness but not sins. The blood of a ram substituted for Isaac at that moment, but not for eternity. The sacrifices of animals from the institution of the system to the arrival of Jesus were sufficient “to sanctify for the purification of the flesh,” but not “to purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:24). This new Substitute’s act of obedience was not just for ceremony, but to accomplish, as promised, a real and perfect atonement for His people, the sheep found abiding in Him, Jesus Christ, who is the Spotless Lamb of God.
Jesus grants Life to those who Believe.
I love to teach children this Good News. This is my favorite lesson in this curriculum! Too many Christian institutions are capitulating to the politically correct voices from the liberal corner of religion (Machen’s Liberalism, that is.). They say we need to make the message of the Cross less violent, more “green” (a.k.a., symbolizing life and newness, like Spring Solstice – yeah, that orthodox holiday.). One popular meme in the past few years has been that the time has come to reject the “cosmic child abuse” story of penal substitution. Sadly, this is an easy line to feed to many unwitting students in Christian colleges, who are unprepared to do battle against heresy for the most part because doctrinal truths had been withheld from them in their lukewarm Sunday Schools; in them a love for the beauty of God’s truth had not been sown.
Let’s not neglect it. Let’s start rehearsing it now in this season leading up to Resurrection Sunday. We can teach and exhort our congregations, including our children, to believe by faith what God has promised: Eternal Life for those who:
- Follow Christ in His obedient walk to the Cross, where our sins are put to death with Him there (Luke 9:23-24; Luke 14:27; Galatians 5:24)
- Die with Him so that we can live as new creatures, eternally transformed spiritually now, regaining and improving upon what was lost in Eden (Romans 6:5-11; Romans 7:4-6; Romans 8:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 17; 1 Peter 2:24a; Galatians 2:19-20; Colossians 3:3-7; Ephesians 4:22-25)
- Wait eagerly with hope for the resurrection to come, looking forward to new transformed bodies upon physical death. (Colossians 2:12,14,20; 2 Timothy 2:11; 1 Corinthians 15)
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:50-58