There once was a kindergarten Sunday school class. The teacher was giving a demonstration of how God created everyone, including all the little animals. For her illustration, she asked the kids in her class a question. “What’s brown and furry and has a big bushy tail and eats nuts?” “Jesus!” shouted the children, because as we all know, Jesus is always the answer in Sunday school. The teacher smiled patiently and said, “No… Listen close. What’s brown and furry has a big bushy tail and eats nuts?” Again the entire class shouted “Jesus!” A little bit more impatiently the teacher repeated “No. Listen closely to the question kids. What’s brown and furry has a big bushy tail and eats nuts?” One little boy quietly raised his hand and said, “Well, I know the answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel.”
I know, I know, it’s cheesier than a pizza (kind of like that simile), but this joke got me thinking recently. This example is not too far off of reality. In any church, the first answer given to any question in Sunday school is invariably: Jesus. The case could be made that this is bad… bad for our children, bad for our reputations as Christians, or even bad for the church as a whole. The prevalence of this answer understandably leads one to the notion that children are not actually learning anything in Sunday school; they are simply repeating the word that has proven to bring them accolades and pieces of chocolate over the years. It could be argued that this is evidence that they are building the foundations of their faith on “lies”. To reference some parabolic teachings (and you thought that word could only be used in mathematic contexts), we are planting seeds on rocky soil or building houses on loose sand. However, I think that we could choose to draw different conclusions based on this evidence. I think there is something unexpectedly profound about the Sunday school answer. Jesus is always the answer.
Before we dive into this, let’s get some scripture to set the stage. First of all I think we need scriptures that outline the basics of Christianity. Verses that you want to share with new believers to tell them what it’s all about: You could go with “The Roman Road” (Romans 3:23 6:23 9:10 10:13) or the ever popular John 3:16. For some less common verses (to me at least) I suggest Isaiah 43:4-6, 2 Corinthians 5:21, and 1 Peter 2:24. All of these verses follow the same theme. Jesus died for your sins and rose again so, in order to be saved from those sins, accept it. This is an important thing to remember for all of us. I feel that we often get caught up in the “deeper arguments”: Calvinism vs. Arminianism, the importance of works, speaking in tongues, the list goes on and on. It’s fine to ponder those questions, as long as they don’t cause you to forget the things we actually do know. (i.e. Jesus died for you.) There are verses scattered throughout the New Testament that might also be helpful in thinking about this subject. Prayers always end in praising God in the name of Jesus. That wouldn’t happen if Jesus’s name weren’t important. In fact, the final verse of all the Pauline epistles is something along the lines of “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Paul understood that Jesus is the name you want to mention last in a letter, because it’s the most likely thing to be remembered. All of these verses lead one to the conclusion that, at the very least, Jesus is important. Well duh, but does that prove the validity of the Sunday school answer? Not entirely, but I think it lends some credence toward it. But don’t make up your mind yet. I’ve got some emotional appeals to make.
When ministering to a freethinking adult, what is the one main point you want to make sure comes across? Answer: Jesus died for you. Obviously this idea could (and should) be expanded, but if you had to boil evangelism down to its simplest phrase or idea, that would be it. If you want to get more artistic with it you could go a little further and say “Jesus for you”, implying a trade or exchange. Or, if you’re in a real rush and you just have one word to say to try and communicate the wonderful message of love and grace and forgiveness that is the gospel, there is only one word that does the job. Only one word comes close to carrying the weight of all that God did for us. Jesus. Jesus is the key. No other part of that original phrase by itself would lead another human being to the truth of Christ. Jesus is THE way THE truth and THE life. No one can get to heaven except through Him, so it makes sense that His name is the best way of sharing that message.
As a Christian parent, if there is one thing you want to stay with your child as they grow, or one idea that would never leave them that they might later dwell on and ponder so much that it drives them to action it would be the phrase “Jesus died for me”. Of course now we’re talking about your child in the artsy-fartsy, philosophical college phase, so to appeal to their natural craving for the abstract, we’ll shorten it to “Jesus for me”. And then of course if nothing else but one word were to stick with them as they grow, one word that could contain in its meaning, life itself, one word that can explain anything in this world yet cannot ever be fully explained, that word would have to be “Jesus”. It’s the only word that tells the gospel message without running the risk of overstating it.
I have to ask a question. What is the “gospel message”? A quick etymology of the word gospel: From Old English “gõd-spell” which literally translated means “good news” or “glad tidings”. (thank you Wikipedia.) So the gospel message is a message of good news. And what is that Good news? Jesus died for you, and then rose from the grave. Jesus Christ, the fully-man/fully-God being came down to earth and wrecked shop on sin and death and pain, all for Y-O-U. This is the Guy who thought to himself “I think I’ll invent DNA today,” back when he was designing every other micro and macroscopic entity on this earth. The only uncreated being in the universe and elsewhere thought about your name in particular and decided that the pain your existence would put you through was too great, so He went through it for you. That is the message of good news: the news that the excruciating pain, suffering, and agonizing separation from all that is decent does not have to be your eternity. That is the news of “Jesus.” (I may have overstated it.)
I’m not saying that when a child yells the name Jesus in Sunday school, they fully comprehend the magnitude of their expression, but a little piece of it has to sink in and grab hold. So of all the words they could be repeating over and over again 52 weeks in a row, I’d say they picked a pretty good one.