By Jared Kennedy
Jesus Christ is the main character of the Bible, but it’s possible to teach the Bible without ever talking about Jesus. To the religious leaders of His day, Jesus said, “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me” (John 5:39, CSB).
The scribes and Pharisees wanted the Bible as a book of religious rules and pious examples without having Jesus as their Savior. Let’s not make the same mistake.It’s our responsibility to help our kids find Christ every time we teach them the Bible. — @JaredSKennedy Click To Tweet
As parents and teachers of children, it’s our responsibility to give our kids better—to find Christ every time we teach them the Bible. How do we go about this? I’ve found it helpful to ask four key questions.
1. Who in this story needs good news?
I once talked about gospel-centered teaching with pastor Marty Machowski. He told me, “We want to understand who it is in each Bible story who needs the good news. Then, we want to help our kids relate to them.”“We want to understand who it is in each Bible story who needs the good news. Then, we want to help our kids relate to them.” — Marty Machowski Click To Tweet
Think about the story of the bronze serpent in Numbers 21:4–9. It’s the grumbling Israelites who most need the gospel in this passage. Moses tells us the people grew impatient as they traveled, and they “spoke against God and Moses: ‘Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!’” (v. 5, CSB).
A kid may be tempted to think they wouldn’t complain if they had miraculous manna and water from a rock. But when teaching this passage I ask them, “Have you ever stood in front of a refrigerator and thought, ‘There’s nothing to eat!’? Then Mom says, ‘There’s leftover meatloaf,’ and you think, ‘Ugh. I hate this wretched food!’”
We’re just like the Israelites!
2. What is God doing for His people in the story?
The next three questions come from children’s Bible teacher, Jack Klumpenhower. He observes that if the Bible is about who God is and what He’s done, then it’s essential to ask what God is doing in each passage.
In Numbers 21, God acts to judge, to hear the prayers of His appointed mediator, and then to provide His people with salvation. When people complained, God sent venomous snakes that bit the people, and many died (v. 6). God’s judgment exposed the people’s sin, so they cried out to Moses for help: “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you,” they said. “Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us” (v. 7, CSB). That’s exactly what Moses did. God had provided Moses as a mediator and intercessor for the people, and when Moses cried out to God on the people’s behalf, God answered his prayer. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover” (v. 8, CSB).If the Bible is about who God is and what He's done, then it’s essential to ask what God is doing in each passage. Click To Tweet
When teaching this passage to kids, I’ll bring pictures of doctors, nurses, and paramedics. Today, when we’re sick, we look to these authorities for healing. God’s people looked to Moses and to the serpent on the pole. And when they looked up, they lived, just like people find healing and rescue by looking to medical professionals today.
3. How does God do the same thing for us—only better—in Jesus?
This third question has two parts. First, it asks how what God does for us in Jesus is like what He did in the story. Second, it asks how what God does for us in Jesus is better than what He did in the story.
When I’m preparing to teach from an Old Testament passage, I like to look up the passage in some of my favorite study Bibles. I love the notes of The Reformation Study Bible and the Biblical Theology Study Bible. I read the notes carefully, looking for a cross-reference that points me to ways the Old Testament passage is referenced in the New Testament. Using the cross-references is a simple method I’ve used time and again to discover ways the Old Testament passage points forward to Christ. It’s like checking my math homework by looking at the answers in the back of the textbook.Using cross-references is a simple method to see how the passage points to Christ. It’s like checking my math homework by looking at the answers in the back of the textbook. — @JaredSKennedy Click To Tweet
When studying Numbers 21, you’ll find a reference to John 3:14–17. In this passage, Jesus says that He is like the bronze serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness. How so? When people look to him, they won’t perish but instead will be saved from death. Jesus is even better than the bronze serpent; He’s also the mediator like Moses who prays for the people, and the healing He offers doesn’t merely rescue from physical sickness. No, Jesus offers the gift of eternal life!
4. How does believing this good news change the way I live?
With the first three questions, we’re off to a good start. We’re showing kids how stories from the Old Testament are used in the New Testament. We’re helping them see how the Bible fits together and points to Christ. But we can’t stop there. We must also think through what a faith response looks like for kids in that age group. We must show kids how the gospel addresses their needs. We must ask, “How does Jesus’ offer of eternal life help the boy who grumbles while he stands in front of the refrigerator?”
That’s where the fourth question comes in. Numbers 21 reminds kids of the hard reality that complaining is sin. All our sin deserves God’s wrath; its wages are death (Romans 6:23). But God has rescued us from the punishment we deserve by giving us the very best gift—Jesus! So, instead of complaining, we can give thanks for what we have. Johnny may not like meatloaf any more than he did at the beginning of the lesson, but after learning about the great rescue he’s been given in Jesus, perhaps he’ll be able to see that what he has is more than enough. By God’s grace, maybe Johnny will be able to put off grumbling and put on a grateful heart! Then, the next time he’s tempted to complain, he’ll stop and pray, “Thank you, God, for something to eat. It’s better than I deserve.”Jesus is the capital city of the Bible; every passage contains a road leading to Him. — @JaredSKennedy Click To Tweet
Charles Spurgeon once said: “Don’t you know … that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London? So, from every text in Scripture, there is a road toward the great metropolis, Christ.” Jesus is the capital city of the Bible; every passage contains a road leading to Him. As you teach kids, ask these four questions. Find the Bible’s path to Christ. Lead children to the great Savior who stands waiting for them at the end.
Jared is an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of resources for church leaders, parents, and children including Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission and The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife and three daughters where they attend Sojourn Church Midtown.