Why is Easter Good News? (part 3/6)
why it matters that Sin is not just a verb
Hello! Can I just start by saying how grateful I am that you’re here? A group of adults willing to nerd out about theology for the sake of kids getting better theology? My heart.
Alright, let’s do it! This is the 3rd part in our series looking at the many different ways the Bible talks about Easter as good news. Fair warning, there might come a time as you read when you think, “Wait—what does this have to do with kids?” But read on, until you reach the banner “Wait—what does this have to do with kids?” (Also, next week will help even more!)
P.S. Today the Bible Story Breakdown and comments are just for folks in the Kids + Faith Community. It’s new, and like lots of content-making people you know, it helps me do this thing I love a bit more sustainably. I’d love for you to join, but want you to have the chance to see what we’re doing to help you decide. So most of the newsletter is for everyone this time.
Thank you so much for reading and sharing. If you’d like to join the Kids + Faith community, that’d be awesome.
Anytime we want to talk about what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection make possible, we have to start at the beginning. We have to start with God’s dream.
Humanity, being made in the image of God, is invited to be like God in the way we live in the world. The dream is a universe full of God’s goodness, justice, joy, abundance, peace, love, and life. Beautiful, right?
But the world that actually exists around us is…often not so beautiful. The reason the Bible gives for that gap, between the jaw-dropping beauty of a world filled with God’s character, and the unspeakable tragedy of a world broken and distorted, is Sin.
So often the definition of sin gets narrowed to just a verb–actions we take. But it’s also an adjective, describing how the world is, so far from the dream. And, importantly for today, it’s a noun, a Thing that works against humanity and God. Paul often personifies Sin, such as when he talks about the “power of sin” in Romans.
One reason Easter is good news is that it tells the story of Jesus breaking the power of Sin and setting us free.
And here again I’ll name how some would say, “Ah yes, Penal Substitution, we have sinned, deserve death, and Jesus dies in our place, setting us free from the penalty of Sin.” But they would be missing it.
That perspective is much flatter and much less good than the story Easter actually tells.
Did you see the recent New York Times article about how common it is for unaccompanied migrant children to end up working low-wage jobs in factories, construction, and other industries? These jobs are often dangerous and exhausting. They sometimes prevent the children from going to school, and are 100% illegal. But the children feel trapped, without any alternative. It was a heartbreaking article to read.
I bring it up here because it is a perfect picture of what the Bible means when it talks about Sin as a power, a force, a noun.
Because in this situation, who is “sinning”? The parents who send their children, alone, to the United States out of hopelessness? Someone in the children’s home countries whose violence, oppression, or corruption created that hopelessness? The people who agree to sponsor the children for a fee and then force them to work to repay the debt? The staffing companies who don’t check the ages of the children they employ? The multinational corporations who contract with the factories and don’t check their conditions? The consumers whose desire for cheap snack foods put pressure on the factories to find cheaper workers? The Trump officials who detained these children? The Biden officials who, in order to reverse Trump era policies, put pressure on their subordinates to release these children so quickly that their sponsors weren’t adequately vetted? All of them?
In many of these cases, we’re talking about good people trying to do the best they can. That’s the truth. And yet, the result is the horrific, unthinkable evil of 13-year-olds being forced to work illegally thousands of miles from their home and family. All these good people might want to make different choices, might wish there was another way, but feel as if they have no choice, and that they have no power to change things anyway. This is just how the world works, they think, and they go along with it.
This is what the Bible is getting at when humanity is described as “enslaved to sin”, that Sin is a powerful presence all its own. The system I just described? That is why Sin is talked about in that way. We think this is just the way the world works, that we have no choice but to go along with it. And so, we do.
I had a professor once say, “You can’t buy a righteous pair of tennis shoes.” I want to avoid fast fashion, say no to Shein and all that, so I buy J.Crew (because, cute!) But then I read that article I just mentioned. And if I can’t buy a righteous pair of tennis shoes (or jeans, or a t-shirt), well then I need to put on my unrighteous ones and get going because school drop off waits for no one.
This is just the way the world works, and in so many ways we have no choice but to go along with it. The world is trapped by Sin.
Sin is like Pharaoh in the Exodus story, a powerful figure that enslaves us and forces us to work its way. It convinces us that there really is no alternative, and that the only way we will find the life we’re looking for is if we go along with it. And so we go along. But at the end of the road what we find is not the life we thought we were promised, but anxiety and fear, pain and injustice, for us, for others, for the world. The road doesn’t lead to life at all. It leads to death. Metaphorically, yes, and also literally.
In the Exodus story, God is said to ransom the Hebrews, setting them free. And the New Testament picks this image up to describe what Jesus does as well, such as Paul talking about humanity being enslaved to sin, and Jesus’ death and resurrection ransoming us from its power.
Penal Substitution smooshes the economic ransom metaphor into its punishment shaped box, saying that “ransom” means paying the penalty for our guilt. But that isn’t the metaphor at all. God didn’t pay Pharaoh in order to set the Hebrews free. The people didn’t owe some sort of penalty. They were slaves, subject to a power that controlled them and prevented them from living the life God had intended for them.
Sin is like that, forcing us to live in a way that prevents us, and the world as a whole, from living the life, experiencing the joy, luxuriating in the goodness of our God. And on our own, we’re no match for Sin’s power. The system of ‘how the world works’ will make sure we get in line. We need to be set free.
What we need is someone who could take Sin’s power and break it, like God broke the power of Pharaoh.
And that’s one way Paul in particular talks about what happened through Jesus’ death and resurrection:
Sin, not just our individual mistakes, but also the whole system of evil brought all its weight and power down onto the shoulders of Jesus and killed him.
But then, like the stone table in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the power broke as the dawn’s light peeked through that first Easter Sunday.
And when we are “in Christ”, Paul says, what is true of him is also true of us. He has broken the power of Sin, which means we aren’t subject to it any longer either.
Easter is good news because Jesus has broken through Sin to the other side, where life and goodness and justice and peace are what is most true, and he brings us right along with him. We’re free.
We no longer have to live in accordance with the systems of oppression and injustice and violence and greed we see around us, because we are free from that, free to live the life God always intended to give us. Free to invite others to experience that life and peace and joy as well. Free.
Today’s theme becomes especially relevant as kids grow. In the younger years, you are establishing for kids that God is good and trustworthy, that God gives life. But as they grow, new dynamics come into play.
There will come a point when your kid will start to feel “the pull.” The pull of school/sports/band/friends/the-culture-of-the-internet on their lives, telling them to be a certain way. Telling them that they’re only ok if they are ‘in’.
They’ll feel they have no choice but to go along with the pressures of those things. (And these things can be good and life-giving, but each also sends messages about “how to be OK in the world”, right? And those messages can be just the opposite of life-giving.)
“The pull” hits different kids at different ages and stages. But when it comes, this idea will be ready for you. That pressure to become something else, someone else, just to be OK by the standards of their peers/teachers/family/church/followers, it can trap them.
It’s not that your kid is uniquely sinful in that moment. It’s that they now feel how the force of Sin can work.
Having anchored to who God is in younger years, you can now offer them the idea that the person of Jesus cares about them getting to be free. They can be themselves. Fully loved. Fully the unique, creative person God has made them to be. Learning to make their own unique mark on the world because that’s what image bearers do. Your kid has been ransomed, and they are invited to live free.
Ok, as another way to help bring this idea out of the abstract, let’s do Zacchaeus as our Bible story Breakdown.