My son wants to build a cross in our front yard…with your name on it.
I’m the chief story reader in our home. Our 4-year old son has developed an elaborate bedtime story routine. Each night, I’m required to read from a children’s devotional book and three different children’s storybook Bibles. After reading, I must also sing three songs before kissing him goodnight: Jesus Loves Me, Silent Night, and Jingle Bell Rock. I have no clue how those last two became nightly requirements.
One Bible (The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones) must always be read last. And he always requests the “Jesus dying on the cross” story. The illustrations are beautiful. One page depicts Jesus hanging on the cross with a sign above him (the sign described in the Gospel of John 19:19-21). As we read the story again the other night, our 4-year-old interrupted me:
“Daddy, I want to build a cross in our front yard.”
“Yeah, I want to build a cross and put a sign on it.”
“A sign? What would you put on the sign”
“People would come by and put their names on it and then I’ll erase their names.”
“Why would you erase their names?”
“For more people to come by and put their names on the sign.”
“And then what would you do?”
“And then I’ll erase their names so other people can put their names on it.”
As I gazed into that little boy’s eyes, I had an Emperor’s New Clothes moment. My son has no clue how powerful is words are, but I do.
While only 4-years old, he already understands the Cross has a message for us today; it’s not merely a historical artifact.
Our children’s Bible pictures Jesus on a cross, with a sign hanging above him but…
Without being taught, he concludes the sign on the cross should really have your name on it…and my name.
He’s reasoned, ‘if that Cross has a connection with any one person, the connection is to us, not Jesus.’
How true, son. How true. One day our little boy will grow out of Bibles filled with pictures and large text. And he will eventually read the conversation between two men who died on crosses next to Jesus:
“And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41).
I think of words from the Bible, Isaiah 53:4-6:
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Our son’s sign idea reminds me about the “Deep Magic” in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. One day, we’ll read this book together and come to that famous dialogue between the Witch and Aslan:
“You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill…. And so that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property… unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.”
Last, our son understands the Cross is for public viewing…as public as a front yard next to a busy road.
Sadly, we use our front yard as much as most suburban families, which is… not at all. We spend all outdoor play time the back yard. The back yard is peaceful. The back yard is safe. The back yard is fenced-in so neither children, nor dog, can escape. And the backyard is private.
Our front yard, however, is none of those things. Several neighbors do not have cars. A bus stop and a Dollar General are both a few hundred feet from our front door. Put all those things together and what do you have? You have people cutting through our front yard at all hours of the day. Multiple homeless pass by each week. Two busy roads intersect at our house, bringing several hundred cars by our front yard each day. And a Goodwill donation drop-off site across from our garage cause 100+ people to stop, unload their unwanted belongings, and get back in their cars. Our front yard is not private.
This little redhead’s father has spent years keeping his faith private…discreet. I’m most outspoken when preaching before other Christians, or typing before a computer screen. But our sweet boy only knows one way to express his faith–publicly, before all the world. Is this why Jesus praises the faith of children?
During the average week, our 4-year old might spend 2 minutes in our front yard. Yet he doesn’t want this cross in the back yard where we spend our time. He wants it in the front yard, where everyone else can see it, see their name on it, and then see their name erased.
“I, I am the One who erases all your sins, for my sake;
I will not remember your sins (Isaiah 43:25 NCV).
Yes, it probably makes more sense to see our names on that cross, than to see Jesus’ name up there- the only person who “knew no sin.” But the historical reality is that Jesus’ name was on that cross. It’s as if our names are erased from that cross because his name is there instead. Or, to use the Apostle Paul’s words, “one died for all, and therefore all died.” And that, my friends, is Good News.
I’ll never pressure our boys to choose the same profession as their Dad. But I’m already wondering if our 4-year old might follow in my footsteps. If I may borrow a message from this 4-year old preacher,
I pray you see your name on that cross, hanging above where traitors died. But I also pray you see your name erased, by the One who gladly “erases all your sins.” And I pray you also want to ‘go public’ with Christ’s Cross.
O Lamb of God, for sinners slain,
I plead with thee, my suit to gain, —
I plead what thou hast done:
Didst thou not die the death for me?
Jesus, remember Calvary,
And break my heart of stone.
Take the dear purchase of thy blood,
My Friend and Advocate with God,
My Ransom and my Peace,
Surety, who all my debt hast paid,
For all my sins atonement made,
The Lord my Righteousness.
O let thy Spirit shed abroad
The love, the perfect love of God,
In this cold heart of mine!
O might he now descend, and rest,
And dwell forever in my breast,
And make it all divine!
O Lamb of God, For Sinners Slain— Charles Wesley, 1749