This Sunday there was a bad guy in the text. My son Carson heard it, his imagination went to work, and his response made God's harder promises more real to our family.
Kristi was making dinner, the girls were hollering in play, I was setting the table, and that's when Carson asked, "Is Satan going to send a man to kill us?" An ordinary moment just became one of the most important moments in the life of my son.
Carson was talking about the man he heard about in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10, who comes "by the activity of Satan," who will "proclaim himself to be God" and lead many away from Christ "with all wicked deception." He is called "the son of destruction," the "antichrist" (1 John 2:18), and in Revelation he's pictured as a beast (Revelation 13). My son was about to find out what it really means to be a Christian. "Yes, son. Satan hates Jesus Christ, and he hates the people who belong to him. He is always scheming, and the Bible says that one day he will send a man to deceive many and destroy others who refuse to turn."
I planned to continue with true and happy promises but was cut off when Carson started wailing. He didn't want to die, and I could understand. I told Kristi to start dinner with the girls. I took Carson into my office to talk about Jesus' cross and about ours.
Jesus Has Strong Breath
By the time we sat down to talk, Carson was already on a fix. He wasn't the first with this idea, and he wouldn't be the last. With urgency, he made his proposal: "What if we tell the man that we don't believe in Jesus? What if we trick the man?" Creative? Yes. Honoring to Jesus Christ? He agreed, no. The fear and tears returned in force. My son was fully convinced of the Word of God. Just not yet the good part. And so it was my job to teach him the whole counsel of God, which does not end with Gethsemane, a cross, and a tomb. "Son, Jesus died on the cross for us, and death may be the cost of following Jesus. But do you remember what happens to dead Christians?"
With each biblical reality we discussed came a new and corresponding wave of emotion. Smirking through his tears, Carson looked into my eyes, and in perfect bad-guy defying, 5-year-old form, he made his hand into a knife, dragged it across his throat, and applied the Bible to his life: "Then Satan can cut off my head." I couldn't believe my eyes or ears, and yet I could. He remembered the resurrection, and death lost its sting.
I knew only to pour more gas on his little fire of gospel faith.
"Son, Satan may send a man to kill us. This is true. And many more will come who hate Christ. But Jesus will come and destroy this man. Do you know how?"
"With his breath."
He rose to his feet, walked across the room, picked up the Bible off my desk, put it in my hand where it belonged in this conversation, and told me what to do: "Read me the Bible. Read me the part where Jesus breathes on the man." Suddenly 2 Thessalonians 2:8 became my new favorite Bible verse: "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming." Hearing this word, Carson breathed in my face like a dragon and then giggled. It was the sound of faith. Breathing doesn't take a lot of effort, and Carson understood. Jesus' breath is stronger than death.
I studied 2 Thessalonians for a week before preaching it to my son and our congregation. In a day my son knew it better than I did.
Something Scarier than Death
But isn't it cruel or at least premature to fill the imagination of children with the stories and Scriptures of death for Christian discipleship?
When my son posed his question before dinner, I was tempted for a moment to comfort him by saying that he may not actually die for his faith. But that's not what the children who saw Christ die on the cross would have understood. And that's not how Jesus talked when he said things like, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you [on my account]" (Matthew 5:11). There is nothing more eternally healthy for the imagination of a young boy than to hear these words and place himself in the drama of Scripture. The same young imagination that may at first fear death, when captivated by Christ will remember these words and the breath of Jesus that lays low his enemies. In fact, we will know our children believe Jesus' promises about heaven when they believe Jesus' promises about now.
But death for Christ isn't inevitable for those who profess him as Lord. There's another possibility that is far worse: deception. The bad guy Carson heard about on Sunday comes with "wicked deception for those who are perishing," and those who turn on Christ will "suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Many of us won't have to pick between our lives and Christ. But some of us will, and some of our children will, or perhaps their children. This is the kind of Christianity we must pass down.
So, yes, I truly hope my son's life is in danger. No, not because I want him to suffer in any way. I lock the door at night, buckle his seatbelt, and give him food for a reason. I'm talking about danger from unflinching association with a crucified man. The safest place in this world outside of Christ is, in reality, the most dangerous place we can be.
With that lesson before us, we sat down to eat, thanked God for our food, and prayed as Jesus instructed: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."