This week in our series, Looking for Jesus: Learning to Read the Bible and the World Through New Eyes, we’re answering the question: What does the Bible do? And our theme is children. These two things actually go together so well, that I’m just going to combine them for today’s sermon rather than taking them sequentially.
The Bible is a Fairy Tale that Creates Children
The Bible opens like a fairy tale, and it closes like a fairy tale. It opens in a perfect, beautiful garden, and it closes in a glorious, towering garden city coming down out of the clouds of heaven. And it’s filled with childish stories. There are talking snakes and talking donkeys. There are old women giving birth to babies. There are old men with sticks that command the forces of nature in the name of the God. Sometimes people walk on water, and sometimes the waters part making a path through the water. Bread comes down out of heaven, water gushes out of rocks, cities fall down when the people march around them shouting and blowing trumpets, men walk in a fiery furnace unharmed. There are giants and dragons and (depending on your translation) unicorns and satyrs. Burning bushes, rainbows, evil spirits, miraculous battles, sometimes the sun stands still, sometimes men pray and it stops raining for three years, and they pray again and the rain comes. One man apparently vanished into thin air because he walked with God, another man was taken up in a fiery chariot, and another man appeared and disappeared and reappeared in various places by the power of the Spirit. Many talked with heavenly beings whose appearance made you want to die with fear. Many people have spoken with angels, seen glimpses of God, and visions of the glories of heaven and the angelic armies. Bread and fish multiply, the dead are raised, men speak in unknown tongues, the lame walk, the blind see, arrogant kings judged, slain, eaten by worms, and the hero is a child born of a virgin, betrayed, rejected, and murdered like a worthless criminal.
This is no reasonable book. This is no book for serious, color inside the lines, paper-clip counters. This is the kind of book to make serious scholars mad. This is the kind of book to make certain kinds of scientists throw it down in disgust. This book is a fairy tale, and it is full of fairy tales. It’s a book of childish stories, beginning in a garden with two innocent, perfect children who break the rules and bring a spell of darkness on the earth. And the story climaxes after many twists and turns with the birth of another child who obeys the rules and breaks the spell that was cast over the earth, and brings light back into the world. The hero-child goes down into the cave of death, slays the dragon, rescues the harlot, making her his virgin bride, and finds the way out again alive. And the story closes imagining the whole world as a cosmic fairy tale, a Marvel Comics meets Beowulf, an apocalyptic vision of the reign of the Child King who is also a Lamb who is also a Lion who goes into battle, slaying the dragon and all his accomplices with the sword that comes out of His mouth while rescuing His Bride through the flames, through the sword, through great peril and bringing her at last to the great Wedding Day, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
This is no reasonable book! This is an epic fairy tale, a cosmic child’s story. And to read the Bible is to be invited to read this story. To read the Bible is to be invited to read these kinds of stories. And I believe this is part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3). “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein” (Lk. 18:17).
Jesus Himself came telling stories, riddles, parables meant to judge, meant to divide. Those who followed Jesus, who listened and stuck around to hear more, those were the ones who came to understand. But those who were offended at His stories, confused by His riddles, impatient at His parables, those who turned away, turned away from life, turned away from the Kingdom of Heaven. And this is the point: those who were intrigued, those whose imaginations were inspired, those whose hearts were stirred and began to turn, began to become young again. The ones with childish ears and hearts were the little ones, the weak ones, invited into the Kingdom.
The Bible is a Childish Book written for Childish People. This is not to say that it isn’t true. We have insisted repeatedly: It is true. Every word is spoken by God, miraculously, wonderfully for us. There are difficult passages, philosophical moments, doctrinal edges, but running throughout is a deep poetry, a deep comedy, a deep fairy tale. And it’s the kind of childish story that attracts children, and it’s the kind of childish story that changes people into children.
So what does the Bible do? The Bible converts old sinners into newborn babies. The Bible creates hearers and listeners who love to hear the old, old stories. The Bible takes the old and makes them young again. This is exactly what Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever… the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. Wherefore … as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 1:23-2:2). The Bible is the inspired record, the authoritative summary of the Word of God, the Gospel of God. And Peter says it gives new birth, rebirth. It was the seed that went down into the ground, and then you sprung up alive from the dead. But on top of that the Word also nourishes you once you are born, it’s the milk from your mother’s breast. The Bible is baby food for baby people. Its stories are the stories that feed the imaginations of the babies born through its power. The Bible paints the world in crayons. The Bible tells the story of your life in finger paints. There’s a tree, a dragon, a bride, a hero. And when you believe, when the Word becomes your life, your light, when the Spirit invades you and gives you a new heart and you find yourself young again, it’s because you find yourself a child of God in the middle of the fabulous epic adventure story He is telling.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they plunged the whole human race into death. This didn’t mean that they died on the spot. It meant that now their hearts were darkened. It meant that their relationship with the God of Life was damaged, broken, strained. It meant that they would grow old, their eyes would grow dim, their hearing would fail. They wouldn’t see the world rightly any more. They wouldn’t hear the words of their God or the words of their friends and family rightly. It means that they would grow feeble in their bodies. Sickness and disease and old age would overtake them. Their senses would grow faint and dim and dull.
To be born into sin, born in the lineage of Adam is to be born already old. When Adam and Eve were made they were created to live forever. That means everyday was their birthday. Everyday they were as young as the day before because they had no end. They were given life, endless, forever life. The whole world was before them, the future was forever before them. They would learn and mature and grow in glory, but they would always be young because they could never die. And this is one of the ways in which they imaged God, their Maker. God has the future forever before Him. He is never any older because He has no end in sight. He is always young. And Adam and Eve were created with this same youthfulness. Every day would have offered the adventure of the future to them with no time running out, no limits, endless possibilities, the freedom of endless life. Adam and Eve were created to play, as God’s perfect children, in His universe forever. The universe was created and belonged to their Father. It was their backyard, and so long as they trusted Him, the whole world was their playground.
But when they sinned, when they broke covenant, when they chose to make their own lives, to follow their own hearts, they lost that endless future. The world became dangerous, and now time was counting down. Now there would come an end, a period at the end of their stories. Now they were growing old, now they were dying. And since then, every child born has been born already dying. Every child born is born with a day of death already in place. We are born already old, already counting down, already doomed.
And this helps explain why and how we must be born again. Unless we are born again, unless we become children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is the Kingdom of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. One of the chief attributes of this Kingdom is that it has no end. His reign is forever. His Kingdom is forever. His rule is forever. The kingdoms of this world may rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God is forever. It has no end. In other words, the reason you cannot enter the Kingdom as anything other than a child is at minimum a reason of sheer duration, longevity. If you don’t become a child and remain a child, if you aren’t born again to an endless life, you can’t be part of the Kingdom simply because you won’t be around. The Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Jesus is going to go on forever. If you have death in your future, you won’t make it. If your future is growing old, then your future isn’t the Kingdom of God.
Becoming Young Again
So the issue isn’t really about getting smooth skin again. The issue isn’t really about becoming a baby exactly. The issue is getting rid of your death date. In other words, the way to become young again, the way to be converted like a little child is to somehow erase death. If your death is erased, if your story doesn’t have an end, then no matter how old you are, you have endless life, everlasting life, forever life. If death doesn’t hold you, if death cannot stop you, then you are as young today as you were yesterday, and you will be just as young tomorrow and next year. And this brings us full circle back to the Bible, the Word of God, and the Childish Story.
This is one of the crazy, childish things Jesus likes to talk about: “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever:” “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
This is why we can say with confidence that the Bible is a Childish Story, a Fairy Tale about children, for children, meant to make more children. It’s the story about two children who lost the gift of life, who lost their youthfulness and grew old and died and passed the curse of old age and death on to their descendants, until another Child was born. That Child was born without Adam as His Father, but was conceived by God’s powerful magic in the womb of a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. His Father was God, the Eternal God, He was the Son of God, the Child of God, and in Him was Eternal Life, Forever Life, and He came to break the spell that hung on the whole human race grown old and dull in sin and death and darkness. He came to raise the sons of earth; He came to give them second birth. He came to destroy the power of death. He came to disarm the grave.
And this is why He speaks of eternal life, everlasting life, and becoming children. Jesus had a birthday just like you and me. And Jesus had a death day just like you and me. But when Jesus went down into death, He overcame the power of death so that as many as receive Him, to them He has given the power to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name. Who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12-14).
Jesus is the Child King, and in His hands He holds the keys of Death and Hades. And He gives those keys to all who trust in Him, to all who believe in Him, to all who love Him and receive Him. And what are those keys of Death and Hades? They are the holes in his hands. The power of death was the law, the power of death was the guilt of sin. But Jesus has paid it all. The holes in His hands, the holes in His feet, the scar in His side prove that justice has been satisfied. Your debt has been paid. He has made the great sacrifice for sin, and therefore all who trust in Him are freed from death. If you belong to Jesus, then you will never die, you have been given the power over death. Death cannot hold you. Death cannot keep you. The righteous obedience of Jesus is yours, His sacrifice is yours, His scars are yours, and now you have been given power over death. And therefore, you will live forever. And if you have the power of endless life through Jesus, then like Jesus, you are a child again. You are born again from the dead. You are alive with endless life before you.
When Jesus healed the sick, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lame. He was not merely a magician, not merely a miracle worker. But He was showing why He had come. He had come to undo the curse of sickness and disease and old age. He came to bring life, and to give endless life. But this life is much bigger, much deeper, much grander than anything we can begin to imagine. Our eyes and ears are dull, and in our minds, we frequently think that life is just the absence of pain, the absence of trouble, the absence of difficulty, sickness, disease. But that is hardly the end of it. Of course Jesus promises to wipe away every tear, to take away the pain of sickness and death.
But Jesus has sent us His Spirit and given us the mission of following in His footsteps. We have been given the mission of unlocking death from the inside in this world. He destroyed the power of the curse by washing us clean from our sins. He offered the sacrifice for sin, once and for all, that by His death all might live forever. But then He gives us the keys of Death and Hades, and sends us into the world to show the world the power of His endless life. The power of His endless life overcomes all the vestiges of death. The power of His endless life shines the light of the future into the darkness of the past. And that’s not just some kind of Hallmark sentiment. It’s the truth in Jesus. His death swallows up all death, all sin, all darkness. His future is endless, forever life. And all those who trust in Him for forgiveness, for everlasting adventures in His glory, all those only see the past in all of its haunting darkness as part of God’s epic comedy. And it’s never too late. It’s never too late in Jesus because in Jesus we have forever. In Jesus we’re young again, children again.
Conclusion: Celebrating Life like Children at Christmas
So as you celebrate Christmas, celebrate the Child who was born, the Son who was Given. The Kingdom and the power and the glory that is forever, forever young. Celebrate with candy canes and silly stories and silly songs. Celebrate with toys and games. Pretend, imagine, play like you have all day, like you have forever because in Jesus you do.
Christians should be some of the funnest people to be around, the silliest, the funniest. They should be the most playful because they have met Jesus who gives them forever, endless life, endless youth. Children play because they’re not worried. They’re not rushed. They’re not counting down. They’re always counting up. They’re not worried about the future; the future is always before them, ahead of them.
Sure sometimes it’s short attentions spans, but when every meal is made for you, all your clothes provided for you, and every care taken for you, you have very little to worry about, very little to be overwhelmed about. But if you know Jesus, then His Father has become your Father. You have been adopted into His family in the Church, you have been made heirs with the Child who is King of Heaven and Earth. What will you fear? Sickness? Death? Loneliness? Nakedness? Peril? Sword? Terrorist Attacks? Paul is persuaded that nothing can separate Him from the love of the Father which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
People sin when they’re afraid. People sin because they see the clock counting down. People grow impatient, worried, afraid. They see others blessed more than they are and grow envious because they didn’t get some. They see the world as a pie that can only be divided so many ways. There’s only so much time, so I can only take so much of this treatment. But what if knowing God means having forever in front of you? Then you can love people who are difficult to love. You can be patient with people who are difficult to like, difficult to get along with. You can pray and wait on the Lord and let Him put things right. On the flip side, having God’s endless life means you can be bold and courageous. You can confront someone in sin, you can quit your job, you can start a new business, you can share your faith with your neighbor, you can give your life away, you can risk everything because you know the One who holds everything, who holds your life.
And you really can’t be afraid of failure. So what if you fail? What if you miss the mark? What if you sin? What if you fall down? Walking by faith means believing that there is no grave that can hold you, no failure that will become the end of your story, no sin that can conquer you. Knowing Jesus means that He holds the keys of Death and Hades in His hands. He holds the power of endless life. He has already died for your sins, for your failures. And He will break you out of every dungeon, every death grip, every grave.
Welcome to the Real World. The Bible isn’t a fairy tale because it seeks to escape from the hard realities of this world. The Bible isn’t a bunch of make believe for a Sunday School story time. The Bible is a childish story because this world was created and is sustained by the Son of God, the Child of God, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth. It’s a story told by the Child King, who was born in Bethlehem and now rules and reigns forever.
When you are still lost in your sins, still dead in your sins, His Word sounds all jibberish, childish, faint, confusing. And that’s because you’re old in Adam. Your eyes are bad, your hearing is failing, your body is weak. But when the gospel comes, when the good news of the Child King comes with power and unlocks you from the dungeons of death, the Bible comes like a spring gale, like a gust of fresh air, and you sit up and suck in clean, cool air for the first time. And then as you read the Bible, as you hear the Word read and explained, you realize that it’s the real world. The real world is the fairy tale of God, the true and wonderful story of a Good Father, His Faithful Son, and the Spirit of power and wisdom.
That is the real world. We live in that world, a world where trees are people and people are trees, a world where barren wombs give birth, where water gushes from rocks in the dessert and gardens flourish, where valleys of dead bones rattle together and stand up, becoming an army of men, women and children, a world where stars sing and the sun stands still, a world where the lights are rulers and rulers really are stars, a world where gifts mean grace, where death can be the wrapping paper of life, a world ruled by a Child who gives His endless, childish life freely to all who trust in Him.
This is Emmanuel, God with us. God as a Child. God as a man like us forever, without end. We know this is the real world because once we were old and dying, but everyone who has met Jesus has been born again, has become young forever.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.