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Penal Substitionary Atonement for Kids

My son and I are reading Exodus. We've reached chapter 21, the brief section of law before the instructions on Tabernacle and Priesthood. A recurring theme was the phrase "put to death" as the consequence of sin.

v12 “Anyone who hits a person and kills him must be put to death. 13 But if a person kills someone accidentally, God allowed that to happen, so the person must go to a place I will choose. 14 But if someone plans and murders another person on purpose, put him to death, even if he has run to my altar for safety. 
Which made sense to him though it feels very alien in our culture. He's got some decent redemptive history and biblical theology from the Jesus Storybook Bible, we've read Genesis and Exodus 1-20, and he's got a good eye for the shape of the story.

Then we read verse 15
“Anyone who hits his father or his mother must be put to death.
Which produced one of the more viceral reactions I've seen from him in Bible reading. And a cry of "that's stupid!" and the slightly more constructive "what about forgiveness?!"

Last week our reading of the New City Catechism app on my phone had got us talking about penal substitution and atonement and what it means that Jesus bore the penalty of sin in our place. He loves learning big words and these had got in deeply to describe things he already knew.

I asked him what he thought v15 was about... why would it say that... what does it tell us about how important it is to relate to your parents well... more than that, what does it tell us about how serious hurting others is... how would you feel if you'd done it (which he has!) if you heard this at Mount Sinai or later...

What could be done? What if someone could take your place?

"Like my brother", he suggested. I noted that perhaps his brother might have his own issues to deal with... he agreed. I never came up as a possible candidate - he knows all too well that I'm a sinner. What about someone else?
"Remember what we looked at last week."

He picked up the whiteboard pen and began to write. (My son's bedroom used to be my study and he loves having my old whiteboard to write questions, draw diagrams and work out big words.)
The penalty of sin is death.
Jesus dies in my place.
I picked a couple of books off the shelf (more remnants of the study... we'll rehouse them after we move house and I'm minded to re-read these two soon...). What we've noticed is that Jesus was "Pierced for our transgressions", or, "In my place condemned he stood."

That's good news son isn't it! Yes! We continued our conversation before praying, thankful that though we face death we don't have to sort it ourselves.

He takes our place. There's no other story like that. It's good news to me and to my boy, and for any one who will entrust themselves to one who is qualified, able and willing to put himself in our place. In my place.

In my place (c) Matt Giles, 2014

In my place
You were humbled and made nothing willingly
Though in very nature God, took to Your knees
To bear my weight of sin and set me free
You took my place 

In my place You were innocent but beaten for my guilt 
You were heir to life but mercilessly killed 
Now through Your wounds my sickness has been healed 
You took my place 

You were obedient to heaven’s cause
Eternal glory shall be Your reward

In Your place, In Your name
I am hidden deep inside 
I am carried in Your life
In Your grace, In Your wake
Stand the many righteous made
Through Your humble choice to stand in our place 

In my place Though a King 
You had come down to be a slave 
To the curse that plagued the ones that You had made 
But were strong enough to burst open its chains 
You took my place  

For a good man some might dare to die 
Christ for sinners, 
You were crucified 

To the name of Jesus 
Be all praise and glory 
Wisdom, thanks and honour 
Power and strength forever 

Every knee will bow down
Every tongue will confess 
Jesus Christ is the Lord King forever, amen


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