Take time on Good Friday to read and talk about these words with your children:
And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.—Matthew 27:28-31
But, as you read the story, it’s also important to give children a proper context in which to understand what really happened. The crucifixion narrative is grounded in some huge theological truths. Consider this helpful statement from Jerry Bridges:
The love of God has no meaning apart from Calvary. And Calvary has no meaning apart from the holy and just wrath of God. Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; He died to save us from the wrath of God. He died to reconcile us to a holy God who was alienated from us because of our sin. He died to ransom us from the penalty of sin—the punishment of everlasting destruction, shut out from the presence of the Lord. He died that we, the just objects of God's wrath, should become, by His grace, heirs of God and co-heirs with Him.
(The Practice of Godliness: Godliness Has Value For All Things, 1983, page 24)
And this statement from David Wells:
...without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of judgment that obscured the cross and exacted the damnation of the Son in our place. Furthermore, without holiness, grace loses its meaning as grace, a free gift of the God who, despite his holiness and because of his holiness, has reconciled sinners to himself in the death of his Son.
(God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, 1994, page 144)
Notice these four words: holiness, love, wrath, and grace. All of these words provide essential truths for understanding the story of Jesus' death on the cross. Often, especially with children, we are tempted to skip over God's holiness and wrath and jump right to His love and grace. But, as both men point out, God's love and grace gain their proper meaning, richness, and depth in the context of His holiness and wrath. If children do not have a basic understanding of these attributes of God, Jesus' death may seem like some sort of tragically unnecessary event, or we may risk minimizing their heart's desperate need for a Savior.
How can we do this without unnecessarily "weighing" the story down with lengthy, deep theological explanations? Here is one suggestion: Before or after reading about the crucifixion—the actual events—provide the children with a summarized context in which to understand why Jesus died on the cross.
This summary could include some of the following truths communicated in age-appropriate language: