During the Church seasons of Advent and Christmas there is a natural emphasis on God the Son. In Advent, we look forward to the coming Savior, Jesus Christ. Seven hundred years before His birth, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). For many of the Jews of the Old Testament, Jesus was to be the earthly king who would displace Israel’s enemies and establish a new kingdom. As Christians, we anticipate Christ as the Redeemer who took our sins upon Himself. At Christmas, we see the words of Isaiah and the other biblical prophets fulfilled. God took on His own created flesh and dwelt intimately with sinners. The Light of the world invaded our darkness.
Emphasize Christ in the Old and New Testament
But what about the remainder of the year? How can we teach and encourage Sunday School students to retain the emphasis on Jesus Christ throughout the year? One important goal is to mentally let go of the traditional separation between the Old and New Testament---the idea that the Old Testament presents God the Father along with heavy law and harsh judgment while the New Testament teaches exclusively of Jesus, God the Son, who never corrected anyone. In other words, embrace the truth that Jesus Christ is present and active throughout the Bible.
Recently, I was teaching a Bible study on the Book of Exodus, wherein the Lord instructs Moses and the people of Israel to construct the tabernacle. God gave clear and specific instructions on every aspect of its assembly. Take Jesus out of this section and you have nothing more than an interesting history lesson on a how to build a church in the desert. However, when we look for Christ in the tabernacle, there is deep, rich Gospel. For example, the ark of the covenant was topped with the Mercy Seat, or Atonement Cover. The Law was kept inside the ark, the Atonement Cover was laden with blood from animal sacrifices. These sacrifices pointed to Christ’s final sacrifice for sins. The blood of Christ covers our failure to keep God’s Law. This is one of many Christocentric elements to the construction of the tabernacle, and it connects the OT text with Jesus in a very real way. Most of what I presented in this Bible class was derived from an everyday study Bible, many of which have great notes and commentary in them. Use one to find ways to show how your Old Testament lessons point to Jesus Christ.
Another important mental step is to look for Jesus in each of the Church seasons. Here are some ideas to consider when planning lessons, decoration, or crafts.
Stress that this season is not merely a precursor to Christmas; it is a time of somber reflection. Jesus came to redeem the world from sin. Each Christian reflects on their individual need for a Savior. Christ came to set up a new kingdom, but not a political regime, rather one of forgiveness and grace. The Holy Spirit wants to establish this kingdom in each person’s heart.
Accentuate the fact that God took on human flesh. For this reason, our Lord has perfect insight into the human experience. All through the years, Jesus is able to understand our troubles and temptations, even though He never once committed a sin. Also highlight the fact that Jesus came into the world to accomplish tasks we recognize and celebrate all year long. He came to be baptized, to enter Jerusalem, to die on the cross, to rise on Easter, to ascend into heaven.
Stress that the Holy Spirit revealed to the Magi the identity and importance of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, they understood that Jesus was a King like no other.
Explain that ashes are an outward sign of grief over sins that Jesus suffered for in my place. Ashes represent the return of the flesh to the ground in death. Connect this to the death of Jesus; His death and resurrection mean that ash is not my final end.
Jesus entered Jerusalem in humility, riding a donkey. However, this self-imposed humility was part of His plan for victory. The Lamb of Sacrifice is truly a King. He is the King of my life.
Good Friday is indeed a somber time. Yet we do well to help students see that the darkness was placed fully on Jesus’ shoulders. The fact that Jesus carried the fullness of my darkness means that I can have the joy of Easter. Remind students that church services traditionally take place on Sundays in order to have a weekly reminder of Christ’s resurrection.
The Holy Spirit enabled those gathered to share the Good News of Jesus Christ all over the known world. Salvation in Christ was the center of their message.
Highlight that while Trinity Sunday is a time to reflect on the work of each person of the Trinity, it is through the work of the Son, Jesus Christ, that we have access to the Father. What’s more, the work of the Holy Spirit is to direct our hearts and minds to the Son.
Martin Luther and other reformers redirected the Church to the centrality of Jesus Christ.
All Saints' Day
Stress that this is a time to remember loved ones who are now at perfect peace with God in heaven. At the same time, accentuate that salvation came through Jesus Christ. Remind students that those in heaven see Jesus in the flesh, with hands and feet still pierced from crucifixion.
Where Is Jesus in this Lesson?
When choosing, preparing, and teaching Sunday School lessons, reflect on these questions: Where is Jesus presented in this lesson? Is there a need to add greater stress on Jesus in this lesson? From this lesson, how can I show that Jesus’ ministry of salvation has meaning every day in the life of the Christian?
When choosing songs, consider songs that highlight Jesus’ lordship all day and all year. And don’t refrain from choosing songs out of season. In other words, feel free to sing Christmas songs outside of the Christmas season and Easter songs any time. Let the meaning of those seasons ring all year long.
With regard to crafts, think longevity. In other words, choose crafts that the students can use, or, at least keep, all year long. For example, have students create bracelets with multicolored beads. Each bead can represent a season of the Church Year. In your classroom, develop something like an Advent calendar. Instead of days leading up to Christmas, this calendar reveals images of Jesus’ ministry through the Church Year.
The goal is to keep Jesus at the center, not only in each lesson, but of every lesson throughout the Church Year.