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Seek more truth behind phrase ‘Jesus died for our sins’

Paul Graves

Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series of letters from columnist Paul Graves to his grandchildren.

Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,

I began to write this letter to you on Easter morning, before Grandma and I went to our church to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.

I know you and your mommy and daddy will go to Mass this morning for the same reason. I hope you will always do that. But I also hope you will look for “More.”

“More” is the word I’ll use for the faith-search I hope you will always be eager to undertake.

Sometimes our spiritual curiosity seems kinda puny. So many people settle for what someone else tells them about the Bible, or Jesus, Christianity or religions other than Christianity. As you get older and think more for yourselves, please check out what you hear, even from people you love.

No one knows the “whole truth.” At best, we know only a piece of that truth. But sometimes we decide that our truth piece is The Whole Truth.

For example, take what Christians are celebrating this morning: Easter.

Lent and Holy Week come before Easter, don’t they. You’ve been learning at your church that the emphasis of Lent, and especially Holy Week, has to do with Jesus’ ministry and death.

I never go through Lent without thinking of a question your daddy asked me when he was almost 4 years old.

One night, after he was supposed to be asleep, Grandma and I heard him shuffling down the hall. We also heard him crying. I picked him up and wiped his tears.

“Why are you crying, Brian?” I asked. He looked at me and asked back, “Why did Jesus die?”

Have you asked that question of your parents? I suspect you might have.

Well, I took him back to his bed, tucked him in, and began to tell him a little about how Jesus got in trouble with the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman government. I told Brian that Jesus died because these leaders were afraid of him.

I knew that for some people, the “correct” answer is that “Jesus died for your sins.” I also knew that a 3-year-old boy could get confused and scared about that answer. So I told your daddy another part of The Truth about why Jesus died. That answer made more sense to your daddy, and it was true.

In fact, kids, there are even more answers to the question “Why did Jesus die?” They come from Marcus Borg, a Bible professor I respect highly. He wrote about these in his book “The Heart of Christianity.”

First, God’s still in charge. The Roman government killed Jesus, but God raised him from the dead, showing Jesus’ followers that God is still in charge.

Second, Roman and Jewish leaders combined their power to kill Jesus, but God’s spiritual power is greater than any man-made power.

Third, Jesus’ death reminds us that our own spirits can be changed deep inside of us. We “die” to our old ways and are “raised” to new, healthier ways to live when we follow Jesus’ example and trust in God’s love of us.

Fourth, Jesus’ death shows us just how much God loves us. Jesus is not only a special Jewish social prophet, but is the son of God who dramatically shows us how much God will sacrifice for us.

Fifth, “Jesus died for our sins.” It’s like his sacrifice is seen inside a picture frame made of our sin, our guilt and God’s forgiveness.

So, Katie, Claire and Andy, as you get older and wonder more about the truth that lives behind the phrase “Jesus died for our sins,” remember to consider all the reasons why Jesus died.

This is only one example of how important I believe it is for us to look for “More.” It lives behind and beneath the religious and spiritual truths we so often say without considering there might be more to them.

If we don’t seek “More,” our spiritual journeys just might find us walking around in small circles. It’s healthier and more fun to move ahead toward growing up in our faith.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is founder of Elder Advocates, an elder care consulting ministry. He can be contacted via e-mail at
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