A Dad Teaches Substitutional Atonement

Way back when Nathan (my this month turning 8-year-old) was a toddler (and I was till new enough to the dad game that I was trying to parent by principles and not just by whatever would keep me sane until they go to bed) I was trying to get Nathan to eat something. I don’t remember what it was, but it was some sort of food that he had liked in the past and that he had suddenly on that night decided that he didn’t like and he refused to eat it. I being the dad told him that he would have to eat it or he couldn’t get up from the table.

Some of you with a little more dad experience know that this was a rookie mistake. This ultimatum set up a contest to see who was more stubborn me or my son. Now with Noah (my 4-year-old) it is no contest. He is more stubborn than a zax from the Prairie of Prax. (Dr. Suess if you want to look it up.) But with Nathan normally a stern look from his father will convince him to change his ways.

But not so with food, or so I discovered.

So here we were in this stand off that I had created of my toddler son crying at the table while I tried to show tough love and ignore him, but I couldn’t just walk away because he kept trying to get up from the table and I really didn’t want to just sit there and watch him cry but I couldn’t back down because I was the DAD and that means that what I say goes and I shouldn’t have said what I did and gotten myself into this mess over three bites of chicken (at least I think it was chicken, or maybe it was poison the way that he was responding). But he refused to eat it no matter how long we sat and so there we sat.

Eventually Nathan being a toddler sort of forgot why we were sitting there and started playing. When I tried to remind him he was sitting there because he was supposed to eat he was sad for a moment or two, but then went back to playing.

It became very apparent that this was not going to teach him anything so I should just let him get down, but I was stubborn and couldn’t just let him go without eating  his bites.

So here is what I did. I said, “Nathan, you can’t get down until those bites are eaten, but since you aren’t eating them I am going to eat them for you. You have no clue what this means, but I am choosing to that the punishment that you deserve.” And I ate the bites.

And he got up and walked away and played and totally missed my attempt and modeling the sacrifice of Christ for him, because after all it really was just a couple of bites of chicken.

But this Easter I found myself thinking of that story a few times.

On the one hand I know that I should be more grateful for what God has done for me. I know that I should spend more time reflecting on the cross because too often I forget that it even happened or at least the way that I act seems to show that I do.

But on the other hand the cool thing about God’s death for us on the cross is that we can get down and go play. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. The cross is not an invitation to guilt, but rather just the opposite and because Christ died for me, because he took the punishment I deserved I am free.

So as you go through this month think about the cross of Jesus and remember the penalty that he paid for you. Remember as well that his paying that penalty has set you free so live like one redeemed not one who is still enslaved to sin, guilt, and death.

Jesus ate your bites. You can get up and be free.


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