Each year I put my PhD from the University of Aberdeen to good use by teaching the Bible stories at my local church’s Vacation Bible School. Some teachers may get annoyed at the random questions, statements, and answers that kids blurt out during the stories, but not me. For instance, I couldn’t help but to smile the night I was teaching about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and one kindergartener interrupted to ask what type of garden it was. “It was an olive garden,” I answered. To which her eyes bugged and she asked: “JESUS WENT TO THE OLIVE GARDEN?!” Or when I was teaching about how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were talking as they stood in the fire, a third grade boy asked: “What do you think they were talking about?” I replied: “I’m not sure. What do you think?” As if the answer as to the topic of their conversation was obvious, he exclaimed: “Pretty girls!” I have to admit. I didn’t see that coming. If that wasn’t enough, the next night as we were reviewing, I asked: “Can you name one of the three guys from the story we talked about in Daniel 3?” To which a first grader, yelled “Ringo!” (I guess she thought the other two were John and Paul.)
Not only can their comments be entertaining, but they can also humble a Bible scholar impressed with his own exegesis. For example, last night’s lesson was on Luke 19. I figured they knew the story well, so I started out with a question: “Hey kids, who was the wee little man that climbed up a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see? I was surprised when no one answered. Blank stares. “Here’s a hint,” I continued, “his name starts with Zach-.” A light bulb went on in one little girl’s brain: she raised her hand and said: “Zachariah!” Assuming she must be a homeschool kid since she knew the name of a minor prophet, I delicately said: “No, not Zechariah, but that’s close.” Encouraged, she guessed again: “Zacharias?” We finally got to the name Zacchaeus, but the Biblical language guy in me geeked out and went into this mini-lecture on how Zacchaeus is actually related to the name Zacharias which is the Greek translation of Zechariah that means “the Lord remembers.” I could see confusion rising up in their little eyes, but the language cat was out of the bag so to speak, and I couldn’t hold it back. “Speaking of Hebrew names,” I said (as if that was a subject which all kids would latch onto), “did you know that Jesus comes from Joshua and means the Lord saves?”
“In fact,” the over-their-head spontaneous lecture ensued, “when Luke began his story by saying Jesus entered Jericho I bet many of his readers would have immediately remembered the time when Joshua entered into Jericho.” There were so many dots, I had to keep connecting them. The Bible is full of obvious things that so many of us never really observe.
I continued by reminding them that Joshua begins the conquest of the Promised Land by entering into Jericho (Joshua 5-6). However, after he marches into the city, he sends his men back to the house of a most unlikely person—Rahab, the prostitute. Joshua then saves her and incorporates her into Israel (Josh 6:24-25). I told the kids that I think that when Luke wrote that Jesus entered into Jericho, the evangelist was priming his audience to be curious to see how Jesus would follow Joshua’s example. And, to that end, the Lord does not disappoint. Like Joshua, Jesus also finds an unlikely sinner to save in Jericho: Zacchaeus. Although Zacchaeus was not a prostitute like Rahab, his occupation as a chief tax collector was also greatly despised. Nevertheless, just as the prostitute was adopted into the people of Israel, so Jesus proclaims that the chief publican had become a child of Abraham. “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). Just as salvation came to Rahab’s house, so salvation comes to the house of Zacchaeus! “Do you see the pattern,” I asked. God desires to save sinners! “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (v. 10).
I began to bring it home: “But Jesus didn’t hang out with all sinners: just those willing to admit they were. Both Rahab and Zacchaeus knew they needed to be saved. And so must we!” While the story of Zacchaues is cool in and of itself, it becomes even more poignant when we see it in light of God’s new conquest: Jesus bringing forth the kingdom by seeking and saving the lost. The Lord did not expand God’s rule by driving sinners like Zacchaeus from their houses but by inviting himself into their homes. And so must we!
Feeling quite proud of the impression I surely made with my impromptu lecture and sermon, I called upon the first hand that flew up once I was done. As if to complement my interpretation with his own astute insight, one boy surmised: “Well, I bet Zaccheaus’ mom didn’t want him to bring Jesus home!”