I am always stunned by the sheer cheesiness of children’s materials sold at many Christian bookstores, but it is more evident at Christmas. There are Samson superhero costumes (although Samson was actually a tale of godly potential lost to worldly lusts), a Manga Bible that attempts to shape God’s Word into a style like popular Japanese cartoons, Faith dolls (like Bratz, but with less Cheetah Girls influence) and of course, the ever-popular and ever-awful Bibleman videos.
Let’s say you really want to give your child a gift that will encourage their heart God-wards. What is a parent supposed to do?
A well-done children’s book, while not as flashy as some of the other items on display at the stores, can have a genuine impact on the heart that will last long after the toys are broken or the child outgrows this season’s craze. That’s why I have been so impressed with the series of children’s books from pastor and theologian R.C. Sproul. He has a real knack for telling stories that help children begin to grasp complex, mysterious, God-sized topics.
Sproul’s latest book for children is The Prince’s Poison Cup (Reformation Trust, 2008). Little Ella is sick and has to take some yucky tasting medicine. She wonders, “Why does medicine have to taste so yucky if it’s going to make me well?” ( I’ll bet your kids wonder the same thing) Her grandfather answers that question by telling a story of a great King of Life, who provides all things his people need and often meets them in a beautiful park with a clear, sweet foundation at the center. But he also commands them not to drink from the fountain, for the water will harm them. The people deeply love their king and enjoy Him.
But one day the king’s archenemy comes to the park. He insists the water won’t harm the people and offers them goblets of the water to drink. “Their hearts turned to stone. After that, they no longer felt any love for their king. They didn’t even want to be with him anymore.” So, the people left the king and built their own city. It also had a fountain at the center, but it was full of vile poison.
The King was brokenhearted over his people and one day sent his son, the Prince of Life to them, with a goblet and an assignment. The only way to heal the people’s hearts was for the Son to drink the poison in their well. The Prince obeys his father. He makes his way to the city, where he eventually reaches the fountain. Though he knows it will kill him, he fills the King’s goblet with the poison and “ put his lips to the edge of the cup and began to drink. The poison tasted bitter. He wanted to spit it out. But he had promised his Father he would drink it all. The poison burned his throat, but he continued to swallow. He finished it all, right down to the last sip.”
The Prince dies immediately. The King’s enemy and the people rejoice. But then the King of Life Himself strides into the city, kneels besides his dead Prince, and with one touch, brings him back to life. The poisoned fountain turns sweet again. The Prince fills a goblet and invites the people to come and drink. All who drank have their hearts changed to love the King again and praise the Prince, who had drunk the terrible poison “that was wonderful medicine for them.”
So, The Prince’s Poison Cup gives a child’s-eye view of God’s sweeping plan of redemption. The amount of Biblical /theological ground it covers or references is staggering: creation, sin and the fall, God’s eternal purpose of love in redemption, incarnation, Jesus’ understanding of His mission, His abuse at the hands of sinners, the garden prayer when Jesus wonders if there is any other way but for Him to drink the cup of God’s wrath, substitutionary atonement, Jesus’ death & resurrection and the offer of salvation on the basis of what Jesus accomplished in it. All of that is covered in the context of the story, so a child gets it without even realizing they are getting it.
The illustrations by Justin Gerard are outstanding, which adds to the visual attractiveness of the book and assists sparking a child’s imagination when reading. There is a very helpful series of pages for parents at the end, with questions to discuss the story with your child and extensive Scripture quotations to help you lash their hearts to the truth of Scripture behind every detail of the story.
I am convinced that one of the greatest challenges evangelicals face in our day is an accurate grasp of the gospel that shapes our hearts and every aspect of our lives. One of the reasons evangelical children so easily abandon the faith is that the gospel has not become the consuming delight of their hearts. We can’t wait until they reach teenage years to teach the gospel; it must begin very early.
The Prince’s Poison Cup is an excellent resource to introduce our children to Jesus’ gospel for the first time—or to encourage their joyful living of the gospel with us. Don’t waste your money on Jesus-junk. Give your child a gift that might be used of the Lord to shape them for a lifetime—and even for eternity!