by Rev. Dr. John Calhoun
Genesis 2: 8-10; Revelation 22
Deforestation is known to be a major reason certain civilizations have declined or fallen. We are much more tied to trees than we think. They are the primary source of building materials, food, clean air and many more benefits.
And trees are so ordinary that we seldom stop to acknowledge how they teach us the wonder of life. For example, how amazing it is that from a single acorn can a mighty oak exist.
Maybe you remember as I do from the high school literature class the profound simplicity of Joyce Kilmer’s poem about trees:
by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
It is not surprising to discover how many references there are to trees in Scripture. It is not just trees in general, but specific trees teach Biblical theology to us starting with Genesis and ending with Revelation.
Genesis 2:8-10 (New International Version)
8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
These two trees signify our most important decisions. Get our life from God (Tree of Life) or get our life from our own knowledge (Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.)
And then we see at the end of the Bible,
1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
The first book in the Bible reveals the symbol of Life with God in the Tree of Life.
The last book in the Bible presents the same tree with the same message—Life with God.
But the human race chose the second tree (knowledge of good and evil) to show independence from God and now do not live in the Life of God.
We have no hope to return to the Tree of Life in the book of Revelation because we chose our own way. And we cannot find our way back to the Tree of Life.
But wait, there is another tree that stands between the beginning and the end. It is a tree of tragedy and triumph. It is the tree on which Jesus was hung when he was crucified.
This tree that was fashioned into an executioner’s instrument is now so commonly seen that it is easy to miss the significance in the imagery it brings.
Its cross members point up and down and side to side. The vertical member points up to demonstrate humanity’s quest to be at one with the Creator who gives Life. But it only goes so far upward and then stops. As hard as we try, we cannot attain to this Life by our own efforts alone. And it also points down and is anchored in the earth to show that God himself reaches all the way to our world and plants Himself there to provide a way to the Tree of Life.
Its horizontal member demonstrates that as far as the east is from the west, so he has forgiven our transgressions. It signifies that Jesus hands nailed there were reaching to all people everywhere and therefore we must see our commonality with all humanity in light of that Cross. It demonstrates that the Alpha and Omega was hanging there to unite Genesis Tree of Life with the one in Revelation. And at the intersection of the cross beams is the heart of the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us.
Now if we turn to that tree and receive the salvation He brings us through His Atonement, we have hope that we can again look toward that Tree of Life in Revelation.
Jesus willingly embraced the tree that became his cross.
We are invited to embrace that cross too and then we are free to have our life in God.
Let us “cling to the Old Rugged Cross” (George Bennard) and stand on its power and authority over our lives.
We close with Paul’s eloquent description of its power and authority:
1 Corinthians 1
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption
Trees teach us theology.
We need earthly trees to have oxygen.
We need the Heavenly Tree to have Life.
By Rev. Dr. John Calhoun. Director, Center for Pastoral Leadership, Point Loma Nazarene University; District Superintendent, Northern California, (Rt.)