The Tree of Life to the Cross
Topic: Biblical Verse: Genesis 3:22–3:24
Midweek Lenten Worship
March 14, 2018
Genesis 3:22-24 and John 3:14-15
“Tree to Tree: The Tree of Life to the Cross”
“Alfred Joyce Kilmer (December 6, 1886 – July 30, 1918) was an American writer and poet…Though a prolific poet whose works celebrated the common beauty of the natural world as well as his Roman Catholic religious faith, Kilmer was also a journalist, literary critic, lecturer, and editor. While most of his works are largely unknown, a select few of his poems remain popular and are published frequently in anthologies [mainly remembered for a short poem titled ‘Trees” (1913), which was published in the collection Trees and Other Poems in 1914] …. He enlisted in the New York National Guard and was deployed to France with the 69th Infantry Regiment (the famous “Fighting 69th”) in 1917. He was killed by a sniper's bullet at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 at the age of 31” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Kilmer). This is probably the most famous poem of Joyce Kilmer:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth's sweet 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 blossom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems were made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree.
Trees are before us on our Lenten journey this evening. Our lives would not be the same without trees, if we stop and think about it. Without them, there would be no apples, oranges, pears, or cherries. We’d have to find something else to provide shade in summer’s heat. And what would we use for building materials? Even our Christmas celebration would be very different without our beloved Christmas trees. Trees show up throughout the Scriptures, from Genesis all the way through to Revelation. And without the most important tree – the tree of the cross – we would be lost and without hope. Tonight, our “Return from Exile” Lenten series focuses on “Tree to Tree: The Tree of Life to the Cross.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessings rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Scripture tells us that there were two trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life (Genesis 2:9). It was from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve ate. In disobeying the Lord God, who instructed them not to eat from it, sin came into the world with all of the effects from this that we still feel today: selfishness, blaming, exploitation, greed, distrust, among many others. But shortly after the fall into sin, the Lord God intervened in a powerful way to save us from ourselves. That is what we hear in tonight’s first Scripture lesson (Genesis 3:22-24). God knows that if man and woman eat of the tree of life as sinners they will experience a fate worse than death. Their sin would be perpetuated forever, ravaging body, soul, and all creation for all time. That is a terrible curse beyond description, and so in love for his dearly beloved children, God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. They were exiled from paradise. This is what we have been living with ever since.
The issue, the problem, the devastating disaster of sin that began in Eden requires as remedy and cure another tree; a different kind of tree. This is what we hear in the second Scripture reading for this evening (1 Peter 2:21-25): “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” The Son of Man must be lifted up on the tree of the cross, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14-15), that whoever looks upon him in faith may be saved. The tree of the cross was a horrific instrument of torture and excruciating death that sickens the stomach and almost defies imagination. See the reprint of the 1986 article from The Journal of the American Medical Association, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” available in the Narthex. As awful as this was, even worse was the spiritual suffering which Jesus endured for you and for me. He became the sacrificial offering for our sin and bore the curse for that sin in our behalf, as Scripture tells us: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13; see Deuteronomy 21:23). Can we even imagine in some small way what this was like for Jesus? And yet, it is through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice that the gates of paradise have again been opened to us. Jesus transforms an instrument of death and shame into a tree of life and salvation. He death brings us life, now and for all eternity. Our exile from God’s presence has been ended. The gates of paradise are now opened to us through the cleansing blood of Jesus.
From the tree of life to the tree of the cross; a journey from life to death and back to life again. Restored and reunited with our God, we focus not only on what has been accomplished, but also what is yet to be revealed. Our sending hymn for Sunday morning worship in this Lenten season, “There in God’s Garden” (With One Voice 668) speaks of a tree “whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations; tree of all knowledge, tree of all compassion, tree of all beauty.” Although the hymn does not actually call this the tree of life, it does link this to the tree of the cross, and points us ahead to John’s vision of the new Jerusalem where the tree of life, first mentioned in Genesis, appears once again: “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-12; see Ezekiel 47:12).
This is the life that has been restored to us: life everlasting, life that is ours in Jesus, now and forever. This is the return from exile; a return to our God by the way of a tree. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). Amen.
More in Lent & Holy Week 2018: Return from Exile
April 1, 2018Welcome Home!
March 30, 2018Sin-Bearer to Sin-Bearer: The Day of Atonement to the Atonement
March 29, 2018Meal to Meal: The Passover to the Lord's Supper