Once upon a time, the universe was born, and on the third day, still wet and wriggling, a Wind blew over the surface of the waters and dry ground emerged. But the wind was singing a song that said green and grow and millions of tiny grains and seeds cracked, and vibrant, verdant blades pushed up through the drying mud. Supple saplings, leafy bushes, crawling vines. The ground inhaled the light and warm air and exhaled plants and trees and grasses.
Some of these arched up into the sky with vehemence and enthusiasm, ever expanding broad and hard, full of pith and rings, rough, knobby skins, armored with deeply creased bark. And these same wooden bodies shot out arms, flexing in the sunlight, full of more branches, fingers spreading, flayed toward heaven, holding up glorious canopies of green, leafy long hair swaying in the breezes.
Buds broke out like fists and opened like fingers in orange and red and pink and purple flowers. And some of those blossoms closed again, molting, shaking off youthful nectar for mounds slowly inflating with juice and juicy fibers: fruits red and green and orange and purple and yellow: apples, oranges, pineapples, grapes, coconuts.
Three days later, the Wind blew over the ground again, and wriggling, crawling, roaring, howling beasts pushed up out of the mud. And finally, with special care, a man stood up tall and glorious with laughter in his eyes and a song in his chest. He raised strong arms into the wind, extending fingers to heaven. Hours later, another like him stood at his pierced side, even more glorious, a canopy of hair blowing in the breeze, a flower made to become fruitful, a woman.
Once upon a time, when the universe was born God made trees and people. He made them out of the ground, He made them to stand up tall, to be fruitful, to raise hands to heaven, to inhale the air, to drink cool, living water, to give shade and shelter to mirror each other.
The One who made them all planted a garden to teach the man and the woman about how the world might be a mirror, a book, a manual. There were many trees for eating and cultivating, and there were two particular trees in the middle: one for eating life and the other for waiting to learn knowledge, to be crowned with greater glory later.
But the woman listened to the voice of the serpent and her husband also listened, and they rebelled, they disobeyed, they took the fruit of the forbidden tree. They took rottenness into their hearts, and they began to rot inside. Now there would be weeds and thorns and death. They had a son, but he became a killer. They could only make rotten fruit. And their saplings grew up with the same rotten cores, producing more rotten fruit. Their leaves withered, they dried up and grew gnarled and crumbled and blew away like chaff on a threshing floor. The whole race of man became a haunted forest full of death and dying, hollow trunks.
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He was nothing special, but he listened to the voice of His Maker. He believed Him. He trusted Him and obeyed Him. And God told Noah to build a great boat: “You see the human race? You see how it has become rotten and good for nothing? I will transform this dead wood that is sinking back into the mud, sinking back down into the watery deeps – I will transform this dead wood into hard wood. I will make mankind a great ship, a house that rises up out of the mud, out of the water. I will remake the human race, and they will walk on the waters.”
And so Noah built an enormous boat out of Gopher trees. He and his sons cut down those trees, trimmed them, shaped them, and covered them in waterproofing pitch and pierced them with nails, putting them together into a great floating house made of wood, made of trees. And God filled the house with the animal kingdom, and He carried Noah and those animals into a new world. Again, the Wind blew across the face of the waters, and there was dry land, and the Ark came to rest in the mud, like a walnut, like a seed, and on the first day of the first month, the seed broke open in the mud and a shoot of new life, shot up from the trees that had died. The Ark opened, and a new world sprang forth to grow and become fruitful.
But the human race was still not healed, and there was still confusion and darkness and rottenness, weeds and thorns and poison ivy. God called another man whom he transplanted into new soil from the land of Ur to the dry sand of Canaan. He was a faithful man but he had no offspring. God promised that from his seed would come a forest that would cover the earth, a fruitfulness that would bless all the nations of the earth.
Abraham’s family eventually went down into Egypt, a small grove, a little garden, and another serpent, Pharaoh, sought to destroy God’s people. Egypt became a furnace, but God preserved them from the king’s schemes seeking to consume them and their sons. Instead, a woman built another ark, and her son rode the water of the Nile to safety. When that boy had grown old he saw his people like a bush on fire, but not consumed. He heard the voice of His Maker call him to go into that fire, to go into the furnace with the promise that he too would not be consumed.
The Lord showed him the branch in his hand, a rod, and how if he threw it down, it became a great serpent, but when Moses grabbed it by the tail it became a branch in his hand again. Pharaoh was an evil, rotting tree, full of poison for God’s people, but God would teach Moses how to tame the serpent and deliver His people. And they came up out of the land, out of the furnace a great forest of Acacia wood, overflowing with fruit and sap. The Lord came down and rested in their midst, and made them into His house, His glory covering them like gold and bronze and silver, with a robe of blue and purple and scarlet thread, an ark in the wilderness carrying them into another new world.
There was still some of the old rottenness in Israel, but Aaron’s rod blossomed, and the wicked were destroyed. Moses lifted up a serpent pierced on a tree, and the poisoned were healed. God promised to make His people fruitful again. The pagans around them worshipped trees, carved images from wood, painted and gilded with gold, and danced around sacred wooden poles, committing abominations under every leafy tree, trying to trick the demons into making them fruitful.
But the prophets said that a new tree would be planted in the womb of the earth, springing from the seed of David and yet it would be an entirely new kind of tree, a rod would come forth from the stem of Jesse, a Branch would grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord would rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Is. 11:1-2).
Though we had seen faint glimmers of this kind of man, David sang in hope: blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not whither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper (Ps. 1:1-3).
And he was born and grew up as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we saw him, there was no beauty that we should desire him (Is. 53:2-3). He was both a new man, hearty, full of good sap and beaming tall, and full of fruit. But He was also the Gardener, the Maker, the Planter, the Pruner. He came as both the vinedresser and as the vine itself. He came to graft new branches into Himself that they might bear fruit and flourish fresh and green. And He came to cut out the old, withered branches, the fruitless branches and throw them into the fire to be consumed.
They welcomed him, cutting down great leafy palm branches, spreading them beneath His feet, hailing him as their king. But he came ultimately to bear the curse of the rotten trees, the haunted trees, the hollow trees. He came to be hung on a cursed tree to take the curse from every tree. He cursed the fig tree and it withered, and then he became the cursed and withered fig tree. They even wove the curse into a crown of thorns and hammered it onto His head. He was nailed and pierced and cut and torn so that he might become a new ark, a new house, a new temple for his people, so that his sap might flow out to give life to all the withered trees, to turn moldy, rotten fruit into sweet, luscious juice and mellow, full bodied wine. He bled and died so that His Wind, His Spirit might blow over the land again, and three days later that new race a men began to rise from the clay. His tomb cracked open like the seed of the world, the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, and life burst up out of the ground like flourishing palm trees, like cedars of Lebanon, to be planted in the house of the Lord, flourishing in the courts of our God.
He gives the sap and He gives the water and He gives the wind, the air. So that they become trees of life, so that they still bring forth fruit in old age; they are still fat and flourishing after many years because they are planted by a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out from the new temple, the throne of God and of the Lamb. And these trees of life bear twelve fruits, a new fruit every month, and the leaves of the tress are for the healing of the nations. For the curse has been taken away.
This is the gospel according to the trees. This is how our great and glorious God has woven His story together in the Bible. This is one of the ways we know that this is no ordinary book, no random collection of writings. This is the song of the Spirit, the very words of the Triune God of Heaven. He has spoken to us!
But this is how God sings the song of history and creation. This is how God tells the story of grace. Everyone of you is or was a rotten tree, producing rotten fruit, hollow and haunted by death and sin and darkness. But God in His great love and mercy has come for you. He has taken your sins upon Himself. He has taken your shame, your guilt, your pain, and he has borne it away. He has absorbed the curse and remade the world, so that all who trust in Him may be filled with His Spirit, so that the fruit of the Spirit may fill your life, your limbs, so that you may become trees of life for the healing of the nations.
If you look at your life and it’s full of rotten fruit, if you are hollow or haunted by your past, by guilt, by sin, then look to Jesus cursed for you. See Jesus pierced and cut for you. See Jesus hung on the cursed tree so that you may go free. Cry out to Him to save you. Because all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
As you celebrate Advent and Christmas this year, I hope you have trees and wreathes and branches all over your house and home. Whenever you see the trees, whenever you see the leaves, the branches, when you decorate them with lights and fruits and candies, remember and tell one another the gospel of the trees. Remind one another that we were once thorns and brambles and rotten hearted and fruitless. But Jesus has grafted us into Himself. His roots are our roots, and His life fills ours, His Spirit causes us to bear fruit, and makes our leaves sources of healing for the nations.
But remember man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The Word of God, the Bible, is our living water, our sap. If you are not bearing fruit, look there. If you are struggling with sin, look there. If you are tempted by the world, by passing fads, afraid of what people think of you, worried about the future, take up the Word and read it. Take up the Bible, look for Jesus, find Him there and then see Him everywhere.
In a strange sort of twist, when Jesus healed the blind man and he looked up and saw trees walking, he really had begun to see. When you see the gospel in the trees, you are well on your way to seeing Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Note: This is the second half of the first sermon in the series Looking for Jesus.