By Dennis Rainey
Do you know the three most important trees in the Scriptures? The Easter season and its message are masterfully woven around these trees. Let me explain …
Last summer we visited our son and his wife, and their five daughters. The age spread is pretty entertaining and interesting: The older four were 11-16 years old and the youngest was at that time just six weeks!
Barbara and I had decided we wanted to do something tangible, meaningful, and enduring for our granddaughters, so we decided to buy them some trees and help them plant a small orchard. They chose three trees—a cherry, plumb, and apple tree.
As grandparents we look for creative ways to pass on our faith in Christ. So as we drove back to their home with the trees, we talked about how certain “trees” in the Bible were chosen by God to communicate an important message.
Examples of these trees include:
Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, illustrating his pursuit of Jesus.
The fig tree that Jesus cursed because it hadn’t produced fruit. It illustrated the lack of spiritual fruit within the nation of Israel.
The palm tree branches that were laid on the ground as Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, representing the peace that Christ came to give.
We decided to give the four older girls an assignment: Find the three most important trees in the Bible and explain why each tree earns that label.
Amazingly, they nailed it. Way to go Savannah, Caroline, Annabelle, and Katie! You make Mimi and Papa and your parents proud!
On this Good Friday I want to describe these three uncommon trees and describe how their stories ties in to the “Big Story” narrative of the Bible and the transcendent message of Easter.
#1: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:15-17
We know the rest of the story … the serpent tempted the woman to eat from the tree and then spoke words to her that have echoed out of the garden and reverberate today: “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).
Those three words, “Has God said?” are the essence of mankind’s spiritual, cultural and moral revolutions. Questioning or ignoring what God has clearly said poisoned the human race with the sin of wanting to “be like God.” We have a desire to want to be our own god, to question God. To not be accountable to our Creator. The human race and the stream that poured out of the Garden of Eden were poisoned with pride.
The Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who came to faith in Christ while in a Russian gulag (prison), said it best: “Pride grows on the human heart like lard on a pig.” It’s the default setting on our hearts.
As a result of Eve’s and Adam’s disobedience to God, they were driven out of the Garden of Eden by their Creator (Genesis 3:22-24). And ever since, mankind has needed someone to pay for the penalty of his sin and offer forgiveness and peace with God.
As a junior at the university that was my struggle and my need. I wanted to be my own god. I didn’t want to surrender and yield the control and ownership of my life to anyone, let alone Jesus. I was the captain of my soul.
I was lost. I wasn’t fulfilling my Creator’s design and purpose for my life. My soul was empty, and I was restless, chasing after other gods.
I had tasted of the fruit of the tree—I knew good and evil. As a result, I feared God’s judgment. I was afraid I would die and go to hell. I needed a Savior, a mediator who would grant me forgiveness and bridge the gap between God and me (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is God’s warning: You need the Savior to pay the penalty for sins and redeem our souls from God’s judgment and hell.
#2: The tree of death and life*
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. For you were straying sheep but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:24-25
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
In the Old Testament it was said that a man who broke the law was accursed and was to be sentenced to death on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23). This tree of death and life was, as we now know it, the cross that Jesus died on. Jesus took on Himself the “curse” and personally paid the price for the penalty of all our pride and sin. The Scriptures declare, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Sin delivers death.
And Christ’s death for our sins delivers life.
Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He paid the price; for by faith, as we trust in His death, burial and resurrection, He purchased us from the slave market of sin and gave us new LIFE. As a result we are now “born again.” We became new creations, and have a new identity as God’s children.
What Jesus accomplished on the tree of death and life foreshadows the hope and the promise of eternal life, which is the third tree.
#3: The tree of life
This tree was so important that God commissioned a cherub (elite angel), wielding a 360-degree rotating flaming sword, to guard it after Adam and Eve disobeyed God:
Then the Lord God said, “Behold the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat and live forever—therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24
Adam and Eve were prevented from taking and eating the fruit from this third tree, the tree of life, which would have given them eternal life. But the Big Story doesn’t end in the second chapter of the first book in the Bible. The tree of life shows up again at the end of Revelation:
Then 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. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5
The tree of life provides an exciting end to the Big Story of the Bible.