PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D Pace
God’s love for trees is evident in Creation. Botanists assert that more than 60,000 varieties of trees exist. Of the sixty-six books of the Bible, each one incorporates the concept of a tree. And they often appear at decisive moments! To give you an idea of their importance in Scripture, here are some examples:
The story of mankind begins among the trees of the Garden of Eden—most notable, is the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The Bible shows that numerous people had divine encounters with God or angels near trees. They marked where the Lord disclosed special revelation.
The Old Testament prophets likened the entire nation of Israel to a fig tree.
When the Prophet Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of an enormous tree towering into the sky, he said: “Your Majesty, you are that tree” (4:22).
And then the ministry Christ was often associated with trees: he taught about trees; told parables of trees; sought food from a tree; cursed a tree that didn’t bear fruit, and; he prophesied about an abundance of trees filling Israel’s desert in the last days. Ultimately, the chief mission of Christ was his crucifixion upon a tree.
Why has God ordained historic moments to occur at trees? It’s because the Bible uses trees as imagery for life. In the Old Testament Jesus is prophetically referred to as “the Branch.” And Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). It’s interesting that the Bible’s two chief metaphors for life are (1) trees and (2) water (which I will connect later.)
Here is how I want to apply this message. We know that Jesus likened Christians to “salt and light” in the world. But as the title of this message conveys, the Bible also uses the tree as a metaphor of the Christian’s state-of-being. And just as trees are stately, stationary objects—simply being what God designed them to be—Christians should appear in life similarly. Without ignoring any other duty of the Faith, God also wants you to simply “be.” As Psalm 1 says, “like a tree planted by streams of water” (1:3).
(Transition) With that in mind, let’s begin with God’s first assessment of trees and then apply that assessment to us. Our text is found in Genesis 2:8—9.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. (9) 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.
Did you notice God’s appraisal of trees? It is in the middle of verse 9. God says they are “pleasing to the eye and good for food.” I don’t find it coincidental that God’s distinctive design for trees is beauty and bounty. Remember, I’m comparing this to what our state-of-being should be in Christ—and that is, we should reflect loveliness and we should offer provision.
(Transition) With that noted, I want to first correlate the beauty of trees with the beauty God wants for the Righteous.
The Beauty of the Righteous
It is leaves that make trees beautiful. I want to illustrate that with some pictures I brought to display. These trees are considered to be among the most beautiful in the world.
First, there is the ornamental Wisteria tree that blossoms with majestic purple leaves.
Second, look at Brazil’s orange-leaf Flamboyant Tree. That’s a great name for this tree!
Third, most Americans know of Washington DC’s Blooming Cherry Tree, which is stunning!
Fourth, let’s notice the sub-tropical Jacaranda tree. I love those flowers of blueish purple.
In the Far East there is the Chinese Ginkgo tree with its golden yellow leafs.
I have always been lured by tropical trees whose fronds sway and wave in the wind.
Can you imagine a tree without leaves? There would be no beauty! … In fact, did you know it is impossible for most trees to exist without leaves! They die! It is because leaves, working with the sun, create photosynthesis, which in turn provides the tree with life. Thus, when you see a tree without leaves during Spring and Summer you can reliably conclude, that tree is dead!
This same principle applies to people. Where there is no evidence of Christ’s loveliness—no leaves of love, joy, affection, mercy, or compassion—there is no real life. God created you to tower in the world with the colorful, living adornment of Christ. That means you are to be lovely—even striking and magnificent! Do you perceive yourself like that? You can! This is what can happen when you get rooted in the soil of God’s Word—you become radiant figures of righteousness.
(Example) There is a reason people value beauty. It is because God created humans to value it instinctively! For example: In the late 1800s, Western Europeans began what is now called Aestheticism. The core philosophy of the aesthetics enshrined beauty as the center of life. They taught that it should be evident in architecture, interior decoration, the arts, and personal appearance. Some reverenced beauty to where they worshiped it and viewed it as the meaning of life.
You and I know that beauty is important, but we certainly aren’t going to worship it! So, the question we as Christians have is this: How does the Bible appraise beauty? Well, let’s consider what the wisest man of history said about it in Ecclesiastes 3:11.
Solomon said: “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” How do we translate that statement? It means, God is in the process of gathering all Creation and moving it toward a moment of total beautification. That makes beauty important!
Here’s how the Apostle Peter captured the concept of beauty in Acts 3:21. He said: “Heaven must receive him [Jesus] until the time comes for God to restore everything.” That word restore/restitution is interesting because Greek Lexicons translate the word this way: It means God will restore all Creation to a more perfect state of than existed before the fall.
Can you imagine that! God will one day restore Creation to unimaginable beauty! He won’t leave anything mundane or unattractive! And why will he do this? It is because God himself is inherently beautiful. He is the essence of beauty! The Bible describes him as glorious, lovely, holy, perfect, and wondrous. He is beyond our imagination! This is why we serve and worship our Lord—“he is altogether lovely”!
When I was writing this message I was inspired by the words of Augustine of the fourth century. I am not quoting Augustine, but I have incorporated his words with mine to express the loveliness of Christ:
As the eternal Word of God, he was the most beautiful among the angels of heaven.
As the Son of Man, he was beautiful on Earth.
Submitting to his Heavenly Father at John’s baptism he was beautiful.
Empowered by the Spirit, he was beautiful in working miracles, feeding the multitudes, and curing the incurable.
His words to the brokenhearted are of un-surpassing beauty: “Come unto me all that are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest . . . I will never cast you out”!
Even his closing days on Earth were beautiful:
He was beautiful on the Cross.
Beautiful in the sepulchre.
Beautiful in his resurrection.
And when he returns in glory and power at his Second Coming he will be beautiful beyond description!
Saints of God, Jesus Christ is who we are to emulate! God has planted Christians around the globe to be objects of beauty. Have you told a fellow Christian how beautiful they are, lately? I’m talking about bragging on their spiritual radiance. Maybe we ought to remind some true, Christ-like disciples how beautiful they are.
Christians that we admire don’t accidentally look lovely. They are beautiful because they have intentionally consecrated themselves to Christ and apply spiritual disciplines.
This beauty I’m talking about is something we can take to old age. It will never wrinkle! Think about it: some of the most beautiful people in the Kingdom are elderly people—those who have been creased and crippled by time. But even with arched bodies, they appear as magnificent, stately trees. They are fulfillments of Psalm 1, that even in old age their ‘leaf has not withered’ (2—3).
(Application) I have another question: As you look at Christ’s beauty radiating from a fellow Christian how does it affect you? I trust I can answer that for you. It inspires you to live beautifully. And when our state-of-being is beautified, our attraction, in turn, influences others to become more like Jesus.
(Transition) Before I move from this point, I want to mention a byproduct of these leaves of beauty.
Leaves of Beautification Create Peace
At some point, everyone wrestles with maintaining inner peace. We are familiar with a burdened heart and what the Bible calls “a spirit of heaviness.” And there are some Christians that constantly battle a troubled heart. It’s awful to live that way! But God has provided a way to reverse this! And the answer is in keeping with what I’ve said: When you beautify yourself with Christ it results in the peace of God resting upon your soul. Does this concept seem strange? Let me illustrate it on a natural/physical level.
(Example) Men, you go to the barber to spruce up; some walk, jog, or workout at the gym. Ladies, you too exercise; you visit the salon, recolor your hair, and get a modern hairstyle. Then, at home, you bedazzle yourself with Revlon, Maybelline, nail polish, eyeliner, jewelry, and apparel. And what is the end result with these practices? You look better! And ultimately, deep, down inside you feel better about yourself!
This practice that works on the natural level also operates on the spiritual level. You can claim true, inner peace by emulating the beautiful life of Christ Jesus—by presenting yourself as a tree of loveliness! This is what Paul said in Philippians 4:8—9.
“Whatever is true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (9) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
When your life branches out with beautiful leaves of virtue, it chases away anxiety and fills you with peace! Just like leaves enliven a tree, your spiritual beautification enlivens you! Solomon said in Proverbs 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body.
I want you to consider how God has even interwoven the peace and healing of our soul with the beauty of Nature:
Over the decades, I have often visited the Gulf of Mexico. And it never fails that sunset draws people to the shoreline. People are fascinated as they watch the sun cast its peaceful, orange rays above the waters. It’s a tranquilizing sight!
How many here have witnessed the wonder of the Grand Canyon, or the Rockies, or the Alps of Switzerland? They are magnificent!
When I was a child my family visited Niagara Falls. I’ll always remember that profuse stream of water that cascaded hundreds of feet into its basin. You can’t help but think, When will the water run out? But it doesn’t! Psalm 65:9 says, “The streams of God are filled with water.”
How do such stunning scenes affect us? While our eyes are astonished, something happens deep inside, too. God uses the beauty of Nature to create profound pleasure and feelings of emotional well-being. His glory is imbued within Nature in a way that chases away negative emotions and restores our energy. The Great Creator ordained it this way!
(Explanation) There is a reason God has replanted the Tree of Life in Heaven. This is the most magnanimous, incredible tree that God created! When John described it in Revelation 22:1—2, he showed it towering over the River of Life. And don’t think this river compares with anything on Earth! It’s wider than the Amazon, longer than the Nile, and more majestic than the Rhine River of Europe. And yet, John saw the roots of the Tree of Life stretching to both banks of the river. He then saw that the tree produced a new crop of fruit every month. And what is one of the purposes of the tree? John said, “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Those magnificent leaves of the Tree of Life ensure that the nations coexist in everlasting peace. Folks, if leaves of beauty from the Tree of Life can heal nations, then imagine what the leaves of Christ, appearing on you, can do! They can keep you in a perpetual place of peace within.
(Prayer) Before I continue this message, I want to pause to pray for you: “Heavenly Father, I pray for beautification of your people. Cause them to bring forth loveliness. Make your people trees of splendor that you may be glorified in them. Cause this to circulate life and peace within them. Let them understand the joy that comes from manifesting the virtues of our Savior to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(Transition) Now let’s move to point two of today’s message. And the next way Christians are to resemble trees regards fruitfulness.
The Fruit of the Righteous
Not all trees bear fruit, but those that do teach us that Christians have been planted in God’s vineyard so others can partake of the fruit that flourishes from their branches. What a fabulous opportunity this is! God designed you to be a fruitful tree for others to enjoy! We get to nurture others with the “fruit of the Spirit” that burgeons through us. Have you considered that?
(Illustration) The story is told of a boy watching an elderly man plant a tree. Understanding that the man will die before the tree matures to offer shade and fruit, the boy enquired: “Mister, why are you planting that tree? You will never eat from it.” The elderly man responded, “Son, I’m not planting this tree for me. Years ago, my father planted trees that he never partook of; but I have often eaten from them. I’m doing what one generation should do for the next. I am planting this tree for you and others to enjoy.
That is why it is important to bear fruit: It provides others with what is rightfully theirs. It is why Jesus and John the Baptist imposed such grave admonitions against spiritual barrenness. When we fail to produce fruit those around us remain undernourished. Here is what John said in Matthew 3:9—11.
“Produce fruit, then, in keeping with repentance. (9) And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (10) The axe lies ready at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Are you bearing fruit? That is what God designed you to do! And the Apostle Paul listed the fruit God wants you to bear. It is in Galatians 5:22—23.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness and self-control.”
That is the fruit that every Christian should produce. And as Jesus said, we are recognized by the fruit that appears from our lives (Matthew 7:16).
Planted in God’s House
It’s interesting that David, in Psalm 92, isolated the two trees that best represent the righteous. In so doing, he also revealed the ground that is most fertile for our planting. Here’s what he said in Psalm 92:12—15.
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; (13) planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. (14) They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”
This is a promise from God! You will flourish when you are planted in the house of God! . . . I know that your personal devotions are important. But every Christian needs to be firmly rooted and grounded in a Word-centered, Spirit-filled church! That is where the fertile ground is! Do you know why the ground is so fertile in God’s house? Because it is the place of God’s presence! And when you are planted where God resides, you will thrive!
I want to read the story of Jesus healing the blind man of Bethsaida. It’s recorded in Mark 8:22—25, and it is the only miracle of Jesus that implemented two stages to bring recovery. Let’s read the text:
They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. (23) He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” (24) He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” [How peculiar!] (25) Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
The most curious aspect of this story is why it took Christ two “touches” to heal this man. Some critics would argue that Jesus failed here. And when you read the four Gospels, you find that all the other miracles of Christ occurred upon his first action. So what happened here? I want to offer three explanations that I have personally uncovered from this story:
When you read this text closely, you discover that Jesus did not command the man’s eyes to be opened on his first touch! Verse 23 explains that Jesus put spittle on the man’s eyes, laid hands on him, and then merely asked a question: “Do you see anything?” Jesus didn’t say, “Be made whole.” If Jesus wanted the man’s eyes opened the first time, it would have happened!
Secondly, the actions of Jesus coincided with what the people of Bethsaida requested of him. Did you notice that the people told Jesus how to work the miracle? Verse 22 says they “begged Jesus to touch him.” They directed Jesus to lay hands on the blind man. So, Jesus followed their instructions! Folks, if you need a miracle, don’t tell God how to do it. It may take him twice as long to work it! Simply present your need to God and let him dictate the course of action.
Third, despite taking two stages to work this miracle, Jesus was still able to teach a wonderful lesson and present a grand truth. Notice the blind man’s answer to Christ’s question in verse 24. When Jesus asked him what he saw the man said: “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” I am convinced that this is exactly how Jesus wanted the man to see people! As this blind man was in the process of regaining his sight, Jesus wanted him to know that mankind was created to resemble trees—beautiful, fruitful, life-giving trees!
That is the lesson from today’s message: God created you to be beautiful and fruitful. Like trees, Christians are givers more than takers. Does this describe you? Perhaps it is appropriate for Christians to examine themselves and ask: Ho do others look at me? Do they see me beautifying my surroundings? Do they partake of Christ’s goodness from me?
Dad and Mom, some of you have tender shoots—children—that have begun to grow at your feet. Some of you have but one tender sprig to attend to now. Others have a garden of saplings. And still, other parents have a forest of sprouts around them. Whatever the case, God wants you to take special care of them. You have fertilizing to do. You’ll need to do some pruning. But supremely important is to make certain they are planted in the house of the Lord.
And just as there are varieties of trees, God wants you to recognize which type of tree your child may be. Some will be stately cedars; others mighty oaks of stability; others will be kind and gentle palms; and still others will be fragrant balsamic trees. Don’t force your child to be something he/she is not. But help them grow into what God has ordained them to be.