PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D Pace
THE BEAUTY OF THE RIGHTEOUS
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).
The ministry of Jesus 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 flourishing throughout Israel during the last days. Ultimately, His chief mission was to be crucified upon a tree.
Why does the Bible give preeminence to trees? It’s because they are emblems for life. It’s interesting that the Bible’s two chief metaphors for life are (1) water and (2) trees! And it’s not coincidental that the Old Testament Prophets portray the coming Lord and Messiah as, “The Branch.”
(Application) Here is how I want to apply this message. We know that Jesus likened Christians to “salt and light,” but, as the title of this message suggests, the Bible also chooses the tree to represent the Christian’s state-of-being. And just as trees are stately, flourishing objects—simply being what God designed them to be—in like manner has God created Christians. Without ignoring any other duty of the Christian life, 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 original, distinctive design for trees was beauty and bounty. Remember, I’m comparing this to what our state-of-being should be in Christ—and that is, it should reflect loveliness and it 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
I realize this overstates the obvious, but leaves are those flickering wonders that make trees beautiful. I want to illustrate that with some pictures. 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 provide 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. God designed you to be striking and magnificent objects of his glory! Do you perceive yourself like that? You can! This is what can happen when you are rooted in the soil of God’s Word and watered by his Spirit—you become radiant figures of righteousness!
(Example) There is a reason beauty is highly valued. It is because beauty is instinctively loved by all people. 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 very 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 Creation to a more perfect state than existed before the fall of humanity.
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. This is why Solomon could say of our Lord, “He is altogether lovely” (SOS 5:16).
(Example) There are times when we see someone distantly. And from that gap they seem beautiful, even creating a desire to draw nearer. But as we do, we notice flaws. Flaws of the flesh, flaws of personality, flaws that are even repugnant! And so, at some point, we turn away. But not so with God! Each aspect of the LORD presents a resplendent expression of his beauty. There’s no flaw whatsoever! And it’s the perfection of God’s beauty that pulls us in and elicits our praise. This explains why humans and angels count him worthy of worship—his beauty calls for it!
(Question) I have a question I’d like you to ponder; and it’s this: What is it that draws you toward God again and again? When pain, loss, or tragedy strike, what mysterious reason compels you to hold onto God and refrain from turning away from him?
(Answer) I know the theological answer to this: We keep coming back to God again and again because he refuses to let go of us. But besides God’s unfailing “hold” upon our life, I want you to consider this as being our part of the answer: It is the composite beauty of God that compels Christians to remain faithful to our LORD regardless of the circumstances. (Elaborate)
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 Christ 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 unsurpassing beauty: “Come unto me all that are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest . . . I will never cast you out”!
The sea of humanity didn’t see Jesus hanging from the cross—mocked, tormented, pierced, and crowned with thorns. But it’s this sacred doctrine of God’s Son taking our place and redeeming our soul that is more beautiful than ten thousand angels worshiping at God’s throne.
He was beautiful on the Cross, in the sepulcher, and at his resurrection. And when he appears at his Second Coming he will be beautiful beyond description! And it will all happen soon! From the heavens, his irrepressible beauty will open the eyes of the dead and call the redeemed upward. “And so shall we be with the Lord forever”! (1 These. 4:17.)
Saints of God, the Apostle Paul commanded Christians to contemplate the glory of Christ. Are you doing that? 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” [NIV]
It’s Jesus Christ that we must emulate! God has planted Christians around the globe to be “Ambassadors of Beauty.” And the reason for it is to have sinners look, draw near, and ask, “What’s different about you? What makes you radiant no matter what happens?” (Pause)
In fact, 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 have applied spiritual disciplines.
This beauty is something we can take to old age. 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 aching bodies they appear as magnificent, stately trees fulfilling Psalm 1, that even in old age their ‘leaf has not withered’ (2—3); they continue to reflect Christ’s glory!
(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 your state-of-being is beautified, you also influence others to be 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 exercise, too; 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 colorful apparel. And what is the end result? You look better! And ultimately, deep, down inside you feel better about yourself!
This practice that works on the natural level also works 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. The Apostle Paul described “The Beautiful Life” in Philippians 4:8—9. He said:
“Whatever is true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [The sum of all these virtues is beauty! But let’s not forget the next verse.] (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, living leaves 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 health of our soul to the beauty of Nature:
Over the decades, I have visited the Gulf of Mexico. And it never fails that sunset draws people out from their condos and hotel rooms and onto the shoreline. People are fascinated as they watch the sun cast its peaceful hues of color over 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! I love what God says in Psalm 65:9, “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. God’s glory is imbued within Nature in a way that can chase away negative emotions and restore our energy. The Great Creator ordained it this way!
The Tree of Life
(Explanation) There is a reason God has planted what he calls the “Tree of Life” in Heaven. This is the most magnanimous, incredible tree God has created! When John described it in Revelation 22:1—2, he showed it spanning and towering over the River of Life. It’s a river unlike any on Earth! It’s wider than the Amazon, longer than the Nile, and more majestic than the Rhine. He then saw the tree producing new fruit every month. And what is one of the chief 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 in your soul.
(Prayer) Before I continue this message, I want to pause to pray for you: “Heavenly Father, I pray for the 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 the next point 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 ever 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.”
You see, the day is coming when God will treat us like trees. He will hold us accountable for the type of fruit we bore. It’s what God designed us to do! And he even told us what type of fruit 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 should appear on every Christian’s life.
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.”
The Bible promises that 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 do find all the other miracles of Christ occurred upon his first action. So what happened here? I have three observations:
When you read this passage closely, you’ll discover that Jesus did not command the man’s eyes to be opened on his first touch. Verse 23 shows Jesus applying spittle on the man’s eyes, laying hands on him, and then merely asking a question: “Do you see anything?” Jesus did not say, “Be made whole.” If Jesus wanted the man’s eyes opened the first time, it would have happened!
Secondly, Christ’s initial action corresponded with the request of the Bethsaida people. Did you notice that they 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 determine the course of action.
Lastly, despite the additional step it took to work this miracle, Jesus was still able to present a grand truth. Jesus paused, asked him what he saw, and 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. I hope this describes you! Perhaps it is appropriate for Christians to examine themselves and ask: How do others look at me? Do they see me beautifying my surroundings? Do they partake of Christ’s goodness from me?
What kind of tree are you?
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.