The Christian message is, at its heart, a tale of trees.
The creation story in Genesis 1, culminates its description of the environment that God had made for humankind to live in with the creation of trees; trees that will bear fruit for people to eat.
Genesis chapter 2 brings into the story two other trees, supernatural, strange trees. In the middle of the garden are the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – the ‘tree of testing’ – which is forbidden to humankind, the other is the Tree of Life – which is not forbidden.
As we know, Adam and Eve make the wrong choice. They disobey God, they rebel against Him, they refuse to believe He has their best interests at heart and they eat from the wrong tree.
In that act of disobedience they break their relationship with God, they also break the relationship between themselves and they also break their harmonious relationship to the created world.
God tells them that access to the Tree of Life is dependent upon a right relationship to God and so He drives them out of the Garden.
All of which is symbolic language, but is only stating the same truth Jesus will much later affirm to His disciples – that eternal life flows from being in a right relationship with God;
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIVUK)
Eternal life is not obtained through lotions, potions, philosopher’s stones or fountains of youth, but flows from a restored relationship to God.
Indeed, following from the disastrous opening of the book of Genesis, the rest of the Bible is the story of God working to bring about a restoration of the broken relationship between Himself and humankind.
The culmination of which happens on a ‘tree’, when God Himself is crucified on the ‘Tree of Calvary’ and dies to open up to us the possibility that we might repent of our rebellion and sin and be reconciled to our Heavenly Father. This then begins a process in which we learn how to be reconciled to each other and to the creation.
The last page of the Bible describes what happens when the relationship of harmony (shalom) between humankind, God and the creation is fully restored.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.
On each side of the river stood the Tree of Life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse.” (Revelation 22:1-3 NIVUK)
That same Tree of Life, which was forbidden to humankind because of their sin and rebellion, is now once again made available, through the reconciliation made possible by death of Christ on the Tree of Calvary.
The Tree of Life bears fruit every month (i.e. continually) and it’s leaves bring healing to the whole world.
The Christian story – it’s all a tale about trees.
Jesus adds to the list of trees when He tells His disciples about The Gospel Tree, or The Tree of the Kingdom.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32 NIVUK)
In between Christ’s death on the Tree of Calvary and the restored access to the Tree of Life in glory, stands this Gospel Tree.
As the gospel seed takes root in hearts and lives it creates a community of people that should be like this tree.
The Gospel Tree is a tree that is full of fruit. The Bible has little interest in trees that do not bear fruit in some way – figs, dates, olives etc. So trees are places where the hungry can find sustenance. If our Christian community is truly a Gospel Tree then the spiritually hungry will find a sustenance in our midst that will satisfy their hunger.
The Gospel Tree is a tree that is full of leaves. In the Bible leaves are a symbol of healing, as many of the herbal remedies of the ancient world were made from leaves. If we are truly a Gospel Tree the spiritually sick will find healing in our midst.
The Gospel Tree is a place for birds to nest. If we are truly a Gospel Tree then people will find a welcome amongst us, they will experience acceptance and integration, they will make our community, their community.
It is through the ministry of the Gospel Tree that people get to hear the good news about what Jesus has done on the Tree of Calvary.
It is through the ministry of the Gospel Tree that people learn how Jesus’ death opens up the possibility for the broken relationship between them and God to be restored; a process which then works in their lives to restore the broken relationships they have with each other and with the created world.
All of which finds its ultimate, unimaginably glorious expression, when we join God in His Eternal Kingdom, fed of the fruit of the Tree of Life, healed by its leaves of all our ills, and freed from every curse!
The Christian story, it’s all a tale about trees.