THE GARDEN TO THE CITY:
Acts 10:34-48, text vs. 39
(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg
This bible is an awfully big book. Mine has 1949 pages written by at least 37 authors in 1189 chapters and 31,102 verses. Many of us know a few verses by heart. For example most of us can recite: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son and whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” But that is one verse out of more than 31,102. If that is all we know of the bible, then we know something very important, but at the same time we do not know very much. But what do we do with all these verses. If you are a person who has read the bible, you might think to yourself that we can’t see the forest for all the trees. We read a few verses, and maybe we feel good about reading a few verses and that is better than nothing, but a few verses does not give us the whole story. When we open the scripture, its like we pick up a piece of a 31,102 piece jig saw puzzle. But having one or two pieces of the puzzle in our hand does not tell us what it looks like when we fit it all together.
Its for that reason that this year, our theme will be “From the Garden to the City, Trees along the Way.” Our objective in this church season is to look generally yet with depth at the major themes of the entire bible so that we have a sweep of the entire story of scripture. Most of us are well aware of the fact that the story of scripture starts with and the beauty of creation and a Garden in which all of humanities needs were provided for. And if you are familiar with the last chapters of the bible, you know that scripture ends with a city called the New Jerusalem, even more splendid than the original garden. The sweep of the story takes us from Garden to city, from pure nature to development, from privacy to community. I can think of many themes that we may want to look at - for instance - the spirituality of the garden, and the spirituality of the city. Are urban centers really detrimental to spirituality? Many of us would like the slower life of the country side, but will that necessarily help us in our walk with God? What does it mean for our work as Christians in this world that we are headed for a city? What are the characteristics of that city over against what we experience in cities today? Many questions can be asked and discussed. The key theme here is that the story starts with the creation of a garden and ends up with a city.
Now what is very intriguing about the development of this story throughout scripture is that there are, it seems again and again, trees along the way. Right at the very beginning there were significant trees in the garden - one called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, another called the tree of life (I have just given you two answers to the crossword puzzle - I found at least 31 trees mentioned in scripture, there may be more....) But even after the garden, trees are mention, and trees are mention in a variety of ways at some of the very significant turning points in the story of scripture. We will be looking at those key points in scripture in the coming year as we look at the forest even as we focus on individual trees. And together as a congregation, this morning we will plant a small tree out front of the church as a memorial of this theme throughout the year.
This morning there are two themes that are significant for us in this introductory message. The first theme is that trees were often used as location markers, places on the landscape that were easily recognizable by the trees that grew there and lasted a long time. Something like X marks the spot on the map. And there are dozens of these “location” trees mentioned in the scripture. But even as we read that we need to remember that in scripture trees are often given even human qualities. For example trees in the poetry of scripture are said to clap their hands, sing for joy and even weep. But for each of these location markers where trees are mentioned, trees can also be understood to stand there as witnesses to what has happened. So when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, other trees, including the tree of life was there, witnessing what happened. When Abraham in response to the covenant of promise that God made to him bowing in worship, the great tree of Moreh witnessed what happened there on that day. When Moses came upon a burning bush, what did the Lord through that bush say to Moses but to express his burning compassion for his people: “I have seen, I have witnessed the misery of my people in Egypt.” There is a repeated sense that throughout history, the trees have witnessed what has gone on, they remember, they see, at times their poetry is joy, at other times it is sorrow. It is this sense of witness that comes to the surface in Acts 10:34 ff. In this passage, Peter who has just realized through a dream that God makes no distinctions between nationality, or gender or socio economic status through a dream. He was then invited to visit a Gentile name Cornelius and his household. Listen as he summarized what had happened...
34 Then Peter began to
speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show
favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do
what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of
Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is
Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning
in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God
anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he
went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the
devil, because God was with him.
Notice Luke’s and Peter’s interesting choice of words. In the gospel of Luke, every reference to the cross uses the Greek word stauron (cross) but now in Peter’s summary of what was witnessed, the word tree or wood (Xulon). Why this change. Here, it is a tree, it seems location is not as big a factor as something that trees do - they witness what has happened. They watch as history goes by. They see things that are done. They are one of God’s chosen witnesses throughout history watching what really happens. This tree watched as Jesus, the son of God hung on it cursed, putting an end to sin for us once and for all before he arose again to give us new life once again. This tree, as all the trees, was a witness to that fact. Trees are long standing witnesses to the flow of history.
Now there is one more theme that I invite you to notice. To point that out, I would like you to look at a picture of yet another old tree.
On a wild Tasmanian mountain there is a magnificent, recently discovered stand of Huon pine trees that has been called the world's 'oldest known living organism'. Newspaper reports have claimed that what looks like hundreds of trees densely covering one hectare (2.5 acres), is all part of the one tree, since all these 'trees' appear to have identical DNA. Over the years, it is believed, 'snow has forced its branches to the ground, where they have taken root'. 'more than 10,500 years old. It looks like a forest, and it is all actually just one tree.
The same is true in scripture.
Notice in Peter’s summary of everything that happened, when push comes to shove, everything may have looked like a forest, but in truth it was all about one person, Jesus - Jesus ministry, Jesus death, Jesus resurrection and what Jesus has done for us. After his resurrection on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained to his disciples what was said concerning him by Moses and the prophets. As we look at the different trees along the way, each story will point to one person - Jesus. Peter makes this same point when he says in verse 43 of our passage: All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Next Sunday morning we will begin by looking at the very beginning of the bible as we look at two particular trees in the garden - we will find that in that context, they not only witness what happened, but they point us to Jesus also. Like all these branches, they are part of one tree.
This morning we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Like all of the scriptures, this supper is about Jesus and his death on our behalf. And this morning, if you place your trust in Jesus alone for your life, for your death and for your eternal future, if you confess him as your Lord and Saviour, if you acknowledge that its all about Jesus that we gather around, you are welcome to come and share with us in this meal.
21 But now a
righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which
the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes
through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.