From the Garden to the City, Trees along the way
The Evolution of the Presence of God

Genesis 13:14-18, 18:1-5

(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Genesis 13:14-18
14 The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring (seed) forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
18 So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Genesis 18:1-5
The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my Lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ’
This morning we come to the Great Trees of Mamre, otherwise called the terebinths of Mamre or the Great Oaks of Mamre. Once again, these old strong trees witnessed something profound - they witnessed not only covenant as we saw last Sunday as we looked at the great tree of Moreh, these trees witnessed the presence of God when God visited with Abraham. Now this was a pretty incredible visit. Can you imagine what it would be like to have the Trinity come and visit you bodily for an entire day? Well, that is what happened to Abraham - and the consequence was not only that Abraham and Sarah were promised a child Isaac through whom the covenant promises would come to realization even at their age of 99 years, but it became an occasion on which Abraham could intercede for the few righteous ones in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Great Trees of Mamre witnessed the presence of God. This morning we want to survey that profound theme as we witness the evolution of the presence of God from the Garden to the city in scripture.

You will remember that in the Garden of Eden, God was present with Adam and Eve, walking with them in the cool of the Garden. God talked with them, had conversations with them. There is a reason why many of us like a quiet walk in the forest. We sense in our spirits that this is a place of tranquility, peace, a place where God has walked. God, in revealing to us his power and glory through creation gives us a sense of his presence in creation.

But when Adam and Eve fell into sin, they were removed from the Garden of Eden, removed from the presence of God and especially the tree of life. And the removal was because of sin. Isaiah, the one who witnessed the angels crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God almighty” came to understand that the reason for separation from God was because of sin. The Lord says in Isaiah 59:2

Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

The profound incompatibility between a holy God and an unholy people becomes the relational problem of scripture to be solved. How can God walk with his people if there are such significant differences and problems between them? As Amos (3:3) in God’s law suit against Israel says 3 Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? How is this resolved? In Genesis 3:15 we get a hint of an answer - the Lord says: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” But to Adam and Eve, that statement was certainly a mystery. Separated from God because of sin, they live out their lives experiencing the pain and the toil of the curse. How will this problem with the incompatibility of a Holy God and a sinful Human Race be resolved? How can God become present to us again?

Well, first we find Abraham - in the passages we read, God became present too him. And we must ask - how can this be? If sin was already the big problem, how could Abraham and God be present to each other?  The answer has to do with Faith. Abraham was a man who believed God’s promises and scriptures in Genesis 15:6 tell us that this belief,  this faith, became something by which righteousness was credited to Abraham. Paul has an extensive discussion of what this means in Romans 4, and James 2:23 points out that it was because he believed that not only righteousness was credited to Abraham, he was also a friend of God. God was present to him because Abraham was gifted with a righteousness that made them friends.

Just because Abraham was righteous does not mean his family was filled with faith. If you know the story of Abraham’s grandson Jacob, you know that he was a sneaky deceptive young man who learned to trust the Lord only in the very difficult school of hard knocks. For Jacob, God is almost always far away.

By the time we get to Moses and the Mosaic covenant, we discover that God is being very separate from his often rebellious and often idolatrous people.  And so part of the Mosaic covenant included the building of the tabernacle which in a certain sense was an insulator between God and his people. It has been said that “Good fences make good neighbours.” That was the truth of the tabernacle. The presence of God was a limited presence - behind a fence - the walls of the tabernacle deep inside the Holy of Holies on the ARK of the covenant. We know that once a year the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of sacrifice on the altar. Tradition has it that in time the High priest would go into the Holy of Holies dragging a rope around his ankle just in case he had some sin that was not atoned for and the glory and presence of the Lord struck him dead. At least with a rope around his ankle, someone could drag him out.

Now I mentioned glory and presence in the same sentence. There is a reason for that. When Moses had finished the tabernacle and fulfilled all the covenant requirements in preparing it, according to Exodus 40:34 the Glory of the Lord descended onto the tabernacle in the form of a cloud of fire and smoke. That glory was the presence of the Lord, able to be among his sinful people because the insulator, the fence between him and his people had been properly built. It was this same glorious fire and smoke that arose and led them through the desert in their wilderness wanderings, but all the time he kept himself apart from his people.

Now I could talk about the Ark and what happened to it because in a very real sense it represents the presence, power and authority of the Lord.  But to make a long story short, when Solomon made the temple, the temple also was designed as a great fence to separate God from his people in such a way that he could be with them. And like on the tabernacle, the glory of the Lord, the presence of the Lord descended onto the tabernacle in glory. Again, you remember the history of Israel. The Kings became unfaithful. The priests became unfaithful. Many of the prophets started prophesying lies. The faithful and true prophets we have recorded in scripture and they were persecuted and killed. In time the temple was destroyed, the ark of the covenant symbolizing the presence of the Lord taken away and we have no knowledge of where it went. In short, God, because of sin was thoroughly separated from his people. With a small exception. The teaching of Jeremiah was that the Lord went with his people into exile. But for the rest, it is unknown.

We come to the new testament. The time between Malachi and Matthew has been 430 years of political intrigue and domination by foreign powers. The faithful in Israel long for the God that has disappeared from them. And then in Bethlehem a baby is born.  And the angels tell Mary that this one born to her will be called Immanuel - which means God with us - God present with us, God near to us, God come in human form to walk with us. Suddenly there are no fences, no great temples to divide the divine from the sinful, the Holy for the fallen. Just flesh, a baby, the presence of God among his people.

King Herod was in the process of building a great temple - a structure that might come close to Solomon’s temple, an astute political move to appease troublesome Jews. But Jesus with his disciples looks at the temple in  John 2:19 and he says “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” His statement to those who heard it was offensive because they believed that temple was the evidence of the presence of God among them even though it did not contain the Ark of the Covenant, even though there was nothing in the Holy of Holies. Jesus was referring to the presence of God, but he was referring to the presence of God in his body that would be destroy but then in three days, it would arise again.

The presence of God had come to walk among people. John says in John 1: 14
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (tabernacled) among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John is clearly painting the picture that Jesus was the presence of God among his people in all of his glory. Now the scriptures get very interesting, especially in John 17. Listen to these words from Jesus High priestly prayer.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.

What an interesting sentence. Jesus says that he has given to those who believe in him the glory of God. Jesus is referring to that very glory that came down on the tabernacle and the temple, Jesus is referring to the glorious presence of God. And he has given not to just a few of us, he has given it to us not just individuals, he has given it to us as the community of faith.
Death of Christ - tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom - not from bottom to top - significance - God got rid of the dividing wall that separated us, from God, he dealt with the necessary division caused by sin. This is the theme that Paul picks up in Eph 2 4 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.

Now I can go further - because we discover in the scriptures that with them coming of Pentecost, there were flames licking on the heads of the disciples, distributed among them - the flame of the glory of God the presence of God. The community of those who put their faith in Christ had become the temple in which the Lord himself is present through the power of the Holy Spirit. And so when Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (all the "you"s are plural.)

We together are the body of Christ, we together are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Now that has some profound implications.

It has been asked again and again - can a person be a Christian without being part of the church? Paul is telling us that the presence of God comes to the community of faith, a group of people who together come to celebrate God’s promises. We were never designed to survive as Christians apart from the community. Wherever two or three are gathered... the Lord is present.

For the world to be touched by the presence of God, they have to be met by the church. Sin still separates. But where sin is atoned for by the blood of Jesus, there God is present. The only way that the world is going to experience the presence of God is through the church being in the world, at work, in politics, in business, in school, in art, in the sciences, in history.

And what we do in the privacy of our lives is what affects the whole body. We are called to be people who honour God with our body - that God is present among us to forgive, to heal and to restore us into the blessings of Abraham.

You see, ultimately, it is the blessing of Abraham that this is all about, the blessing of being visited by God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 3 makes it so very clear that we receive the presence of the Lord in only one way - (Slide 18) like our Father Abraham, by faith we receive the presence of God through the Spirit, by faith we are joined to Jesus and the promise is to us and our children. Acts 2

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.

From a God who visits to a God who is separate to a God who dwells within us by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the promise of the Gospel.  This is the promise of new life that can be lived today, eternal life experienced today, the true knowledge and leadership of God in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit today. To be a Christian who denies the reality of the Holy Spirit is to deny that God is present with us today.

Let me bring to a conclusion this them with the conclusion of Scripture in Revelation 21

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The amazing truth about this passage is that God wants to be with us. He earnestly desires to be in our presence pouring out on us the blessings and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He longs to be completely with his people. There is no flaw in his desire, he is faithful to his covenant with Abraham.  We have been made righteous by Christ. Now he desires our company, no fences, no big curtains, no big walls. And it is all by faith in Jesus. That is as simple as it is. There is no works you have to do. There is no dance that needs to be accomplished. Just by faith in Jesus and the presence of God is restored to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.



From the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
Immanuel CRC's Theme for 2006-2007
The complete Series

  1. Acts 10:34-48, text vs. 39 FROM THE GARDEN TO THE CITY:
    TREES ALONG THE WAY: Introduction

  2. Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17, 3:1-24 There was more than one Tree in the Garden

  3. Genesis 12:1-9 The Great Tree of Moreh

  4. Genesis 13:14-18, 18:1-5 The Evolution of the Presence of God

  5. Isaiah 6:1-13 Jesse's Stump (Advent #1)

  6. Isaiah 55 The Pine and the Myrtle

  7. Isaiah 11:1-5 Jesse's Shoot (Advent #4)

  8. Galatians 3:1-14 Those who Hang on Trees (Lent)

  9. Luke 19:28-40 The Trees Bowed Before Him! (Palm Sunday)

  10. Genesis 22, Mark 15:33-37 The Ram Caught in the Thicket (Good Friday)

  11. John 20:10-18 They Met Under the Trees in the Garden (Easter Morning)

  12. Acts 2:1-4, 42-47 Pentecost - the City has Arrived

  13. Matthew 6:13 (footnote)  “For Thine is the Kingdom, Power and Glory - the New Jerusalem - Focus of Desire”

  14. Revelation 17, 18 The Great Babylon

  15. Revelation 21 The Bride has Made herself Ready

  16. Revelation 22 The Tree Stands in the City


(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.

Back to Sermon Index Page

Let me know if this message was helpful.