From the Garden to the City,
Trees along the way
(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg
We begin our series from the Garden
to the City - Trees along the way. In it we will be following the trees
in scripture as we discover major themes in the story of scripture from
beginning to end. Let me in just a couple of sentences remind you of
the truths of trees we discovered last Sunday.
4 This is the account of
the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Many trees - all of them were good to eat from - including the tree of life which in this passage appears - but it is in the background. It appears that Adam and Eve, if they ate from it, they could extend their life indefinitely. It stands, silently in the garden witnessing the events that take place. In this part of the story, it seems to take a back seat to the plot.
Then there is another good tree. Its fruit is good. Its fruit looks attractive, not poisonous - after all this was the good garden of Eden. It may have been identical to some of the other trees in the garden. For all we know, it may have been an apple tree. The only distinctive about this tree was that it was in the middle of the garden close to the tree of life, and secondly, it was the tree about which God commanded you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
We need to understand what is happening here if we want to understand the rest of scripture. If we misunderstand this beginning of the story, our understanding of all of the story of scripture will be distorted. What is it that is happening in this passage?
Well there are clues.
First of all, everything that God created was good. Which means that Eve perception of this tree was accurate - When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom... she saw rightly.
Second, God gave a warning not to eat of this tree. Now that is obvious, but the simple truth is - God was the one who set the rules, God was the one who decided what was good for them.
Third, the consequence of eating from the tree was not only that they would die, it was also that they would become like God. We live in a society that pictures death in physical terms.
We watch CSI, we watch the Bone Collector, we love these who done it shows where dead bodies reveal truth. But in scripture, repeatedly, rather than looking at death as a physical reality, death is pictured as a consequence of sin. The wages of sin is death. Christ died for sin, once and for all. Adam and eve would die, not because the tree was inherently bad, but because they sinned.
And then there is the fourth clue - the consequence of eating of the tree was that like God, Adam and Eve would have a knowledge of good and evil. What does that mean? We see what it means in their actions.
God gave an instruction, God set the rules as to what was good for them and what was not. That’s what God does. Its his role. But Adam and Eve still take and eat, in effect, they are saying to God, I will be my moral center, I will decide what is good for me, I am wise enough to know that my actions have consequences, I will be the judge of what’s best for me. And so Adam and Eve choose to be like God by becoming their own moral center. And when they choose to become their own moral center, they took the place of God in their own lives.
So if we are to understand this passage, we discover that at the heart of this story is that humans refused to be human, they wanted to be more like God, they wanted to decided for themselves, they wanted the power to decide what was right and wrong. And they did this because they started listening to the deceptive rationalizations of the snake, the evil one, the author of all lies. Now we have looked at the anatomy of his temptations in the past, we won’t do that again this morning. What I do want to do with you though is to see how this theme, this pride filled fall into the sin of being our own moral center is the core of sin throughout all the scriptures.
The very next story - God reminds Cain of what is right, but Cain goes ahead and kills his brother Abel anyways.
By the time of Noah, this power to choose right and wrong for themselves has gone to humanities head - they choose and every inclination of their hearts was toward evil.
By the time of the tower of Babel where people in pride were out to make a name for themselves - evil and self determination is mushrooming again - this time so that it would not mushroom, God confused their languages.
By the time of Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah have become places where people decide for themselves what kind of behavior is right and wrong, and so even today we have the term Sodomy.
By the time the Judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes, or as he saw fit. They weren’t concerned about what the Lord saw as right, there was little fear of God in their hearts. And the book of Judges gives a specific reason - Israel had no king - and so everyone did as he saw fit, everyone was their own moral center. They did not have God as their king, they did not have a human king.
So the Lord gave to them human kings. Under the kings of Israel, now a king ruled and gave rules in a sense in the place of God, and so as the king, so went the country. When kings were faithful, Israel returned to the Lord and to obedience. But they were few and far between. When kings did evil in the sight of the Lord, the entire country did the same. And so during this time and after, we get the laments of the major and minor prophets who are compelled to call the human heart desperately wicked, beyond understanding, reminding them that where people choose for themselves rather than listening to the will of the Lord, the consequence is death. And so Israel as a nation died.
We come to the time of Jesus, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the descendant of David, what do we notice? Jesus did the Father’s will. Jesus said,
“My food is to
do the will of him who sent me.”
Jesus knew that the issue was not what he thought was right in his own eyes, he knew the issue was to do the will of his Father in heaven. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, as the trees of the garden witnessed what occurred, Jesus said, not my will but your will be done. Jesus was acting in exactly the opposite way that Adam and Eve had in the garden of Eden, and in the process, even though he was God, he was not choosing equality with God something to be grasped.
Now notice something - whereas Adam and Eve choose to be their own moral center and in the process lost access to the tree of life, Jesus choose to obey only his father in heaven even to the point of death on a cross, but in obeying completely, he regained access to the tree of life, he arose again to live forever. And scripture concludes with the tree of life for the healing of the nations, the picture of that closing chapter is that every quality of the Garden of Eden is there again - except now it is a city, with not a few people, but myriads and myriads of people who live eternally obeying the will of the Lord.
Now the question is - what does this have to do with me and you?
It has everything to do with you and me. It has to do with this question: Who is your moral center? I suspect you have noticed, but if you interview the average person in the street, or your average next door neighbour, they will all think of themselves are pretty good people. Oh, they have a few flaws, but nothing serious. And if you go to those who are in prison because they have broken the law, you will discover that they too think they are pretty good people, either the law is faulty, they were incorrectly charged, or they’re not as bad as the child molesters. Even the mother of the young man who shot 20 people in Montreal thought that her son was a basically good kid and that his guns were a hobby. People who are their own moral center always think well of themselves. They have decided what is right to do and they go ahead and do it. And the rationalizations, the justifications for our actions are amazing.
So who is your moral center? Who is your moral center when it comes to living for God - is it the status quo around you, or is it Jesus? Who is your moral center when it comes to how you treat those around you? Who is your moral center for the words and stories that come out of your mouth even about your enemies? Who is your moral center for justice? Who is your moral center for what you expose your eyes and ears to? Who is your moral center for what you eat? Are you just another person who does as they see fit? Theologically, its called self righteousness and it’s the attitude that Jesus cursed when he saw it in the pharisees.
There is a reason why we as
Christians listen again and again to the will of God for our lives - as
found in the 10 commandments, as found throughout the scriptures. By
definition, a Christian is a person who has chosen to let God and
God’s will for our lives be our moral center. At the foot of
the cross, seeing Jesus in all of his glory, we have bowed before our
one and only eternal triune king, and we acknowledge him as our moral
center. What does Jesus command? What would Jesus do? That is our
center - and when we put our trust in him, he gives us access to the
tree of life which is for the healing of the nations.
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.