Connecting Three Bible Trees

How are The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life, and the cross of Jesus connected?

Genesis opens the Bible with two prominent trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first allowed continued existence and the second an opportunity to exercise free will in rebellion against God. Adam and Eve ate of the second tree and lost access to the first. They came to know good and evil and also came to know separation from a unique fellowship with God and the pain of death.

Revelation closes the Bible with access to the Tree of Life restored, its life giving fruit, and a unique fellowship between God and man .

What connects these scenes of rebellion and peace, restraint and restoration? The cross of Jesus where the Savior was hanged upon a tree, cursed to redeem us from a curse (Galatians 3:13).

The cross became a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil for it informs us of the great evil that could crucify the Son of God, the exceedingly high price of sin, and the cost to redeem man. We also are taught of the exceeding love, mercy, and goodness  of God who would make such a sacrifice to redeem us (1 John 5:20). We come to know God in a special way through the cross.

The cross is also a Tree of Life through which the death of Jesus brought righteousness and life (Romans 5). The cross lifted Jesus so that even those who look to Him today can find salvation and eternal life (John 3:14-15).

Video – Lessons from the Song “Just As I Am, I Come Broken”

This was a lesson I presented at the 2016 Florida College Alabama camp reflecting on the theme song from camp: “Just As I Am, I Come Broken.” This is a beautiful adaptation of an old hymn that expresses the response of someone coming just as they are to God for healing and transformation.

This was a lesson I presented at the 2016 Florida College Alabama camp reflecting on the theme song from camp: “Just As I Am, I Come Broken.” This is a beautiful adaptation of an old hymn that expresses the response of someone coming just as they are to God for healing and transformation.

The Impossible Repentance of Hebrews 6

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Hebrews 6:4-8(ESV)

In Hebrews 5, the writer was trying to describe the priesthood of Jesus when he interrupted himself saying that he could not explain the priesthood in more detail because they would not understand it. The topic was not so complex that they could not understand it but they had not grown in the knowledge of God and could not grasp it though, by now, they should have been spiritually mature. In chapter 6 he told them to leave the elementary principles, the ABCs, and press towards maturity in the knowledge of God’s word. Within this exhortation to maturity is a warning of remaining immature and not growing in knowledge of God’s word.

Some Christians who fail to mature may leave Christ and be unable to return to Him He says it will be “It is impossible for them to repent.” This is a frightening concept: one who is alive but cannot repent of their wickedness and turn to God. Who is this person who cannot repent?

This is not the unbeliever who never knew God nor cares for Him. This is a Christian who left the faith.

  • He was “once enlightened.” This has the idea of spiritual illumination. In John 1:9, Jesus who came to the world to give light to man. Paul, in Ephesians 1:17-18, describes conversion as the eyes of our understanding being enlightened that we may know our hope and our inheritance. Hebrews 10:32 uses “enlightenment” to described the Christian’s conversion. This person has seen through the darkness of sin by the truth of the gospel and knows the hope and glory of the child of God because he obeyed the gospel and became a child of God.
  • “have tasted the heavenly gift” The word “taste” literally means “experience.” We have a taste of the heavenly gift, our salvation, while on earth. We know peace when our sins are cleansed, love of our brethren, and our love towards God. When we read about the love of the brethren in the New Testament towards one another (sharing, selling possessions to take care of needs, daily exhortation) and the selfless, joyful, and heartfelt worship to God we have a taste of that heavenly gift. We may have been to a singing, worship service, or time with our brethren where we have had a taste of what was to come.
  • “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” We do not understand everything about how the Father, Son, and Spirit dwell within us but must leave that to God. Romans 8:9-11 speaks of the relationship with have with God through the Holy Spirit. We have become partakers of God in that we have put off wickedness and put on holiness.
  • “tasted the word of God” The word “tasted” is the same as used above. Peter tells us to desire the pure milk of the word if we have tasted the Lord’s graciousness, 1 Peter 2:2-3. We have know from God’s words of love and warning what we needed to do to become children of God and submitted to it.
  • “[tasted] the powers of the age to come” A knowledge of the power of God and of His ultimate triumph over Satan and the world of sin and the destruction of the world. This knowledge urges us to be faithful, 2 Peter 3:11.

When this person falls away it is impossible to renew him to repentance. The word “impossible” doesn’t always mean “cannot” but is sometimes used to describe something that is not acceptable or is extremely unlikely. In this case it is impossible for the Christian who forsook Jesus to return to Him because there is nothing that we can tell him or use to appeal to him that he doesn’t already know. He willingly turned his back on all that is good and holy in order to be in this condition. He has crucified the Son of God again and put Him to open shame. We do not physically crucify Jesus, but our rejection of Him is equal to that Jerusalem mob, Hebrews 10:29. His departure from the faith is a cause for people to mock Christ for Jesus must not have meant enough to the person to keep Him.

How can we reach this desperate condition?

We can become callused to sin. Israel was often condemned for their hard hearts and rebellion against God, Hebrews 3:7-13. The Israelites who forsook God could not enter the Promised Land and the Christian who forsakes God cannot enter His eternal kingdom, Hebrews 10:26-39. To become hardened to sin is to become callused. When our skin calluses, it is no longer tender and easily pricked. Guitar player’s fingers become callused by the strings and lose sensitivity. Hard labor with bare hands can cause them to become callused. When our heart becomes A young man walks into the desolate desertcallused, it is no longer easily pricked. When we continue to sin we can eventually numb our conscience and make it less resistant to the pricking message of the truth.It becomes easier to add other sins when we become hardened.

We can think that judgment is far away. Jesus told a parable of a servant who behaved wickedly but was surprised by a judgment that came quickly, Matthew 24:45-51. Peter wrote of people who would scoff mistaking God’s longsuffering for postponed judgment, 2 Peter 3:1-9. Instead, Peter wrote that the Christian must always be ready for judgment, 2 Peter 3:10-13. How often do we really think that judgment could be imminent?

Listen to false promises and false teaching. Paul warned Timothy of false teachers whose conscience was seared and numb like one whose skin has been seared by a hot iron and can feel nothing, 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

Some believe God would not condemn a person who claimed to be a Christian at one time. They think that once they were saved they would always be saved even if they didn’t follow Jesus later in life. Hebrews 10:26-39 plainly teaches that God has no pleasure in those who draw back from Him to return to sin. Paul warned the Thessalonian Christians, in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10, to remain worthy of the calling and escape God’s wrath. Peter warns, in 2 Peter 2:18-22, that it is  better not to have known Jesus than to turn away from being a follower. If one is “once saved always saved” then this statement would be meaningless.

How Can We Remain Faithful?

  • Growing in the knowledge of God and obedience
    • Hebrews 6:7-8 – Being useful in God’s service and not ensnared with worldly things.
    • Hebrews 6:9-12 – Diligent service, not becoming sluggish.
  • Remaining tenderhearted, not resisting the loving rebuke of our brethren.

Be serious about your walk with God and diligent to grow in the knowledge of God and His word and draw closer to Him. Failing to do this, you could drift so far from God that it would be impossible for others to draw you back.

Barabbas and Second Chances

I sometimes think about the first person Jesus saved when He went to the cross. We do not often consider this person as he is not a main character in the New Testament. He is a bit character in the drama of the crucifixion. Though the part he played was brief, his place in history provides some lessons for us to consider.

The Jews put Jesus through the illusion of a judicial process to deliver a sentence of blasphemy and the punishment of a death penalty. Under Roman rule they could not carry out the death sentence so they brought Jesus within the Roman judicial system to be tried for treason and put to death. The Roman officials Pilate and Herod each examined Jesus. Though their men treated Jesus with contempt, they found no reason to execute Him, Luke 23:13-16.

Pilate fought for Jesus’ release. He knew that Jesus had been delivered into his hands because the Jewish leaders were envious of Him. He even had Jesus violently beaten and presented before the people. Perhaps Pilate thought a near-death beating would satisfy the blood lust of the crowd and perhaps draw some pity out of their hearts for the abused man presented before them. But their hearts were not touched. Read John 19:1-16

It was Pilate’s custom to pardon a criminal during the feast. On most occasions, one might imagine a popular individual whose case inspired sympathy but could not be dismissed as a subject of pardon. The people would get someone they liked and Pilate could receive some appreciation from the people. It would be a great political strategy most years to appease the Jews.

“Give us Barabbas!”

In Pilate’s attempt to free Jesus it seems that he introduced a person he hoped the people would hate more than Jesus: a notorious criminal named Barabbas. Barabbas was part of a revolt and committed murderer in the insurrection. John also refers to him as a robber. Certainly the people would prefer to have Jesus released than a notorious hated criminal like Barabbas back on the streets. It seemed like a good strategy to bring a violent criminal as an alternative to Jesus. Pilate would force the people to choose the outcome he preferred: the release of Jesus.

However, the people took Pilate by surprise and asked for Barabbas to be released. Think about this: the people asked for one who took life instead of the one who gives life. They chose someone who embraced violence and chaos to the Prince of Peace. When the people called for Barabbas Pilate is shocked and amazed asking about Jesus, “Why? What evil has he done?” The people did not answer Pilate, the demanded Jesus. Fearing the people, Pilate released Barabbas and crucified Jesus.

Barabbas became the first person Jesus saved by going to the cross. Barabbas was saved crucifixion and even a continued prison sentence for his crimes and was allowed to go free. Jesus saved Barabbas from the penalty due for his crimes by taking his place on the cross.

Second Chances

I’ve often wondered if Barabbas was affected by Jesus taking his place. We do not know what he knew about Jesus. I imagine him having drinks that night with his criminal friends asking what crimes were committed to make the people hate Jesus more than him. bigstock-Another-Chance-Just-Ahead-Gree-55029689Perhaps he laughed at how dumb the mob was and began planning a new insurrection and returning to his criminal lifestyle. It could be that Barabbas took his second chance seriously and obeyed the law from that point forward.

We do know that Jesus was crucified: a just punishment for Barabbas but not for Jesus. We know that Barabbas got a second chance at life because Jesus went to the cross. We all can have a second chance because Jesus went to the cross. That day in Jerusalem, Barabbas literally experienced what we all can enjoy spiritually. Barabbas was condemned to death but Jesus took his place. Barabbas was guilty but did not have to die for his crime because one who was innocent died in his place.

Likewise, Christ died for us though we deserved to die:

  • Romans 5:6-10 – Christ died for us when we were enemies
  • Isaiah 53:4-6 – The Lord laid our iniquity on Him

In the Old Testament, an innocent being killed for the sake of the guilty was understood in the sacrifice of animals for sin: Leviticus 16:6-10; 15-16. Though we deserve death for our sin, Jesus took our place so we could have life.

What will we do with the second chance we have been given? How will we live since Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us when we did not deserve it?

“Earn It”

Many have seen the World War II movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Because of the language, if you watch it I would recommend viewing it on network TV where the language has been edited. Some networks show it all day on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. If you are not familiar with the story, it is about a group of soldiers that venture into hostile territory to find the only remaining son of a woman whose other sons were killed in battle. When the soldiers find Private Ryan, he is sad that his brothers have died but he does not want to abandon his comrades with whom he has fought. The group who searched for Private Ryan stay with him and they fight the enemy together.

In the end, in a fierce battle against a strong German force, many of Private Ryan’s buddies and the men who risked their lives to find him were killed. As reinforcements drove the Germans back, Captain Miller, who led the search for Private Ryan, and a character whose leadership and courage inspired the soldiers, was sitting on a bridge dying from his battle wounds. The captain looked around at the dead and dying, and the carnage of war, then looked at Pvt. Ryan and said, “Earn this.” He wanted him to make something of his life as a result of their sacrifice for him.

These words, “Earn this”, echoed in Private Ryan’s mind as he stood at the grave of the captain many decades later. Standing with his wife, with his family in the background, he stares at the captain’s grave and asks his wife for reassurance that he lived a life worthy of the sacrifice of Capt. Miller and the other men: “Tell me I led a good life. Tell me I was a good man.”

We are indebted to so many people who died to make our country free. Their sacrifice should inspire us to use the opportunities we have in this country to make the world a better place. However, we have a greater obligation to make something of our lives for the one who died to give us life. In this sense, when we see Jesus on the cross, dying for our sins, the thought “earn this” should ring in our ears. As sinners who rebelled against a loving and holy God we don’t deserve such mercy and sacrifice. Yet Jesus hangs there between earth and sky as an offering for our sins on a cross we deserve.

Walking Worthy of the Sacrifice

“Earn this.” Live a life worthy of this sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way implying that godly living earns us the sacrifice of Jesus. We could live the most heroic lives as Christians and gain worldwide attention for our good deeds and not earn one drop of the blood of Jesus. But the sacrifice of Jesus should change the way we live in profound ways.

Paul says to walk worthy of the calling made possible because of the cross, Ephesians 4:1-3. John urges us to walk as Jesus walked, 1 John 2:5-6. We were bought with a high price; therefore, we must live in a way that reflects our gratitude for such a high sacrifice.
If a person’s life was saved by another giving his life, the survivor will likely find all he could about the person who saved him and do something to honor their memory.

Our life should be a lived as honor to respect the one who died to save us. We should desire to know all we can about Jesus since He gave Himself to save us. Understanding the sacrifice of Jesus and the sense of debt we should feel towards him helps us to also understand the tragic end and punishment of one who turns his back on Jesus, and does not consider Christ’s sacrifice as anything special, Hebrews 10:26-29.

We don’t know what Barabbas did with his second chance. What will you do with yours? Will you live worthy of the love and sacrifice offered to give us life? Will you be apathetic about Jesus’ sacrifice and do nothing to honor Him?

Honoring Jesus with the Lord’s Supper

Every Sunday Christians approach a table set with a memorial feast in the shadow of a cross. In the bread and the fruit of the vine is a reminder of so great a sacrifice made for us. Reflect on the body and blood of our Lord. As you consider Jesus on the cross, let His sacrifice strike deep in your heart and feel the love and mercy of the God who would die for you to save you. “Earn this.” Let His death mean everything in your life and let it transform the core of your being, the thoughts of your mind, the intents of your heart, and the work of your hands.

Honor the one who gave His life to save you as you thoughtfully and reverently partake of the supper of our Lord. And honor Him by returning to the table, and to His cross, each first day of the week as He commanded until He comes again. Honor Him with your life as you leave the table and carry your cross into the world.

Quit Sawing Spiritual Sawdust!

Our house has recently undergone a major transformation as we added living space for my mother-in-law. During the building a lot of lumber was cut which generated many piles of sawdust. The carpenters were careful to measure and check their measurements before cutting the wood because cutting wood is a permanent change. We even have phrases like “measure twice, cut once” to remind us of the permanence of our decision when we have cut the wood. You cannot rejoin the wood once it is cut. Even if you glue or otherwise join the wood, it will be shorter because of the wood lost in the kerf-the slot where the wood was cut. Some strength will be lost that would not be lost in the uncut lumber.

Sawdust is the bits of wood sawed away from the lumber (or the “work”). Sawdust is worthless for the building construction and it is often swept or vacuumed away. It is the waste product of the productive work of building. So if you came upon someone piling up sawdust and trying to saw it again, you would think they were crazy. You can’t saw sawdust. There is no value in the action and nothing good is produced.

Spiritual Sawdust*

However, many people waste a lot of time sawing spiritual sawdust. As I noted before, sawdust is a product of action and is a visual reminder of the cutting process. In a sense, sawdust is the “past” of the finished product. There was a piece of lumber, now it is two pieces of wood, and the sawdust is left behind as a reminder of the action of the process of separation.

Some people have made decisions (or failed to make a decision) then spend long periods of times reliving the decision, digging up the pain and memories, and will not let the past go. Instead of letting the decision stay in the past, the bring it back to the future and agonize over it again and again. The result of this effort is bitterness, misery, failure to forgive themselves and possibly others, regret, and self-reproach.  They can do nothing to change the past, nor can they “uncut the wood” to make things right. What can we do?

5 Steps To Dealing With The Past

  1. Accept it and own it. The past cannot be changed: it is part of the permanent record. When we get on a scale, the weight is not a reflection of what we intend to do in the future but choices we have made in the past. The attention to our diet, exercise, and other physical factors are reflected in the displayed weight. Wishing or regrets will not change the number. However, we can make different choices and those results will be displayed when we weigh again. What has happened is like the weight: you cannot affect it anymore.
  2. If needed, repent and ask for forgiveness. We may regret and ruminate over things that were poor decisions but not sinful. Perhaps you are beating yourself up because you didn’t finish college or you left a good job. Such actions do not demand repentance. However, some decisions you agonize over were also sinful rebellion against God. To move forward you need to ask God’s forgiveness. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus told the Ephesian church to repent and do the first works: the old habits of faithfulness that they gave up. 1 John 2:1 tells us that God is faithful to forgive our sins. If you are challenged with this, I urge you to read this post as well. It may be that you need to seek forgiveness from someone. Do so quickly so you can move on with life and know that you have tried to make amends for your offense.
  3. Learn from it. It does no good to ruminate over your regrets. However, take time to learn from your mistakes. Look at what you did and why you did it. What were the circumstances? What was your attitude that led to the choice? What can you do to avoid doing this again and create better outcomes in the future? You can take the power from Satan’s victories by turning them into victories for God when you create learning experiences to prevent future regrets.
  4. Let it go. The past does not hold onto you, you have the grip on it. You give it power to ruin the future. You give it power to hold you back and keep you down. If it was a sin and you asked God’s forgiveness, He no longer holds it against you. Learn from the past then let it go. You cannot undo the past but you can quit allowing the past to have power in the future.
  5. Create tomorrow’s fruits. Where you are today is the result of prior decisions. Where you will be tomorrow is a result of the choices you make today. You can change direction. The direction of the past does not have to determine the direction of your future. You can get on a different road, travel at a different speed, and choose new travelling companions. You can build on the foundations of the past or, if you are changing direction, build on its ruins. Plant good seeds today so you can eat good fruit tomorrow. Follow the wisdom of God’s word and build a great tomorrow, especially a heavenly eternal tomorrow, regardless of what you have done in the past.

*I can’t remember where I heard the illustration of trying to saw sawdust. It is not original to me.