Discover Magazine published an article called “The Life, Death, and Life of a Tree.” It’s the wonderful story of a majestic redwood tree affectionately named Luna II.
According to writer Jack McClintock, Luna II is a coast redwood whose scientific name, Sequoia sempervirens, literally means “ever-living.” He quotes the forest manager of Luna II who calls these trees “Children of the storm, for their ability to survive disasters that include floods, insects, and fires.” Luna II, however, is eventually cut down for lumber which explains why the article begins with the quote, “The only real threat the majestic redwood has ever faced is us.”
As I read the article, I found myself caught up in thoughts that reach higher than these majestic trees that can live 2,000 years and grow as tall as a 30-story building. There’s a bigger story that puts some well-known trees at the heart of a far greater drama.
According to the book of Genesis, it was on the third day of creation that God brought to life the wonder of a tree. With its roots, it would reach down into the ground God called earth, and with its branches it would grow up into the space God called heaven.
The tree, like the rest of God’s fresh creation, was good. But with the arrival of evil days, it was destined to bear, in a special way, the weight of a curse.
In the center of a garden paradise, God planted two trees. One was named the Tree of Life. It was to be what we might call an eternal fountain of youth. The other was a God-forbidden tree called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
As the story of the Bible unfolds, it turns out that these two trees were planted not only in the middle of a garden, but at the great crossroads between life and death.
Along the way, the tree got tangled up with the problems of humanity. Moses hints as much when he writes about a tree as being the place for hanging a criminal who has been executed and hung on a tree as a public example (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Many centuries later, the apostle Paul saw something profound and even Messianic about those words. As he thought about the way the whole story of the Bible seemed to be coming together in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul saw something most of us would probably miss. He connected the dots between a good tree, evil, death, curse, and an executioner’s cross. So Paul wrote that Jesus “redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that [hangs] on a tree” (Galatians 3:13 KJV).
In ways no one could have anticipated, God wove the story of a tree into the history of One whose Hebrew name means something like “God to our rescue” (lit., “Yahweh is salvation”). Who could have foreseen the wonder of a tree, cut from its roots, and then jammed into the ground by Roman executioners? Yet on that rough cut tree of execution, the Son of God became a curse for us and turned a tree of death into the ultimate Tree of Life. On that tree, Jesus died for the sins of all who have ever turned their backs on their Creator. Now, whoever would look at Him hanging on that cross, and believe the ultimate miracle of His love, could once again live forever.
With this news, we can also begin to understand why God made sure that our first parents could no longer have access to the Tree of Life. It’s apparent that He didn’t want them living forever in a fallen and tragically injured state of rebellion (Genesis 3:22-24).
Because Jesus rose from the grave, it could be declared that God had made an inexpressibly personal sacrifice to reconcile a world of rebels to Himself. With the death of His Son on a tree, He bought life beyond death for mortals like us (1 Peter 2:24).
The irony is that what was good for us was good for the tree as well. In the moment that Jesus died on a tree for us, He lifted the wonder of a tree far above all measure. When He died on a tree, He was rescuing not only individuals like us—but all creation from the curse of our sin (Colossians 1:20).
Now we can understand why the prophet Isaiah could look into the future and write: “For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12 NKJV; SEE ALSO Revelation 22:2,14).
Father in heaven, we are beginning to see why You planted such a dangerous tree in the middle of that garden. It was at such a high price that You gave us the gift of freedom. Yet by doing so, we are now seeing the far greater price You paid to show us how much You love us. Please don’t ever let us forget the wonder of Your Tree of Life.