Genesis 2:15–17; 3:22–24 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[a] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Man begins his journey in this world in a garden. Adam and Eve are established in the Garden of Eden, surrounded by various other God-created creatures and God-created vegetation. And, the Word of the Lord distinguishes, speaks specifically about, two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We are told that both trees were in the middle of the garden, perhaps side by side.
There at the foot of one tree, Adam and Eve worship as they show their love for God by being obedient to His command to not eat from it—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There at the foot of the other tree, they receive the gift of life immortal, life everlasting. Two important trees, as man and woman seek to live and walk in the presence of their Lord and their God.
And then . . . there is sin. Adam and Eve disobey God, and they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They give in to the whispers of the evil one as the ancient serpent entices them. “You will not surely die,” whispers Satan. “You can be like God.” And they listen. They eat; they disobey. The worm of sin burrows into their hearts. In truth, all of creation becomes infected with the parasite of sin, and this sin separates us from God.
We are separated from God by this dividing wall of hostility; we are cast out from the beautiful garden; we are removed from the presence of the other tree, the tree of life. The cherubim and the flaming sword guard the path back to this tree, lest man eat from it and live forever. Man has been cast out, exiled from the garden, but also exiled from life itself. God knows that if man eats of this tree of life as a sinner that the life bestowed by its fruit will be a fate worse than death, because to live forever as sin continues to ravage you, both body and soul, is a curse too terrible to behold. Sin must first be dealt with—atoned for, washed away—before life everlasting is a blessing and joy.
But how does one first deal with sin? The fact that man is a sinner forbids him from being part of the solution. Sin-filled man is the problem, and he is unable to do anything that would solve the problem. Mankind is stumbling blindly and bumbling helplessly through this journey of life. He cannot, even by accident, address the problem of sin. And so, life eludes him; a restored relationship with God is an impossibility. A return to what God intended for man from the beginning is beyond man’s reach.
Beyond man’s reach, but not beyond the reach of God! For just as man was overcome by a tree, so also must the Son of Man by a tree overcome. The issue, the problem, the devastating disaster of sin requires another tree. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. Jesus, God’s Son, comes into our flesh and blood that He might crush the ancient serpent and pay the price demanded by sin. Christ Jesus comes into our flesh because of the kind of price demanded: blood. Only blood can pay the price and wash away sin. Only the blood of the Lamb—the Lamb who has no blemish or spot, who is a perfect sacrifice, a holy and precious offering—only the blood of the Lamb is required . . . and a tree.
The Son of Man must be lifted up upon a tree just as the bronze serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. The tree of the cross—an instrument of torture, suffering, and death—is the tree upon which Jesus is lifted up. On the cross, Jesus suffers and dies. On the cross, His holy and precious blood is shed. On the cross, Jesus lays down His life that our lives might be restored. A perfect sacrifice brings salvation and restoration to the crown of God’s creation.
Thus, Jesus turns an instrument of death into a tree of life. His death brings us life, life eternal. Our exile from the presence of God has been ended. Our exile from the tree of life is over. Christ Jesus has taken the sins of all the world to the tree and been lifted up for all to see, and from there, He draws all men to Himself. The cross reunites us with our God as the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are bestowed. No longer do we wander aimlessly, blindly in search of a solution to sin. Now, we gather at the foot of the cross, we gather at the new tree of life and gaze upon the One who became sin for us that we might be saved.
Tree to tree. The tree of life to the tree of the cross—another life-giving tree. A journey from life to death and back to life. We have been restored to life and reunited with our God. Now, each day, as we continue our journey through this life as the children of God, we focus our eyes upon that which the apostle John describes in the Book of Revelation: “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1–2). This is the life that has been restored to us: life everlasting, life in the courts of heaven, life in the presence of the Lamb, life that is ours in Christ Jesus. A return from exile, a return to our God by way of a tree. In Jesus’ name. Amen.