Adapted from Matthew Sleeth’s book Reforesting Faith
The tenacious nature of trees are a continual witness to the hope and promise of new life. Buried wood from a stump hundreds of years old was found to still contain living chlorophyll. Stumps can be seen with fresh green shoots reaching forth into the world. In the 1960’s archaeologists discovered a jar of date seeds in southern Judea, carbon dated 2000 years ago. They were treated with germination hormones and eventually one sprouted and was planted. It now stands 10 feet tall and produces pollen.
When God handed Israel over to the nations they repeatedly followed after, it would appear that God was done with them, their promise and future forfeited and dead. But through the prophet Isaiah, God promises a new shoot or branch would sprout from the stump of Jesse. Though it looks like all hope is lost, God will raise up a Savior King from the seemingly dead royal lineage of David (Jesse’s son). In Ezekiel 17:22-24, God likens His promised Messiah to a tender cedar sprig that He will plant on the heights of Israel that it may bear branches and produce fruit, becoming a noble cedar in whose branches every nation will nest and find shade.
Several hundred years later that fresh green shoot broke through, with the birth of Jesus in a wooden manger. Matthew opens his gospel with Jesus’ family tree, tracing his lineage through King David’s line. Yet he’s not what anyone expected. A carpenter from a backwater town, Jesus fit the description of Isaiah 53, an ordinary young plant, a root out of dry ground, without any majestic appearance or attractiveness. Jesus eventually launches His public ministry often using trees, fruit, and seeds as illustrations and metaphors. He describes God's Kingdom as a tiny seed that grows over time into a full grown tree, and the message of the Kingdom as seed sown on different kinds of soil. In one of his most intimate moments with His disciples He describes Himself as The Vine planted and tended by the Father, and calls His disciples to be fruit bearing branches abiding in Him.
From the framing of our houses to the furniture we sit on, trees continue to give and serve even in their death. A fallen tree can support several thousand flora and fauna species and continue to provide shelter for numerous animals. Jesus' life of loving service culminates in his death when He is nailed to a dead tree of a Roman cross. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul quotes Deuteronomy saying, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, ‘“Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”.’ Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns on the tree of execution, bore the curse of sin, and paid the penalty for sin that ushered death into the world. Jesus’ blood upholds God's justice and supplies God's mercy, subverting a tortuous Roman execution device into a tree of life.
Jesus is the ladder of Jacob bridging heaven and earth, He is the Ark providing shelter from God's judgment against sin. He is the ram in the thicket offered in our place.. He is the greater Moses delivering us from the power of sin over us. He is the cedar sprig of God planted in a Jerusalem garden.
With Jesus dead and buried. It would appear to His disciples that again the promise and hope was lost. Yet just as Psalms 16 and Job 15 foreshadowed, Jesus overcomes death as He is raised to eternal life 3 days later. When He appears to Mary Magdalene, in the garden where he had been buried, she mistakes Him for the gardener. Indeed, the Risen Christ is both the tree of life supplying true and lasting life to all who will trust and receive Him, and the new Adam, tending and cultivating the new creation that has sprouted with his resurrection.
Jesus calls us to join Him in the work of new creation, His Word and Spirit the chlorophyll that produces His life in us. There is no person too lost, or place too deep, that the life giving power of Jesus cannot reach. When all we see is the dark soil surrounding us, We can look to Jesus, the culminating fulfillment of God's faithfulness and the promise of resurrection life. God will complete what he's started. He will bring our lives and all of creation to full restoration and fruition when He returns as promised.