28th May 2023

The Tree of Life

Passage: Genesis 2:4-9, 3:22-24, Revelation 22:1-21
Service Type:

Automatically Generated Transcript

It's a terrific thing to come together and know that we have connections broader than just our local church. It's very Baptist-like, you know, to see the centre of the church life being the local church, but it's also something in our heritage that we can have associations at a broader level.

We teach our pastors in the Theological College, I'm assuming we still do, Ian, that the church is first of all locally based, but also there is a universal church. And for those who can agree together, we meet in an association and we're doing that tonight.

One of the things that's happened in our Baptist denomination recently has been to listen to the government recommendation that all pastors should have some professional supervision. And that was a new term. Many of us as pastors didn't really know what that meant. At the suggestion of one of the members of our church, I took myself off to do a course to be trained as a professional supervisor. Not that I'm ever intending to be one, but I wanted to know what it was about.

The really interesting thing that has been taught along the way is basically with professional supervision, you've got the professional guy and he's supervising another guy who's training the third level. Sometimes it can be even more than three levels. But the idea of the supervision professionally is that you're watching how this is done. And when it comes to keeping a record for the sake of legal reasons and whatever, and if you needed to have some record as to what's going on, then they also teach you how to have an accurate record.

One of the things I said that really caught my attention was that if you've got a session that you're watching and you're taking notes to keep in your records, then choose something at the beginning, something at the end and something in the middle. You might even want to have an example of something as well. And it's interesting that our generation today is aware of the importance of how to represent what actually happened. And the idea of something from the beginning, something from the end, something in the middle or something representative. That is a very important idea that people these days want to see happen.

As a matter of fact, in Christian apologetics, when you talk to people about Christ and they ask you why you believe such things, one of the challenges they can bring to us as Christians is to say, "You funny people, you Christians. Because when we ask you why you believe that these things that you purport to say, namely the gospel, you respond, you reply and say it's because we believe the scriptures".

When I'm told that, I say, "Oh, how does that make me a funny person or make me someone doing something wrong?" And one answer that was very difficult to handle was when a person could say, "Well, you've got your Bible, but you know the first part and the last part, you don't pay much attention to. In fact, I think many of you don't believe it. Genesis, the beginning, Revelation at the end."

Tonight I'm talking on something that's in the first part of Genesis and the last part of the book of Revelation. But I'm guessing that many of you don't really know what to believe. Part of why we don't know what to believe is because how people interpret things when there's symbols involved raises a whole lot of differing opinions and sometimes we don't know exactly how to take things literally or metaphorically.

I know if I've got any of you here, you can challenge me afterwards if you like to sit down and I'd show you how you do not know some spots, particularly in the first part of the Bible and the last part, whether to take them literally or metaphorically.

And you may be saying to yourself now, "Yes, I believe it literally." Well actually, I believe that I believe it literally too. But "literally" doesn't always mean what we sometimes think.

For example, you believe the devil was in the Garden of Eden, I presume. But what about the business of the snakes these days not having legs? But it seems as though the appearance of the devil, he did. I'm not sure exactly how to take that part of the story as a metaphor. I know Satan's involved, but was he really like a snake? Let's leave that for a minute.

The part I want to preach on tonight is not about the devil. I want to go the other way. I want to speak tonight on something in the positive about the Tree of Life. And similarly with the scriptures, we find that the Tree of Life is mentioned several times in the beginning of the Bible and several times in the end.

What was, or what is, the Tree of Life? We'll put up on the screen Genesis in Chapter Two and particularly Verse Nine. "Out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for the food. The Tree of Life was in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."

Now if someone were looking for a contradiction in the Bible, this offers a spot and often people who don't want to become Christians look for what appears to them to be a contradiction that they can hang their head on. Here's one coming up. How many trees? Two. One's the one that caused Adam and Eve to sin. The other is the Tree of Life.

Go to the other end of the Bible, the book of Revelation, and we need to go to the Book of Revelation Chapter 22, and hopefully I've picked the right spot but verses one to five. Verse one, I'll read Verse One and keep what you've got on the screen. "Then the angel showed me the river of water of life, bright and crystal and coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb and through the middle, following on the screen, through the middle of the street of the city. Also, on the other side of the river, the Tree of Life with its 12 kinds of fruit yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it and the servants will worship him. They will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads and night will be no more and they'll need no light or the lamp or sun for the Lord God will be their light. And they will reign forever and ever."

Now you'll notice and you can find a few other spots as well with regard to that final scene at the end of the Book of Revelation that there's only one tree. So the person looking for a good point that they can show that there's a contradiction in the Bible, that's the sort of thing some people who are looking for a way to criticise the scriptures, very ignorantly in my opinion, but say, "Look, there's two in the Book of Genesis and only one in the Book of Revelation, how do you put it all together?" Well, there's a long distance of time in between and there's a reason why one of the trees in the beginning is no longer represented in heaven, in glory at the end.

I said about the professional supervision people, they had the idea that if you have the beginning and the end and something from the middle and when we want to make notes of our documents, that's not a bad formula to give the person later reading a good way to know what was actually said and went on. In the middle, what do we have in the middle of the scriptures? I don't know whether you should turn to page exactly the middle, I'm more likely to think of the change between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus coming in his ministry and what was Jesus busy doing?

No better illustrative point than Jesus when he comes and he's tempted. In our morning service, I've been trying to make the morning and evening services work together so we had the same Bible reading as what was read to us tonight from Matthew and Matthew Chapter Four is about the temptation. But in the temptation of Jesus, what's interesting is who put him into the temptation? What was Jesus doing getting tempted? I know a lot of us have the idea that when you get tempted, it's because you've fallen into temptation and our Lord's Prayer will say, "Lead me not into temptation." It appears as though if you're doing well, you keep clear of all the temptation. There's a truth in that.

Don't be a stupid person, and put yourself in a place where you get tempted on purpose or stupidly. But the Bible's a bit more nuanced. In fact, the word for "tempt" can also mean "test", and what was happening to Jesus was that he was being tested. The Bible teaches also that we will get tested, and it warns us about how to be prepared for being tested as it's part of what's going to happen in this life before we get to glory.

When Jesus was tested, why was it, and who was the one that designed his getting tested? We'll look at Matthew again, Chapter 4, and at the beginning, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. Have you got that as well as me? Good. To be tempted by the devil." Now in the passive voices, Jesus was led by the Spirit. Passive means he's not doing the action, it's being done to him.

And who is it that's leading Jesus? It's the Spirit because of the very nature of how Jesus came as the Christ, he's fully God, fully man. And being man and God, he came to John the Baptist and was baptised and then came on him the Holy Spirit. This moment where the Holy Spirit had told John the Baptist already that when he sees the person on whom the spirit alights and remains on him, that's the one that he's to introduce to Israel as the Messiah, the Christ.

And when the Spirit came on Jesus, he began to do all of his ministry. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he's anointed me to do this" and he lists some things in the synagogue when he's quoting from Isaiah, so he's the Messiah. And so Jesus is led by the Spirit immediately after being anointed of the Spirit into the wilderness, but then there's also a purpose given – to be tempted by the devil.

Elsewhere in the scriptures, we learn about temptation that God doesn't tempt anybody, nor can he be tempted. But he sometimes allows temptation to come in order to test us. The test is a test that we might pass, not that we should fail. But the history of humanity is that we have failed. We failed right at the beginning. And the failure was devastatingly permanent.

We are a fallen race. One of the central doctrines of this book, the Bible, is about how we're all sinners. It talks about our human heart as not being what God would want. 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?' Who can really know their own heart and not really understand the depth of how tricky you can be with God and with the truth?

Well, the human heart is never going to be allowed by God to pass the test, and now, well, so we might have thought. And we were, you know, the consequence of that, if you look, another verse in the book of Genesis about the tree of life is the one when Chapter 3, we turn to Chapter 3, verses 22 to 32, I think it is.

"Then the Lord God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing both good and evil. Lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat and live forever. Therefore, the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he'd been taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden, he placed a cherubim with a flaming sword that turned every which way to guard the way to the tree of life.'"

Permanently, we the human race were kept away from the tree of life. Here's another possible contradiction in the minds of some people. Well, we're told never get near the tree of life, but why is the Bible sort of elsewhere calling us back to it?

What's happening is that he's failed the test and being a sinner can no longer have access to the tree of life. I want to say I believe the tree of life was a literal tree, just as was the other one, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, in a special time where God set up a probation period to test humanity, and if they had passed the test, they would have been allowed to go on living forever through the benefit of what the tree of life did.

But because we failed that test, we the human race were kicked out forever. Well, why is there a tree of life? Only one tree in the Book of Revelation is because of what God has achieved through his son, Jesus Christ, in between. And how he came into the world, that he might be the one who handled the failure of the original people.

He, Jesus, when Adam and Eve failed, he came and he took the test. The test was that he was tempted, and that's why we read from Matthew in Chapter 4 about the devil being allowed. Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It says it explicitly. In those temptations, Jesus, who's a human man but he's also God, is now standing for the test. And praise God, he passed the test.

Praise him not only in the temptation moment in the wilderness, but Jesus all for his life had to stand against the devil and right through to the Garden of Gethsemane where he's sweating with great drops of blood. Jesus is being tempted, and he wouldn't have made it, succeeded and lived through the lot because in the Garden, because in the desert, you know, was it 40 days he'd been fasting and he's got no energy left to go walking out of the desert. But the Bible says the angels came and ministered to him.

That's how he survived. He could have used his own ability as the son of God to turn the stones into bread, but he refused that temptation from the devil. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, again it says, I think it's Luke's gospel, he sweat great drops of blood as he resisted with the remainder of his energy there, knowing what God was calling him to go through, eventually he said, 'Not my will, but thine be done.' And he heads himself to go to the cross.

But how did he survive, even get there in the first place? I think it is because it says again, the angels came and strengthened him. Jesus, as the God man, helped from heaven with the power of the Spirit, he survived and he won. And he won the test, and so therefore there's no need for any further testing instrument as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in glory, in heaven, at the end, there's only the opportunity for the continual use of the tree of life.

One of the features, if we read there, we won't turn you to it, but one of the features is that the leaves are for the healing of the nations. And that's because a lot of the people who are going to assemble there in heaven, the people who've been damaged across the years of time, there'll be much to be healed from in glory. And the tree of life is going to do it.

Now I want to tell you, I can't be absolutely certain about this interpretive moment I'm going to have, but I believe the tree of life back in the garden was literal, there was a thing, an actual tree, as God set up the scene. But I believe the tree of life stands for, it's a metaphor of where the life is found. And because it's a good thing when you have a document that you look not just at the beginning and at the end, but you also look in the middle at the stories of Jesus.

And the beautiful story, one of our home groups has been going through the story of the woman at the well. And it's really been so productive of good stuff for the home group that I think three nights we've had it. But in the middle of that story is something that came to me one of the sermons I had to give about a comment that Jesus made in response to the woman, the woman of Samaria.

And she's questioning Jesus how he's going to ever get any water when he hasn't even got a jar to drop down and get some. But he's promised for a special type of water, living water, water that lasts and lasts and lasts, running water, and water that brings life. And she wants to know how he could ever be offering that.

And Jesus' answer is so beautiful. He says, "If you knew the gift of God." What's this gift of God? The gift that God always intended that we should have, which is eternal life. The gift that the human race would have had had they passed the test in the garden. The gift that God still wants to give.

It's always the burden of His heart with humanity to give us something we could never make, earn, or deserve. Even if we weren't sinners, it's still a grace gift, a gift of God's very life. The Israeli people sometimes call God the eternal one. And the idea of eternal life, it's God's life. God doesn't have to give His life. He could treat us as animals. They don't have the spiritual life of God Himself. But God wants to give to humanity this life, which is His life, His life in us.

The very essence of being a Christian is all about having God Himself come to tabernacle in you, as the Bible words it. Just as in the Old Testament, He tabernacled with the Israelites and was with them and seen with them, had a special tent kept in the middle of everything. God wanted to be with us. But now He's come in the New Testament and the new covenant that the New Testament is about.

He's with this offer of how He can be with us. He's the one that loves us that much. He wants to give Himself to be in us and with us and around us and inspiring us and making us live forever. And the gift of eternal life is when God Himself comes to you. And God's spirit comes and invades your person with His very presence.

Sometimes we word it when we talk to children about becoming a Christian by receiving Christ or letting Jesus into your life. And it's not just a spatial idea. It's something far deeper, something more everlasting, something that is the promise of God. It is the gift of God.

So Jesus says to the woman at the well, if you knew the gift of God, you wouldn't be worried about the water and the jar and the people you might meet when you go there to draw it, which I think she had a problem with. He said, if you knew the gift of God, and then he said, and who it is who's speaking to you, you would ask of him and he would give you living water.

In the middle of this book, the Bible, some of the major things that Jesus says, and they're repeated, especially in John's gospel, is about the gift of the spirit that comes to us as a part of becoming a Christian. You not only get the forgiveness of sins, but when you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit fills your heart and brings Jesus. He's sometimes worded the spirit of Christ, but it's the Holy Spirit who comes into our hearts.

That was not made as a permanent thing until the day the church was founded on the day of Pentecost. That's by the way, one of our Baptist distinctives, when the church began at Pentecost. And anyway, when you become a Christian and God comes via his spirit to live in your heart, that is the gift of God.

In the book of Revelation, the tree of life represents, I believe, Jesus. So it's not a literal tree anymore, it doesn't need to be. But it's the fact that the one greatest thing about heaven that's going to be there is that we are going to be with Him.

'So shall we ever be with the Lord,' the Apostle Paul said. When Jesus comes again and takes us to Himself, we're going to always be with Him. He is the tree of life. And the Gospel offer is Jesus is that, and so in the middle of Jesus' ministry at one of the Jewish feasts, when they're celebrating about the offer of water or whatever, and the priests are bringing up lots of water to pour out on the altar, Jesus, this is John chapter seven. You can put it up, John chapter seven, verses 37 to 39.

On the last day of the feast, that great day, Jesus stood up and cried out. Jesus is in the business of calling people. Jesus, it's what He wants to do, is to address that lack of satisfaction that the empty heart experiences when it doesn't know God. 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Wow, wow.'

Now this He spoke, verse 39. He said about the spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive. Hadn't happened yet, it was Jesus announcing its availability to come, but for as yet, the spirit had not been given because Jesus was not yet glorified. He got glorified by how He died for us on the cross. He got glorified by how He was risen from the grave. He got glorified in His ascension to heaven where God the Father gave to the name Jesus the credit and the authority of the greatest of all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords.

That all hadn't happened yet and so the day of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit was given to permanently live within the believers, is just about to happen. But only when Jesus was glorified, you want to picture it this way, that the Father hands to Jesus, that He and the Father together. Sent the Holy Spirit to the believing disciples and the church was founded. And the one beautiful thing about the church is that we have that makes our fellowship is that we share in common that experience of the spirit in the heart.

If you come to a church and hang around long enough, sometimes it happens to people that they say, well, I know I'm with people I agree with to worship God. But you might be saying to yourself, I don't know that I've got what is being talked about sometimes. Or you might come to a meeting like tonight where we talk about the experience of being satisfied, Jesus' words. 'If anyone believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'

Jesus said, 'If any person thirsts,' thirst is a sense of experience, lack of having fluid. It's a metaphor that not having the spirit, you have something missing in your heart or as Pascal said, that God shaped blank that can't be satisfied. And it is what you need. Jesus said to the woman of the world, 'The gift of God, if you knew the gift of God, you'd be asking Him.'

Tonight, the purpose of this meeting is to give an opportunity for people who have come to that moment and recognised that what's missing for them is they've never ever given that invitation for Jesus. They've never ever believed in the sense of trusting Him for the salvation that on the cross He worked. They've never come to the tree of life, metaphorically, to let Him satisfy you.

It might mean that you need lots of healing, like in glory, there'll be people who have lots of problems from being alive in a sinful world who need the healing of the nations. But when you come to Jesus, that's what He does. I like the next little bit with the woman at the well. I like it because he said not only about her getting the living water, but he said, 'If you knew the gift of God and who it is that's speaking to you.'

I've discovered across the years, the thing that makes the church work, makes sermons work, makes Bible study work, makes the fellowship of young people work when there's something, some contagion in it that the others coming from outside can't quite pinpoint what it is. Like the young man at school who said to me, 'You've got something, but I don't know what it is.' And I could tell him it's not a thing, it's a person, it's Jesus.

And to the woman at the well, He says, "If you knew who is speaking to you," she begins to catch on, perhaps it's the Messiah. And He says, "I am He." You know what that means. He is the living God coming to be available to someone who needs the living water. He is it. And that's why, because across the years of God's dealings, as the Bible records, there is no need anymore for there to be any testing as in the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that disappears.

And all that's going to be in glory is the one whom the metaphor stands for, it's Jesus. And we will be in His presence. We will not need another thing because if only people would know what the Christian church offers. They think we offer a scheme of living, a set of beliefs, they think we offer a social arrangement, they think we offer something to, sometimes some people say, "Oh, it's the opium of the nations." You know, it's the thing to keep you not aware of what you don't have.

No, Jesus is the very thing God created humanity to have. And He came and when we had been a failure, He came and He stood the test. Jesus's Saviourhood isn't only of what He's going to do to you, His Saviourhood was what He did in passing the test and what He then did when He went to the cross. There is a sense in which you could look at the cross as like a tree. The Bible sometimes refers to it, but Jesus, to be the tree of life, is also wrapped up in how He went to the cross and He bore our sins and He suffered our punishment so that that punishment should never come to us. He is the tree of life.

And then when Jesus rose from the grave and He went to heaven, He's the tree of life and the one who has conquered death, He's the tree of life as the one that issues the pardon so you don't have to think about your sins, just the fact that they're forgiven. He's the one who then helps you in the growth of the Christian, which we call sanctification.

That's why you not only need Jesus just to forgive you in the first place, you need Him to help you get sanctified so you'll arrive at that moment in glory and be with the tree of life in heaven. I said what our purpose of tonight is to deliver to you the same thing Jesus did to the woman at the well. "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that's speaking to you," that's what happens in evangelistic occasions like now.

Jesus is here. He said, if any two or more gather together in His name, there is He in the midst and Jesus is here. In the book of Revelation, He talks about in the early part, He talks about the fact if you can hear the spirit, what He says to the churches, listen, Jesus is speaking to some people here. I don't know whether you're the only one where I looked around and says, goodness, we've attracted lots of people. They're not all young people either.

I don't know, I won't look anywhere. I'm amongst the older ones, but that doesn't matter. Even if you're the only one who's never heard this message, I want to tell you, Jesus is talking to you. "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that's talking to you," it's a spiritual thing and somehow you know His voice. "My sheep know my voice," Jesus said.

And the voice is calling you to come to Him. So as we come to the end, there'll be a bit more music, which will be good. I've been liking the music tonight. I want to say that while that music is held, can you people who are on stage do a bit over there or move across? Because I want to ask the people that need to admit that they're hearing the voice of Jesus, they're needing to do business with Him. It could be different circumstances. I might not be able to guess and enumerate and say.

Some of you, it might be that you've always been Christian-like, but you're not certain you actually have the water of life. In other cases, it may be that you've had a time when you walked with Christ, but you drifted away. And the thing that you need tonight to do is to let Jesus hear you're coming back to stay. And so now, last piece of music.

Well, I'm going to give you a chance to do. So leave where you'll be standing while you're singing. Come down the front here. Kneel if you want to around the edge or stand. You might not have the knees to kneel if you don't want to. But tell Jesus what He needs to hear from you. You and Him. And when you're done, go back to your seat. If you want someone to talk to you, we're rather overloaded with pastors here tonight. We'd be glad to help and listen to anybody. Sometimes it's helpful just to verbalise to someone else what you're doing, even if the advice they give you is what you might have known anyway, then say so.

And I'd be one you could ask, and others here too as well. But by coming, I believe with your feet. It's a wonderful thing to give honour to God and to give Him a chance to do for you what He's always wanted to do. And it's also a moment of truth, a moment of confession, a moment of helping you. Sometimes I word it, it's like being down the beach and you draw a line in the sand, and you say, when I step over that line, I'm going to go all the way with Christ. However it is with you and what it is that He's beginning to talk to you, come because He says to come.

If you know that conviction in your heart, you come. Let your prayers be between you and heaven. And when you're satisfied, go back to your seat and continue singing or be finishing off. Don't miss out on the meal around the back. But that's the call of Christ. "If you knew the gift of God and who it is who's speaking to you, you would ask of Him, and He would give you living water."

Let's pray.

"Oh my lovely Saviour, thank you that You came into the world, took on humanity, that You might pass the test on our behalf, that we all failed. Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You removed the whole testing bit of our performance and You've made salvation based on Yours alone. Now I thank You, that song we sang, that beautiful song about grace, that's why it's so true, is because there's nothing in what we do that deserves it. There's nothing left to do but to rest in what You have done for us. And even the sanctification that the Spirit helps us to gradually change is to recognise the need of Jesus to help us in it.

It becomes a part of His work, but not further work to make us more forgiven. We don't need to get sanctified to be forgiven. It is a done deal. Thank you for what You've given us through going to the tree of the cross, Lord Jesus. Thank you for making Yourself available. You're the new humanity. The old one failed, but the new one in You is a glorious success. We can be united to You. We can be a part of the new man. We can be those who are destined for glory where there is only You, Lord Jesus. No testing, just the beautiful thing for eternity of being accepted in the beloved with You.

Thank you, Jesus, for this gospel message and I ask that You will speak to the ones You want and give them the courage to make a response, we ask in Jesus' name, amen."


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