Two Trees

The Bible is not a textbook. It’s an account of sinful humanity being relentlessly pursued by a Holy God. It’s true stories. Timeless parables. Gut-wrenching accounts.  Awkward moments. Convicting truths. Real people. 

To be faithful Bible readers, we would be wise to encounter this book by letting our imaginations run wild – for us to consider the thoughts of people, ponder their actions, think upon what they were doing, to imagine their emotions.

Good Friday is the perfect day to do such a thing. 

So let’s imagine what was going on in the minds of the disciples in their thinking about Jesus, their rabbi.

He has ridden a donkey. He cried over a city. He wrecked the temple. He was betrayed by one of his own. He said the bread and cup were now his body and blood. He stayed up all night praying and implored his disciples to do the same. He told Peter to put his sword down. He healed the ear of the very man who would arrest him. 

What is it with this Jesus? Why is he so different? Why can’t he be just a little bit normal? When we consider the realness of human thought, I really think the disciples thought something along these lines.

For three years they’d followed this guy because there was something about him. Yes, he was different, but he was so good. Yes, he confused them, but he had the words to life and they couldn’t leave that.

He performed signs, went to shady places, and seemed to like the wrong side of town better than the right side of town. He had a charisma about him. He told the truth like no one they had ever met. He seemed to prefer children over adults. He included women as his followers. He broke the rules. He met people in their sins and invited them into a new way of living. He stumped those annoying Pharisees.

Now though? On Friday? A day “good” for us, but torture for Him? He is in jail. A Roman jail, no less. A trial would loom for him that would result in a guilty verdict for him and the release of an actual criminal. Death would be his sentence and among the many things Rome championed back in the day, they certainly knew how to kill people. They knew how to make it torturous and humiliating. It was torturous because a crucifixion kills you slowly and intentionally. It was humiliating, because you were stripped naked. No loincloth, no covering. Naked you came into the world, naked you would die on a cross.This is the condition of the man these disciples had followed for three years.

Surely he will do something, they thought. Fire from heaven will come at any moment to rescue him as angels attend to his wounds and make everything better.

Instead of calling for fire from heaven to come down on his murderers, this man cries out for forgiveness to come down upon them from heaven. 

At this point in the day his body was nearly unrecognizable. His lips swollen. Mouth parched. Eyes battered and bruised. Hope was gone for the disciples because there hung their rabbi, naked and hanging on a cursed tree. Why was he hanging on a tree? This can’t be right!

Years earlier there was a story in the Torah that surely the disciples knew – it was the story of a man and woman, who were naked as well and they were hanging out by a tree. They looked at the tree, after an odd conversation with a snake, and decided that the fruit from this tree would be good to eat, so they ate. When they ate, they set in motion a seemingly endless shockwave of shame, suffering, and sin into the world. 

Now, on this hill called “The Skull”, God, in flesh, was hanging on a tree to redeem the actions of the first Adam. As shame, suffering, and sin would come into the world through the actions of the first Adam from a tree, so shame, suffering, and sin would be redeemed through the actions of the second Adam, who was not merely human, but God. This second Adam, though, is not eating from the tree, he is nailed to the tree to save humanity from sin, which began at that tree many years ago.

The disciples were most certainly confused, scared and frustrated by the actions of Good Friday. Jesus though, knew what had to happen, he had talked about it in his journey with the disciples. Jesus knew Sunday was coming, but the pain of Good Friday was still real. The cross was real, the suffering was real, the pain was real. It was all real because sin is real and God has done something about – once and for all.

“And the transgression which occurred through the tree was undone by the obedience of the tree, which the Son of Man, obeying God, was nailed to the tree” – Irenaeus

One tree brought death to life.

One tree brought life to death.

One tree meant it is begun.

One tree meant it is finished.

Reflection

+ Today is the day Jesus hangs, suffers, dies, and is buried. How does this truth affect the way you live today?

Luke is Pastor of Discipleship to the community of saints, in Christ, at Nashville UMC.

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