Easter 2022

Easter 2022  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:36
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In the Middle of a Tree

Good morning and happy Easter! Today we celebrate our risen savior. We remember how Jesus conquered death and was raised to new life. For our time together today I want to talk about the days leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection from a slightly different angle. This will be like one of our deep dives into scripture where we link ideas, structures and thoughts throughout the bible to get a more specific idea about what is going on in scripture. In fact, I want to focus on a story that isn’t normally even associated with Easter. Today we are going to focus on a tree that Jesus encounters in Mark 11.
While you turn there, think about trees. Think back to a time when you would play ‘hide and seek’ and you would try to hide in the biggest tree you could find. You could hear the seeker coming so you scurried up this tree and tried to hide yourself amongst it’s leaves. In that moment the tree gives you a sense of security, you will be hard to get. It gives you a sense of protection, you will be hard to find. In a playful way, during this game of ‘hide and seek’ the tree becomes a representation of salvation.
Scripture uses the imagery of trees frequently. They are used to connect specific ideas, to show common themes, to help us understand certain themes and topics, and the list goes on. The most well known trees in scripture are the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From there we could also go deeper and talk about roots (no pun intended), leaves, fruit, and so on. We could easily spend months studying trees. For today let’s take a quick look at a pattern that Genesis gives us for trees, then how Jesus uses the pattern as a prophetic image, and lastly we will look at how Jesus fits in to this pattern himself.
If you need a simple headline for your notes you could say this:

God uses tree imagery to illustrate truth vs fallacy.

In the beginning God creates humanity to rule on earth with Him. Then He made the garden in Eden and sprung up trees, specifically beautiful fruit-bearing trees...
Genesis 2:9 NLT
9 The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Then in verse 16 God told the man that he could eat from every tree in the garden except for the tree of knowledge. Choosing that tree would lead to death. We all know how this turns out, but the story paints us a picture of the choice we still get to make to this day. God created us to rule with Him and we can either choose to do things His way, or we can choose the way that seems right to us but actually leads to death and destruction.
After Adam & Eve choose to do things their way instead of God’s way, something interesting happens. Two things, actually. First they covered their shame with God’s beautiful creation then hid from Him in a tree, but not just any tree...
Genesis 3:7–8 NLT
7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. 8 When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.
Our English translations of scripture say “among the trees”, but the Hebrew words used here are “tāveḵ ʿēṣ” (taw’-vek ates) which means “middle tree”, singular. In other words, they literally hid in the tree in the middle of the garden. What tree is in the middle of the garden? The tree of life and the tree of knowledge. Which one did they hide in? I don’t know. In my opinion, this detail is left ambiguous on purpose for us to apply to our own lives. When we mess up, which tree will we hide in? Will we cover ourselves with the appearance of good like A&E and rely on our own understanding of what is right? Or will we run to Christ and hide in God’s mercy and grace?
Isaiah paints this exact picture. He says that God will come and, just like A&E heard His voice, He will cause his majestic voice to be heard. When He does, will you be like A&E and rely on your own way and hide...
Isaiah 31:1 NLT
1 What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.
Or will you hide in God’s protection...
Isaiah 31:4–5 NLT
4 But this is what the Lord has told me: “When a strong young lion stands growling over a sheep it has killed, it is not frightened by the shouts and noise of a whole crowd of shepherds. In the same way, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will come down and fight on Mount Zion. 5 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will hover over Jerusalem and protect it like a bird protecting its nest. He will defend and save the city; he will pass over it and rescue it.”
To put it simply, the pattern that shows up in Genesis in regard to trees is that God uses the imagery of trees to show us His truth which doesn’t always look good. In fact, most of the time it is down right scary, which we will talk about later. He also uses tree imagery to depict our own knowledge, or what looks good to us. In contrast, obviously this will always look good to us. When we see how our way isn’t good, we usually try to cover up the imperfections with fig leaves and make them look good, or we will just hide and make excuses.
Now let’s talk about Jesus’ use of this imagery. If you need another headline for your notes you could say:

Jesus uses tree imagery to identify truth vs fallacy.

If you’ve turned to Mark 11, go ahead and look for verse 12. Jesus’ encounter with this fig tree happens right after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Specifically, this encounter occurs right in the middle of His visit to the Temple. This is not a coincidence. We are going to look at a lot of scripture today, but bear with me. My hope is that we will all be able to see this story from a different perspective because when we go beyond face value with scripture God opens up all sorts of amazing truths to us. This story is about so much more than hungry Jesus. He’s not hangry and doesn’t need a snickers. It’s about more than just a fig tree. It’s a prophetic act like the one He is about to do in the Temple.
Mark 11:12–14 NLT
12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
Notice how Mark explicitly states that it wasn’t the time of year for fruit from this tree. This is something that has always bothered me about this verse. Why would Jesus expect fruit if it wasn’t even in season? This is one of those moments in scripture that we have talked about before. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s because you are supposed to dig deeper. This is symbolic. Jesus is basically saying that THIS tree disguises itself with leaves to look righteous, like A & E covered themselves with… FIG LEAVES! THIS tree isn’t the one that produces perpetual fruit. God’s tree produces a sort of perpetual fruit. 12 kinds, each month. Flip to the last page of your bible and see.
Revelation 22:2 NIV
2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
But this tree, not that tree. This temple was not that temple. Why else would this encounter be in the middle of the temple story? The next time we see Jesus speak is when He is quoting OT scripture. He says...
Mark 11:17 NLT
17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
Jesus is actually quoting from Jeremiah 7. In this scripture, Jeremiah is announcing the downfall of the corrupt Jerusalem leadership. He said that they think they are wise because they have the word of the Lord, but they have twisted it and rejected God’s truth for lies. Then he said...
Jeremiah 8:13 NLT
13 I will surely consume them. There will be no more harvests of figs and grapes. Their fruit trees will all die. Whatever I gave them will soon be gone. I, the Lord, have spoken!’
There is another prophetic image from Micah 7 that helps explain what Jesus is doing here...
Micah 7:1–2 NLT
1 How miserable I am! I feel like the fruit picker after the harvest who can find nothing to eat. Not a cluster of grapes or a single early fig can be found to satisfy my hunger. 2 The godly people have all disappeared; not one honest person is left on the earth. They are all murderers, setting traps even for their own brothers.
Jesus is using this fig tree and His encounter at the Temple as a prophetic illustration. Not only is living under this tree not working, but all of the God seeking people have flat disappeared. So it’s time to get rid of the false trees, the false Eden’s, and get the right tree in here. The tree of life. Even though we are talking about the use of tree imagery in scripture, you can use these same principles in your own life.
Throughout our lives we will often choose the wrong tree. We will often do things our way and end up in a situation that looked good from the outside, but on the inside it has no life in it. It was a false Eden. Thankfully, Jesus wants us to be full of life and not dragged down by these false Edens. If you are taking notes...

Jesus uses tree imagery to give us hope.

After they left the temple they walked by the fig tree again and Peter was apparently shocked and said, “Look! The tree you cursed has withered and died!” That is when Jesus responds with his famous words about faith. Have faith in God and you can move mountains if you really believe it will happen.
Mark 11:22–23 NLT
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.
Unfortunately, in my experience it if far more common for this scripture to be used out of context to perpetuate a “name it and claim it” mentality which usually ends up leaving most people feeling inadequate and hopeless. The vast majority of people who I have ever heard quote this scripture follow it up with, “I just need more faith. I just need more faith. I just need more faith.
To me that is very heart breaking because I believe Jesus offers us far more hope than that. Remember the context of what is going on here. They are talking about the fig tree. Based on what we’ve read, the tree appears to represent Jerusalem and the Temple. Now think about what mountains represent. In scripture, mountains tend to be the place where we meet with God or where we offer something to Him in sacrifice, much like what this temple represented. I believe that Jesus is telling us that if there is any corruption in our hearts, any false Eden’s that have taken God’s place in our lives, whatever idol I’ve created on whatever mountaintop, God can throw it into the sea.
The creation story is depicted as dry land emerging from the seas, much like a mountain. Jesus comes in and is declaring the opposite is going to happen with the false Eden. He’s warning the people that they are going to bring about their own destruction. Get this false Eden, this false hope, this tree that bears no fruit out of your life and find a way back to the tree of life.
For us, as humans, this is the difficult part. Think about the people in scripture who were presented with the same choice between the two trees. A&E, for them the tree of knowledge MUST have looked good. It would have had to look amazing for them to be enticed to choose to disobey their one and only rule just to try the fruit. Think about Isaiah in the holiness video we watched. He was terrified that God’s holiness would destroy him. When he realized who He was, Moses was afraid to look at God in the burning bush.
On the surface, God’s way sure does look like a lot of death. Our way definitely looks funner and easier. Seems more right. The great thing for us is that we don’t have to face this difficult decision simply with the hope of a future promise. For us, Jesus has already came and fulfilled many of God’s promises. I like the way Peter took OT scripture and wrote it in a way that showed the promise being fulfilled in 1 Peter 2:21-25. In the first verse he said...
1 Peter 2:21 NLT
21 For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
If you are taking notes...

Jesus uses tree imagery to triumph for us.

Jesus faced the same test we face every day. The same test A&E faced. God’s way or my way? As Jesus prays in the garden amongst the trees, He does something right away that sets Him apart from A&E. They looked through their own eyes to see that the other tree looked good to eat. In His test, Jesus doesn’t even fall back on His own desires. He has God’s word buried so deep in His heart that He doesn’t even need His own words. Instead, the words that come out of His mouth are the words of the Psalms. Specifically the words of Psalm 42.
Mark 14:34 NLT
34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Then He references Jeremiah 25:15 when He asks God to take away the cup of suffering.
Mark 14:36 NLT
36 “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
It’s a reference to the fact that He is about to drink the cup of suffering that was intended for Babylon, the false Eden, the leaders of Jerusalem. “Yet not my will, but your will be done.” I want this more appealing version of life but your will is for me to take this tree, or this cup, that at this moment doesn’t look like it will lead to life. Your way actually looks like it leads to death!
Jesus goes up to pray 3 different times, and each time that He returns to the disciples they were asleep, so He told Peter...
Mark 14:38 NLT
38 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
Pay attention so that you aren’t tested! It’s not an easy test, you don’t want to face it. Jesus just prayed, “Your will be done, not mine,” and now He is telling the disciples to pray so they don’t enter temptation. If this all sounds very familiar it is because both thoughts are part of the Lord’s Prayer. “Your kingdom come, your will be done… And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Lead us not into the test, because humans usually fail the test. Don’t lead me into the test, but if you do please save me from the evil one.
We all come into contact with these trees. We all face our own test at the trees. Just like A&E, Jesus was in a garden facing His own test of trees. “God please don’t lead me into the test, but if you do, deliver me from the power of the snake.” In contrast to A&E, Jesus is shown here as the new Adam who passes the test. He passes the test and is going to deal with evil, but is also going to get bitten by it. He will suffer it’s consequences.
Jesus passes THE test. His trial was a success. Now He faces a sham trial. A test conducted by the false Eden, who find Him guilty and crucify Him at a place called Golgotha. When He is punished we see more comparisons to trees. You probably know about the cross being called a tree. Even some NT authors called the cross a tree. Keep that in mind as you listen to this description of Golgotha. Also keep in mind that mountains or high places are often where people would offer sacrifices to God. Keep in mind that Jerusalem was depicted as being the tree bearing no fruit.
Golgotha was a rock formation that took shape as the result of quarrying activity. It rose as high as 12 meters off the ground level, and it owed it Aramaic name, gûlgultāâ, or Hebrew name, gulgôlet, “The Skull” to it’s shape.
In other words, archaeologists have found a location that accurately fits the description given by the Gospels and they can discern the shape of a hill where there were rock quarries and tombs and such. Dr. Tim Mackey from the Bible Project summarizes this way…
The gospel authors want us to see Jesus carrying a tree to the top of a manmade hill right outside of the city that has become another manmade tree of life, namely the Jerusalem temple.
What God saw as perfection, victory, and holy, the false Eden (religious leaders) saw as a threat to THEIR idea of good, holy, and perfect. It is interesting to me that what these leaders perceived as “good” was in reality just as fake as A&E covering themselves with fig leaves. It was just like the fig tree that had the appearance of bearing fruit, but actually had no true substance. They put Jesus on a manmade tree, on a manmade mountain, and the evil one struck Him.
What is amazing is that God turned this horrifying act and used it for His good. Sure the snake bit Jesus, but He crushed it’s head. And He did it on top of a hill that looked like a human head! Not only that, but Jesus is hanging on a tree in between two trees. Jesus is on the tree in the middle. This is Garden imagery as well as New Earth imagery. You could spend untold amounts of time researching this idea of Jesus on the tree in the middle of two trees. Just like the two trees in Genesis were in the middle of the garden. Just like the tree of life in Revelation grows on each side of the river with the water of life flowing through it down the center of the main street.
In scripture when you see sacrifices on high places with trees, it’s a type of altar. The moment Jesus dies, three of the Gospels shift focus to the inside of the Temple. They note that the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world has been torn in two. This is a declaration of God’s kingdom coming near to us, just like the image Isaiah gave us.
If you are taking notes, I have one final thought. Because of Jesus, now...

We use tree imagery to share in His victory!

This is why we celebrate Easter. The way to the father was opened and Jesus is our shepherd that leads us through the gate. In the passage I mentioned earlier where Peter stated that Jesus left us an example that we should follow, he also explained that Jesus carried our sins to the grave so that we could die to them and live in right relationship with God and others...
1 Peter 2:21–25 ESV
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Jesus died upon a tree in order to bring about the life that is truly life. To open the way to the tree of life. To those of us who are still picking fruit from the tree of knowledge, or the false tree, God’s truth appears to by silly. It looks like death. It all revolves around death, something has to die. But as Christ followers we know that it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18 NLT
18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.
What actually dies is that false Eden. That sinful nature. And through that death God’s righteousness is born in us. Not because of us or anything that we did, but because of who Jesus is and what He did.
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