Genesis 2:8-9 8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:15-17 15 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 of it you will surely die.”
Genesis 3:22-24 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 of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
It’s been said in a cute book by Robert Fulghum that all we really need to know we learned in kindergarten. The things he lists in his book are quite practical and have proven so true. Fulghum’s assessment of Kindergarten life lessons includes the following things he says we learned in Kindergarten:
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put thngs back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work some every day.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
Great advice and wonderful words to live by. I would suggest to you this morning that in addition to Fulghum’s wonderful insights, that believers could make this claim: Everything we need to know about God, life, and eternal life are found in Genesis 1-3.
We learn in Genesis one that God has always existed. Before time, before anything, there was and has always been, God. We learn that God’s creative and organizational power, His ability to call forth universes with just a word from His lips is indisputable and incredible. If we want to know where something came from, we trace it back to God’s handiwork.
We learn that God is three-in-one, Father, Son and Spirit and that all were present in the Creation account. We see that God thought it good to create human beings and in His kindness and generosity, He created people in His image with abilities, skills, talents, and authority to rule and reign and have dominion. He also created people with the ability to choose while clearly explaining what was good and what was evil.
Genesis 1 reveals that God is not random. He has Sovereign plans that reveal that He has thought of everything including how we can be sustained while we live on earth. Clearly established is the pattern of work and rest.
We discover how important people are to God, and how important it is that we are in relationship with Him and with one another. We find out that loneliness isn’t good and it isn’t God’s plan. We learn that marriage is supposed to be a partnership, and that husbands and wives should live close, intimate lives.
The end of Genesis 2 tells us we were made to live without shame. We grasp the reality that both good and evil exist. We find out that Satan is real, and he lies and manipulates in order to get people to follow him. We read that God has standards and expectations of us in order to protect the relationship we have with Him.
We are taught that there are huge consequences for listening to the advice of Satan and choosing to disobey God, many of which last a human lifetime. We find out that sin causes death and separation from God. We also learn that God goes out of His way to redeem us when we have sinned. We don’t come back to God, but He comes to us and His coming to us involves a blood sacrifice which atones for our sins.
However, there is at least one more thing we learn that is very important that we must consider and be conscious of. It involves a tree. Many of us, perhaps have read Genesis 1-3 and have come away with the big idea that Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating forbidden fruit from an “off limits” tree. It’s true, but is that really the main point? Yes, they were told not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, (Genesis 2:17) but what about the other tree that is named in Genesis 2:9 and 3:22-24? It’s called the “Tree of Life.”
The Tree of Life represented God’s intentions and desires perhaps more than anything else He created. It represented God’s provision and blessing. It pointed to God’s desire that we would live in unbroken fellowship with Him for eternity. Adam and Eve had access to that Tree as long as they were obedient to God. He had told them there was only one Tree they couldn’t eat from. As long as they obeyed Him, they had access to the Tree of Life. Once they sinned, that access was denied. Fellowship was broken. God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because if they did, they would surely die (Gen. 2:17). Spiritual death would be immediate and physical death would become part of their human existence, and those consequences would be passed on to all of us.
What was the big deal? What was wrong with eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Isn’t knowledge a good thing? Shouldn’t we pursue and acquire knowledge? Does God just want us to be ignorant? Just what was Adam and Eve’s sin? The sin was disobeying God, for sure, but it was also something else. They were seeking to gain knowledge on their own apart from God. Anything they needed for life in Paradise would have been supplied for them by God. Everything they needed to know would be found in a relationship with God. Anything they had a question about could have been settled by asking God. Why seek wisdom on their own? Why seek wisdom in a way God had already said was off limits? Why try to find answers apart from their relationship with God?
Wisdom and knowledge aren’t gained through what seems good and right to us. Wisdom and knowledge are only found through keeping God at the center of our lives and through obedience to His commands. What does the Psalmist say in Psalm 111:10? “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” Adam and Eve had access to the Lord, but they didn’t fear Him. They didn’t trust Him exclusively. They believed their own instincts and intellect could offer more insight and bring more clarity to their lives than simply trusting what God had told them.
In putting the two trees in the center of the Garden and in making one permissible and one off limits God was establishing the opportunity for Adam and Eve to choose to trust Him in all things or to trust themselves. I love that the trees were in the center of the Garden. Their very position suggests God wanted them to decide and declare by their actions who would be their Source. Who would be at the center of their lives? Self or God? They chose to trust themselves and when they did, they sinned against God. They wanted to rely on themselves, and God let them. He set them outside the Garden of Eden where they could pursue life their way.
Genesis chapter 3:24 tells us after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden that cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth guarded the way to the Tree of Life. In other words, Adam and Eve had lost something, and they weren’t going to be able to get it back on their own. There was now something standing between them and unbroken fellowship with God. They wouldn’t be able to use their intellect to get back into the same relationship with God. They wouldn’t be able to use their physical strength. There was a barricade between their physical lives and spiritual existence that they could not remove.
People without access to the spirit realm where the Tree of Life is, where they can have unbroken fellowship with God, will only live life on a physical plane. What they can see, taste, touch, smell, and hear becomes that which they rely upon. The physical life becomes a life based on instinct, intellect, and personal insight. Apart from the Spirit of God which makes us spiritually alive we live as physical beings in a physical world because of sin. Even thinking about spiritual things like faith and peace are beyond the reach of people who live apart from the Tree of Life and fellowship with God. All they know is the physical, material world and self-reliance.
Fast forward to the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation where the Tree of Life shows up again. It is interesting to me the way God bookends the Scriptures with the Tree of Life. Turn quickly to Revelation 22:1-5: 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 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. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
When John who wrote the book of Revelation had the visions he had about the last days and what eternity in heaven looks like, he was told that back in the middle of it all was the Tree of Life! Verse 1 tells us a river called the “water of life” flowed through the tree. Verse 2 tells us the tree was full of fruit. Verse 3 tells us the Tree represents an absence of any curse or sin. Verse 4 tells us those who are under this Tree of Life will see God face to face. Verse five tells us it is a place of total light. Basically, what God intended in the Garden where the Tree of Life represented all of the stuff John described in Revelation, is returned to us as God’s children where we will have the dominion and authority we were meant to have from the very beginning. Paradise still exists in eternity for all who eat from the Tree of Life.
So what does that mean? Do we have to wait until heaven to reconnect with God? Do we have to wait until eternity to have our spiritual fellowship with God restored? Are we just relegated to an earthly existence until we get to heaven, and how do we even get there if the Tree of Life is being guarded by the cherubim and flaming sword?
We’ve talked about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life which is mentioned in Genesis and Revelation. There is another tree I want to mention this morning. It is discussed several places in the NT and specifically by Peter in I Peter
2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
Here we go again. Here we see a New Testament understanding to an Old Testament reference. What happened as a result of partaking of one tree is undone as Jesus hangs on a New Testament tree. Here is good news for us! We don’t have to wait to experience the benefits of the Tree of Life! They can belong to us now in the person of Jesus Christ!
It wasn’t the fact that Jesus hung on a tree that brought us salvation. What brought us salvation was that Jesus was the sinless sacrifice, and His blood paid the price for our messed up way of thinking and living. When He did what He did, He wasn’t relying on His instinct because His instinct would have told Him to run before He could have ever been arrested, tortured and crucified. When He did what He did, He wasn’t relying on His intellect because His intellect would have said, “Avoid death at all costs.” No! When He did what He did, He did so in full submission to the Father’s will, trusting completely in the Father’s plan and trusting in the Father to raise Him from death and destruction. What the first Adam didn’t do when he relied on himself, his instinct and his intellect, the second Adam did completely and perfectly when He trusted the Father not only with His life, but also with His death!
Those who want access to the Tree of Life merely have to place their complete trust in the work of Christ on Calvary’s Tree. Flashing swords and guarding cherubs are no barrier when we are escorted by the God-man, Jesus Christ, the sinless Sacrifice and Savior of the world right to the Tree of Life. For He has become for us, the Tree of Life. Why else did He say about Himself, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE?” He is the way to the truth of life because He is the TRUTH. He is the way to the Tree of Life because He is the Tree of Life! “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Jesus is the Author of our lives. He is the Sustainer of our lives. He is the Sacrifice for our lives.
Through and by His Spirit we have Rivers of Living Water which give us life. He is the Light of Life for our darkened paths. For “those who have walked in darkness have seen a great light!” His name is Jesus! The picture painted in Revelation about healing and good fruit all come through Jesus! He heals our spiritual lives. He can heal our physical bodies if it serves the Father’s plans. He is the Vine, and we are the branches! When we remain in Him we bear much fruit! (John 15) He has come to give us abundant life! Forget about the flaming sword and cherubim! He is our escort past every barrier and into real and everlasting life! We don’t have to wait until Heaven. Jesus, the Tree of Life is in our midst! Oh, glory to God!
The cross, the tree upon which Jesus died is symbolic of so much! Perhaps often overlooked is the fact that it symbolizes that the world’s way of doing things is completely different from God’s way of doing things. It probably seems strange to you, if you are hearing for the first time, that God’s solution to the world’s sin problem involved Jesus dying on a tree. The leap of faith we must make if we are going to benefit from it is to trust that what God has done for us is the right thing and to trust that what He asks of us is right for us. People who choose not to do that become like Adam and Eve . . . disconnected from God and their spiritual selves.
When you choose to accept what Jesus did on the cross, you are admitting that you can’t save yourself and that He is the only One who can. How different that is from relying on your own instincts and intellect, right? As we are talking about in our drug and alcohol support group, we all need a higher power, and there is only one higher power who can save you from sin and death. His name is Jesus!
The two trees in the Garden really represent the choice between trusting in God and trusting in self. We see it demonstrated at the site of the third tree where two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus each made a different decision about where they would place their trust.
Luke 23:39-43 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Tree of Life was hanging in between these two thieves. They both shouted insults at Jesus according to the other Gospels, but a change took place in one of the thief’s heart as he hung there. What was it? Why the change? He had witnessed a different way. He had witnessed a better way. He had seen and heard Jesus pray for forgiveness for all who were crucifying Him. He had watched as Jesus wasn’t concerned for Himself, but for His mother as Jesus assigned John to become her son and to take care of her. He saw how Jesus didn’t respond to his torture the way he and the other criminal had. He watched Jesus’ reaction as He never tried to retaliate, but as He willingly laid down, and He knew Jesus was innocent. He saw a man who didn’t live according to the world’s way of living. And oh my, He didn’t even fight or fear death the way everyone else did who bought the world’s viewpoints. And then it dawned on Him!
In these short verses on the screen we see some very important revelations, crucial choices made by the thief on the cross who wound up taking hold of the Tree of Life. He said in verse 40 to the other thief, “Don’t you fear God?” What did I say earlier? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!” God had a way different from the way in which he had lived. This dying thief thought about His eternal destiny. This was it. If a choice between relying on God and relying on self were to be made, he had to make it quickly. Verse 41 is telling. He admitted his sin. He owned his wrongdoing. He confessed that he was getting rightfully punished. He admitted what he was, a thief and a sinner.
And that was all that was needed! Fearing God out of respect that His ways are “higher than ours” and that His ways are right and just and His reasons are always good and perfect and accepting that he couldn’t save himself. He acknowledged his sin, and knew there was no way out of paying for what he had done unless the man on the Middle Tree would accept him. He chose to trust in Jesus, and the reassurance was automatic. “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
The dying thief’s choice, Adam and Eve’s choice, it is still our choice today. In Deuteronomy 30:19 God tells Israel, “There is a tree of death and a tree of life. There is blessing and there are curses. Choose life.”
The only way we will have spiritual life, abundant life, and eternal life in heaven is to be connected to Jesus, the Vine, who is the Tree of Life. Allow me to close with this illustration.
Imagine that your heart has become so puny and diseased that your doctor tells you that even a bypass or a transplant won’t do you any good. Your heart is just too far gone. When you inquire whether there is anything you can do, your doctor mentions that there is one possibility, a very experimental procedure. He’s not sure if it will work, but it’s about the only hope you’ve got. If he can find another fellow with a strong, healthy heart, he can take a tube and run it from the healthy man’s heart over to your puny, diseased heart. In this way, his heart can beat for him and you.
Well, before you agree to this procedure, I’m sure you’d have a couple of questions for the doctor. First, you would probably want to know how long that tube is! You would probably ask, “Do you mean to tell me, Doc, that for the rest of my life I can’t get more than six feet from that guy?!” You’d also want to know what this other fellow is like. “Doctor, do you mean to tell me I have to go where he goes, do what he does, and eat what he eats?” The doctor would truthfully reply, “That’s exactly what I mean. If you want life, this is the only way you can have it!”
Herein lies the cost of discipleship. Eternal life is a free gift, but it will cost you everything you have. Why is that so? It is because of the nature of the gift of eternal life. This life resides in Christ, and the only way for a sinner to receive this life is to be vitally united to Him.
There are two trees in the middle of the Garden. One is the Tree of Self. The other is the Tree of Life. Where will you find your shade?