We like trees. Our English District’s emblem is a sycamore tree. My father-in-law grew up in Sycamore, IL; here we are in Oakmont – Plum is next door, Cranberry up the turnpike, Dark Hollow Woods just down the street. We plant trees. We grow them to be Christmas trees or telephone poles, to make fires, to build homes and furniture. We love them for the shade they give in summer and the decorating possibilities they give us now.
God likes trees too. Moses tells us God made them on the third day of creation, before He even made the sun. He tells us in the next chapter that God planted a garden called Eden. There He put the man He created. There He made woman from Adam’s rib. He gave them lots of different fruit trees to eat from. He especially grew there 2 trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
He told them to never eat that tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were never to desire to eat it; no wonder Eve said they shouldn’t touch it. She was trying not to desire it. Was she trying to cut the tempter off at the pass and get out of there before she could fall? But his hisses were too seductive and she ate and her husband who received the command before she was made and told her about it just stood there. He should have answered for her and bashed the snake’s head in. Instead he let her eat it and let her give him the fruit to eat it. They knelt at the altar rail of evil and took the sacrament of sin and death.
They were thrown out of the garden. No one knows where it was; The Flood destroyed any trace of it. But the effects of that tree are still with us. To be sure it was not the tree that poisoned them. They poisoned themselves. God had attached a promise to that tree. That promise worked. It worked as a curse. Had they not desired and eaten it, they would have been blessed with eternal life. But they desired and ate, and we desire wickedness and sin. They died, and we die.
They snagged death from life. Death came from a live tree. They thought they had everything to gain. They lost everything instead. They lost their home, their life, their perfection, their perfect unity with God. For it they gained hell and sin. There was no way for them to fix that problem. They got themselves into it, but the ball and chain were tied down far too tight to ever let go. To go free somebody else had to free them and restore them.
Life had to be snagged from death. A dead tree would do the job. A perfect Man had to turn down the devil’s art. Adam ate a fruit he didn’t need since he was surrounded by lots of fruit. Jesus did not eat when He hadn’t eaten over 40 days. Then the devil continued to tempt Him on a tree; that is, He kept trying to get Him to come off The Cross. He jeered Him, tried to tell Him they’d believe if He just came down, and mocked Him. But He stayed. He died. God died. The devil overcame with a tree, so by a tree he is overcome. Death came from a tree, so life comes from a tree too. The Tree of The Cross gives salvation to mankind.
Now you know why Isaiah talks about a Shoot from Jesse’s stump and a Branch from his roots. The Old Testament Scriptures aren’t just the story of God’s people Israel. They’re the story of God sending Messiah. It’s the story of His family, His ancestors. It’s His genealogy, His “where I came from,” the prequel to His biography. It’s the shadow of His life’s work.
So we read about Adam and Seth, Lamech, Noah, and Shem. We read about Terah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. We read about Caleb, Boaz, Obed, and Jesse. We read about Jesse’s youngest yet greatest son David, about his son Solomon and his descendants after him, men like Rehoboam who split the kingdom, faithful Hezekiah, Manasseh who worshiped other gods and maybe cut Isaiah in half before repenting, and Josiah who cleansed the temple only to be killed in a battle both God and Pharaoh told him to avoid, and after the Babylonian Exile, Zerubbabel who built the Second Temple.
But He is a Shoot from a stump and a Branch from roots. After Zerubbabel the descendants of David didn’t amount to much. Joseph should have been on Israel’s throne in Jerusalem. Where was he? He was a lowly carpenter in Nazareth. Mary was also descended from David, yet she too was of lowly origins. There was nothing special about them, nothing anyone would have considered out of the ordinary. The family after the Exile went home to Bethlehem, but in these latter years they’d left to find a better life.
But they had to go back. Augustus decreed everyone needed to go to their ancestral home to be registered for the census so he’d know how many potential soldiers he had, and, of course, how much tax revenue he could expect. But when they got home there was no place for them to sleep in the family homes or inns. There was no room. Everyone was home. So they got put up in the stable. There Christ was born.
That Shoot has grown up. That Branch has extended His arms. For sinners He committed no sin, nor was any deceit in His mouth. For people destined to die, He died. He cut Himself off from the living. For those doomed to hell, He suffered hell as He hung on His Cross, forsaken by His Father. He was laid to rest in a tomb, with a stone rolled into place and later sealed. That Branch was dead.
But He rose to life. Trees die, but this Tree can never die. He lives eternally. Had Adam and Eve eaten from the Tree of Life, they would have lived forever. Now you get to eat of Jesus, your Tree of Life, and live forever. Eat Him by hearing His Word, Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it, like we prayed on Sunday. That’s eating Jesus. Eat Him when you kneel at this Altar rail to eat His Body and drink His Blood. Receive Him, believing He died for you, died to forgive your sins and give you eternal life. Believe what you receive here is exactly what He offered up to death for you. Believe, and you receive exactly what His Word declares: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He judges you with His righteousness, won for you on The Cross. With His Word, the breath of His mouth, He destroys all the words of the devil and all who oppose our salvation.
Revelation ends where Genesis begins, with the Tree of Life alongside the River of Life. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. You have eaten this tree. Your Baptism has grafted you into it. You are the branches of The Vine, Christ Himself. Remain in Him. Bear fruit. Confess your sins, believe He forgives you, and love your neighbor. Turn to Him for help in every need, for His resting place is glorious. He is your Good Shepherd, Who is leading you to the pleasant pastures of life eternal. God grant that we may ever embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which our Savior Jesus Christ has given us.