“The Tree of Life in the Paradise of God” (Revelation 21:22 – 22:5, 22:14)
And so we come full circle. One month ago, we began this series on “The Tree of Life” back there, at the tree of life in the garden. Now tonight we end up back where we started, once again at the tree of life. This is the story of the Bible, how we got away from the tree of life in the beginning, and how we end up at the tree of life in the end. The opening chapters of Genesis and the closing chapters of Revelation form matching bookends for the whole of the Bible. And so tonight we end this series where we ourselves will end up for eternity, an unending eternity at “The Tree of Life in the Paradise of God.”
So let’s go back to the beginning to see where we came from. We go back to the garden, the Garden of Eden, in the first couple chapters of Genesis. The Lord God had formed man and placed him in that garden to live there under his blessing. The Lord God provided for the man everything he could possibly want. An abundance of trees, with every kind of good fruit to eat. And in the midst of the garden, there was the tree of life from which man could eat and live. No death had entered the picture, anywhere in creation. All around was life, life superabundantly. Nothing was lacking. Life was good, very good. The Lord even provided a companion suited for the man, in the form of a woman. Cool. All was good, nothing lacking. The Lord proved to be a generous, loving God, worthy of man’s love and trust. And the Lord God gave the man an opportunity to show his love and obedience to his Creator by giving him one command: “You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.”
Well, we all know where the story went in Genesis 3. The serpent tempted the woman and the man, and they fell for it. They ate of the forbidden fruit. Adam and Eve wanted to be their own god, and make their own decisions about right and wrong, independent of–indeed, in defiance of–what God had clearly said. This was the entrance of sin into the human story, and thus the entrance of death. The curse descended upon mankind. Creation would not work right. Relationships between human beings would not work right. Frustration and futility in life would enter in. And death–death, which man was never meant to experience–death would spread to all of us Adam-like sinners: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” And with that, man and woman were driven out of the garden, cut off from access to the tree of life.
And the rest is history–a very long and very sad history that continues up to this day. Sin and death surround us. Sin and death are in us, like a deadly virus for which there is no cure. Conflict and blame among persons, conflict between people-groups and nations, wars and rumors of wars. People taking advantage of one another. People betraying one another and hurting one another. Violence and discord. Distrust and suspicion. Have you had these things happen to you? Have you done these things to other people? The evidence of sin is all around us and deep within us.
And death. Always death. The cemeteries are always looking for new customers, and they will get them. That is certain. The death rate is still 100%, one per person. And you’re next, or you will be soon enough. The trees outside are starting to bud and bloom, and it’s a beautiful thing, but I guarantee you there is one tree you will not find, and that is the tree of life.
Or will you? Or will you? The good news tonight is this: You will find that tree of life you so desperately need. In fact, you have already found it. Your tree of life is the cross of Christ.
This is God’s solution to the death problem–to the sin-and-death problem, I should say, for those two, sin and death, are inextricably bound. The one leads to the other, sin resulting in death. So to solve the death problem, God had to deal with the sin problem. And this is why Christ came, to deal with our sin and to overcome death on our behalf. And in this way, the cross of Christ would be our true tree of life.
The cross of Christ is the pivot point, the hinge in all of human history. Without Christ and his cross, you and I would have no hope whatsoever. With Jesus Christ and what he did for us on the cross, we now how the firmest hope there could be, the sure hope of everlasting life in and through and with Christ Jesus our Savior. It’s that important. Everything hangs on that cross–your sins, your Savior, your forgiveness, your future. It’s all there.
And because of Christ and his cross–this is how we will get back to the tree of life in the paradise of God. Now follow as we get there.
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel foresaw a new temple that would be built one day. It would be much greater than King Solomon’s temple. This new temple would have fresh water flowing out from its center, a stream flowing out into the desert, becoming a river that would bring life and vitality to every place it goes. “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Now fast-forward a few centuries, and there is this man Jesus going around Israel, bringing life and vitality and blessing and healing to people in need everywhere he goes. He heals the sick. He raises the dead. He repairs the damage sin has done to God’s creation. This man Jesus calls sinners to repentance and forgives their sins. Who is this man?
Answer: He is the very Son of God, come down from heaven, sent on a mission to undo the curse and get us back to the tree of life. And to do that, he himself will be that temple that Ezekiel foresaw, the one with the life-giving water flowing from the center. Remember, Jesus said of himself, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And the temple he spoke of was his own body.
Now see this Jesus hanging on the cross. He cries out, “It is finished,” and he bows his head and gives up his spirit. And when he does, up comes a soldier to confirm that this man is truly dead. He pierces Jesus’ side, and out comes a sudden flow of blood and water. And so from the pierced side of Jesus, as from the center of Ezekiel’s temple, comes the life-giving flood that brings healing to the nations, that brings life and healing to you.
Now fast-forward to the last chapters of Revelation, the vision John was given of what is in store for everyone who trusts in this Christ. It’s the vision of the New Jerusalem, heaven come down to earth, an awe-inspiring place of infinite beauty, like a city in a garden. God dwelling with man, no more sin, no more death, no more sorrow.
And notice, no temple, either–at least not a temple made of brick and stone. No, here God is dwelling immediately with man, no more sacrifices needed, no curtain separating God from man. “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
And what else does John see? “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
Ah, now we are back where we started, only better! This is paradise restored, and then some. The tree of life. No more deadness of winter. Fruit twelve months of the year. Healing and wholeness and life forever. Yes, this is what is in store for us, dear friends in Christ! Access to the tree of life once again, no more being kept out or driven away. All because of the tree that held our Savior, the cross of Christ, where our Lord shed his holy precious blood for our forgiveness. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”
“The Tree of Life in the Paradise of God.” And so we come full circle.