Let me ask you a question.  What is the oldest living organism on the earth?

A tree would be the correct answer---specifically the Methuselah tree in California that is said to be 4,843 year old.  Apparently, trees don’t die of old age like humans, that is, they would live an extremely long time if not subject to disease, drought or fire.  This gives some meaning to Isaiah’s saying, “… as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands” (65:22).

In the place most likely the Garden of Gethsemane there are some very old gnarly looking olive trees.  How old are they?  One website had this to say,

“Israel has many ancient olive trees.  Two in the town of Arraba and five in Deir Hannah have been determined to be over 3000 years old.

The present Gethsemane trees, however, are unlikely to have been standing at the time of Christ.  The historian Flavius Josephus reports that all the trees around Jerusalem were cut down by the Romans for their siege equipment before they captured the city in AD 70.

Nevertheless, the Gethsemane olives are possibly descendants of those earlier trees.  This is because when an olive tree is cut down, shoots will come back from the roots to create a new tree.

In 1982 the University of California carried out radiocarbon-dating tests on some root material from Gethsemane.  The results indicated that some of the wood could be dated at 2300 years old.”[1]

The trees around us are an amazing evidence of the handy work of our almighty God.   Consider an evolutionist who not only has to account for the origin of animal life but also of plants and trees.  Really!?  How probable is it for not just one but two completely different seams of life to occur by chance and random mutation?  I’ve always said it takes more faith to believe in evolution then it does an intelligent designer.

No, the signs of God are all around us in nature and trees are wonderful examples of it.  Sometimes the beauty of a tree overcomes me.  There are so many large and majestic trees around the area.  When you look at their branches and leaves, they form what mathematicians and scientist call a fractal pattern.  These repeating patterns form quite often in nature but the design of the branches of a tree are said to be optimized for exposure of the leaves to sunlight.

Here’s another question I’d never really thought about until now.  What makes the roots from a seed grow downward and the branches to grow upward?  No matter how you orient the seed the stem will always find its way up out of the ground.  Scientists long ago discovered that plants have the ability to sense gravity.  It’s called gravitropism.  Roots have a positive gravitropism that makes them grow downwards and stems have negative gravitropism that makes them go upwards.   Isn’t it something how these little things can be so amazing.

Then there is photosynthesis, the plants ability to take light and use it to convert carbon dioxide and water into food.  From the very earliest plants, they’ve discovered there has always been photosynthesis.  It is God’s solar panels.  You know I watched a video describing what goes on and it is amazing machinery at work.  There is this whole chain of reactions and carriers that looks like a well-designed factory at work. 

Furthermore, during the process of photosynthesis oxygen is released, we breathe the oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide which the plants in turn use in photosynthesis to create food and release more oxygen.  There is this symbiosis, a mutual need, between animals and plants, which is the balance that God has given his creation.  We could not live without trees.  Think about what the world would be like without trees.

In Deuteronomy 20:19 there is even a law to protect trees,

“When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege:”

The tree of the field is man’s life in so many ways besides food.  Think of all the uses of trees and wood.  We build our furniture and houses out of wood.  We make paper out of wood.  We make a fire out of wood to keep warm.  We take shelter under a tree’s shade.  We plant trees to prevent erosion.

It’s no wonder then that so much of the Bible talks about trees.  If you haven’t guessed yet I wanted to look at lessons from trees this morning, besides how they are wonderfully created.  First, we’ll look at the imagery of a tree in bad context as portraying pride and arrogance.  Then, we’ll look at some of the positive imagery of a grafting branches and tree roots and how we are to be trees planted of the Lord.  Finally, we’ll consider how some of the New Testament writers refer to Jesus’ cross as a tree rather than a cross.

The Mighty Cedar

I grew up in Seattle Washington, which is known as the evergreen state.  If you’ve ever been out west you’ll know why because the area is covered with majestic pine trees that never lose their pines or their color.  When I was a young boy, about the age of 11 or 12, we would play in the forests among the trees.  We had a large pine in our front yard that I would say was about four stories high.  Of course, at such an age, I could not resist climbing it.  The very first large boughs were just within my grasp if I jumped up and grabbed hold, swung a leg up and around the branch and lifted myself up.  From there I could more easily get up onto the next branch, and then the next branch.  Memories are funny aren’t they because I can still smell the pine and feel the sticky sap that oozes from the tree bark and would get stuck to my hands.  Higher and higher I would ascend as the branches got smaller and smaller.  I could look down and see the branches below like large spokes going out every which way.  I would climb this tree many times because once I got to the top I could sit there because, for some reason, the top had been cut off.  It was about 3 or 4 inches in diameter at this point and I could perch up there and look out over the world.  The wind may kick up and slightly rock the tree.  It was quite an exhilarating feeling.

People would walk by and nobody would see me but I could observe them.  In fact, one day my Mom came home, got out of the car and I yelled “Hey Mom!”  She looked around.  “Up here”, I yelled again.  She nearly had a heart attack when she saw me.

For me, it’s no wonder the Bible uses the tree as a symbol of pride and arrogance.  The Bible speaks of oaks, ash, cypress, fir, pine, shittah (acacia), box, almond, sycamore, apples, figs, mulberries, but none stands out more among the trees than the mighty cedars of Lebanon.  The cedar is so analogous to Lebanon that they have it as a symbol in the middle of their flag.  At one point, it is recorded that there were cedar trees in the forest that were 130 feet high.  Imagine climbing that?  Maybe they were even higher during the days of Solomon when they were cut down and shipped to Jerusalem so that their fine beautiful wood could be carved with cherubim, palm trees and flowers and panel the walls so that no stone could be seen (1 Kings 6:18).  When you think about it, it is a good bit of irony, that a symbol of the pride and haughtiness of man is cut down and used to build the temple of God.

In Ezekiel chapter 31, God speaks of Pharaoh, king of Egypt as a great cedar in the garden of God.  High above all the other trees yet he would be brought down for his wickedness.  As you stand by a tree like that, which I have done in California among the great redwoods, it is hard to imagine the felling of a tree of that stature.  Even with a chainsaw, it would seem an impossible foe.

Ezekiel’s imagery reminds us very much of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:10-17,

“Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. {11} The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: {12} The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. {13} I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; {14} He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: {15} Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth: {16} Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. {17} This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.”

That tree, of course, was Nebuchadnezzar himself and would also come to symbolize his kingdom.  When a tree falls, it falls hard.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being there when a tall tree gives way, snaps, groans and falls over, crashing to the earth.  So we see that all familiar lesson that pride comes before a fall.

Ezekiel brings this imagery to life again in Ezekiel 17:22-24 where after talking about rebellious Israel as a transplanted cedar he turns to a Messianic prophecy of the kingdom.

“Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent: {23} In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell. {24} And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the LORD have spoken and have done it.”

In this prophecy, as is seen in verse 12, the highest branch of the cedar represented the king of Jerusalem taken away captive to Babylon.  If this is the case, then in the later days, who is this young tender one cropped off from the top and planted in the mountain of Israel?  Is it not none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Israel?  It must be and this tree that grows is God’s kingdom to come.

Grafting and Roots

I recently heard a news story about how the city of San Francisco was going around planting non-bearing fruit trees on the streets and boulevards.    It is actually illegal to grow fruit trees on city streets because they fear that fallen fruit will become crushed and slippery and cause someone to fall on the sidewalk.  There’s a group that doesn’t agree with the city and thinks readily available fresh fruit would be good so they go around secretly grafting in fruit bearing branches into the tree.  They are, if you will, guerilla grafters.

It’s another amazing thing about trees that you can graft in branches and they continue to grow.  Paul uses this analogy in Romans 11.  Let’s go there and look at verses 16-18 where Israel is compared, very appropriately, to a fruit bearing olive tree.  We saw before how trees are associated with pride and here we go again,

“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. {17} And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; {18} Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

It is, or it should be, a very humbling thing to be grafted into Israel.  We were wild and now we are part of a good olive tree.  We cannot bear good fruit unless we remain in the tree and a tree is known by its fruit.

You’ll notice something else interesting in the details here.  Paul draws our attention to the roots.  Notice how it comes out in the NIV translation,

“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, {18} do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”  (“you are just a branch”, NLT)

The sap is the fatness of the tree.  Like blood in our veins so sap flows in trees.  When we look at a tree, we only see half of it.  There are roots that go deep down into the earth.  The roots supply nutrients to the tree and they provide stability.  That’s what the promises to Israel provide for us.  We are partakers of these things, just branches, being supported by a long and deep history.

When John the Baptist came he said, “the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt. 3:10).  The axe is not against the branches, nor even the trunk, but against the roots.  That’s very significant isn’t it.

We had a tree in our front yard where part of it fell over and revealed that the base of the tree was rotten.  We had to cut it down.  We wanted to plant a new tree in its spot but there was the trunk still solidly rooted in the ground.  It had to go.  I began digging around it, cutting roots here, cutting roots there and tugging to get it loose.  Hours and hours went by, the battle continued but the stump, and its roots would not give in.  It took days more of digging, cutting and sweating but finally in a shower of dirt and rocks the big clump of a stump dislodged from the ground.

In our discipleship in Christ, we are trying to grow deeps roots.  Paul in a couple of places talks about us being “rooted and grounded” in our faith.  It’s the roots that make the tree so strong and not easily moved.  It is the roots that go deep down in the earth that provide water even when the land is parched and dry.  There is a beautiful verse in Jeremiah 17:7-8 that speaks about this,

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. {8} For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”[2]

The other amazing thing about a tree is when they are cut down and the stump removed the roots can sprout again.  To this day, over five years later, we still are getting saplings that come up through the ground from that old tree.  It reminds me of the verse in Job 14:7,

“For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.”

Job is speaking here of resurrection.  Isn’t it true that if our roots are our spiritual life in Christ then even though we may be cut off out of the land of living that there is hope that God will sprout us back to life again?

Hanged on a Tree

With the significance of trees in scripture, what do you think of Acts 5:30?

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.”

In this verse, Peter refers to Jesus’ cross as a tree.  The Greek word for tree is “xulos” (G3586).  Now the word can be used for lumber or for live trees.  I get the feeling he is emphasizing a tree.  The word used for cross is "stuaros" which is never used in the Acts accept for the verb form, crucified, in 2:36, 4:10.  "Xulon" is never used in the Gospels in reference to Christ's crucifixion.  Peter will say it this way again in Acts 13:29 and in his first epistle at 2:24,

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

Paul also calls the cross a tree (xulos) in Acts 13:29 and in Galatians 3:13 where the significance is really brought out.

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”

That is right from the law (Deut. 21:22-23), that anyone hanged on a tree was cursed.  Even the law cursed Jesus.  Isn’t it interesting that initially it was the eating from a tree that brought a curse on humanity.  In the irony of God, an innocent man is cursed and dies on a tree that we might live and have access to a tree, the tree of life.

The Tree of Life

It is the tree of life that stands like bookends for the whole Bible.  The man who failed in Genesis was denied access to the tree of life.  The man who overcomes is granted access to the tree of life in Revelation.  We know the kingdom is going to be a lush beautiful place.  Turn with me to Isaiah 41:18-20 where we read,

“I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. {19} I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together: {20} That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.”

This fits with the picture of Revelation 22:1-2,

“And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. {2} In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

Ezekiel (47:7,12) shows us the same vision where there are many trees on either side of the river.  I believe this forest will be real.  The tree of life will be there.  It will be just as real as it was in the Garden of Eden.  However, these trees really represent something even more significant because they represent the immortalized saints.  I hope that that is you and I, brothers and sisters.  We are the trees planted besides running waters.  Christ and saints are the ones who will bring spiritual fruit and true healing to the nations.  Hear this one last final verse from Isaiah 61:3,

“[He will] appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”


What a wonderful hope we have brothers and sisters to be a planting of the Lord.  A tree is one of God’s most wonderful parts of his creation.  Trees are so useful is so many ways.

We’ve seen trees used as symbols in the Bible which are high which he’s brought down.  We have also seen prophecies of a small twig he will plant in the mountains of Israel that will become a mighty tree.  We have that hope of being grafted into the olive tree of Israel and being supported by its roots, being rooted and grounded in Christ.

Now we come to remember him who was hanged upon a tree, cursed by the law that we might be free.  When we come before his cross we come before a tree, a tree associated with life, that if we overcome we shall eat freely of its fruit.


[2] See also Psa. 1:3; 52:8; 92:12-14