Before I begin my first sermon here at the Pleasant View Church of Christ, I figure it would be good to provide a quick introduction. I imagine most of you either have met me or are aware of me, but I am a recent transplant from New Hampshire…sent out ahead of my family, half of which will be joining me once my oldest son is off to college for his freshman year at UMASS Amherst.
I have a beautiful wife along with two daughters and two sons…ranging from the ages of 27 to 4. Yes, I got started early and had a surprise late. 🙂 But what a wonderful surprise it was! (Children are always a gift from God.) Hopefully you'll get to meet them all, but initially you'll only get to hang out with my wife, Michelle and Augie, a bouncy blond curly-haired and blue-eyed human who finds joy in the most simple things…and bestows joy to everyone who encounters him…
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Although clearly there were many more steps involved in my 47 years on this earth, the main reason I stand here before you is because about a year and a quarter ago I was laid off from a company that I worked for for 16 years. A parent company and the economy meant my job was eliminated, and after about 6 months it was clear both to my former employer and me that there was nothing lateral available. Between that loss of employment and February 20 of this year, when I started working in California, I was either unemployed or underemployed.
Now, I said the main reason I stand here before you is because I lost a job. However, although I try not to be presumptuous of God's personal attention to my life, the actual reason is because it was God's will. Another "job" I had was being the minister for the Antrim Church of Christ in my home town…and I can't imagine our Lord would tear me away from that family if He didn't have a plan for me with this family. Now, don't get me wrong…I was only a part time minister back there…so I am not saying that God sent me here to do the same…but…without going into specifics…circumstances and serendipities convince me that he wanted me to move to California and to be a member of this specific church.
Clearly you all must have done something really wrong to deserve me! 🙂
Ultimately, my arrival in California was after a battle of wills…mine versus our God's. I did not want to leave New Hampshire. He, however, wanted me to be 3,000 miles away on the other side of the country…and it took over a year for me to acknowledge and acquiesce.
And, in many ways this sermon, "Two Trees and a Tomb" is also about a battle of wills.
One final note before we get into the meat of my lesson…please be sure to grab your Bibles and stretch your page-turning fingers…we've got a lot to fit in in a what remains of the time set aside for the sermon…and I want you to always look to Scripture instead of whoever is standing up here in the pulpit.
That, and because I'm use to having about 10 minutes more than is allotted at this church for the sermon. 🙂
I think tree #1 is pretty easy for everyone to figure out, but just in case let's all turn back the pages of time and join our earliest ancestor as he is given his first job:
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:15-17).
Tree #1 is the one tree in Garden…the only tree in all the trees…that we weren't supposed to eat from. So, what does our "federal head" do? Let's turn to chapter 3 and read on:
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" 2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.' " 4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:1-6).
Tree #1 is also battle of wills #1, and Adam and Eve quickly learned what happens when you trust yourself or the serpent more than God.
Instead of being like God they developed a feeling they had never had before…fear (take a look at Genesis 3:8-10). Fear of the One who had created the Garden of Eden, and every other tree in it, for them.
What it Means for Us
And from that point going forward humankind has been afflicted with a disease. As David notes in Psalm 51:5:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
We are brought forth in iniquity, and before we think that David was just talking about himself (being that he penned Psalm 51 after committing adultery and murder) let's look at Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
We are all by nature children of wrath…because…
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
It may have started with Adam and Eve, but that first tree left us all with a problem…a big problem…
That is, unless somehow you think "children of wrath" is a positive club to be a member of…
Which brings us to tree #2.
Don't let anyone fool you, God was not caught unaware when our first parents blew it in the Garden. Before Eve had that first bite…before time itself…the Godhead had a plan. Otherwise Titus 1:2 couldn't speak of a "hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began," Ephesians 1:4 couldn't say that "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world," and 2 Timothy 1:9 couldn't mention of our "holy calling" which God "gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (emphasis in all three quotes mine).
So, what is tree #2?
Galatians 3:13-14 answers that:
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Tree #2 is the cross. It was the only answer for tree #1…and it was only possible because there was no battle of wills between the second Adam and God.
Instead, the Son said to the Father, "Not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39)
And praise God that he "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). As such, He sent "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) to show how God really is and to "[redeem] us from the curse of a law by becoming a curse for us" by being "hanged on a tree."
The holy calling we were given before the ages began was at great, great personal cost to our Heavenly Father on tree #2…
Whether or not you knew for sure what tree #1 and tree #2 were…on Resurrection Sunday you almost definitely know which tomb this sermon's title was talking about. However, that tomb is in this lesson not because our Savior was buried in it…nor because He was in it for 3 days…but because of a discovery Peter and John made. Let's head back 2,000 years see if we can outrun them to the tomb:
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:1-9).
No…the tomb isn't important because our Lord was buried there…it is important because it is empty!
Praise God, the tomb was…the tomb is…empty!
This doesn't diminish the fact that when Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30) before breathing His last on the cross it was actually finished…but…as our Scripture for today, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, said in verse 14:
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).
If the tomb wasn't empty, then Jesus was just a kind nutjob we rubbed the Jews and the Romans the wrong way and our "faith is futile and [we] are still in [our sins]."
Truly, "we [would be] of all people most to be pitied" hanging our eternal fate on the words and actions of a lunatic.
The tomb is empty!
Let's all say that together…
The tomb is empty!
You know…after choosing the title for this sermon and sending it to Peggy for the bulletin…I realized there was a third tree.
Do you remember back in the Garden when Adam was told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Before that prohibition God said, "You may sure eat of every tree of the garden" except that one.
Every…once again…every other tree.
But our battle of wills with God meant another tree was suddenly off-limits to us. Genesis 3:22 records:
22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—"
God originally intended for us to eat of the tree of life…tree #3…
But because of tree #1 we couldn't.
That is, until God provided tree #2…and because of tree #2 Revelation 22:14 confirms, glory to God, we have access again:
14 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.
Once we have thrown off these mortal bodies we will have access to tree #3 because of tree #2…access to the tree as God originally intended…originally willed…for us to eat from…until we said, "Our will, not yours."
Don't Forget the Tomb
And how do we know that tree #2 took care of tree #1 so that we can eat from tree #3?
Because of the tomb.
Because of the empty tomb.
To quote several verses of a hymn that, oddly, isn't in John's hymnal nor the one we used back at my church in Antrim (although the melody is the same as #732 in John's):
1 Rejoice and be glad! The Redeemer has come!
Go look on His cradle, His cross, and His tomb.
4 Rejoice and be glad! Now the pardon is free!
The Just for the unjust has died on the tree.
5 Rejoice and be glad! For the Lamb that was slain
O'er death is triumphant, and liveth again.
7 Rejoice and be glad! For He cometh again;
He cometh in glory, the Lamb that was slain.
[Chorus] Sound His praises, tell the Story, Of Him who was slain;
Sound His praises tell with gladness, He liveth again.1
Rejoice and be glad…sound his praises…the tomb is empty!
1Eckert, P. (1998). Steve Green's MIDI hymnal : A complete toolkit for personal devotions and corporate worship. (Electronic ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.