The Bible is not a book.
I mean, yes. It’s a book. It’s got pages, a front cover and back cover, and all of that. But this book is not a book. It wasn’t written by one author with one audience and one purpose in mind.
No, it’s not a book. What is it?
The Bible is a library of scrolls.
Within these pages are many, many different texts that started out as handwritten scrolls, written by dozens of different authors over hundreds of years.
So when you think of the Bible, don’t think of a book. Use your imagination to picture a whole bunch of shelves with all these different scrolls inside.
Picture it: You’re walking through this library and you can take different scrolls off the shelf and unroll them.
Some of these scrolls were written in great times. Some were written in awful times. Some were written by kings. Some were written by peasants.
In this library there’s poetry, there’s history, there’s eyewitness accounts, and personal letters…
It is a very diverse library, but all of these scrolls have one thing in common: they have been carefully handed down to us by our spiritual ancestors who have said, from generation to generation, that “within these pages we will find the words of life.”
“Within this library of scrolls we will find answers to why the world is as broken as it is. We will learn where God is in the midst of it. And we will see that from the very beginning, the Creator of life has been pointing this whole story to Jesus, including the story of our lives.”
This library of scrolls contains the words of life. It’s up to us to explore it.
Well, today we are kicking off a new sermon series where we are going to do just that.
If you didn’t know, at Grace Church we are Bible nerds and we think this library of scrolls is pretty spectacular.
In fact, one of our core values is “Bring Your Own Bible” because we are not content to just preach about the Bible on Sunday mornings and leave it at that. We want you to be equipped as well - to read and study and explore the Bible yourselves your own life.
We want you to be equipped. And here’s how we’re going to do it for the next six weeks: we are going to introduce you to six key “threads” which weave throughout the entire library of the Bible.
Images and ideas that you’re going to find popping up from Genesis to the Psalms to Revelation. Like sheep and shepherds, or the sea, or blood…
These are threads that - when you understand them - will bring this whole library into sharper focus.
I’m pumped about this. Because in my own study of the Bible, these are the kinds of things that once you see them, you can’t unsee them. It brings the whole thing to life.
I said that this whole library leads to Jesus. And these threads are clues as to how.
Before we dive in, though, I’d like to make one note about how these threads work.
What we are not saying in this series is that these images always mean the same thing. It’s not like, “Oh, there’s a sheep… that must mean exactly this.”
In this vast library of scrolls, what we have instead are authors who take key ideas and reimagine them or flip them around in startling new ways or build on the things that were said before and take it in a new direction.
These biblical threads all point to an important truth, but they are dynamic in how they do it.
And here’s why: It’s because the Bible is not some moral handbook or theology dictionary… it’s literature. It’s art.
God’s Spirit breathing through gifted human authors to draw us into a conversation…
Think of it like this. Throughout the history of fine art, there are also a bunch of threads weaving through. For example, the human form.
In the Classical period, artists wanted to depict the idealized human form. The perfect body.
But through the Medieval period and into the Renaissance and Baroque periods, artists were trying to emphasize different features of the human form - to play with light and shadow to tell a story.
In Impressionism and Realism and Cubism artists were rejecting past conventions and sharing provocative new ideas about the human body in its world.
And today in Postmodernism, artists are reviving old styles but using them to tell new stories.
The point is this - all the paintings I just showed you depicted the human form - every one of them had a head, two arms, and a body - but the way the artists captured that form - the thread they were weaving - was part of a far deeper conversation.
The same thing is true for this library of scrolls we call the Bible. The literary threads we see here are dynamic and they invite us into the story.
Are you with me? Let’s dive into the first biblical thread of this series and I’ll show you what I mean.
Today we’re going to talk about the Tree of Life.
THE TWO TREES
This thread, like all 6 threads in this series, begins in the book of Genesis - the first scroll on the shelf.
You can turn there if you’d like, but FYI, we’re going to be all over the Bible today.
So. In the story God has created the world, he’s created a garden in Eden for humanity to take care of, and then this happens:
Genesis 2:7-9, 15-17
Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
So, in the story are two trees. The tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Although, I’ve said this before, I believe a more accurate translation is the “tree of the knowledge of good and bad,” because of what the tree represents.
You see, up to this point, God has been the one declaring what is good and what is bad. His creation is very good. It is not good – it’s bad for the human to be alone. And so on.
When humans trust in God’s way of seeing things, when they trust in what he says is best - what he says is good and bad, they experience life and peace and joy. They eat from the tree of God’s very own life.
But when humans decide for themselves what is good and what is bad… when they listen to the serpent in the garden who tells them that God’s way of ordering things is ridiculous, what do they do? They eat from the other tree. The tree of the knowledge of good and bad.
“We know what’s best for ourselves.”
And that’s exactly what happens in the story. But not just for Adam and Eve. We see this same choice faced by every human that comes after them.
There are two trees in front of us. The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad… God’s way or my way. And guess which fruit humanity keeps on eating…
Our world is cursed by our own selfish desires - our sin - and the tree of life seems to be increasingly out of our reach.
That’s how this biblical thread of the Tree of Life begins.
Now, before we move on I want to show you a video made by the Bible Project. I love their work because they capture artistically exactly what we’re talking about. Let’s take a look.
Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.
These were the words Moses spoke to the people of Israel at the end of his life, and you can see that same choice between the two trees, can’t you?
One choice leads to curses. The other one leads to life. “Choose life!” Moses says.
This is the overriding tension in this whole library of scrolls. Will humanity trust and obey what God says is best or are we going to do what is best in our own eyes? Will we eat from the tree of life?
Now, sometimes the tree of life shows up pretty straightforward ways. Like in Proverbs 3:18, which flat out mentions it.
Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly.
Sometimes it’s not quite as direct, but it’s still pretty obvious.
Like the burning bush on a mountain as the video said. Will Moses trust God and go back to Egypt to set his people free or is he going to decide for himself that it’s better to be stay a humble shepherd? His way or God’s way?
You regularly see people in the Bible faced with similar choices while next to trees on hillsides. It’s a dead giveaway about what is supposed to be pinging in our minds. It’s Eden all over again.
Sometimes it’s a bit more subtle though.
Like the menorah in the temple. The candelabra which represented God’s light and revelation to the people. Guess what it was designed after? The tree of life.
It’s just like the artwork we talked about before. The authors of the Bible are riffing on a theme.
Sometimes in kind of provocative ways. Like Isaiah 11. What happens when the people of God don’t eat from the tree of life, they chop it down?
I’m not going to answer that because I want you to read it on your own this week. We’ll have a “take home passage” every week in this series. I want you to experience for yourself how this biblical thread shows up.
Read Isaiah 11 yourself this week and see if you can find any other echoes of Eden in the passage. What do you think God’s Spirit was saying through Isaiah’s poetry? It’s so cool.
One more thing to look for with this thread. The words “saw - good - took.”
In Hebrew, these three words show up together all the time.
rāʾāh - saw
ṭoḇ - good
lāqaḥ - took
In Genesis 3 Eve “saw” (rāʾāh) that the tree was “good” (ṭoḇ) she “took” (lāqaḥ) the fruit.
Seems pretty normal, but then you come to 2 Samuel, where King David “saw” (rāʾāh) that Bathsheba was “good/beaufitul” (ṭoḇ) he “took” her (lāqaḥ) to have sex with her. Got her pregnant and murdered her husband.
He saw what was good in his own eyes and he took it.
Again and again, people reject the tree of life - the tree of God’s wisdom, of his knowledge - and eat from the tree of their own knowledge. They define what’s good and bad, and the curse continues to spread.
Thankfully, that’s not where this biblical thread ends. Let’s watch the rest of the story.
A NEW TREE OF LIFE
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will there be a curse upon anything.
At the very end of the Bible we see the tree of life yet again. Only this time, the curse that started in Genesis has been overcome. Humanity can once more eat from the tree of God’s own life.
We’re no longer stuck eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad over and over again, enslaved to our own selfishness and sin.
We’re free to make a different choice, because Jesus himself willingly gave his life on the cross so that we might live.
Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”
In that moment of the crucifixion that tree of death - the cross - became the tree of life for humanity. If we put our trust in Jesus, we can once more come alive.
And with Christ’s Spirit now living within us, we can enter the garden of God’s presence once again.
The biblical thread of the tree of life weaves right into you and me.
WHICH FRUIT WILL YOU EAT?
So there you go. The tree of life is a thread which weaves through this entire library of scrolls. The biblical authors riff on this idea in a bunch of different ways.
And now that you’re aware of it, I hope it will make your own reading of the Bible come alive in new ways.
But before we wrap up our discussion today (and we all go home to read Isaiah 11), I want to ask you a question.
I’ve said these biblical threads are an invitation to a conversation, because these threads weave into our lives as well.
So here’s the question I want you to ponder today: Which tree are you eating from?
Take a second and close your eyes. Just breathe for a minute and imagine you are standing in the garden, like Adam and Eve, in front of two beautiful trees loaded with fruit. Which tree are you eating from?
As you think about your life, would you say that it is characterized by trust in what God says is best? Does it look like following in the footsteps of Jesus wherever he wants you to go? Are you eating from the tree of life?
Or, like so many, would you say that your life is characterized by trusting in your own judgement, or relying on your own self-sufficiency?
When you see something that seems good in your own eyes, do you take it? (Saw-good-took). Or do you ask God for wisdom and do whatever he says is best?
In Galatians 5, Paul describes the kind of fruit that shows up in our lives depending on which tree we’re eating from.
With your eyes still closed, listen to these two lists and tell me which one sounds more like you…
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Which tree are you eating from? What is the fruit in your life?
Because my friends, you do have a choice.
So here’s what I want to do right now. I want to give you a moment - just you and God - to talk about how things stand.
Approach the tree of God’s own life and say what needs to be said.