Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 29:53 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’ve been thinking of that tree. The tree that John saw, astride the street that runs down the middle of the City. John is shown the river of the water of life, that flows out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. And it runs down the middle of the street, and the tree of life stands on either side of the street and bears its fruit each month, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.
That tree had not been seen in this creation since the beginning, since Genesis. God planted a garden, and He put two trees in the middle of it, one the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and one the tree of life. And God put the man and the woman there, and said they could eat from any and all of the trees in the Garden, including the tree of life, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But they ate from that tree, and ever since we’ve had far too much knowledge of evil. We have known so much evil, incomprehensible evil, uncountable evil. We’ve seen it, done it, contributed to it. In the last two weeks, we’ve been reminded of the evil that saturates this creation, as someone shot and killed a number of people in a grocery store, apparently because of the color of their skin. And someone shot and killed children in their school. And those are only the events that have gotten the most news coverage. How much tragedy, how much suffering, how much grief and pain happen every single day that doesn’t get reported, doesn’t get think-pieces, doesn’t get argued about? How many shot and killed? How many thousands killed before they take a breath? How much we need the tree of life, with leaves for the healing of the nations!
A lot of people see these evils and cry out for someone to do something, to do anything. I understand the sentiment, because we feel helpless. But we cry out to the government, to our leaders, to politicians. And how much changes? How much is solved? Laws are necessary, and we always have need of more laws, because someone will always find a way around the laws that exist. We never have fewer laws, only more, because evil multiplies and sinners are good at finding loopholes. We might think that more laws won’t change things. And to some extent that’s true. But we believe that one of the purposes of the law is to curb the desires of sinners. The curb is necessary and the consequences are necessary if someone jumps that curb. See, both things are true: laws against evil are good, and laws will never keep people from doing evil.
But no matter how many laws there are, and no matter how good they are, no matter how well they work, they are only working on the fruit and maybe the branches of evil. But if there’s blood on the branches, then there’s blood on the roots. Laws can curb the external actions of evil, but they cannot solve the problem at the root. Out of evil hearts come evil actions, and we should do whatever we can to stop as many evil actions as possible. But legislation can’t stop hell’s march in the human heart (Bill Mallonee). We have watered and tended and nourished that evil and poisonous tree for so long, and we can’t get to the roots.
So we cry out to the only one who can help, the one to whom the souls in Revelation cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long until you avenge us?” We need the tree of life, and its leaves for the healing of the nations. We cry out to the only One who can help, who can do something. Some will mock prayer, or God, because there are a lot of evil things that still happen in this world, and how could we keep praying when God hasn’t stopped these evil things? I do not have answers for why God did not stop these things, though I’m sure there are other evils He has stopped. He doesn’t always stop the bloody fruit from being produced from the evil tree. But He has not done nothing. He has done the single action that can get destroy evil branch and root. He has done the only thing that will actually bring about a new creation and put everything right in resurrection.
Only the planter of the tree of life can uproot the tree of evil and death. And so the eternal Son takes on flesh and blood, and He bears in His own flesh the sin of the world on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). He was put on that tree by all the evil we have known and done, and only His blood covers all the blood that we have shed. He put that sin to death on that tree so that we would die to sin and live to righteousness. In His resurrection, He continually gives life in the midst of this world of death, so that the serpent, who overcame us by a tree in the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome and conquered. The instrument of His death is transformed by His death and resurrection into the instrument of our life. He has His side opened and from Him flows springs of living water. And everyone who thirsts and believes in Him come to Him to drink, and are thirsty no more. He sends the Spirit to renew the face of this creation. He is the tree of life, and He gives us continually His body and blood as the fruit from that tree. He gives us His life in the midst of all this death, until the day when the New Jerusalem descends, and we walk down that street by that river and eat from that tree, and the nations are healed finally and forever.
In the time between the tree of life in the garden and the tree of life in the city, we have been made branches of the Vine, whose life is the only life there is. In ourselves, we can’t uproot evil, but we can do what we’ve been given to do in our vocations. I have no doubt that God has put His people and His pastors, His Church, in Uvalde and Buffalo and everywhere else people suffer and grieve and sin and do evil. It may not look like anything to the world, but the Word of Jesus, the balm for wounds that the world cannot heal, is being given and proclaimed in those places. And every time we or the other members of Christ’s Body speak the word of the resurrected Jesus in those places, every time we mourn with them, every time we weep with them, we are laying bricks that lead to that eternal city, where there is a river with living water flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb who was slain, but is alive forever. And it flows down the middle of a street, where the tree of life shows up again, with new fruit and leaves for the healing of the nations. And the one whose death became our life in His resurrection can and will heal not just the branches and the fruit, but all the way to the very roots. A new heavens and a new earth, and the end of all evil forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/28/22