Reforesting Faith: What trees teach us about the nature of God and His love for us by Matthew Sleeth MD / Part 3

The last part to Reforesting Faith! What have you learned so far? Anything new? I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts and have gained even just a little bit from your time reading (I know they can be long posts).

I just want to reiterate that even after reading all this, there are still even more tree references not mentioned. This is not an exhaustive post of everything in the Bible or in Sleeth’s book. Much of what’s included is straight from the Bible or Sleeth’s commentary. I feel like these two aspects bring more clarity than my mere fluffing of what’s already there, which is what it would be basically. LOL.

Fruit of the Tree

Part 3 is titled “Fruit of the Tree” . As you may remember, Part 1 was about “Laying the Groundwork” and Part 2 was the “Seeds of Faith.” Do you see how these flow together?? I encourage you to go back and read these first two parts if you have not done so previously.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:22-23
The Messiah Tree

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot –

yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.

Isaiah 11:1

If the Old Testament had a tree nursery in it, it would be found in the book of Isaiah. It is the Grand Central Station of trees. Isaiah’s prophecies overflow with trees and metaphors involving the land as they return again and again to describing the coming of the Messiah. That’s because the two are connected.

“Look for the Messiah,” Isaiah said. “He resembles a tree.”

-page 128, Chapter 10, Matthew Sleeth
Good News Through a Branch

Isaiah gave the prediction of Jesus using a tree reference.

Here Isaiah hinted at the reason trees have gone missing from our theology. Like trees, Jesus gives life. Fallen humanity, however, has a habit of choosing the things that take life away. We reject Jesus, we disobey God, and we walk away from the tree of life.

-page 133, Chapter 10, Matthew Sleeth
No Trees = Never-Ending Poverty

The trees [Plant with Purpose] plant are lovely in their own right, but one of the greatest benefits of their work is that families stay together. When the land around them supports life, Mom and Dad don’t have to travel to a city or another country to find work.

-page 136, Chapter 10, Matthew Sleeth

Trees operate on a timescale that invites us to think long-term, which God calls us to do in every area of our lives.

-page 137, Chapter 10, Matthew Sleeth

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8
Christ, the True Vine

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

John 15:1-2
Tree Gifts

Two of the three gifts given from the wise men were from trees!

The last two gifts are produced from trees – gum like products harvested from Boswellia (frankincense) and Commiphora (myrrh) trees.

-page 144, Chapter 11, Matthew Sleeth

In giving tree related gifts…

…we are following the wise men of old in our giving of “tree gifts” to others.

-page 144, Chapter 11, Matthew Sleeth

Although we do not know the exact meaning of then name Nazareth, many scholars believe it refers to a little twig. As Isaiah predicted, something great would indeed come out of a town named after a little tree!

-page 145, Chapter 11, Matthew Sleeth

Jericho is a city known for its palms. If by chance your last name is Palmer, someone in your family long ago made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. People who made pilgrimage to the Holy Land often changed their name to Palmer.

-page 146, Chapter 11, Matthew Sleeth

I thought this was interesting because I had never even thought of that. I love names and meanings, but sometimes such common names I just never think much of.

The Organic Language of Christ

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Matthew 7:15-20

A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.

Matthew 12:33

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”

John 15:1,8
Jesus’s Beautiful Tree Parables

I’m daily amazed at the relevance of His timeless word. Literally everything can still be applied. It’s like a tree because it lives on and on and on. The Word doesn’t need us really, it would still live on as well through Him, but we need the Word because without it, we are dead.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

Matthew 7:3-5

The man looked around. “Yes,” he said, “I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around.”

Mark 8:24

Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’

“The gardener answered, “Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.”

Luke 13:6-9

The interesting thing is that just as the tree in its long-lived glory represents the mightiest of all green things, the flower (along with grass) is the Bible’s symbol of all that is fleeting and short lived.

-page 156, Chapter 11, Matthew Sleeth

How frail is humanity!

How short is life, how full of trouble!

We blossom like a flower and then wither.

Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.

Job 14:1-2

Our days on earth are like grass;

like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

The wind blows, and we are gone –

as though we had never been here.

Psalm 103:15-16

Therefore, just as fire licks up stubble and dry grass shrivels in the flame,

so their roots will rot and their flowers wither.

For their have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies; they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 5:24

A voice said, “Shout!”

I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field.

The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people.

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8

And those who are rich should boast about that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

James 1:10

As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field.

The grass withers and the flower fades.

1 Peter 1:24
Trees Give Life: Human Creations End in Death

Every one of the Ten Commandments has been or can be broken in cyberspace.

-page 157, Chapter 11, Matthew Sleeth

We live in this digital age now… as you know, since you’re reading this somehow online. The internet is a dangerous place, like many things in this world, we must discipline ourselves and be vigilant.

How Much Does God Love Trees?

What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.

Matthew 10:29

“How can you understand how much God loves you if you can’t get your head around how much he loves a little sparrow?”

-page 158, Chapter 11, Matthew Sleeth

This…. this was just like whoa. There’s so much God loves that we take for granted and yet he still loves us, his greatest of all creations. “Greatest” may be a stretch when we are so filled with sin and are actually quite cruel, but God… He still loves our flawed beings and what a tremendous thing that is.

God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.

John 1:3

for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.

He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see –

such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.

Everything was created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:16-17

When humans become the measure of all things, by definition we end up with a God no bigger than ourselves.

-page 158, Chapter 11, Matthew Sleeth

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you know so much.

Job 38:4

^that pride though…. oof. Don’t forget to humble yourselves, brothers and sisters. Humility is the greatest thing you can strive to attain, fighting the flesh is hard but through Him, it is still possible.

Christ and the Cross

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross

so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.

By his wounds you are healed.

1 Peter 2:24

But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he has 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.”

Galatians 3:13

The only thing that could kill Jesus was a tree. Nothing he went through or anything else people did or could do would kill him. Nailing him to a tree was the only way.

In a very real sense, if you have placed your trust in Christ, you, too, have been called from a tree.

-page 167, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth
Paradox of the Fig Tree

Jesus mentioned only one family of trees and that was the fig tree.

Why did Jesus mention only fig trees? Why was he recorded as having cursed a fig tree and no others (Matthew 21:19)? Why did he use a fig tree to illustrate his three-year ministry to the Jewish people (Luke 13:6-9) as well as to illustrate the coming of the end times (Mark 13:28-31)?

I can think of two reason. First, Jesus came to act as Jacob’s ladder – to be a bridge between heaven and earth, between God and humanity. Adam and Eve hid themselves using fig leaves; this, the fig became a symbol of the separation between God and man. Jesus came to deal with this symbol and the sin it signifies.

Second, Jesus is not fully man; he is also fully God. The Bible repeatedly uses hybrids to illustrate the disparate elements of Christ. Think of a bright green bush that is on fire but is not consumed. Picture a wolf and a lamb lying down together. Think about God simultaneously being both the Alpha (first) and the Omega (last).

-pages 167-168, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth
Humans are odd hybrids

It is almost as if we are made in the image of God but often resemble a monster at the same time. And that is just what the Bible says we are – kind yet cruel, thoughtful yet unthinking, strong yet weak. To reject the symbolism of the Bible is to reject God’s offer of reconciliation.

-page 169, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth

When the blood of Jesus – the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world – is spread on the dead tree we call the cross, it, too, becomes a door. But Jesus the carpenter has made a new kind of door unlike the doorways at the first Passover. It is a narrow door, to be sure. But the Lamb’s blood in it opens the entryway, and heaven is right behind it.

-pages 169-170, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth
Why Did Jesus Have to Die on a Tree?

Death is seen in the separation from God.

God has another quality in addition to justice: mercy.

-page 171, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth

The equation of justice and mercy become balanced with the death of a sinless man… When I trust what Jesus taught, the equation becomes balanced.

-page 172, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth

Children can trust what they can’t understand.

-page 172, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth
Trees, Like Jesus, Give Rather Than Take

Read what Jesus gave to all of humanity. He never took, just gave and gave and gave over and over.

In many ways trees are like Jesus. They give, and they keep giving. They give life and beauty. They give shade and rest. They make and clean the air. They hold back erosion. They offer shelter, food, and protection.

-page 175, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth

Mary turned from the empty tomb and saw a gardener who was actually Jesus. He is the Gardener (John 20:14-16). He is the new Adam (Romans 5:12-18).

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

John 12:32

Through the Messiah’s death we are offered life. Through his sacrifice our sin is forgiven. None of this works without a tree.

-page 176, Chapter 12, Matthew Sleeth
Christ, the Tree of Life

Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.

Revelation 22:14
Roots and Branches of Faith

But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree – some of the people of Israel – have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root.

“Well,” you may say, “those branches were broken off to make room for me.” Yes, but remember – those branches were broken off because they didn’t believe in Christ, and you are there because you do believe. So don’t think highly of yourself, but fear what could happen. For if God did not spare the original branches, he won’t spare you either.

Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is severe toward those who disobeyed, but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you also will be cut off. And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong.

Romans 11:17-24
The Fruit of Fruit Trees

Note that fruit trees are the first identifiable tree in the Bible, and figs precede field crops in Scripture (Genesis 3:7, 18). The starting point of domestic agriculture is not what and grains but figs and olives.

-page 180, Chapter 13, Matthew Sleeth

Fruits of the spirit – those who produce will inherit the kingdom of God.

Christ did not die on the cross to make sins inconsequential -or worse, elevate them to the level of sacrament. He died to free us from our bondage and addiction to sin, including our earthly addictions to wealth, power, and fame. The fruit of our lives should be rooted in the spirit and not the flesh.

-page 181, Chapter 13, Matthew Sleeth

But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way.

1 Corinthians 11:31

Produce section comparison…

Perhaps Christians should be squeezing and shaking ourselves to see what kind of fruit we are producing.

-page 181, Chapter 13, Matthew Sleeth
Toolbox Love

If the only tool you have in the box is love, then the whole world starts to look like it needs to be remodeled, using heaven as the blueprint.

-page 184, Chapter 13, Matthew Sleeth

And you must love the Lord your God, with all your heart; all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Mark 12:30-31
Stewarding Trees Helps Us Love God

Scripture’s property law is laid out clearly in Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (NIV).

-page 187, Chapter 13, Matthew Sleeth

“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.”

Leviticus 25:23

God has allowed us to be tenants for three score and ten years. But the earth is on loan. We are tasked with passing it on to the next tenants – our children and children’s children – in as good condition as or better condition than we found it.

-page 187, Chapter 13, Matthew Sleeth

Stewarding trees then in turn helps us love our neighbors!

In a Nutshell

The Bible doesn’t tell us to be like a house or a chariot or a lion. It tells us to be like a fruitful tree. Grow, make the world better, and bear fruit.

-page 191, Chapter 13, Matthew Sleeth
Bringing Heaven to Earth

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Romans 1:20

Do you trust the giver of trees?

Thank you for reading all the way to the end! This was the last post of the Reforesting Faith posts. It may not be the last time you hear a reference to trees, Jesus or Matthew Sleeth though. Let me know what you learn, what you thought or just anything!

Peace and love.

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