Read with your families - Psalm 1; John 15:1-11; Revelation 22:1-5
Dendrology is the study of trees. By paying attention to the dendrology of the Bible, we can learn a lot about ourselves. Some people are fruitful, like the man of Psalm 1. Others are like thorns (2 Sam. 23:6). Sometimes, the difference is not so clear. For example, Jesus cursed a leafy fig tree that looked fruitful, but had no fruit (Mk. 11:12-25). Here, he was really pronouncing judgment on the temple, which was supposed to be a house of prayer, but had become a den of thieves.
Another example of a “tree” bearing false fruit is Absalom. Absalom was one of the sons of King David. Outwardly, he had the characteristics of an ideal prince. He was handsome and charismatic, drawing praise from all of Israel. It seems that Absalom was well known for his crown of hair. 2 Samuel 14:26 says that he would cut his hair once a year and weigh it. In the Bible, hair is an image of glory. Based on appearances, then, Absalom was a glorious man.
Yet, Absalom’s glory was a false glory, for the glory that he sought was his own. Although his name means “father of peace,” Absalom was anything but that. Like Cain, he murdered his brother. 2 Samuel 15:6 says that Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” Instead of bringing peace to David’s kingdom, Absalom rebelled and conspired to tear the throne away from his father.
Absalom’s glory-seeking led to his own demise. 2 Samuel 18 tells how Absalom’s armies were defeated by David’s men. As Absalom rode away from the battle, his head was caught in a tree, possibly because of his long hair. So, he was left hanging “between heaven and earth” (2 Sam 18:9). There, David’s men found him. Although David had commanded that Absalom be spared, David’s commander, Joab, did not listen. Instead, Joab killed Absalom as he hung from the tree.
Here is a striking image. Absalom hangs on a tree, almost like fruit. He may have had the looks of a glorious tree, a tree of life, but he really was a tree bearing fruit for death. Paul reminds us that the fruit—the wages—of sin is death. We were once slaves to sin. “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things which you are now ashamed?” asks Paul. “For the end of those things is death” (Rom. 6:21).
Humans are like trees. Some are fruitful for God’s kingdom; some are withered; some seem lush, yet really have no fruit or bear deadly fruit instead. How can you tell what kind of tree you are? The answer is by looking at the fruit you bear. Jesus says that a diseased tree bears bad fruit, but a healthy tree bears good fruit (Matt. 7:17). What fruit does your life bear? What food do you give to others? Are you jealous, full of anger and lust, seeking after your own glory? Do you spread fear, or gossip, or bitterness? Do you sow division in your family or in your church? What kind of tree are you?
The problem is that we cannot bear fruit for life, anymore than a fallen branch can bear leaves or fruit on its own. Absalom’s death reminds us of the Fall, which also occurred at the foot of a tree. Adam was given a garden, a kingdom, a world filled with God’s good blessings. But instead of learning obedience to God, Adam seized forbidden fruit. He rebelled and sought to rule according to his own terms. This same, basic pattern of sin is repeated in us every time we are angry at our children, or disobey our parents, or lie against our neighbor, or bow to an idol. Every time we sin, we show that we are just like our father Adam, bearing thorns and thistles instead of fruit. We are like Absalom, seizing a kingdom for ourselves, seeking after our own glory.
Generations after Absalom’s death, another son of David died in a similar way. This son was also hung from a tree and cursed with many curses (Acts 5:30). But unlike Absalom, he was the true Prince of Peace, for by his sacrifice, he has brought peace between God and man. I am speaking, of course, about Jesus. On the cross, Jesus bore the curse of the Fall on our behalf. Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 5:13). On the cross, Jesus experienced exile and separation from God in our place. Jesus, the faithful Son, died on a tree for faithless Absaloms like you and me.
Jesus’s death, however, is a fruitful death. By raising Jesus from the dead, God has turned the tree of cursing for Jesus into a tree of life for us. In John 12:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus died and rose again. But Jesus’s resurrection is not for him alone; it is for all sons and daughters who die with him. This is what we celebrate on Easter.
Thus, if we are to bear the fruit of eternal life, we must be grafted into the One who is the tree of life. Jesus is the Righteous Man of Psalm 1, planted by rivers of water, yielding his fruit every season. He is the true vine and we are the branches. Jesus says, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Those who are in Christ no longer bear fruit for death; instead, we yield the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Jesus died and rose again so that we can share in his life, and in sharing his life, we become fruitful even as he is fruitful.
At the end of the Bible, John sees a vision of the glorified Church—the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb (Rev. 22). It is a garden city; it is Eden transformed, surpassed, glorified. And in this city, a river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with twelve kinds of fruit, yielding fruit every month. Here is a vision of God dwelling in the midst of his people, watering them with his Holy Spirit, making them fruitful (see John 7:38-39). This Easter, let us look to Jesus. Let us celebrate and abide in the one who takes fruitless, withered trees and makes them fruitful again.