I know the way to the Tree of Life. Once there was an immaculate Garden, planted by the Creator and kept by the creature. In this place there was no fear between man and beast. There was no sadness, no pain, and no shame. The Creator had provided exceedingly well for his creatures. Every green thing was given to man and the lesser creatures to eat. They had all they could ever need or want in this perfect Garden.
Amid the myriad of plants that produced fruit good to eat, there stood two unique trees. Each of these trees was special in its own way. The fruit of one had the property of granting a certain kind of knowledge. The other could bestow eternal life.
What should perhaps intrigue us is that a command was given by the Creator regarding only one of these special trees. He said to the man, "You shall surely eat of every tree of the Garden, 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." But what about the other tree? Implicit in God's command not to eat of the one tree was a direct command to joyfully partake of the other, for he had said, "You shall surely eat of every tree of the Garden."
What was set before Adam and his bride was a choice between life and good, death and evil.
But man was not stupid or ignorant before he made his choice. The fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil did not hold for the man the promise of knowing the will of God, because God had already made his will known to man. The fruit would not provide the man with the knowledge of how to work the ground or care for the animals, because God had already given him those abilities. The fruit would not give him a greater knowledge of his Creator, because before he took it and ate, he walked daily with his God. In short, without the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man lived by every Word that came from the mouth of God.
What the man chose, then, by taking the Forbidden Fruit, was to gain understanding apart from the Word of his Creator. The Serpent questioned the truthfulness and authority of what God spoke, and he encouraged the woman to seek knowledge on her own terms. Man and wife then made the choice to cease eating from the Tree that would cause them to live forever under the authority of their God, and instead turned to the Tree whose fruit promised separation from the Creator's life and authority. The rest, as they say, is history.
Our first parents were removed from their Paradise and forced to work the hard ground. A terribly fearsome creature with a flaming sword was placed at the gate of their former home to guard the way back to the Tree of Life. They had made their choice to live according to their own will rather than the will of God, and so the Tree that that the Creator had once commanded them to eat of was now beyond their grasp. Life would end.
Over a thousand years passed. A flood came upon the earth because of man's evil. Only eight were left. The Garden was buried beneath the water and sediment. No one any longer remembered where it had been. The Tree that could grant Life was lost.
Another millennium passed over the world. Then one day, an eighty year old shepherd caught sight of a bush that burned but was not consumed. It was an echo - a promise. The Tree was still alive. The Creator once again began to walk with man and expected him once again to live only by his Word. The choice again was laid before his people of life and death, good and evil.
From one family on earth, God had formed a new people that were to be His special treasure and carry His Word. These descendants of the first man had inherited his nature, though, and were ultimately just as incapable of living by God's Word. This new people eventually began to choose death, just as their forefather had done. And since death is what they chose, God gave them over to death. They were slaughtered by their enemies, carried into captivity, and dispossessed of their inheritance.
Generations passed. Whispers began to be heard of a Shoot from the stump of Jesse. A Righteous Branch would spring up from David. The Tree would once again grow from the wasted earth. Strangely enough, the Bible uses this language of 'shoots' and 'stumps' to refer to a person. It tells us that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, and He promised the fruit of eternal life to all who would believe in Him.
There was a surprise twist to the story, however. When the Tree of Life once again appeared in the world of men, it looked like nothing other than a Tree of Death. Nonliving boards tied or nailed together in a twisted mockery of the Living Tree that they resembled held impaled the dying body of the Righteous Branch. The blood of the Creator-made-flesh ran down the rough-hewn trunk of this Tree. The fruit that could grant eternal life was now flesh and blood, and those who wanted to live forever had to feast on this macabre food and drink.
What had happened to the Tree? Why this bloody spectacle? The Fountain of Eternal Life was filled with the slime of our wickedness. The Sinless One became sin for us. The Blessed One became a curse for us, and all of our evil was placed upon him who knew no evil that he might suffer the wrath that was due us because of our sinful choice. For we have all followed in the footsteps of our first parents and have chosen to pursue our own wisdom apart from God's Word. The death we see in the Tree of Life is our death, the consequence of our choice.
When we then eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood (this is figurative, of course), we show that the penalty of our sin was placed upon him. When we eat the Bread of Life and drink the Living Water, we partake of the reward that is His by rights. The fruit of the Tree of Life still has the effect of causing those who eat of it to live forever, but its appearance forces us to come to repentance for our sins. The natural man does not want to eat from this Tree. It is disgusting in his eyes. The beauty of Christ on the cross is spiritually discerned. We see our death there, but we see that our death was placed on the shoulders of another. To desire the fruit of this Tree is to see our sin for what it really is. We must hate our evil and turn from our wickedness and cling only to this One who has set us free from the power of sin and the wrath of God.
I know the way to the Tree of Life. It leads me to renounce the wisdom of man that my ancestors sought to obtain through the fruit of the other Tree. It leads me back to every Word that comes from the mouth of God as the source of all of my knowledge. It leads me to see my wickedness as God sees it and to hate it as He hates it. It leads me to Jesus Christ as the only One who can deliver me from God's wrath, which I so richly deserve. It leads me to my knees in love, adoration, and worship of the one who took my shame, my curse, my death. It leads me to offer my life as a living sacrifice, taking up my own cross and dying to the desires of my flesh in order to bring glory to the one who has given me eternal life.
We have the directions to Life. May we never forget how to get there, and may we never neglect to point others along the Way.