Tree of Eternal Life
From Beginning to Unending
Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.... and take also of the tree of life ... and liveforever.
— Genesis 3: 22
This is a perfect place to start — the beginning. Can you imagine a symphony that plays only the ending of a song? Or a baseball team playing only the last inning?
Has a child ever run up to you, breathlessly telling you only what happened at the end of the story? You stop him or her and say, "Start at the beginning."
Genesis, which means "origin," is the account of how God began His relationship with mankind. And the Author of the beginning does all things perfectly. So God tells us that "in the beginning" He created the heavens and the earth, then made the first man and woman in His image. He showered Adam and Eve with His love and wanted them to return that love willingly.
We know the story. He made creation so beautiful and intended for mankind to enjoy His paradise. He made a home for Adam and Eve where they could walk with God in the cool of the evening. The setting was really more than we can fathom. If we could gather lush tropics, majestic mountains, fruited plains, pristine lakes, mighty oceans, and the splendor of the shorelines all in one place, it could not begin to compare to the grand design of the garden of Eden — it was a little Heaven on earth.
In the midst of this mansion of God's handiwork, shaded by every tree imaginable, stood the tree of life. "God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:9). Let's not miss the significance of this verse that describes two trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Here we are introduced to two "paths," which we will follow throughout Scripture.
Genesis is the book of firsts: creation, marriage, family, and fellowship with God. This is also where man heard God's very first command and where we see that God granted man the freedom of choice — to live eternally or die spiritually: "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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" (vv. 16–17).
This was a breathtaking message from God, who abundantly gives life. He told the first couple, "Look around. Behold the abundance from My hand. Enjoy all of this beauty. Drink in the wealth that is from above, and eat from the tree of life, which will produce eternal blessings. Enjoy the freedom that is yours forever."
One would think that Adam and Eve would stand in awe of that promise. But we see quickly that their minds, instead, gravitated to God's one very small warning: do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil lest you die. Here they were introduced to the idea of death and the interlude to eternity.
I can remember hearing the story of a father who took his little girl to the park. She was free to slide, swing, and skip through the playground. But her father warned her not to go near a certain bush along the fence. When he turned his back, that's right where she headed, and as a result she found herself covered in poison ivy.
Why is it that we humans just have to defy warnings when they are designed for our own good? The answer comes to us from "the beginning." It is man's sin.
Scripture tells us that the devil said to the woman, "God doesn't mean what He says. You're not going to die. If you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will be as great as God." So, being tempted, Eve ate the first fruit of the forbidden tree and brought some to Adam (see Genesis 3:4–6). This is when the fall of man occurred and rebellion against God took root in the human heart. The entire human race has been suffering and dying since that bitter day long ago.
The original sin was, and still is, the human choice to be one's own god. This is the sin of pride — to control one's own life, to be in charge, not to be accountable to anyone, not even to the One who breathed into the body the very breath of life.
Adam's and Eve's eyes were opened to the difference between good and evil, and the fruit they ate left a very bitter aftertaste, so much so that when God called out to them, they hid.
Sin must be fully judged. Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, keeping them from the source of eternal life — the tree of life — which represents Christ. They were going to face death. God's Word is His oath, so He drove them out of the garden and placed an angel there to guard the way to the tree of life.
But God did not turn His back on His creation; He had a plan to save the human race. Even from the beginning, He determined to send His Son to this earth. And on the cross, made from the timbers of a tree, Jesus died for man's sin and reconciled him to God in Heaven. The cross became the symbol of sacrifice; the tree became the symbol of life eternal.
Do you think about death and what follows? Most of us think about where we want to live, if we have health insurance, and what our retirement plan is, but seldom do we plan for death — the gateway to eternity.
When I was preaching this message in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1978, just months after Elvis Presley died, a number of major articles were published about death. Newsweek even featured a cover story that May titled "Living with Dying." Think about it: from the moment we are born, we begin to die.
The belief in the immortality of the soul is intuitive and instinctive. When Charlemagne's tomb was opened, all that was left was a jumble of moldy bones; his crown and scepter lay buried in the dust of his tomb. Powerless!
The Taj Mahal holds the remains of a Mogul emperor and his favorite wife. The building itself is glorious, but as for the occupants? No more glory!
Greek philosophers chased after immortality with an intellectual fervor. No nonbeliever in the true God yearned more fervently for a pleasant eternity than Plato, who constantly felt the "longing after immortality."1 It has also been observed that Aristotle reflected that the "species of mankind possesses immortality."2 Shakespeare wrote, "I have immortal longings in me."3 They died and were buried. No more wisdom!
Ancient Egyptians built pyramids for their dead and filled them with provisions for life beyond the grave. An African chief was buried with his wife to give him companionship in the future life. The Norsemen buried horses and armor with their warriors so that they might fight in the afterlife. All these careful provisions still lay moldering — or they've been excavated by archeologists, unused.
Muslims from an earlier day heckled Christian missionaries, saying, "We have the tomb of our great prophet Mohammed here in Medina, while you Christians have nothing."4 Oh, but we have an empty tomb, for the eternal, immortal One who possesses all power, all glory, and all wisdom is the Life-giver Himself and is not dead — He lives!
Man's heart is consumed with the mystery and terror of continued life after death. It is a universal phenomenon. Yet few make the conscious choice of where they will spend eternity, even though it is their choice to make.
When Jesus died on the cross, He conquered death through His resurrection. There is no reason to fear eternity if you place your trust and faith wholly in the eternal One. The Bible tells us that before the beginning of time, God planned to show the grace of Jesus Christ through the Gospel that shows us the way to life and immortality. The risen Christ became "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). He holds the keys to death.
Throughout Scripture the Lord spoke through the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles and answered the ancient question from the book of Job: "If a man dies, shall he live again?" (14:14).
Both the Old and New Testaments teach life after death. Abraham looked for a city "whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Peter declared, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). But it's all there from the start, in Genesis. Throughout this book of beginnings we see life and death, warnings and judgments, God's grace and promises — and God's love for His creation. People down through the centuries have been on the search for love while scoffing at the greatest love story ever demonstrated — that God sent His Son to rescue the human race.
Noah warned of the judgment coming in the form of a flood. But the people refused to listen, and death came to all except Noah and his family. Even in this, God set His rainbow in the cloud as an everlasting promise that He would never again destroy mankind by water.
God made a promise to Abraham that He would be the father of many nations, and the Bible reveals that Abraham believed God and served Him and worshiped Him as the everlasting God. The story was the same for a procession of Abraham's descendants: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph — our ancestors in faith. They struggled at times, but they chose to believe and follow God. And God kept His promises to them.
The God of beginnings and eternal life — the never-endings — still gives us the freedom to choose whether we will live for Him or die in our sins. This is the message I have preached for more than seventy years, inviting people to be reconciled to the Savior, for if we reject Him here, He will reject us on the Day of Judgment.
The invitation that God initiated in the book of beginnings is the same invitation that Christ extends to you at the end of the Scripture: Obey Me. Eat of the tree of life, and be saved forever.
To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
Deliverance or Defiance
In your might, you [deliver] them to your sacred home. The place, O Lord, reserved for your own dwelling ... that your hands have established....forever and ever.
— Exodus 15:13, 17–18 NLT
The bush was ablaze with fire, but it did not burn up. And when the Lord saw the shepherd approaching, He spoke his name from the burning bush:
"Here I am," he replied (Exodus 3:4).
The Lord told Moses that He had heard the cries of distress and suffering from the Israelites and had come down to "deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them ... to a land flowing with milk and honey" (v. 8). The Lord tapped Moses on the shoulder and commissioned him to be His spokesman.
As the bush blazed, Moses told the Lord that the people would want to know who sent him. They will ask, "What is His name?" (v. 13).
God replied, "I AM WHO I AM.... Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'" (v. 14).
This is a remarkable conversation and one that reveals the awesome and definitive name of God from the Old Testament, "I AM." Jesus used this very name when He was being questioned by the contentious Pharisees.
They asked Jesus, "Where is your Father?"
Jesus answered, "Since you don't know who I am, you don't know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father" (John 8:19 NLT).
Their minds were already perplexed because Jesus had said He had come to set the captives free and that He was going away. But many did not believe they needed to be delivered from sin. They simply did not believe He was the promised Messiah, so He told them that they did not belong to God: "You belong to this world; I do not .... Unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins" (vv. 23–24 NLT).
The Pharisees said, "Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?" (v. 53 nlt).
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!" (v. 58 NLT).
The Pharisees understood this language from the Book of the Law, and it made them bristle to think that anyone dared to call Himself by the name of God.
But the great I AM stood before them in truth. Jesus was willing to deliver the Jewish leaders from their self-righteousness and unbelief, but they rejected Him as their Deliverer, just as the children of Israel had rejected almighty God as their King, who had shown His strength and power.
Remember the story of the great exodus, when the Israelites fled Egypt. "And Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today'" (Exodus 14:13). As the Lord held back the water, the great host of people crossed the sea safely on dry ground, saving them from death.
This miracle pointed to what would take place thousands of years later, when salvation's plan was fulfilled in the Land of Promise. When Jesus stretched out His arms on the bloodstained cross, making Himself the Bridge between humanity and God, He secured eternal salvation for all who would come to Him.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer ...
My shield and the horn of my salvation. (Psalm 18:2)
Jesus is not only the eternal Deliverer, but He is the eternal Sustainer. He provides for those who receive Him. Just as God had provided daily manna from Heaven to the children of Israel on their wilderness journey, so Jesus provides for the soul-hunger of people today. He was born in Bethlehem, which literally means "house of bread," and proclaimed, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever" (John 6:51).
Jesus is also the everlasting Guide. The Lord led the Israelites through the Sinai Desert during the day with a pillar of cloud, and He provided light at night with a pillar of fire. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (8:12).
Scientists really don't know what light is, but we all know its many effects. We know that there could be no plant, animal, or human life upon the earth without light.
God put the sun in precise balance and distance from the earth. If it were a few miles closer, we would be burned up. If it were a farther distance from the earth, we would freeze. What the sun is to the earth, Jesus Christ is to the spiritual world. What effect the sun has on nature is the effect Jesus has on our cold, lifeless, and sinful natures. Christ wants to turn His light on in our hearts. He wants us to be reflectors of His divine Light.
I have traveled to every continent in the world and have been a witness to the difference God's light makes in the people who possess Him. We are His light in a dark world.
The world today is steeped in immorality and threatened by terrorism. But we also have extraordinary doors open to us for the Gospel. "See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have ... kept My word, and have not denied My name" (Revelation 3:8).
Every nation has points of entry, just as the children of Israel did when they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. God had delivered them out of slavery and persecution into a better country. As Jesus walked the Bible lands, He proclaimed, "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved" (John 10:9).
Every house and building has at least one entrance. The kingdom of God also has an entrance — only one — and it is Jesus Christ, the Door. The human heart has an entrance as well, but many have it bolted, defiantly refusing to let Christ come in. The Bible says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him" (Revelation 3:20).
Think of how many doors Jesus probably built while He worked in Joseph's carpenter shop. He also formed our hearts and wants to dwell there, but many have locked theirs up and thrown away the key.
In 1971, when the crew of Apollo 15 returned to the earth's atmosphere after a journey of nearly three hundred hours and almost half a million miles, they had to reenter the earth's atmosphere through a corridor less than forty miles wide. That is a narrow passage. This illustrates what Jesus said: "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction.... Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13–14).