CRAIG, Colo. (BP)–Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth;” and it was so.
The words are printed plainly enough in my Bible. These words are the third command of God in creating the universe with his spoken word. They don’t stand out from any others spoken in the course of time’s first week. Yet, I read the words and they cause me to pause.
I pause because the very next verse of Scripture tells me that after God surveyed the grass and herbs and trees that sprung forth all over the earth, with satisfaction “God saw it was good.” With “God saw,” that I imagine God examining thick trunks, abrasive bark, jagged branches, and offering his approval seasoned with an odd mixture of joy and pain. It is here, in the white spaces between the letters of Scripture, that I envision God looking at the trees he created with a deliberate pause of sentiment and poignancy, he alone knowing the fullness of what he created when he created the trees.
But they’re just trees, you might think. Sure, you appreciate shade offered by generous green leaves. You enjoy succulent fruit of various kinds that falls from branches. But the tree wasn’t the crowning achievement of creation. The highlight of creation came a mere 72 hours later, when God stirred man from the dust of the earth. Why then would God linger as he affirmed his own leafy creation when humans were still on his creation agenda?
Over 2,000 years ago, a small-town farmer chose a few lengths of planked wood, possibly from a rarely used pile of scraps. Hammering them together with crude nails, he fashioned a manger to feed the animals grazing on his land. Little did he know that it would serve as the first bed for a special newborn, an infant of promise.
The baby was of royal lineage and of priestly heritage. He was conceived by a miracle and would change the course of history. He was the Deliverer, the Redeemer, the Spotless Lamb. He was nothing less than God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. Despite this, God himself ordained that this child would be born in obscurity, on a anonymous hill outside an unremarkable town, wrapped in plain swaddling, bedded in a weathered, worn and faded animal’s wooden manger.
When God created the trees on the third day, he knew those trees would beget the wood that would one day give his Son warm comfort and security, formed as a humble box that would serve as his cradle. Truly, God saw this and “saw that it was good.”
Barely more than three decades after that special night, we come to another special time. Again, we are on a hill. Again, we find wood being used for an immensely important purpose. Again, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is here.
Our minds prepare us for a scene of joy, for we remember that Jesus is now the man of promise, the man of deliverance, the man of redemption. He is the Messiah, the High Priest and the King of Kings. Yet what we observe absolutely assaults our senses. It defies logic. It baffles our understanding.
Here, we see Jesus, not in regal gowns, but stripped to a loincloth. He wears not a crown of gold, but one of thorns. He bears not sashes of proclamation, but gashes of gore. He is not exalted, but shamed, humiliated, mocked, scorned and ridiculed. We see not a king of victory, but a man of defeat.
And the wood? It’s there, too. But rather than being hammered together to make a throne for the lone Son of God, it is being roped together in cruciform for the death of the Son of Man. Large spikes are driven into the logs, but only after each one pierces the flesh of this man Jesus. The abrasive bark opens the whip-induced wounds on his back, and his blood runs freely down the channels on the log’s surface. This cross is lifted up, with Jesus nailed upon it, and planted into the ground. Onlookers raise their eyes to this man on this tree, and they weep. Slowly, painfully, but certainly, Jesus dies. God ordained for this to be so. And when he created the trees on the third day, he did so knowing they would one day beget the wood that would be used for the purpose of killing his Son, Jesus. Even so, and perhaps with a pause of poignancy, God saw this and “saw that it was good.”
Greater than God’s act of creation was God’s act of redemption. Jesus was born to die. He wasn’t born to give us an example or teach us great lessons. He was born to die. When he died, he died for you, and he died for me. And he died so that we could live. It is only by placing your full faith and trust in him that his death was sufficient for your eternal life, that you can experience life in the fullness that God intended when he created you.
Amidst the joys and the toys and the noise this Christmas season, take a moment and thank God for his Son. Look at the Christmas tree in your home and remember that “God saw that it was good.” Thank him that the story doesn’t end in a manger, or even on a cross. Thank him for loving you so much that that the story never has to end, and will not if you belong to him, because of the sacrifice of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
McAnally is associate pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Craig, Colo.