25 Mar 2016
Slides Galatians 3:13,14 The Tree Pastor Jason Lim 25 March 2016 Jesus hanged on a tree, a symbol of suffering and shame. But it was for me and you that He went to the tree. May this message of the cross lead you to the blessings He intends for
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Passion Week Series 2016 – The Tree
Today is Good Friday. It's a day about the Lord Jesus Christ and how he went to the cross in order to die for our sins. And our hope, our prayer this morning is simply that you will know more about Jesus and what He has done for you on the cross, that perhaps you may repent of your sins, believe in Him and find this eternal life that He promises to all those who would receive Him.
Last year, I was with my family in Hokkaido for a family holiday. This is a picture of it, not just my family, my parents, my sister, we went along and Hokkaido is a beautiful place with lots of beautiful sights, and also lots of beautiful food. We had a great feast in Hokkaido. Well, we had a full itinerary. My wife is an expert planner, she planned everything, and one of the items on the itinerary was to visit and to see some trees. And I was expecting to see some giant redwood majestic trees, wonderful big trees that would take my breath away.
So when we drove to one of the sites to see trees, I was a little bit underwhelmed to see this tree standing there. I mean, I thought to myself, “What's so special about this tree? I could see this tree in Singapore, maybe.” My father was a bit wiser, he didn't even get out of the car. He says, “What is this tree about?” He'd rather sleep in the car. Then my wife had to explain to us, “Oh, this tree is very significant because it was a tree that appeared in a commercial, in an advertisement in 1973.” I said to her, “I was not even born then, it has no relevance to me.” But this is the Ken and Mary tree. If you go to Biei in Hokkaido, maybe you'll visit this tree, like what we have done.
Now, it didn't mean a lot to me because I didn't know the significance of this tree to the Japanese. But today, I want to share with you about another tree, a tree that maybe, to many of you, does not make a lot of sense or significance but trust me, according to what God says, what happened on this tree is absolutely vital for you to grasp. This is the tree on which Jesus died. Now Jesus didn't die on a living tree. He died on the cross, but the cross is made of timber from a tree. So the Bible tells us Jesus hanged on a tree.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”–
(Galatians 3:13 ESV)
Today is Good Friday. It's a day when Jesus went to the cross. It's a day when he hung on a tree. What's so significant about this tree then? Let me share with you three things about this tree.
1. Vicious Death
First of all, a vicious death took place on the tree. It was a very painful, difficult death. Crucifixion is a Roman way of execution. It's a very painful way to die. You know the Chinese, we… in the ancient Chinese, that is, the way to kill a criminal is very straightforward. You either chop off his head or you have, what we call, 五马分尸 (“wǔ mǎ fēn shī”). I'm sure you have heard of that somewhat.
Chopping off someone's head looks terrible; the head rolls but it's a very quick way to die. You don't think about how… I mean the head chopped off means dead lah, that's it. 五马分尸 essentially operates the same way, functions the same way. You are tied to five horses through your four limbs and your neck. With a crack of the whip, the horses run in five different directions and you're decapitated, you're dismembered, you die instantly.
But the Roman way of dying or killing is very torturous. It doesn't want you to die quickly, it wants you to die slowly. It wants to inflict maximum torture for the criminal. So what happens in crucifixion? First of all, a man has to be prepared for crucifixion itself. So he is greatly weakened by a process called scourging. It's whipping but not the whipping you see in the… what people execute today in Singapore, but it's a whip via this kind of a whip with many strands of leather, the ends of which are attached with small bits of bones and balls. And the criminal is typically tied to a stick, stripped naked, so that there is maximum pain.
A Roman soldier stands behind the criminal. He takes this, flails this whip of many strands, he flails it onto the body of the criminal and you can imagine all these leather strands with balls and bones will wrap around, it will pulverise the flesh, it will hook onto protruding parts and then the Roman soldier will complete this first stroke by giving it a strong pull and a jerk thereby ripping off ribbons of skin and flesh, around the eye, nose, whatever is caught on. So, with every jerk, there is infliction of great pain and exposure of the flesh and skin and thereby opening alleys or drains of blood that flows. A man is weakened, is losing lots of blood, simply via scourging.
So the Bible tells us Jesus went through 39 strokes of this scourge, greatly weakened now. He's now brought before the people. They put on a crown of thorns, not a crown of gold but a crown of thorns, places it on the head, and they use a staff and drive that crown of thorns thick into His skull. And then thereafter, they put on a cloak for Him, a purple robe and laugh at Him and say, “Here you are, the king of the Jews.” Now, the cloak must have fused with the body with the drying of the blood, but it doesn't matter. They strip Him bare again, re-opening those wounds because now they're going to crucify Him.
The tree, the cross is laid on the ground and Jesus, the supposed criminal, is now placed on top of the cross. They then take huge nails, 1cm in diameter and place it at the wrist, both wrists of the Lord Jesus Christ. Right in the middle of the wrist is a thick nerve. I studied medicine, I know there are nerves, I have dissected it before. And with every hammer of the nail, it drives it through the wrists, creates great pain as the nerve is cut thereby with sudden jerks, there may be dislocations that occur across his entire upper limb. And not only on the hands but also on the feet, and thereby this man is now nailed to the cross.
The next thing is for this man to be hoisted up and he now suspends in mid-air, supported by these three weight-bearing points – the wrists and on the feet. Now this is where torture continues. You might think hanging on the cross, rather simple. No, it is not because when you are suspended this way, your arms are fixed, your ribs are fixed, you can't breathe properly.
Now, this is aggravated when you are in shock, you're losing blood, you don't have enough blood to carry the oxygenation that is needed for the body. So he desperately will need to breathe in and in order to breathe in, he will have to pull himself up on these weight-bearing points, with all dislocated joints. But he has no choice, he's got to breathe. And after he catches that breath that is so precious, the pain overcomes him, he lets go and then the next few moments, he will be out of breath again and he repeats the cycle.
So there is a repeated vicious cycle of pain and dislocations and breathlessness and shock. That's how Jesus would be from 9 a.m. that morning on Friday to 3 p.m. in the afternoon. It was a slow, painful, torturous way to punish a criminal. That's why the Bible tells us in Psalm 22. It's amazing, what Jesus went through is already predicted and prophesied hundreds of years before that. The writer of the book of Psalms says:
Psalm 22:14 KJV
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
[Pastor: It doesn't make sense when someone writes this last time. But you see, he's writing about the sufferings of Jesus. God has already planned this. It is exactly what God had wanted, that His Son will be dehydrated in shock, poured out like water. His bones will be out of joint. He's suffering a heart attack, a warmth and a heat that he feels in the heart.]
Psalm 22:16 KJV
… dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: [added by pastor: everyone around Jesus at that point of time is crying for His blood. “Crucify Him,” they say] they pierced my hands and my feet.
Psalm 22:17 KJV
I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
[Pastor: Horrific picture.]
Psalm 129:3 KJV
The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.
These are the describable physical agonies of Jesus Christ on the cross. But what really pains Jesus, may I say, although these are tremendous sufferings none of us would imagine we would like to go through, much as these pains are great, the real suffering of Jesus is not in these physical sufferings alone but in a spiritual separation from God, because we are told:
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mathew 27:45-46 ESV)
At the ninth hour, at 3 p.m., Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So often, in Easter and Good Friday, we talk about the cross, the pain, the whip, the nails but let me say this, in an indescribable and in a far greater magnitude, the suffering of Jesus is that He bears the weight of sin, the horror of sin and is now cut off, separated from His Father.
Every time Jesus prayed in the Bible, He always says “Father” except here; He can't call Him “Father”, He says “my God”. In fact, He says, “God, why have you forsaken me?” The pain of Jesus in His soul is the separation and the forsaking of God, the Father, because the Bible tells us He was cursed on that tree (Gal 3:13).
The blessed Son of God is cursed on that tree. He's punished, He's judged on that tree. Jesus died a vicious death, extremely painful death in all accounts – physical, emotional, spiritual. It's a significant tree because something amazing, shocking happened to the Son of God. The question is why, and secondly, therefore, I share with you what took place on the cross is also a vicarious death.
2. Vicarious Death
Now the word “vicarious” is a big word, but really, it's a very simple concept. The word “vicarious” means "on behalf of”, that's all, “in the place of”. Why did Jesus die such a vicious death? Because He was dying a vicarious death, He was dying on our behalf, He was dying in our place.
The Bible says He became a curse for us. He was not there because He was a sinner, He was not there because He had done anything wrong. He was not there because He was guilty; we learned last week that Jesus was absolutely innocent but that was not the reason why He was crucified, not His own guilt but our guilt. He became a curse for you and for me. That's why the author begins by saying Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13).
We are a people cursed by God's laws. The Ten Commandments, God's laws, reveal to us how sinful we are, how we often bear hatred in our hearts against man, how we have lustful thoughts in our minds, how we are covetous and greedy, how we do not honour the God who made us. The law stands before us and says you are guilty and the fact is nobody is guiltless before the holy laws.
When we compare ourselves with one another, we may think we are good. I'm not like that criminal, I'm not like that rascal, I'm not like that guy who is in jail, I'm not like that drug trafficker, I'm not like Saddam Hussein. Yeah, when you compare yourself with one another, you may have a sense of superiority but when you stand before God and his holy laws, everyone is guilty as charged, there is none righteous.
The law, which is a good thing that reveals God's standards, principles, His personality, now becomes a scary thing for sinful men because we all know we fall short. The law, which is good, has now brought a curse for us because we realise how short we are when we compare ourselves with God's standards. So there is a curse of the law.
You say, “Why does God give us the law?” The law is given precisely to show you how guilty you are. We say in this church, the law is like an x-ray machine. Today, you don't feel well and you think you may have a problem. Very good, go take an x-ray and when you take an x-ray, you see wah, I've a big cancer here. What you do next? Do you go to the x-ray machine and say, “X-ray, x-ray machine, please save me”? Nobody does that because we all know an x-ray is to reveal, not remove problems.
The law is like an x-ray machine that reveals your sins, but Jesus is the great physician who can heal you of your sins and that's what Jesus did. He became a curse for us. He died for us in order to save, to redeem us from the curse of the law. And when He does this, when He removes the curse of the law, He pays for your sin, He pays for all your errors, He pays for all your imperfections. When He does that, the Bible tells us:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
(Galatians 3:13-14 ESV)
In Christ Jesus, the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles – this is the amazing message of the Bible. We who deserve curses and judgment, and the fires of hell, are spared from all that. Jesus took all that for us on the cross and instead of judgment and punishment, God graciously gives you blessings.
Now this blessing, I want to say, is not about money and health in this life, although God can- but that's not primarily what the Bible is all about. This blessing is about knowing God, being reconciled to your creator, having this eternal life that is to come with Him. This is the blessing and it's not limited to the Jews. We think Christianity is for the Jews. No, Christianity is for all. The Gentiles refer to those who are not Jews. So this is the great exchange – Christ became sin for us, He took the curse of the law for us that we might receive the blessings from Him. So you see…
… he was pierced for our transgressions [pastor: not his]; he was crushed for our iniquities [pastor: our sins]; upon him [pastor: not us] was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:5 ESV)
Christianity is, let me say this, probably the most unfair faith, that the righteous, innocent, holy Son of God would take our sins, but grace is unfair, love of God is so unfair but it is so wonderful to those who received this grace. So…
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree [pastor: So why the tree, why such a vicious death? Because it was a vicarious death, He bore our sins in His body on the tree], that now we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
(1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV)
You are made for someone, you are. You might think, “I'm a boss, I'm the king, I'm a very powerful man in my business, in my company.” Let me tell you, you are made for someone, you are not your own. You're made for God. God made you and He's reaching out to you by giving His Son to die for your sins.
You know, after the first service, I was chatting with people and someone mentioned… the person mentioned she can't understand this, she can't understand how the Father would give His Son to go through all this. She can't and I said, “Neither can I.” can't understand how God could give His Son to die. I said, “I can't, I think, even give my son for my friend.” I really question whether I would be able to do it but Jesus was given for God's enemies. This is amazing. This sacrifice of Jesus Christ is absolutely stunning.
So Ray Stedman says, “Ultimately, God removes evil from the universe by absorbing it into Himself.” We can't, we can't pay for our sins. Jesus did. He paid it all.
3. Victorious Death
So this Good Friday, we learn that this tree is a significant tree because a vicious death took place, a vicarious death – that's the reason. But the great news we gather this morning is because this is a successful death, it's a victorious death because…
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
(John 19:30 ESV)
On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Now, He didn't say, “I am finished”. He said it is finished, meaning “the work that I'm called to do is done”. The debt of sin is fully paid. That's why we gather. That's why Sunday we are going to gather again to celebrate the victory cry of Jesus.
He rose from the dead on Sunday. It is done so that you and I today would know there's no more for us to do to get ourselves saved. It is all done, the debt is paid and he says to you, “If you repent of your sins and believe in me, if you come unto me, you'll have everlasting life because it is finished.” So on the cross, Jesus defeated the devil. He defeated sin, death, hell.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
(Hebrews 2:14 ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, since we are all flesh and blood, Jesus came to save us, who are flesh and blood. How does He do it? He himself likewise partook of the same things – He took on flesh and blood, He became man. Why did He become man? So that He might die. Why does He die? So that through death, He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.
It is finished. This is the glory of the tree that Jesus hanged on. It's a short message today, but I want to end with this final thought. You know, we went to Biei, we saw this tree – nothing special, but actually in the Bible, trees are rather special. In the Garden of Eden, many years ago, when God created the world, there are many trees there. I guarantee you that there are durian trees, mango trees, orange trees, many trees.
But there are two trees that stand out in the Garden of Eden – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Now, don't ask me whether they look like this. I'm pretty sure they don't look like this, just a picture, alright? We do not know what it looks like, we don't even know what the fruit looks like, but we know there are two trees in the garden because in Genesis 2, it says:
And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
(Genesis 2:9 ESV)
And God gave a very clear command. You can eat every fruit and from every tree in this garden, anything you want, all the durian you want. It's like imagine you go to durian plantation- you can eat everything you want except this one tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because:
… “You may 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.”
(Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)
In the day that you shall eat of it, you shall surely die. Adam and Eve had a choice. Satan came along as a serpent, tempted Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve had a choice, “Should I take of it, or not?”
Of course, the story, as everyone would know, they succumbed to the temptation, took of the fruit and in that day, they surely died because from that day onwards, man is chased out of the garden of Eden, cursed by God. This earth is cursed, some of the animals are cursed, we are cursed and we die, and because we are separated from God, now we are separated from the tree of life.
So in the Bible, you don't read of the tree of life anymore. We do not know what the tree of life can give. Life, obviously, but we are cut off from the blessings available in the tree of life until the tree of life appears again in the book of Revelation. So Genesis is in the beginning, Revelation is the very last book of the Bible and in the last chapter of this book, the tree of life comes back.
… the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [pastor: that is, Jesus] through the middle of the street of the city [pastor: it's a garden city, you could see]; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. [Pastor: If the leaves were for the healing, imagine the fruit.]
(Revelation 22:1-2 ESV)
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.
(Revelation 22:14 ESV)
So humanity is cut off from God and from the tree of life but right at the end, when God re-creates the heavens and the earth, where there's a paradise restored, there is now an access and right to the tree of life.
You say, “Who can come to the tree of life? Who can be receiving the blessing of God once again?” Well, those who wash their robes. You say, “How to wash my robes? Dynamo or what?” No, you wash the robes with the blood of the Lamb, with what Jesus sacrificed Himself for on the cross. My friends, you see, the way back to God is through Christ on the cross. So, in Revelation:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'
(Revelation 2:7 ESV)
Paradise was given, paradise was lost because of our sin, and paradise will be restored, and those who can come back to paradise are those who trust in the Lamb and who are washed in his blood. I pray you'll hear the Word of God today because on the cross, this is the tree that brings us back to the tree of life. This is the tree on which Jesus said:
… “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
(John 14:6 ESV)
A simple message, but at the end of the day, this is the conclusion:
… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead [pastor: it is a victorious death], you will be saved [pastor: saved from your sin, saved from judgment to come, saved to God and to eternal life with Him forevermore].
(Romans 10:9 ESV)
May this Good Friday be truly good for you because you know the good news of our good God. Let's bow our heads as we come to God in prayer.
It's a short, simple message today. It's a message about God's love. The question I was asked just now is still the question I am thinking: “How can a God of such holiness, power, wisdom, be giving His Son to die such a vicious death?” The only answer, really, is love but it's a kind of love we can't fathom. It's a shocking, astounding love. But I said to the dear lady, “If you know this is God's love, it will be tragic if you reject His love, isn't it?”
It will be tragic for you to know that God gave His Son to die such a cruel death on the cross and you said, “I will have nothing to do with Jesus. I hear all this that you are speaking but I will not believe in Him.” That would be the greatest tragedy. So my dear friends, this morning, would you come to Jesus Christ and respond to His love by believing in Him? I want to say to you, “Stop trying to earn your way to heaven. You can't.” Our works are like filthy pieces of cloth in God's sight, they don't make it; but Jesus said, “It is finished.”
So I'd like to give you this time to consider what it all means for you. We are appreciative you came to church, you came to hear the message, we're appreciative you spent this morning with us, but what does this message of the cross mean to you? Would your heart be humbled to realise that you are a sinner in need of help, desperately in need of help, desperately in need of forgiveness, desperately in need of saving and then look to Jesus to cleanse you, to wash you, to save you? No one is going to look around, no one is going to turn around and ask you, but this is between you and God, right in your seat. Will you respond to the love of Christ?
It was a vicious death because that's what sin deserves, absolute judgment upon sin. But it was a vicarious death – He died for you, and a victory cry we can hear, “It is finished!” Will you rest upon this finished work of Jesus? Will you confess in your mouth and believe in your heart: Jesus is the Lord and God hath raised Him from the dead? What an amazing offer of salvation available to you today. Come and trust in Him, would you?
And I pray for all my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ. You know Jesus, you have believed in Him. May this Good Friday message of the cross rekindle your passion and your fire for Jesus, that you will love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength because that's how He loved you to death on the cross.
Father, we thank You this morning. I know the words spoken today are in the weakness of man but I pray that Your Spirit will continue to open minds and hearts that they may respond to Your love. We're so glad this Good Friday morning we are not preaching a message of death and defeat but we declare a message of love and of absolute victory. Jesus paid it all. He died for our sins.
Oh God, work in each and every individual life that Good Friday in year 2016 will be a beautiful day by which they turn from sin and believe in Your Son. Lord, lead them into this life everlasting that they may know You, that their souls may return to the Overseer and Shepherd of their souls, and may You be glorified as they trust You today. Be with Gospel Light, be with members here in this church, that we would not be lukewarm or cold but You will set our hearts on fire, with passion for You. Thank You for Your Son. We pray all this now in Jesus' Name. Amen.
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