Text: 1 Peter 2:21-25 MS-76 Sullivan 12/21/08
Title: The Tree to Remember at Christmas
I lived in Oregon and Washington as I was growing up. And there are millions of acres of pine trees, and lots of sizes, some with short needles, some with long ones, some tall and lean, others short and stubby. It was a Christmas tree paradise. And it’s not long after Thanksgiving that you see balls and bells, glittering tinsel, tiny blinking lights of every color, and figurines surrounding them with bails of hay, and stars and angels on the top of these trees, with a clutter of packages of every shape and size underneath.
This morning I want to talk about the real Christmas tree – the tree we should not forget about during Christmas. In fact, we might even call it The First Christmas Tree.
It wasn’t standing in a palace or in a country cottage, or at the mall of the capital city – but on a hilltop just outside the huge walled ancient city of Jerusalem. It wasn’t a green pine tree, nor did it have short or long needles. In fact it was kind of bare, with two branches stretching out both sides of its trunk. It didn’t have balls and bells and tinsel, but it was decorated with a quickly made decoration on the top of it – a piece of dull, brown, ragged parchment with a few words scrawled on it in three languages with a saying written on it: “Jesus, King of the Jews.” There were no colorful, blinking lights; in fact, there was no light at all for several hours because even the sun refused to shine on it that day.
But the tree did display a Gift that was fastened to it by three giant nails. The Gift was a body of a naked man. And He was decorated on His hands, face, brow and feet with ribbons of crimson blood. And the Gift was signed “To: Mankind From: God with love”.
It was an expensive Gift; one that only God could afford to give – the Gift was His only begotten Son.
A beloved friend of this Son of God recorded the Christmas message that was behind this Gift – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
A Cousin called this Son of God “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”
A close friend, who had denied His friendship three times looked back at this first Christmas Tree and Christmas Gift and wrote “Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree, so that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness, by Whose stripes we are healed.”
There has never been a Christmas tree since that has displayed such a priceless Gift as did this tree on the hilltop of Golgotha. And no Giver has paid such a high price as the One who spared not even His only Son, but freely gave Him up for us all. (Ro. 8:32)
And why such a Gift? So that we could have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, and a life that is dead to sin and alive to righteousness.
At this time of the year, in homes all across America, you will find a Christmas tree with a least a few presents underneath. Some would say that believers should have nothing to do with Christmas trees because of their pagan origin. But the Christmas tree has become a part of our season and celebration, and its pagan meaning lost long ago, just like the days of our week have lost their original pagan meaning.
But from the real tree of Christmas, we can find three things on display for us to stand wonder of His love.
1. Our Pattern vss. 21-23
These verses tell us that on the Tree Jesus died on, He left us a pattern, an example, a template, for how to endure affliction.. He suffered on the tree of Calvary as an Example for us who might find ourselves suffering for righteousness sake, for doing what is right and true. He’s our example of to react to our difficult situations, just as we saw how Mary and Joseph reacted to their difficult circumstances.
When we actively obey God and our faith is active obedience, it may lead to suffering and difficulties and trials. But the love Jesus showed on the Tree that day was our pattern. He was doing it all from the motive of love – love for those who hated and despised Him. We’re seeing a lot of those who are willing to suffer and commit suicide for their god, but their motive isn’t love, it’s hate.
Jesus loved, even while suffering on the cross, being reviled but not reviling in return. When they hurled insults at Him, He didn’t return insults or threats, but said “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Christ love from the Cross is His pattern for us.
No writer in the Bible ever promised that following Christ would exempt us from suffering, even unjust suffering, suffering we don’t deserve. Now, I know there are those in the Church world who are always trying to pick a fight, and then when you try to correct their thinking they get angry and claim they are suffering for Jesus – trying to argue the Word of God with you but no love in their hearts for God or His children.
We’re not suppose to go around seeking suffering and deserving it, but if the active obedience of faith leads to it, then we are to follow Jesus’ example at the Crucifixion.
Peter says Jesus is our Example of suffering for righteousness sake. That word “example” means “a written copy given by our Master Teacher to be carefully followed by His students. It literally means to “write under”. It was a writing put under a piece of paper and then traced.
Peter also says we are to “follow in His steps” – or follow His footprints.
Here’s what we are to follow in Jesus. He committed no sin. No deceit was found in His mouth. When reviled, He reviled not again, or when insulted He didn’t insult back. When He suffered He did not threaten but committed Himself to God who judges righteously.
That’s the Pattern we are to follow – the pattern of personal innocence, patient submission, and uncomplaining humility – and so should we. He was above reproach in act and word – and so should we. He didn’t threaten revenge but left it to God – and so should we.
We’re living in a selfish world. It’s why we’re in the financial straits that we’re in in this Country. More than ever we need to be reminded by the real Christmas Tree of Christ’s Example from that Tree – His example of life, attitude and speaking.
Have you heard the story of the incident that took place in a Church youth group in Akron, Ohio, at Christmas time?
What took place started a tradition in that church, a pattern for us to follow.
The high school boy’s name was Howard, but he was best known as “Runkie”. He had no family, so he made the church his family. He was one of those guys that never seemed to quite fit in. He attended youth meetings regularly, but made no close friends. He always stood outside any circle of young people – laughing when they laughed, but never moving into their circles. He had some childish ways and was socially inept.
But one Christmas season, the minister talked to their youth group. As he was speaking, making his point, he would gesture toward a large nativity scene that had been set up at the front of the room, and he would ask while making his gesture “Who will come and kneel in front of Jesus today?”
Runkie didn’t understand that the speaker wasn’t expecting an answer, so the next time the preacher posed the question Runkie went forward innocently and knelt in front of the Nativity scene. The preacher stopped. The silence caused Runkie to look to the preacher and said to him, “I’m sure some of these kids will want to kneel too.”
And pretty quickly everyone came forward to kneel with Runkie. Afterwards, several of the kids came to Runkie and said “you really did a good thing! That took courage. Thanks!”
Runkie became accepted in the youth group from then on, with a huge smile on his face.
But this joy was short-lived, because he became seriously ill and died a few months later. But that tradition, that example, has been observed ever since in that Church at Christmas time. It’s called “kneeling with Runkie.”
Runkie was a pattern, and example, of humility and love for Christ, just ask Christ is our Example.
Let the Christmas Tree remind us of His Pattern this year.
2. In the Christmas Tree we not only see our Pattern, but we need to see our Provider. Vs. 24
Peter tells us that this real Christmas tree should remind us of Christ’s provision for us. He bore our sins in His body on the Tree, so that we could be dead to sins and live righteous lives.
After Jesus had been whipped and His back ripped to shreds, He was forced to carry the crosspiece of this rough old tree out of the city, up the hill of Golgotha, on His welted and bleeding and raw back. All of this was done so that we could have a provision for taking our sins away and for the ability to live a righteous life. We deserved to suffer the consequences of our sins and all the punishment that goes with sin, but Jesus came into the world at Christmas, took upon Himself the punishment sin deserves so that we could be freed from sin. He’s giving us just the opposite of what we deserve and should expect. He’s the doctor suffering the cost, the One who is well taking on Himself our sickness so we can be healed – “by His stripes we are healed.”
Back in WWI the Prince of Wales was invited to inspect and visit a hospital on the outskirts of London. He was told there were 36 severely wounded men he should visit. He graciously accepted the invitation. Upon arrival the hospital staff took him to the main ward; he shook hands with some, spoke encouraging words to others, and sympathized with them all.
Then looking around, he said, “I thought there were 36, but I’ve only seen 30 men.” It was explained to him that six of the very worst cases were in a special ward, not usually visited.
The Prince said “I must see them.” So they took him to these bruised, maimed, and physically wrecked men. He visited with them, and thanked them for their sacrifice for the country. But then he said “There are only 5 men here, where is the other man?” they told him that the poor man was so mutilated that he was kept in a room alone and that it would be wiser not to see him.
But the Prince insisted, “I must see him.” So they took the Prince of Wales into a room where he saw an unforgettable sight. There lay what remained of a brave soldier. He was blind, deaf, legless, armless, and disfigured, almost beyond recognition as a man.
The Prince stood silent and touched beyond belief. He then stooped down, kissed the veteran’s scarred brow, and with a break in his voice explained to the group who surrounded “Wounded for Me, Wounded for Me.”
That’s what Jesus was born into to this world for – for the purpose of dying and redeeming the whole world, to make a difference in our lives. He has come to make a difference in our lives, to change the direction of our lives, not just add-on to our lives. Real Christianity, makes a difference.
As we look at the Bible’s Christmas Tree, we must say with the songwriter (#139):
Wounded for me, Wounded for me,
There on the Cross He was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.
Let your Christmas tree remind you of His provision.
3. In the Christmas tree we not only see our Pattern and our Provision but we see Our Preserver vs. 25
Jesus is not only our Pattern to follow, and our Provision for redemption and righteousness, but He is our Preserver. That is indicated by the titles given to Him here – Shepherd and Bishop or Overseer of our souls.
Like Isaiah the prophet Peter reminds us that our past included being like sheep who have gone astray from truth, from salvation, from holiness, from peace and joy. We were lost from the Father, unprotected from the enemy’s schemes, exposed to all kinds of perils, lacking guidance to green pastures, having no guardian to guide, having no goal to reach, straying farther and farther away.
But because Jesus came as Grace and Truth, we can return to find Christ as our Shepherd to lead and feed us, and as our Bishop or Overseer to care and comfort our souls.
There is no better Provider for this great need we have. He is the Greatest Gift that we can receive at Christmas – the Preserver of our souls, who can preserve us for all eternity.
Let me close with an illustration that is a bit lengthy, but really shows what the real Christmas is all about. Among the cards we’ve received over the years, some were those Guidepost Christmas cards with stories in them. This is one of those stories.
It was the first Saturday of the Advent season in Europe. The Queen’s royal woodsmen were searching the royal forest for the perfect Christmas tree. It would then be cut down and raised up in the Castle with shimmering candles and bright ornaments placed on it.
On Christmas Eve the royal family and villagers would surround the tree, singing and celebrating season.
Well, out in the forest all the trees were vying for this honor. Just a few days before the Queen’s search began for the royal Christmas Tree, it was a cold, clear night, with the moon glittering on the crusty snow.
A small rabbit limped into the evergreens, breathless and in panic. Beyond the hill could be heard the yelping of the village dogs in the thrill of the hunt.
The rabbit frantically searched for cover, but found nothing among the big, dark trunks of the big evergreens. Faster and faster the rabbit circled around, as the yelping grew louder as the dogs drew nearer.
The large evergreens frowned at this interruption of their peaceful evening. But then a small pine tree shuddered in the breeze. It was a promising young tree; one of the finest looking ones in the forest. Everything about it was perfect, from its dark seagreen needles to the delicate curl of it’s branches toward the sky, with the lower branches drooping, laden with snow.
Just before the dogs arrived, the rabbit found safety within the branches of that little pine tree. The dogs rushed at the tree and the rabbit nestled safely under the branches of that perfect little tree. After some time, the dogs left in frustration. But a few of the branches on that little evergreen were broken in the hunt.
Maybe a few irregularities would not bother the Queen; maybe it would still be chosen as the royal Christmas Tree.
But that night brought a powerful blizzard, lashing out on the forest. The villagers closed their shutters; the birds and animals huddled in their nests and dens.
But there was a small wren that was being blown about, desperately seeking sanctuary in the evergreens, but none of them was accommodating. Finally the wren fell exhausted into that little pine tree. The pine tree’s heart opened and so did its branches, and the wren slept warm and protected in its refuge.
But because the pine tree had opened up its branches during the storm, a gap was made in it’s side, causing it to loose it’s shapeliness.
Winter continued, bringing more stormy windy nights.
A small fawn that had wandered from its mother inched into the evergreens, seeking a windbreak. And again the little pine tree took pity and closed its branches tightly to form a wall, behind which the fawn could safely huddle.
When the wind stopped, the small pine tree had been permanently bent out of shape, leaning back from the windy nights, from having closed its branches to the wind for the fawn.
Now the little pine tree could never hope to be honored by the Queen. The little pine tree was discouraged because it was not good enough for the Queen’s use. Lost in despair, the little pine tree did not see the good Queen coming into the forest in her sleigh to choose the finest tree for Christmas.
As she was being shown the trees she saw the little pine tree. At first anger filled her as she saw this scrubby little tree in her royal forest, saying “a tree with such defects in the royal forest?” She was about to order it disposed of, when she noticed the tracks of small animals heading under it; and then she saw a feather in its branches where a bird had rested. So she studied the tree more closely, and as she saw the gaping hole in its side and the wind-bent trunk – understanding began to fill her heart.
“This one,” she said to her royal woodsmen. And to the astonishment of the whole forest, and the royal woodsmen, the little pine tree was carried to the castle.
All the village and royal family said on Christmas Eve that it was the finest Christmas tree yet. That’s because, as they looked at it’s gnarled, worn branches, many saw the protecting arms of the Lord and Savior of Christmas. The Queen saw the love of Christ expressed on earth in that little pine tree.
I trust that as we surround our Christmas trees with our families, that we will also surround that Christmas tree with the thoughts of the Tree we really need to remember at Christmas.
As I sing this song called “The Perfect Tree”, I’d like you to know that there is no greater gift to place under that tree than yourself. Would you give Him yourself so that He can give Himself back to you as your Pattern, Your Provider, and Your Preserver? Let Him become the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul. Place yourself under that tree as we receive communion, because hanging from its branches is the Gift for you and me – Jesus laid His life down on the Perfect Tree.