O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
A River and A Tree
A River and A Tree
Based on Rev. 22:1-6, 12-20
Preached on May 8, 2016
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Fellow baptized saints and citizens - of God’s heavenly Jerusalem, - in the book of Revelation we’ve been focusing on God’s city - during these weeks of Easter. We have heard its liturgy, marveled at the power of its throne, and pictured its endless day in the light of the Lamb.
Today there is one more vision, one more picture of the glory to be revealed on the Last Day. A River and a Tree.
In the book of Genesis, an unnamed river flows out of Eden and divides into four rivers that flow to the four corners of the earth. And in the center of Eden there are two trees – the Tree of Life and the forbidden Tree of Knowing Good and Evil. Well, you know how that story went. Adam and Eve chose the knowing tree over the tree of life. They bit into the notion that they could be like gods, and brought Sin, Death, and condemnation on all of humanity right down to us. This one act of rebellion got them barred from the Tree of Life and expelled from the paradise of the garden.
Friends, the story of the Bible is the story of the urbanization of history. What begins in a garden called Eden ends in a city called Jerusalem, the city God builds - that comes down from heaven. Like the garden of Eden, there is a river in this city, the river of the water of life, that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (that is, the Father and the Son). And who is it - that proceeds from the Father and the Son? That’s right, it is God the Holy Spirit - depicted here as a flowing river - coming out from the throne of Father and Son. The Spirit of God flows through His holy city.
We are reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, in which He promised her springs of living water would well up in her to eternal life. We are reminded of the stream of water and blood - that flowed from Jesus’ side at the moment of His death. We are reminded of our baptismal birth “from above” - by water and Spirit. The Holy Spirit flows through all the Church – this city God has made – welling up faith in every believer, uniting them to the blood of the Lamb. Here all the images of streams of water flowing - come together as one crystalline clear river - flowing through the center of God’s city.
And there in the center of the city, on either side of the Spirit’s banks, is the Tree of Life. No longer guarded by a flaming sword and an angel, now it is openly free to all. It’s been hidden for the entire history of the world, this tree that brings life - but now here at the end of the Scriptures - it makes its reappearance. There is no sword, no angel, nothing to guard it. It is open to the public, free for the picking, life offered openly to all. It produces fruit twelve months of the year. Twelve different kinds of life-giving fruit. One for each month. Isn’t that a nice touch? For those of us that really like our food? God’s tree of life is abounding in flavours. And not just its fruit, but also its leaves are a medicine that heals the people.
Take a look though. This image of the tree has gone from the two trees in the garden to the One tree of the cross. From two separate trees, one death, one life, to One blood stained tree of death and life. This One tree of the cross was death and curse for the Son of God, but life and forgiveness for the world. The fruit He ate, and the cup He drank was wrath and judgment, yet the fruit we eat from it is forgiveness and peace – even the body and blood of Jesus that hung ripe and good. Christ took the evil tree and the curse of its fruit into Himself, yet offers His body and blood as the fruit of life for you and me. On the tree He poured out His life for Sin and Death, yet from His wounded side flows, the water of baptism and the blood of the Cup – twice the life – for you and me.
We get from that death tree of the garden - to this life tree of God’s city - by way of Jesus’ resurrection, the open tomb, the Easter appearances; yet also His blessed ascension, His return to glory, His being hidden by a cloud, His session at the right hand of the Father. From there He pours out His Holy Spirit at Pentecost and renews all things by His watery Spirit-ed Word. The Spirit flows from the throne through the whole city with life tree on either side.
The curse is ended. Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. - - Cursed is Jesus in our place. In God’s city there is no Sin, no Death, no condemnation. There is only the Lamb and the Throne and the River – the Son, the Father, and the Spirit.
“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.” There is a reality here, the stark reality of our sinfulness. Our robes must be washed. There is no saint who has walked through this life whose robe is not soiled by Sin. Everything we do, even our most noble acts of charity and self-sacrifice, are still marred by Sin because they are done by sinful hands and spoken by unclean lips. The new man in Christ must work through the old man in Adam, and that means that Adam’s fingerprints are on everything we do. Our robes must be washed in the blood of the Lamb that alone cleanses from sin. There is no other detergent that can wash away our immoralities, our murders, our idolatries, and lies, and falsehoods.
Oh, but we try. Like criminals trying to cover their crime, we try to hide the bloody evidence under our pretenses of piety - and bury them in the shallow graves of own perceived goodness. But it doesn’t work. God flushes us out of hiding. “Adam, where are you?” “What have you done?” As sinners, we belong outside the gates with the dogs and sorcerers and the immoral and murderous and idolators. Were it not for the blood of the Lamb, that would be our fate. The gates of God’s city would shut to us.
But God has justified us in Jesus. He has declared us righteous by His Word. He has washed our filthy robes and made them spotlessly white in the blood of the Lamb. Outside the city go your sins, like sewage directed away from the city. That’s where every sinful thought, word, desire, and deed goes when it is washed away. It is flushed to the depths of hell, to an eternal incendiary fire. But you, washed by the blood, enter the city pure and holy and righteous, (loud) clothed with a righteousness not your own, cleansed by a blood shed for you, redeemed by Jesus. The city is open to you. You have a right to eat of the tree of life, just as you eat of it now here in the Holy Supper of the Lamb.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” That is the Church’s invitation to the world as she preaches the Word. “Come.” Like a middle eastern water boy hawking a cool drink on a hot street corner, the Church opens its doors and offers cool refreshment to all who thirst for righteousness. “Come, drink freely, without price.” It is free to you, costly to Christ who paid for it. Come and drink of that pure and living water that flows from the throne and the Lamb, be refreshed by the Spirit through Word and Baptism and Supper.
That’s the invitation the Church is supposed to be preaching. “Come.” Not “Stay away until you’ve cleaned up your act” or “Go away until you’ve become acceptably religious.” No - “Come.” Come, sinners, one and all, to the water that cleanses and refreshes. Come, you weary and burdened and broken - and Christ will give you rest. Come, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and you will be satisfied.
“Surely I am coming soon,” Jesus says. No need for a timer. Soon. It’s His last word to the church and the world. To the world it’s a threat, to the church a promise. You will see Jesus on the Last Day, with a new set of resurrected eyes. You will see the One who now reigns at the right hand of the Father, the Lamb who was slain but lives. You will see the One who sends His Spirit flowing through His Church to bring light and life to all and to welcome the world to the city of God where life is the order of the day. Surely I am coming soon.
There is a river and there is a tree that bring life. The Spirit and the Bride say to you, “Come.” In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr