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The Tree of Death which leads to the Tree of Life


Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”              -Luke 24:46-47

When you look at Genesis 1-3, you see that when earth was first created, God made Adam and Eve and placed them in a perfect Garden, the Garden of Eden.

Trees were everywhere that bore fruit that was pleasant to the eyes and good for food! There were two special trees…

There was a tree of life, which partaking of guaranteed ongoing physical life.

They were only told of one thing they could not do – they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they did, sin and death would become realities on earth. Just one thing prohibited!

In the cool of each day, God Himself would visit the Garden of Eden and walk and talk with Adam and Eve. It was Paradise, a Garden of Delights!

Then Eve and Adam gave into Satan’s lies and twisting of God’s Word and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, believing it would be in their best interest to disobey what God had said – that’s NEVER true!  

When they ate the fruit of that tree, they were filled with things they had not felt before, things like shame and blame. Physical death was now guaranteed to come one day for them, but spiritual death happened instantly.

God Himself acted to atone for their sin with the first animal sacrifice, and gave the first prophecy that one day the Seed of the woman, the Messiah, would bruise the head of Satan, but receive a bruise on His heel doing it.

Now that they had a sin nature, God had to cut off access to the Paradise of the Garden, lest they eat from the tree of life and live forever in a sinful state, like the hideous men in Pirates of the Caribbean who could not die.

So Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, and a Cherubim angel was placed at the entrance to Paradise, with a flaming sword that turned every way, guarding the way to the Tree of Life.

Paradise was locked away and inaccessible to those living on earth.

Read Luke 23:32-43          

The Tree of Death which leads to the Tree of Life                Let’s Pray!

Jesus’ execution begins                                                                                       V. 32-33

We read that Jesus was led away with 2 criminals to be executed. And when they came to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him and the other two criminals, probably in a semi-circle where they could see each other.

Crucifixion was incredibly painful - We get our word excruciating from it.

The place was called Calvary. That’s the Latin; The Hebrew Aramaic is Golgotha; The Greek is Kranion, from which we get our word cranium - It means Skull.

Some say the hill itself kind of looked like a skull; Others said it got that name because of skulls falling off unburied skeletons.

What a gruesome name, an apt descriptor of what happened to those whose bodies were left on the crosses to decay. The birds picked away at the flesh until only skull and bones was left.

The cross beam Simon carried and the longer part that others had carried were fastened together.

Then they laid Jesus down on the implement of torture. His arms were stretched along the crossbeam, and at the center of His open palms the point of a huge nail was placed, and driven through His palms into the wood.

The same thing happened through his heels on the long beam, creating lasting scars. This was after all the torture he had already experienced at scourging.

In Isaiah 49:16 the Lord had said, “I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands!” And in Isaiah 53:5 said the Messiah would be “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.”

There was the slightest of pegs between his legs to support His buttocks a little. But as crucifixion wore on he would have to raise himself to be able to breathe, struggling against the nails.

Those on the cross stayed there until they died of hunger or exhaustion, which sometimes took days. Not seconds like execution in an electric chair. Not minutes like execution by lethal injection. Death took many hours, sometimes days.

Crucifixion involved public humiliation - nowhere to go, nowhere to hide – there you were, almost naked, raised up for all going by on the very busy road to see. You were being made an example of for all to see and not want to join.

Jesus’ cross was fittingly in the center of two others being crucified

“The very place of the cross is in the middle, as conspicuous to all.”                                                                          -Ambrose of Milan (AD 333-397)

That is fitting because everyone in this room today, everyone watching online, everyone who has ever lived is either on one side of the cross or the other

But we all started on the side of the cross saying “crucify Him”

Jesus appeals to a higher authority to forgive us for killing Him           V. 34a

Then Jesus said, “Father Forgive them, they do not know what they do.”

Think of it - We yelled “Crucify Him” and sent Him to the cross. He yelled, “Father, forgive them.” Not Father CONSUME them, but forgive them.

Isaiah 53:12 had prophesied that the Messiah would make intercession for the transgressors.

Christ’s prayer was answered in two ways –

God did not treat them or us as the murderers we are, but opened the way of salvation to us. And for those who respond in faith to Jesus, the answer is greater – eternal life!

Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.    -Hebrews 7:25

A couple of people turned to Christ while Jesus was on the cross! 3,000 were saved 50 days later on the day of Pentecost. 3,000 an hour are saved around the world today!

Which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  -I Corinthians 2:8

The word for forgive is the same one used whenever forgiveness is spoken of in the New Testament. This word for forgive carries with it the idea of pardon, remission of a penalty, release, being set free, liberty.

In Luke 4:18 Jesus spoke of how He as the Messiah brought liberty (aphesis) to the captives – same word! In Luke 4:39, when Jesus rebuked the fever, and it left (aphiemi) her, it released her. In Luke 5:20, where Jesus assured the forgiven man, “Man, your sin has left (aphiemi) you.”

To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.         -Acts 10:43

But never forget the cost – the precious blood of Jesus shed for us.

Without shedding of blood there is no remission.             -Hebrews 9:22

Jesus is willing to forgive, if you are willing to change your mind, humble yourself before God, agree with God about your sin problem, admit your need of Jesus.

If you confess your sin to Him, He will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.           I John 1:9

Different reactions while Jesus was being crucified                      V. 34b-38

In the second part of verse 34 we read that the soldiers were gambling over Jesus clothes.

These guys had an awful job as Rome’s execution squad. They were hardened men and Jesus was just another guy they had to execute.

Why not get something out of it by reusing the criminals clothes.

In verse 35 we read that the people were looking on. Many women, John the disciple, Simon the Cyrenian.

And passersby on the busy road into town. All pondering what this all meant, or choosing not to think of it at all as they rushed their inquisitive children by.

We also read that the religious rulers “turned up their noses” at Jesus and said, “Her saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the elect of God.”


Oh, He could have! He could have come down anytime He wanted to. But He had already decided not to save Himself so He could save us!

In verse 36 we see that the soldiers stopped gambling long enough to offer Jesus sour wine as a type of anesthetic for the pain, but mocked Him as they did it.

Matthew and Mark let us know that both criminals originally joined in mocking Jesus.   

The crowds were venting their own sinful life’s bitterness on the One who claimed to be the Messiah. Those committed to Jesus probably just wept to the side.

This is hardly a great climate to win a soul to Jesus, but Jesus did it anyway!

Jesus promises eternal life to those who turn to Him                               V. 39-43

The last verses in our passage for today bring us back to Jesus and the two criminals. They had become part of a fellowship no one would want to join.

He was numbered with the transgressors       -Isa. 53:12

Both thieves initially mocked Jesus (Matt 27:44; Mark 15:32), but one had a change of heart. Look at verse 39.

The one thief parrots what he heard the crowd of rulers and soldiers say, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself AND US!”

Like a lot of people today, this guy was given over to the spirit of the age and peer pressure. When he was around his evildoer friends, he did evil deeds.

Now he hears religious people who hated him and he probably had hated them mocking Jesus, and he just joins in with them, to be part of the crowd.

All of his life was trying to be accepted with the crowd he was among. In absolute ignorance he was mocking Jesus to receive the approval of men.

The other thief at first was mocking, but then realized that something was different about Jesus. Look at verses 40-41.

He looked over at the other thief and said, “Don’t you even fear God, seeing you are also hanging on a cross! And we deserve to be on these crosses because of our evil deeds, but not this Man who has done nothing wrong!!”

And then awesome verse 42 – He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come in your Kingdom!”

That thief finally saw himself in light of who Jesus is and what Jesus was doing for them on the cross.

You can be forgiven of all sin you confess as sin and repent of – but you can’t be forgiven of sins you have not repented of, starting with unbelief and pride.

This second thief recognized himself for the sinner he was, and he recognized Jesus for the Savior He is, and he asked Jesus to remember him.

And he said, “Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom.”

‘Remember’ was a prayer petition found on many gravestones that one would be remembered at the resurrection.

Remember the statement Lazarus’ sister Mary made to Jesus in John 11:24?

“I know that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection of the last day.” -John 11:24

This thief was asking Jesus publicly to count him as a believer in Jesus!

Jesus had offered forgiveness from the cross in the center, and he embraced it!

“This is a remarkable thing. The thief confesses the one whom the disciple denied!”                -Maximus of Turin (Died AD 423)

Think about these two thieves for a moment!

What made the difference between one going to Heaven and the other going to Hell?

They had been arrested for the same crime; They were tried for the same crime; They were dying for the same crime!

There wasn’t any difference between them – both were guilty evildoers – yet one went to Paradise and the other to Hell.

What was the difference?! Faith in Jesus Christ.

Danny, you don’t know what I have done; I don’t need to know what you have done; I know what Jesus did for you on the cross; I know how Jesus responds to those who turn to Him for salvation!

Danny, I am not a good person; Neither was the thief on the cross! Be like him – humbly acknowledge your need and ask Jesus to save you!

Danny, I haven’ don’t enough good things! Neither had the thief on the cross – yet belief saved him!

He didn’t have time left to do any good deeds for the Lord before he died; He didn’t have time left to get baptized or join a church; But He asked Jesus to save his guilty soul, and Jesus did!

 What ‘Today’ means for those who turn to Christ for salvation           V. 43

Jesus said to Him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today, you will be with Me in Paradise!

Assuredly is the word AMEN!

As Jesus hung on the Tree of Death, he said to this thief, “AMEN – I say to you, today, You will be with Me in Paradise!”

Paradise was used of the Garden of Eden in the LXX, the one with the Tree of Life. It is used of the third Heaven where God is in 2 Cor. 12:4. The Tree of Life is accessible again to believers on the New Earth in Revelation 21-22.

The Bible begins with access to Paradise and the Tree of Life being cut off because of our sin. The Bible ends with access to the Tree of Life being restored. In the gospels, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the Tree of Death restores access to Paradise!

Whether or not Jesus intended to mean that very day, or the reserved place in Paradise believers are guaranteed is something believers have always discussed. 

“Some indeed read this way, ‘Truly I tell you today,’ and put a comma; then they add: ‘You will be with Me in Paradise.’                                                                          -Hesychius of Jerusalem (AD 412-450)

But I see it as more of Jesus making a theological statement

The moment the thief believed in Jesus he gained things he could never ever lose! And so did you and I when we believed in Jesus!

Which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.  -Eph. 1:20            Seated = kathizo.

And raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.                   -Eph. 2:6       Seated with, together = syg-kathizo.

Faith in Christ guarantees eternal life with Christ!

The Tree of Death leads back to the Tree of Life. What was lost in the garden has been regained at the Cross!

“The hands that Adam stretched out toward the tree of knowledge, breaking the commandment, were unworthy of stretching out toward the tree of life to receive the gifts of the God they had despised. Our Lord took these hands and attached them to the cross, so that they might kill their killer and arrive at His marvelous life. ‘You will be with me in the garden of delights (Paradise).’”                                                                                         -Ephrem the Syrian (born AD 306)

“That flaming, flashing sword was keeping Paradise safe. No one could open the gates that Christ had closed. The thief was the first to enter with Christ. His great faith received the greatest of rewards.    -Jerome (AD 347-420)

Angels escorted Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom; Jesus Himself escorted the thief there! WOW! The Cross of Christ becomes the Key to Paradise!

The average American is being crucified between two thieves – their regrets of yesterday and their fears for what tomorrow will bring

But the Christian doesn’t worry about those two days – for them the only two days that matter are the day they were saved, because of who they became in Christ, and today, the difference they can make for the Lord TODAY!

Let’s Pray!