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Volume 14, Issue 4: Stauron

Blood, Sweat, and Trees

Gary Hagen

Some things are so familiar and obvious that we fail to ever sit up and take notice until we're smacked between the eyes with the proverbial two by four.

Have you ever paused to ponder the poetic continuity of salvation's story? From the opening stanzas of human history, we see a perpetual pairing. So when Christ spilled His blood on Calvary's cursed tree, He fulfilled the symbolism set out by millennia of sacrifices offered to Yahweh Elohiym.
The earliest we see of this in Scripture is found in burnt offerings from the firstborn of Abel's flock. These were acceptable to God, unlike the tofu burger barbeques served up by brother Cain. Yet the writer of Hebrews (12:24; 11:4) tells us that the blood of the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15) was far superior to even Abel's obedience. Abel's lamb was slain on cordwood; the Lamb of God on a tree (Col. 1:20; I Pet. 2:24). The Shepherd died for the lost sheep (I Pet. 2:25).
After the flood, Noah came out of the ark and built an altar for burnt sacrifice to Yahweh, taking of every clean animal and every clean bird. God accepted this sacrifice also and blessed Noah and his sons (Gen. 8:20_21; 9:1).
Another mention of burnt offerings occurs after the flood, and before the patriarchal period (Job 12:5 cf. 42:16, Gen. 47:28). As Noah before him, Job was the most righteous man of his day (1:8). He regularly offered up sacrifices for sin to the Lord on behalf of his adult children.
Finally, we see these twins once again in another pre-Mosaic sacrifice—Isaac. Abraham chopped the wood, and the "only son" (Gen. 22:16) carried his own altar on his back, up Mount Moriah, as Jesus would later bear His to Golgotha. Yahweh provided a substitute ram for Abraham to make the burnt offering complete. Blood and wood once more.
Of course, every Sunday-school student is familiar with the first Passover narrative. Moses instructs Israel to offer a spotless lamb and roast it, painting its blood on the wood of the vertical and horizontal pieces of their doorframes. Pilate would later declare Christ to be spotless, and yet order his blood painted on the post and lintels of Calvary—thus making Christ our door to the Father. Blood and wood for the last time.
From Abel's altar to the Carpenter's cross, blood of the sacrifice was always associated with a tree of death. But why a tree? I don't know. But the explanation of Scripture seems to go well beyond a simple need for combustible fuel. Peter, Paul, Luke, and Joshua each give us the additional clues.
Luke, the most prolific New Testament author, carefully records the words of Peter's sermons in Acts. When Peter and the Apostles were thrown into prison by the high priest and the Sadducees for preaching the gospel, an angel released them by night. The next day they were brought once more before the Sanhedrin. This time Peter reminds them that they had murdered Jesus "by hanging Him on a tree"(Acts 5:30). Peter uses the same words again in preaching to Cornelius, a devout Roman centurion. Peter proclaimed that the Jews had killed Jesus "by hanging on a tree" (Acts 10:39). We see these words used yet again in the Book of Acts near the beginning the first missionary journey by Paul and Barnabas. On arriving at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul preached the gospel in their synagogue that next Sabbath. He recounted the Old Testament promises of God and pointed to their fulfillment in Christ who was crucified according to the Scriptures and was afterward taken "down from the tree and laid in a tomb" (Acts 13:29).
Both Peter and Paul write of the cross as a tree. In Galatians 3:13, Paul points to the tree at Calvary as conveying an inherent curse, "for it is written `cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'" We obtain eternity's pleasures because Christ became a curse for us to redeem us from the curse of the law. Peter shows that we died to sins by being in Christ as He bore our sins "on the tree" (I Pet. 2:24). Both Peter and Paul clearly understood their Old Testament and its fulfillment in Christ.
In Deuteronomy 21:22_23 God allowed for an executed criminal to be hung on a tree as a public display of the consequences of sin and treachery. Joshua hung the defeated king of Ai on a tree (Josh. 8:29) and later did the same to five more Amorite kings: lord Zedek, Hoham, Piram, Japhia, and Debir (Josh.10: 26_27).
Execution on a tree was not something new to the Romans of the first century. They may have refined its torture value, but they did not invent its pairing with death. Thousands of years earlier, Joseph had foretold of the chief baker's demise, "Within three days, Pharaoh will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh from you" (Gen.40:19).
Christ was the fulfillment of the fourfold sacrificial system found in the first several chapters of Leviticus (Luke 24:44). He became our sin offering (Heb 13:11-14; Isa. 53:5). Inasmuch as an Israelite was joined to the death of his substitutionary burnt offering, so we are united with Christ in His death, (Rom 6:5 cf. Lev. 1:4). Christ became our grain offering—the bread of heaven on which we feast (John 6:57_58 cf. Lev. 6:14_17). Finally, His blood was our peace offering (Lev. 7:15 cf. Col. 1:20). The altar flame was to be perpetual (Lev. 6:12_13). And each of these sacrifices was always presented over the "wood offering" as it was written in the law (Neh.10:34).
This victim of a kangaroo court will one day return to sit as Judge of all the earth. And "then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord" (Psalm 96

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