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16 DECEMBER 1990

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

Scripture References:

Isaiah 40:1-8
Ezekiel 2:1-7
John 1:19-28
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Hebrews 4:12-13

Preparation Verse: (Hebrews 4:12-13)

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Why do Christmas trees dry up and die?

It's because someone has cut them off from their roots, and they no longer have any way of getting what they need to support life.

Last week we talked about the relationship of death to life in the Christmas message, and in the evening we talked about the reason God chose those shepherds to reveal the good news of the birth of Jesus.

This morning, let's continue that thought process, and compare ourselves and the rest of the human race with a Christmas tree while it was still planted and with the grass and flowers of the field growing up around it.

Let's begin by listening to what Isaiah speaks forth in 40:1-8:

1. "Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.

2. "Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord's hand
Double for all her sins."

Does this mean that there is a way to keep a Christmas tree from dying?

Does it mean that there may be a way to have new roots grow back so that the tree might live?

Does it mean that there is hope for us?

Let's go on and see:

3. A voice is calling,
"Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

4. "Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;

The picture that is being painted here is that of a desert that is being prepared to receive the Lord.

The land of Palestine was once a beautifully wooded and fertile area, and then all of the trees were cut down for all of the wrong reasons; and when the trees were gone, the land retained less and less of its moisture until it became a desert.

When Israel became a nation again in 1948, she began to replant trees, water them, and care for them; and over the years the desert has retreated and the trees have yielded their produce along with other crops and grass and flowers that grew in the same area.

That which was dead came alive physically. But are they again forgetting about the spiritual?

From a spiritual perspective, the prophet Isaiah reveals the same message to us:

5. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

6. A voice says "Call out."
Then he answered, "What shall I call out?"
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.

7. The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.

8. The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

When we who know the truth and do our best to live it, prepare the way for the Lord, His glory is revealed, and that which was dead will come alive.

But there are those who know the truth and yet deny it, and go along with the rest of the world with all of its human produces deceit, injustice, pain, suffering, and death. They are like Christmas trees that have been cut down, or as grass and flowers that have dried up.

For a while they are pretty, and some have even been put into water or have been given some nourishment so that they might look alive for a longer time. But they are dead and will soon dry up and be thrown away.

Without the protection of the trees, without the protection of those who know the truth of Jesus Christ, those who are like the grass and flowers will also dry up and fade; and the land will be a spiritual desert.

The apostle John writes about John the Baptist in 1:19-28. As we read this passage of Scripture together, see if you can discern the Christmas trees with roots from those that have already been cut down; and also take note of the grass and flowers:

19. And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"

20. And he confessed, and did not deny, and he confessed, "1 am not the Christ."

21. And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."

22. They said then to him, "Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?"

23. He said, "I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as Isaiah the prophet said."

24. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.

The Pharisees and those they sent to inquire of John were, for the most part, like Christmas trees that had already been cut off from the root, for they could no longer discern the things of God and, in particular, His grace.

John the Baptist stood firmly as a tree planted by the waters; and those who truly sought the Lord came to him with a repentant heart, as grass and flowers would benefit from the root and shade of the tree and the life-giving water that it helps to preserve.

Just because someone stands behind a pulpit or is a political leader of a nation does not mean that they have any root or life. And if the pastor has no life, and if the political leader has no life, those gathered around them will be as grass and flowers that are drying up.

But if the pastors and leaders have roots, what they say will bring life to those who are gathered; and as the seeds fall from the tree, other trees will spring up among the grass and flowers.

We are all born with roots, whether or not we are grass, flowers, or trees; but far too often we allow ourselves to be cut off from that which gives life, and we begin to dry up and die.

What we understand of God comes from the living waters of the Holy Spirit; and without our roots, we cannot receive enough of this water to sustain our lives.

Those sent by the Pharisees couldn't understand, and they didn't recognize that Scriptures had come alive in their presence; thus they asked John these questions:

25. And they asked him, and said to him, "Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"

26. John answered them saying, "I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know.

27. "It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."

28. These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John was trying to restore life and introduce them to their Messiah, so that they might have new roots and live forever.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, because of their pride of ownership of their office and of the Law, tried to make others as dead as they were, so that they could justify themselves.

The prophet Ezekiel saw all of the corruption of Israel, and that it had become all dried up and was almost completely dead; and his heart mourned for the lost ones who were led astray.

Listen to what the Lord says to Ezekiel in 2:1-7 and to all of us who mourn over the condition of our land and of our hypocritical leaders who might yet look alive, as do most of our Christmas trees now, but who will soon dry up since they are already dead:

1. Then he said to me, "Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!"

If we know the truth and mourn over the corruption and do nothing about it but get depressed, then we are no better than the grass and flowers that will soon dry up and die.

But if we are willing to do something about it, then stand on your feet and let the Lord use you.

2. And as He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me.

We don't have to do this on our own power. If we are only willing to do the right thing, then the Lord Himself will strengthen us and set us upon our feet so that we might do as He desires.

3. Then He said to me, "Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day.

4. "And I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children; and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.'

Listen and observe carefully, for this description is not only of Israel in Ezekiel's day, but is of our own nation today.

We may not have gone as far as Israel did, but we are not far behind.

Let’s listen further to what the Lord tells us to do and say:

5. "As for them, whether they listen or not – for they are a rebellious house – they will know that a prophet has been among them.

6. "And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house.

7. "But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious."

Now the question we must ask ourselves is, "Do we recognize ourselves in these descriptions?"

And the answer must be "Yes!" For we are either trees that have roots or trees that have been cut off from our roots; or we are like the grass and flowers that are subject to the conditions of the trees around them.

Think about the animals of this world; do you think that they would rather live than die?

Remember that they are subjected to us and what we do, and we hold the power of life and death over them, just as God has over us.

But unlike the animals who have no choice in the outcome of their physical life, we do have the ability to choose to let them live.

In the same way, we have the power to choose if we want our own spiritual life or death.

Do you want to die, or do you want to live?

If we are willing, God can and will perform miracles. Listen to what He says of these trees in Ezekiel 17:22-24:

22. Thus says the Lord God, "I shall also take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and set it out; I shall pluck from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I shall plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

23. "On the high mountain of Israel I shall plant it, that it may bring forth boughs and bear fruit, and become a stately cedar. And birds of every kind will nest under it; they will nest in the shade of its branches.

24. "And all the trees of the field will know that I am the Lord; I bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will perform it."

Do not doubt what is being said.

The Lord knows our heart, and if we honestly seek Him, even though we are almost dead, He will give us new roots and life. Even if we are so dried up that new roots can't grow, the Lord will take the tender sprig that reached out to Him, and He will plant it and tenderly care for it; and it will again become a full grown tree.

The Lord repeats this same message in other words in Ezekiel 18:30-32:

30. "Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct," declares the Lord God. "Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.

31. "Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?

32. "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord God. "Therefore, repent and live."

Remember that everywhere that Israel is spoken of in this manner, as the people of God's choosing, it also refers to the Church today.

We are to know the difference between the holy and the profane, and we are to do something about it.

We are to know the difference between righteous living and ungodliness, and we are to do something about it.

We are to recognize the difference between the truth and hypocrisy, and we are to do something about it.

This is all part of the Christmas message.

This is why Jesus Christ was born into the world.

This is why He must be born in our hearts, if we are to live.

Why do people and Christmas trees die?

They no longer have the Spirit of life in them.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

23. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

24. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.