Under the Tree Jeff Johnson

October 11, 2016

As I write this, my town of Eutawville, South Carolina is bracing for impact from Matthew, a major hurricane churning towards us along the coast.  We expect to get heavy rainfall and several hours of at least tropical-storm-force winds.  While the prospect of such a storm is serious enough now, it would have been much more fearsome to my family a few weeks ago.

Our home used to be nestled under a giant oak tree.  Although it was a majestic tree that covered our front yard in a helpful canopy of shade, it slowly became a menace.  Last fall, our area was hit with an historic weekend of rain that the forecasters called a “1,000-year flood”:  we received over 20 inches of precipitation in a 48-hour period.  Several weeks after that storm, I noticed that our tree had a subtle but noticeable lean in the direction of our house.  The torrent of water had softened the earth and allowed the roots to shift.  I brought over some friends to advise me on what to do.  They decided it was harmless enough at the time.  Last month, however, we got another rainstorm that brought the tree even closer to our roof.  Our beloved oak was doing its best “Leaning Tower of Pisa” impersonation – while threatening to split our children’s bedrooms in half.  It had to come down.  A local tree service owner single-handedly sawed, chopped, grinded, and leveled everything in less than two days.  The only remnant left of the tree is a tidy patch of sawdust next to our driveway.  We can face this hurricane knowing that our home is safely out of reach of any falling trees.  Had the hurricane arrived a couple weeks earlier, it would have been a different story.

As I sat on my front porch last night looking at where the tree used to be, I thought about how that tree is like our sin.  Sin grows on us.  It starts off small but gets bigger and bigger, and for a while we enjoy the supposed benefits of it.  It looks impressive.  It feels comfortable to us.  It keeps that penetrating light out of our eyes.  We can hide under it, and maybe it seems to offer a certain amount of protection.  Eventually, however, the weight of it threatens to crush us.  There are so many people who harbor sin in their lives thinking it will be a joy, only to feel hopeless under a shadow that is always hanging over them.

The oak in my yard was coming down one way or another.  It was either going to come down on us, or someone could take it down for us.  That’s how it is with God’s judgment.  We can’t deny, minimize, or ignore our sin forever.  The eternal consequences of sin will fall on us, or someone can take it for us.  That someone is Jesus Christ.

Jesus was crushed by a tree so we can live.  1 Peter 2:24 declares, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.”  When Jesus died on the cross, he suffered the wrath of God towards sin so we don’t have to.  Jeremiah 30:23 compares God’s wrath to a great storm:  “Behold the storm of the Lord!  Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.”  The good news is that those who trust in Christ don’t need to fear that storm; “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).  Believers can have hope when the hurricane of God’s judgment makes landfall, because there is no longer any sin standing against us.  There is nothing to fall on us!

Where is your hope and protection today?  Are you hiding behind your sin?  If so, it will fall on you.  Or are you hiding under the shelter of the cross?  There is no place more secure.

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