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God's Christmas Tree

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Introduction

Since this is the Christmas season I'd like to share some thoughts that are particularly significant to help us, as it is often said, remember "the reason for the season." At this time of the year in homes all across America you will find a Christmas tree with presents underneath. It is one of the symbols of Christmas that stands out in this country as much as any and more than most.

Some question the origin of the modern Christmas tree, but to be perfectly honest, there is a great deal of confusion here with a number of answers proposed.

Regardless, the Christmas tree has become a part of our season, and any pagan connections it originally may have had were lost long ago-- just as were the names of the days of our week which also had their origin in pagan beliefs. At any rate, Christians believe we can use this season in a positive way to remember the birth of the Savior, who He is and why He came into the world.

Simply stated, the truth of Christ's birth or the Christmas Season is that God the Son, the second person of the trinity, became the babe of the cradle, that He might become the man of the cross, that He might die as our sinless substitute to release us from the penalty of sin, and reconcile us to God that we might receive eternal life and live abundantly through His life, and all of this as a gift by faith in Christ.

In this study we will look at the birth of Christ from the viewpoint of God's Christmas tree--the Cross. And we will open and investigate some of the presents that lie at the foot of that tree to remind us of the gifts God has given to us in Christ and that He offers the world that lies in darkness and sin.

Can we legitimately call the cross of Jesus Christ a tree? Can we think of the tree as that which reminds us of God's Son and the life He gives us? Yes, in fact, God's Word actually refers to both Christ Jesus, His person, and His death on the cross, His work, by either the word "tree," or by terms associated with a tree.

Concerning the cross, there are two Greek words that are used in the New Testament.

1. Stauros-- Stauros means an upright pale or stake which took various forms at different times.

  • This is the word used of the Roman instrument of crucifixion in Matt. 27:32, 40, 42; Col. 1:20; 2:14; Heb. 12:2; Phil. 2:8, to name just a few passages.
  • It was also used by metonymy for the death of Christ on the Cross (1 Cor. 1:17; Gal. 5:11; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 3:18). Metonymy, remember, is the use of a symbol or sign for the thing signified. Compare the well known statement, "the pen (a symbol of literary power) is mightier than the sword (a symbol of military power). So the cross is a symbol which stands for the substitutionary death of the Savior wherein He died in our place to give us life and life abundantly. This Greek word, stauros, never means tree, however, there is a word used in the New Testament which does.

2. Xulon-- This word is used of both a tree and of the cross. The point is that one of the words used in the New Testament for the cross is a word that also means "tree," "wood," or "a piece of wood" and hence, anything made of wood.

  • It is used of wooden clubs five times, Matt. 26:47, 55.
  • But it is likewise used of the cross in Acts. 5:30; 20:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1Pet. 2:24.
  • Interestingly, xulon was also used of a tree. On the way to the cross, hearing the women mourning and lamenting over what was happening to Him, the Lord Jesus said, "For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:31) (NIV) The Lord was speaking of Himself as a green tree because of His living power and capacity to give life.
  • Finally, it is used of the tree of life in Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14, & 19.

But the tree symbolism does not end here. In the Old Testament, Messiah is viewed prophetically in terms that relate to a tree.

(1) He is portrayed as a shoot or branch which would grow out of the cut down stump of the house of David (Isa. 11:1). Isaiah 11:1 reads, " A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit."

(2) He is also seen as "the Branch of the Lord," as "the Righteous Branch," and as "God's Servant, the Branch" whom God would raise up on the human scene to give righteousness and life to the nation, and to all who would believe in Him. This is declared to be the work of God's doing, not man's (Isa. 4:2f; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:15-16; Zech. 3:8; 6:12).

From these passages in both the Old and New Testaments, we see that God has His own Christmas tree in the person of His Son and in His Son's work or death on a tree, the cross. But note, God's tree is not decorated with lights and ornaments or tinsel, nor surrounded underneath with gifts or presents filled with perishable items purchased from our vain manner of life. Rather, under God's tree are imperishable gifts of infinite value which were purchased by the death of God's Son on God's tree, the Cross. Listen to these words of the apostle Peter:

1 Peter 1:18-19 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (NASB)

1 Peter 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross (xulon), that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (NASB)

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

1 Peter 1:4 to {obtain} an inheritance {which is} imperishable (untouched by death) and undefiled (unstained by evil) and will not fade away (unimpaired by time), reserved in heaven for you,

But just how does a person acquire God's Tree with its abundance of imperishable gifts? And what are some of these magnificent gifts?

God's Christmas Tree1

As we think about acquiring God's tree with its imperishable gifts, several wonderful passages come immediately to mind:

Isaiah 55:1 "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost (italics mine).

John 4:10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (NIV)

Revelation 21:6 He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. (NIV)

Revelation 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (NASB)

God's Tree is a Gift of God

Scripture stresses that salvation is by grace through faith ALONE in the work of God in Christ ALONE, not by religious or moral works which men perform.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

Paul defines it as the Gospel of the Grace of God:

Acts 20:24 "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. (NASB)

As a work of God's grace which means "unmerited favor," salvation then is A FREE GIFT. The words grace and gift stand opposed to the concepts of merit and works as a means of receiving what is given. The Scripture make this clear in bold statements and by the many references to salvation as a free gift from God without cost to us. God's Christmas Tree, or Salvation in Christ is free, but its not cheap. It cost God the death of His very own Son, the Lord Jesus.

Grace is not grace and free is not free if I must pay some price. Cheap suggest something which we purchase at a great discount relative to its value. Free on the other hand suggest something which we don't and can't purchase at all--it's something we get as a GIFT!!!! The passages above, and these are only a small sample, all stress salvation as a gift without cost to us. There was a great cost, but the cost was to God and His Son.

Please note again Paul's bold statements and emphasis in Romans 4:1f and 11:6. To reinforce the emphasis of this, we might note the uses of the word gift in relation to salvation.

  • The Apostle Paul called eternal salvation a free gift (or gift) not less than nine times (Rom. 3:24; 5:15 [twice], 16 [twice], 17; 6:23; 2 Cor. 9:15; Eph. 2:8).
  • James (whose epistle is so misunderstood and misrepresented) also spoke of the new birth as a gift from God (Ja. 1:17-18).

Then, the question is how do we receive this gift of all gifts without cost? John 1:12 says it so plainly.

God's Tree is Acquired Through Faith

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (NASB)

Having looked at the means for acquiring God's tree with its imperishable gifts, we need now to look under the tree. No doubt we have all sat around the tree at home and opened our gifts. Often with great anticipation and joy in giving and receiving. Sometimes these gifts require reading the instructions and it takes time to learn how to use them, and our gifts from God fall into the same category.

The Gifts Under God's Tree
Romans 5:1-11

Romans 5:1-11 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (NASB)

The Gift of Justification (5:1)

Justification is the divine pronouncement of God that we are acquitted from sin's penalty, God's judgment for sin, and made acceptable before God even though we are sinners. Swindoll writes: "Justification is the sovereign act of God whereby He declares righteous the believing sinner--while he is still in a sinning state," in other words, while we still sin and have a sinful nature. (Charles Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Moody Press, p. 238).

Let's look at another gift.

The Gift of Peace With God (5:1)

"Peace with God" in essence means reconciled to God. It means the barriers of hostility and enmity that separated us from God, barriers like our sin, our spiritual death or lack of spiritual life, and God's perfect holiness. The point is these barriers have all been removed by the person and work of Christ. "Peace with God" means the peace of salvation which forms the basis for the other aspects of peace through the Prince of Peace, our Peace Maker, and the Lord of Peace as He is called in Scripture.

Today, the root of the troubles of the world is not the failures of government, nor even the absence of money to finance new programs, but the fact that man is at enmity with God. What men need is "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." So, on that glorious night when He was born, the angels sang, "glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace."

The Gift of Access to God (5:2a)

"Introduction" is the translation of a very interesting Greek word, the Greek prosagoge, from pros, "to, toward," or "close proximity," and ago, "to lead, bring." It meant "access, approach," or it could mean "introduction." It was used of one who gives access or audience to a great king.

So, in another passage, the apostle Paul reminds us their is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. And the author of Hebrew tells us to come boldly before the throne of Grace to find grace to help in our times of need. How? Through Christ who has given us access into the very presence of the Almighty as believers in His Son.

Christianity is the way of ACCESS. Does this impress you? It should because all the other religions of the world shut man out from God; they provide no access to God. Why? Because they keep man from God by turning them away from Jesus Christ, because they do not seek to come to God by way of God's Christmas tree, the person and work of the Jesus Christ.

This is why the Lord said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me" (Jn. 14:6). And this is why Peter following the resurrection stood boldly and proclaimed, "there is no other name under heaven, given among men whereby you must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Well, let's look at another of the gifts of God under His tree. Here is an interesting one.

The Gift of Hope of the Glory of God (5:2b)

"Glory" refers to the awesome character and beauty of God's divine essence and the glories that surround Him. "Hope" is a Greek word (elpis) which has both an active and a passive meaning. (1) Actively, it means "confident and sure expectation." (2) Passively, it may refer to the thing hoped for, the object. Often, both ideas are blended together and I think the Apostle Paul has two things in mind in this context in regard to the glory of God.

First, as the Apostle stresses in Col. 1:27, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," there is the confident expectation that believers have of being able to share in God's character now as they grow in the Lord and experience more and more of the beauty of His life in theirs.

In other words, it means the hope of change, the hope of breaking those awful life dominating habits that keep people enslaved to their past and to the sinful nature within. Of course, this is often a life-long process of growth, but it comes as we learn to deal with our hearts in light of the finished work of Christ and learn to walk by faith in His life that dwells in ours.

But second and primarily for this context in Romans, there is the expectation of one day experiencing ultimate redemption, of being in God's glorious kingdom in glorious resurrection bodies without the old sinful nature and without the attacks of Satan's kingdom.

Well, lets look further and see what else we can find?

The Gift of Triumph in Tribulation and Trouble (5:3-4)

What a marvelous gift that we all need to unwrap and use, but Oh, how we put this one on the shelf or forget to open it. As we anticipate living in the glorious presence of God, this gift reminds us that for the present time, we still live in a fallen world where we experience tribulation and trouble. Bur regardless, we can still know joyous triumphant through the Savior.

In this gift, the Apostle has in mind the capacity God gives us to rejoice in our sufferings through faith in the principles and promises of the Bible and through our walk with the Lord. This is a gift that really requires a carefully reading and rereading of the instructions.

The world, and too many of us as believers, have a hard time joining these two words "affliction" and "joy." Why? Well, the world cannot because they have no hope in the glory of God. And we fail as Christians to experience joy in the midst of tribulation because we so often fail to live in the light of that glory. We fail to live as sojourners and aliens in a foreign country who are on temporary assignment as representative of their king.

This season, as we drive around the city and see vacant lots or parking lots full of Christmas trees for sale for Christmas and as we go into the stores to purchase presents for loved and friends, and as we hear the cash registers ring up sale after sale as people purchase presents for loved ones and friends, and as we place our gifts under the tree, may we let all of this remind us of the fact God has provided us with a tree of life through the person and work of His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that with God's tree comes the imperishable, eternal, and unfathomable gifts of God's grace. Here are gifts you cannot break or wear out. They are always timely, personal, and exactly what we need. No exchanges are necessary.

The Gift of the Love of God and the Holy Spirit (5:5)

In the context of this passage, this is God's love for us, the extent of which is expressed in the verses which follow as they develop and stress the work of God in Christ as the expression of His love (cf vss. 6f and particularly vs. 8). The Apostle John expressed it like this,

"By this the love of God was manifested in (among) us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the World so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn. 4:9-10).

But you see, grasping God's love so that it gives assurance and removes fear and doubt or shame when we fail, and we all do, and so that it gives significance and meaning to life, is very much a work of the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God who assures our hearts of God's endless and unconditional love so that we can grasp that we are thus accepted through the much more grace of God made available to us in the Beloved, God's dear Son.

But to experience these two gifts, we need to experience the ministry of the indwelling Spirit of God through a Spirit controlled, Word filled life that brings the promises to God to life in our hearts so the Spirit can teach and assure our hearts of God's perfect love to us in Christ (cf. Rom. 8:16; Eph. 3:16f).

Here again we face the problem of putting these gifts on the shelf, of failing to study the Word, God's instruction book, so we truly understand our salvation in the finished work and merit of the Savior. We face the problems of quenching and grieving the Spirit and of ignoring the Word by turning to our own solutions or strategies for life.

The Gift of Deliverance From Wrath (5: 9)

Wrath here refers to the judgment of God that must be poured out on a Christ rejecting world. Notice carefully, the "much more" emphasis which follows the statement of verse 8, "that Christ died for us." This verse, like many others, promises that those who have put their trust in Christ will not come into judgment or face God's wrath because Jesus Christ, our Savior, took God's judgment in our place. Rom. 8:1 and Jn. 5:24.

The Gift of Salvation by His Life (vs. 10)

In view of the context which follows in Romans, this includes not only being delivered from God's wrath, but also deliverance from the power of sin. It has to do with living abundantly and victoriously over life dominating patterns through the power of the risen Christ, through Christ's life which dwells within us. Oh dear friends, are you daily trusting in His life within so you can say with the Apostle, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of Go, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Gal. 2:20).

The Gift of Rejoicing (5:11)

"Exult" is a Greek word, kauchomai, used three times in this passage, verse 2, "we exult in hope of the glory of God," in verse 3, "we also exult in our tribulations," and here "we exult in God." Literally, it means "to boast" and from this it came to mean "exult, rejoice triumphant, " but in the sense of joyous confidence. It refers to a boasting which comprises the elements of "confidence, joy, and thanksgiving," but in this case, it is a paradox for the one who glories or boasts looks away from himself to God and glories in God's grace.

Paul is writing about a boasting in the sense of a triumphant and confident rejoicing in God through the work of Christ as the verse makes clear. It is a rejoicing which expresses a bold confidence, one based not on our record or behavior, but on, please note, "the reconciliation" which vs. 10 describes as accomplished by the death of God's Son. Reconciliation, remember, means "peace with God," it means the barriers of separation have been removed by the finished work of Christ.

Paul is talking about the assurance of our salvation. Why and how can we rejoice triumphantly in the assurance of our salvation in God? Because of the "reconciliation," because of what Christ has done with emphasis on the word "done." Note this emphasis in bold throughout this passage in verses 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Notice how the Apostle refers to the work of Christ in vs. 11. He calls it "the reconciliation"? Why? Because there is only one means of reconciliation to God which gives "peace with God."

Romans 5:1-11 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (NASB)

What exactly is "the reconciliation." Reconciliation is katallage and means "an exchange," or "a changing from enmity to friendship." It refers to God's gracious work in Christ which removes the enmity, the barriers of separation which sets God free, as a holy God, to give us the gifts of salvation without cost.

Because of God's grace and gifts to us in His Son through the Tree, the Cross, we can boast in God, in the assurance of eternity, and of His constant love, not because of what or who we are in ourselves, but because of what we are in Christ by His grace.

Ah!!! Do you see what this mean? When you unwrap these presents, you find them backed up by the faithfulness and guarantee of God Himself through the perfect and finished work of Christ. These gifts never break and never wear out. Indeed, they last for eternity and they do all that is promised and more.

The marvel of marvels is that these few gifts we have seen in this short study are only a very small part of the gifts under God's Christmas tree. So the Apostle Paul also wrote:

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,

Ephesians 3:8-9 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things;

Colossians 2:10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;


1 For the ideas in this section I am indebted to J. Vernon McGee’s pamphlet, “The Cross is God’s Christmas Tree,” Thru the Bible Books, Pasadena, CA, 16th printing, 1981.

Related Topics: Christmas, Crucifixion