Thursday, April 1, 2010

Saved by a Tree

Jesse Howard is not his real name, but his story is as real as it gets. Howard is middle-aged and works as an employment counselor. In his younger days, he was captivated by the party scene. It was not uncommon for him to spend every Friday night gulping wine and beer and shots of other liquor on the side. In reflecting on those days Howard called himself “young, drunk, and stupid.”

Then, after a string of ten automobile accidents in which he was driving or riding under the influence, Howard learned that well-rooted trees along curved country roads will usually win the battle even when challenged by the most determined of station wagons. Howard was sitting in the front passenger seat of a car that cornered like a four-wheel barge when a friend who was driving rammed into a hardwood more than 100 years old. “That whole night has a lot of blanks in it,” Howard says. “One thing I remember is waking up for awhile and not being able to breathe.”

The next day Howard found himself in the intensive care unit of a hospital with a stabbing pain in the right side of his chest and a tube coming out of his nose. He was remotely aware that he had been in a car wreck. He tried to talk, but he felt he could not get his lips to move. In the next few days, Howard learned that the force of the collision had broken several ribs and ripped a hole in his right lung. That injury and numerous cuts, abrasions and bruises dang near killed him. “I was young, drunk, and stupid,” he says. “I should have been killed. I deserved it.”

Howard used this near-death experience to reflect on his lifestyle, and he determined to make some major changes. He quit drinking altogether. He seldom goes to parties anymore. And when his job requires party attendance, he drinks only flavored water. He much prefers his new lifestyle, he says. There’s less hypocrisy and less game-playing than he experienced in the party scene. He’s much more content than he’s ever been in his life. As Howard puts it, “I can’t say I’m all that proud, but I guess I have that tree to thank.”

Jesse Howard was saved from who-knows-what by a tree—“I guess I have that tree to thank” he says.

On this Good Friday, I want to say a word of thanks about a tree as well. But this is no sprawling oak or hickory tree—no hundred-year-old hardwood. The trunk of this tree is no thicker than a fence post, and it has no branches reaching up to the sky. It has but one branch, really—a branch stretching out across the trunk creating the crude shape of a cross.

There is no beauty in this tree. Photographers do not fight to get its picture. Birds do not nest in its crook. No one seeks its shade. It is an odd little tree—marred by spike holes and stained with blood. Set next to a California redwood or an Arkansas pine this little tree would blush with embarrassment.

But this is the tree that saved my life. Well, not the tree so much, but the One who was nailed on it and left to die. We’re talking about the cross of Christ—the cross on which Jesus suffered and died for your sins and for mine, paying our sin debt, breaking the bondage of our slavery to our worst impulses and darkest thoughts.

Jesus did that for us on a tree—the tree that saves our lives. Jesus' death on the cross offers us salvation in so many ways.

We are saved from a life whose greatest accomplishment is summed up in terms of the size of a fish, the winning of a prize, a particular golf score, financial independence, a promotion in the company, or the applause of others. Because of what Christ did on the cross, our lives can have lasting value and meaning and purpose. Rather than being so earthbound, we can live in and for eternity, doing things on earth that really matter, like sharing Christ and ministering to others and worshiping the Lord. Jesus death on the cross is our salvation.

He saves us from living in the prison of sin’s power, a slave to the temptations that knock at our door. Now, when pride or lust or greed or any other sins that once controlled our lives come to lure us into their seductive embrace again, we can show them the door in the name of Christ. We can say, “Go away and leave me alone. There’s a new Ruler on the throne of my life and you can’t have me anymore.” Jesus’ death on the cross is our salvation in so many ways.

And when we come to that last day when we stand before the judgment seat of God, we need have no fear, for we will be standing in the presence of a Friend, an Advocate. We will know Him by the nail prints in His hands. We will know Him by His sweet voice that declares, “This is one of mine I died for on that tree. Enter into the joy of eternal life.”

Jesse Howard claims that he was saved from being young, drunk, and stupid, by a tree. Thank God for that tree. Jesse’s life is much, much better now. But on this Good Friday I thank God for another tree. This is the tree that can save us from being lost, spiritually dead, and holding a one-way ticket to hell. That tree is the cross—that old bloody cross where Jesus died so that we might have the life that is really life, a life that lasts forever. Let us remember that tree and give God thanks. It may not change colors in the fall. It may not shelter a family of robins in the spring. It doesn’t produce a single thing to eat. But there’s never been a tree in all the earth that matters more.


  1. I by the Grace of God can relate to Jesse's story and Thank You for sharing with us the tree of true life. Happy Easter!

  2. Praise God for His Love, Grace, Forgiveness and Redemption. Indeed...Happy Easter!

  3. Thanks for your comments. Good is kind beyond measure. Easter blessings to you all.