The New Beginning:
Parable of the Tree Stump
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 16 June 2001
Summer is one of the most wonderful times to learn about God. This morning, as I passed by the little bird house that my eldest son made at school on my way to let the chickens out, I heard the sounds of baby birds from within and my soul thrilled. For the second season that little bird box has been used as a place to raise a new generation of birds. The mother flew nervously around anxious for her chicks. I felt happy for her - very, very happy.
One thing that strikes you about the Bible is how teachings about eternal truths revolve around an agricultural way of life. And it's only since I moved out of the city and into the countryside that I have been able to appreciate God's Word more. Almost all of Yah'shua's (Jesus') parables have something to so with nature or agriculture. We learn from the beginning of the Bible that Yahweh never intended men and women to live in large cities but that His ideal was always an agricultural society. We learn that the millennial paradise to come is centred not in metropolises but in small agricultural communities where every family is growing its own food to one degree or another. Even heaven, which has some magnificent buildings, is primarily a nature-centred society. And we learn, not just from the Bible which tells us how the first antichrist, Nimrod, build the first cities, but from history itself that most of the worst kind of sin springs up when men and women abandon the countryside and gather together in cities. Wherever there is idleness, there this a temptation to sin.
The first thing that our Heavenly Father did before making Adam and Eve was to plant a garden for them in Eden. We learn also that the millennial Kingdom is a kind of giant garden, for the word Paradise which is used to describe it is derived from a word meaning a "walled garden". A wall suggests protection to us - Yahweh's ideal for man is therefore a garden-paradise where he is surrounded by beauty and where he can gain meaning from cultivating the earth around him.
You will find this theme repeating itself time and time again in the Bible. God makes a garden and we are supposed to look after it. The Torah contains laws on how to treat animals, tells what we can and can't eat, teaches us about hygiene, and shows us the way to enjoy nature around us. We learn very much that the Godly way of life is very nature-centred, with the ideal family pictured as man with his own little house and his own tree under which to sit at noon day when it is hottest.
Every time I am out working in the garden I learn new things about God. To know Him means to get involved in what he has created, and that means not just other people but the animal and plant life around us. Each and every kind of creation is there to teach us about Him - the things He likes - and about ourselves, the good and the bad. In the way plants are structured we learn about the way our own mind works, both the unconscious hidden motives for the things we do represented by roots, what we support our mental world up with represented by the stem or trunk, and how we receive God's light represented by the leaves. We learn about the different kinds of spiritual nutrition from the different kinds of soils there are, and as Yah'shua (Jesus) illustrated in His famous Parable of the Sower. We learn how weeds choke out plants and how constant weeding is necessary for plants to thrive. Two days ago I was amazed as I separated out bulbs from the roots of weeds - they were literally being choked out by the weeds! It took me a long while to untangle all the weeds. Similarly, we learn how sin chokes out the goodness in a person until, eventually, the goodness dies altogether. And we learn how on a daily basis we must be weeding out bad thoughts and feelings in us in order to be blessed by the Spirit.
Indeed, you learn from being out in the garden or in cultivating the fields that the Gospel requires much harder work than those who live in the cities imagine. In the cities we are cut off from the sources of production - all our food is ready packaged for us and we never see the hard work that goes into making our daily bread. Indeed, city people tend to take things for granted - they don't realise what has to be done to get the food into the shop for them. And I believe it is for this reason that God wants His people to live close to the ground - to nature - because it is in the daily struggle to provide our daily bread that we best learn of what needs to be done to maintain our proper relationship with God.
This morning I chanced to open up my Bible at the Isaiah chapter 6 and there I received both a confirmation of something I knew to be true as well as a lesson about something I did not know much about. Isaiah relates the following vision he saw:
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw Yahweh. He was sitting on His throne, high and exalted, and His robe filled the whole Temple. Round Him flaming creatures were standing, each of which had six wings. Each creature covered his face with two wings, and its body with two, and used the other two for flying. They were calling out to each other, 'Holy, holy, holy! Yahweh-Elohim Almighty is holy! His glory fills the world'" (Is.6:1-3, GNB).
The Bible is full of deep symbolism and it is not my purpose today to go into a detailed analysis of who these heavenly creatures are. But there is one important thing I do want to say about them which the Lord revealed to me as I read this chapter. Firstly, we know that the incomplete number 6 represents man. Wings, especially when referring to angels, represents power and authority, both good and evil.
Notice what these creatures used their wings for: two of their wings were used to shield their faces. This tells us two very important things: Firstly, that no unclean or imperfect thing can look upon the face of Yahweh and live. This is reaffirmed several times in the Scriptures. Secondly, our face represents our glory - the highest expression of self that there is, since it is here we reveal through hundreds of little muscles are moods, feelings, and intents. By shielding our faces with our wings we signify humility. All the great prophets covered their faces from the Almighty whenever He appeared to them. We, in our turn, are to show respect to those who are in authority upon us on earth in a similar fashion - not by wrapping our arms around our faces but by little gestures like bowing, curtseying, showing respect in our speech, and so forth. For these heavenly creatures represents God's servants.
So two wings were used for covering their faces. Two more were used for covering their bodies, which represents keeping the body pure. Finally, two wings are used for flying. In this simple representation we are taught that one third of our power and energy ought to be used to maintaining humility, one third in keeping ourselves spotted from the world, and the remaining one third for doing our life's work. This heavenly creature may therefore be represented by the number 222. In addition, we learn that these three activities come in pairs - they are not three single wings but three pairs of wings. At once we learn from this that man cannot thrive if he tries to everything alone. To be able to fulfil our calling in life we need to learn to work co-operatively. We need to learn interdependence. More could be said about this but suffice to say that the basis of happiness is in co-operation with others.
Next I want you to notice what the creatures were saying. Whilst they were talking to each other, they were not talking about themselves. We read: "They were calling out to each other" (v.3a). And what did they say: "Holy, holy, holy! The Lord Almighty is holy! His glory fills the world". They were not focussed on self, as fallen human beings tend to be, but on the Lord Almighty, Yahweh-Elohim. The spiritual person is focussed on God at all times. And in particular they are focussed on holiness. Just as each of the creatures has three pairs of wings, so each of them is speaking in triplets.
Triplet one: "Holy, holy, holy!" they cry. Holiness is what absorbs them because holiness is the most important thing there is. The heavenly man - the spiritual man - is consumed with the pursuit of holiness. They repeat it three times.
Triplet two: "The Lord Almighty is holy!" they cry. Whereas holiness is the most important pursuit of man, the only way we are ever going to attain it is by understanding the source of holiness and turning to it. The second triplet also consists of three keys words: First, 'Lord', which translates 'Yahweh', the Name of God; second, 'Almighty', meaning 'all-powerful'; and third, 'holy'.
Triplet three: "His glory fills the world", they cry. Again, there are three key words: First, 'glory', which means praise, exaltation and honours, amongst other things. Second, 'fills', a verb meaning to completely take over, to complete, to make whole. Third, 'the world', meaning the Creation.
Three statements each with three key words - giving us the sacred number 333.
In these few verses we learn of the whole purpose of man. Not once do the creatures ever speak of 'self', only of God. Our purpose as creatures - is to bring Yahweh glory - to praise Him with our whole being. This we can only do in one way - by being holy. So important is holiness is that the word is repeated three times - "Holy, holy, holy!". We read in the Book of Revelation that the same creatures are singing something very similar - listen carefully to what they say:
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!" (Rev.4:8, NKJV). The theme of holiness pervades the whole of this book. But did you notice how the praise the creatures was structured here? Yet again, we see the number 333 in action: First triplet, "Holy, holy, holy"; second triplet, "Yahweh-Elohim Almighty"; and third triplet: "Who was, and is, and is to come!" Again the theme is holiness, and the object of that holiness Yahweh-Elohim Almighty, Yahweh-Elohim.
Now Isaiah saw this vision at the time he was called to be a prophet. He continues in verse 4: "The sound of their voices made the foundation of the Temple shake, and the Temple itself was filled with smoke". In the New Covenant, the temple is our body - when God speaks you shake because of His holiness.
And then the moment of realisation for Isaiah - but not just him, but of all whose who meet God face-to-face, as it were - listen carefully to his words:
"I said, 'There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet, with my own eyes, I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!" (v.5).
Whenever man or woman has a direct confrontation with Yahweh there is only one though that will consume him - how utterly unworthy and sinful he is. Always. Those who claim a palsy-walsy relationship with Him have, in my experience, never met Him but are actually worshipping a projection of their self. They are worshipping in 222 mode instead of 333 mode. Not only is the prophet Isaiah deeply aware of his own sinfulness, but he is also deeply repentant. The King James Version gives his reaction as: "Woe is me, for I am undone!" When we meet the living God we immediately discover out utter insignificance and our pride is burned away in a puff of smoke. When we meet the living God we discover that we have absolutely nothing to boast of whatsoever - nothing! We see ourselves for what we truly are - filthy. In spite of our very best efforts as living a holy life, we are still filthy. So what hope is there for us? We read further:
"Then one of the creatures flew down to me, carrying a burning coal that he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with the burning coal and said, 'This has touched your lips, and now your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven'" (vv.6-7).
Forgiveness of sin only comes at the moment we discover how utterly sinful and depraved we are, when we realise that our best efforts are useless, and when we come before God with a truly broken heart and contrite spirit. This realisation and repentance is not just a mental exercise, not even just an exercise of our heart, but of our whole soul - it is the realisation that all our pretensions at greatness or self-importance are utterly and completely vain. And not until we have arrived at this point of frightening self-discovery can we be forgiven of God, and not before that can we receive our call. Everything else before that is but illusion.
Once the humble and contrite prophet had been forgiven did Yahweh even consider him for a calling, saying: "Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?" (v.8). But please note what the symbol of purification was - it was a red-hot burning coal.
When I was a teenager in England we burned coal rather than wood. It gives off much more heat than wood and it retains its heat for a long time. I well remember staring into the living room fire at the red-hot coals on cold winter days. Now why does the Lord use coal as a symbol of purification? Firstly, because coal is made up of carbon that was once living matter. All coal was once vegetation. Second, that vegetation was compressed and heated up to make coal as a result of the Universal Flood - almost every piece of coal you dig up is the result of rapid sedimentation of dead plants and trees after the Great Flood; and Third, that coal is the result of many centuries of time.
The instrument of purification comes about as a result of dying to self - which is alive but must perish, just as the wicked perished in Noah's day; it comes about as a result of great compression under water usually, which reminds us of the symbol of baptism and of the need to be completely washed clean, and also that for sinful human beings who have problems repenting, great difficulties in life must be allowed by God for us until we see clearly and turn aside from sin. The way God purifies us is therefore often very painful. Indeed, it requires nothing short of the death of selfish ambition and all ideas we may have of our own righteousness. To be made pure we have to surrender completely to the Lord and confess that we are nothing before Him. Only then will Yahweh call His servants to the mission field.
Isaiah responded immediately: "I will go! Send me!" (v.8). Not in his own strength, not in his giftedness, but in his complete weakness, knowing that self was dead and that the only instrument of God's word would be God Himself working through Him in God's holiness.
Once Isaiah had abased himself, confessed he was impure, unholy, and worthy of nothing in his own self, God called Him. Yahweh asked for a volunteer, and Isaiah stepped forward. Please note carefully what the Lord said. Isaiah writes: "So he told me to go and give the people this message..." (v.9a). Please notice the structure of Yahweh's reply:
"No matter how much you listen, you will not understand.
No matter how much you look, you will not know what is happening" (v.9, GNB).
What a strange message to give! But Yahweh has more to say:
"Make the minds of these people dull, their ears deaf, and their eyes blind, so that they cannot see or hear or understand. If they did, they might turn to me and be healed" (v.10).
What a difference between the mission of Jonah who was called to reach to the wicked Assyrians in Nineveh. These people actually repented. Jonah did not like that, as you know, for he felt only hatred for these wicked people who had done so much harm to his own nation. Yet Yahweh knew that these people - however terrible their sins were (and they were awful) - would repent. And they did, and were saved! Jonah's heart was all wrong - he did not understand that Yahweh is no respector of persons. He did not understand that God is merciful. He did not want to understand these things! He thought that he knew God's mind but he was ignorant. He had to learn that God can, and will, use even the vilest sinners if they truly feel sorrow at their wrongdoing and change their lives around.
I don't know what Isaiah hoped his call would be but he was probably as unprepared as Jonah. But at least he was obedient and did what the Lord told him - he didn't have to be brought to his senses by being swallowed by a whale.
But what a different kind of mission. Isaiah was not called to call Judah to repent but to bring judgement! The mission of this prophet is not to bring salvation but to announce God's judgement. And what a thankless task that is. And what a thankless task that is going to be for us in the last days because our days are like Isaiah's. We have now arrived at the time prophesied in Scriptures were those who will be saved will just be one or two out of each city, especially in the West where the people have now almost completely ripened in iniquity and rejected God. In Great Britain, my homeland, only 3% of the population attend Church now, and of those only a tiny remnant are walking in obedience to the commandments.
Isaiah is understandably depressed by the mission he has been given and asks: "How long will it be like this, Lord?" (v.11). And the answer he gets back was probably not the one he wanted. For Yahweh told him:
"Until the cities are ruined and empty - until the houses are uninhabited - until the land itself is a desolate waste. I will send the people far away and make the whole land desolate ..." (v11-12).
This was, of course, immediately before the Jews were sent into exile to Babylon, and in two weeks' time I want to tell you an experience I had about that when I was in England. They had to lose everything before they would once again come to their senses. But our generation will not get that chance - our generation is the last one, and the judgement will not be war followed by exile, but war followed by the complete destruction of the unrepentant and wicked.
And yet the judgement of that time was awful enough. Yahweh continues: "Even if one person out of ten remains in the land, he too will be destroyed; he will be like the stump of an oak-tree that has been cut down" (v.13).
I end today at the stump of the oak-tree because in many ways this is the symbol of our time also. All around the world churches and ministries are being destroyed as Yahweh purifies them. Indeed, individual Christians and their false beliefs are likewise being cut down.
Some weeks ago I had quite a shock when I saw a vision of the stump of a tree that had been cut down. You all know what they look like - we have plenty of those on our property here as we have chopped one tree down after another. Indeed, I believe our tree felling has been a prophetic symbol for us too - all of us. We are remnant Christians - the leftovers, if you like, who will not follow the world nor follow the example of Christians who are compromising with the world. Yet we, too, must be purified. Everyone. It is the same process for every living soul. All - their plans, hopes, dreams - the good and the not so good - must be cut to the ground. Yahweh can only use those who are submitted 100% in the last days, as He did Isaiah, and we must be prepared to do and say what He directs and not what we want.
Now when I first saw that vision of the tree stump I got depressed. I remember how King Nebuchadnezzar was also represented as a tree stump. And God humbled him by making him eat grass like a wild animal. He, who ruled the most powerful kingdom in the known world at that time, was made nothing. The experience did wonders for him, also, for he was restored to his kingship, but not before the lessons of humility had been learned. The same happened to Job who was given no explanation for his difficulties. Instead he had to live in naked faith and resist his wife's wicked suggestion that he curse God and die.
Trees represent individuals, churches and nations. There is one more sentence in the sixth chapter of Isaiah I haven't read yet which I will do now - and it's probably the most important one. Isaiah adds, almost as a footnote: "The stump represents a new beginning for God's people" (v.13b, GNB).
A new beginning. The stump therefore becomes not a symbol of condemnation but of new hope. The act of being chopped down until one is nothing but an ugly stump may not seem like good news to us, but God sees beyond that. Go to the many stumps of cut-down trees on our property and what do you see? Many of them have sprouted into new life - not one, but sometimes several trees can spring to life from such a stump! And if you don't believe me, look at this picture here which shows a brand new tree growing out of an old stump.
The message of Isaiah is that to be in God's will demands nothing less than 100% holiness. And if we, who profess the Name of Christ, will not put self to death, God will sometimes do it for us, if we will let Him and not turn away from Him. But if we turn away from Him, then that stump will not come to life again. Like many of the stumps on our property, it remains permanently dead, like the one in my mother's garden which is rotting away and others which have become ants' nests.
"Holy, holy, holy! Yahweh-Elohim Almighty is holy! His glory fills the world! ... Who was, and is, and is to come!"
May these words fill our entire being as we forget self for good. May we sing them together as co-labourers in the field. May we sing them together as one, for unless we do it together, we will never do it alone. And then - and only then - will Yahweh do His might work through us. May His Name be praised! Amen.
This page was created on 1 July 2001
Last updated on 1 July 2001
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