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Green Wood

November 14, 2016

For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31)

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year. The year opened with the advent of the Messiah and his birth. We have followed him this year throughout his ministry on earth. The lectionary closes with his Crucifixion.

Jesus was referencing a proverb that green wood does not burn (F. F. Bruce, Bible Commentary (1979) Zondervan, p. 1225), when he said on his way to his crucifixion: “For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31).[1] While Jesus was on earth, the wood was green (Luke 23: 31). Something occurred that had never occurred before or has occurred since: God walked the earth. He lived among men. My study Bible notes that the epistle lesson contains “one of the strongest statements about the divine nature of Christ found anywhere in the Bible” (Life Application Bible Note p. 2160): “He rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . he is the head of the body, the church.” (Col. 1: 13-18).

Jesus gave us a new viewpoint. The Old Testament was about justice, judgment and the need for repentance. The New Testament is a “message of salvation, mercy, and the need for faith and hope.” (Peter Kreeft, You Can Understand the Bible, (1990) Ignatius Press, p. 119). Jesus told us that he was the Messiah, and showed us that he was in many ways, leaving followers to record the events that transpired during his ministry. Then he died and rose from the dead, ushering in a new era. Christianity was born.

As Christianity took its fledgling steps, its followers were persecuted. People threatened by the Messiah, continued to be threatened by his followers after his death, and sought to stamp out the new religion. But the new wood refused to burn, even as it aged. Numerous attempts to eradicate it have occurred over the last two thousand years, and still it flourishes, especially where it is persecuted the most.

Luke’s carefully researched account (Luke 1:3) of Jesus’ ministry, Crucifixion, and Resurrection includes details that are not included in other accounts. One such detail is that of the repentant criminal, who said to Jesus as he was dying, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23: 42). The criminal got it. He understood that Jesus was God and that his kingdom was no earthly kingdom—something that had escaped his followers: “The dying criminal had more faith than the rest of Jesus’ followers put together. Although the disciples continued to love Jesus, their hopes for the kingdom were shattered. Most of them had gone into hiding. “ (Life Application Bible Note, p. 1860). The criminal was the only person who was ever assured of heaven by Jesus. It’s worth remembering when we are tempted to look down on others.

On the last Sunday of the church year, we also look at the last book in the Old Testament, Malachi. As we noted last week, Malachi pointed the way to Jesus. When we become discouraged with the seemingly unpunished wrongdoing around us, and wonder when it will end, Malachi, like Habakkuk, tells us to wait. “The ‘day of the Lord’ will come, then it will be clear that it is not ‘vain to serve the Lord.’” (Kreeft, You Can Understand the Bible, p. 161).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan


[1] The Scripture texts for the last Sunday of the Church Year are Psalm 46; Malachi 3: 13-18; Colossians 1: 13-20; Luke 23: 27-43.

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