It was quite a beautiful tree.  Nothing about it stood out amongst his peers in the forest, but the tree was strong and full of life.  And why not?  The forest itself was in a grove by the river’s flowing waters in a plain where the sunlight shot its rays in every direction.  No fertile ground could be found better for this tall specimen and his kin to be planted.  The joys he experienced in that peaceful place would have evoked jealousy from all the trees the world over.  The first time a bird built a nest in his limbs, the pride coursed from his highest branch to his lowest roots.  A fellow creature had chosen him for its home.  And through the years, many birds would perch in his branches.  He awoke each morning to a glorious concert as the birds’ songs filled the air, proud themselves that they had been blessed with such an amazing place to rest.  Even the squirrels would join in with their own melody and chatter.  But nothing gave him more thrill than the humans that would pick his tree out of the hundreds around.  They would rest under his shade after long journeys.  The children would climb up high into his canopy.  He always feared for their safety, but part of him always rooted for them, hoping they could brave themselves to the very top and get a view of the valleys and mountains in the distance.  Though winter’s chill would lessen these events, he would wake up to the warmth of the spring air each year and look forward to the new opportunities he would have to serve the world.  Year after year, he would thank the Maker for giving him a life so full of joy, so complete, so perfect.

One year, a shudder ran through the forest.  Word spread to the heart from the edges that there was danger creeping in.  Suddenly, the humans were no longer there to rest – they were there to destroy.   The laughter of the children was replaced with the grunt and sweat of strong men at work.  The birds scattered from their homes as their axes laid waste to the forest.  Though the tree was far from the edges, the fear began to gnaw at him like a beaver.  How long before they would get to him?  And for what reason would these men come to destroy he and his kin who had only ever offered shade from the sun’s heat?  He kept the fear at bay, thinking that perhaps the horror would end soon, and these rugged humans would have their fill.  But the echoes of the chops grew nearer each passing day.

At last, the questions were somewhat answered.  The only news the trees could receive came from the wind, and it was not always easily discerned what messages the wind would bring.  But on this day, they gathered from its gusts what was happening to the forest.  These men served a cruel empire that did not even consider human life valuable, much less the life of a tree.  The trees had been taken to work houses and transformed into vile forms.  While the wind had no specifics, it was clear that the intent was a horror unimaginable.  Several of the trees wilted at the news.  The humans had become locusts, and nothing would stop them from sweeping the entire forest away in their hunger for destruction.

Winter fell again as it had every year, but the temperature only reflected the coldness in the tree’s heart.  The gray skies blocked out the sun’s warmth, as if any hope of surviving this doom was a fairy tale.  The tree began to question the Maker Himself, asking how He could have allowed His creation to wield such despicable acts of violence against His own.  His last leaf fell and drifted, a tear of sadness that all the happiness he ever knew was coming to an end.

He awoke from his winter’s sleep in absolute horror to the sound of the axe, and it nearly left him petrified.  It wasn’t the echo of months gone by.  It came from the oak only a few feet away.  The oak!  He had looked up to this amazing tree ever since he was a sapling.  The fiercest storms and winds had never been able to move this mighty sage of the forest.  With a loud crack, the oak fell.  The men cheered as if they had just defeated a mighty beast.  Then one of them spoke and pointed…

“Ho men!  Take a look over here.”
“Wow, this tree here is absolutely perfect.”
Aye.  It’s the right size and right age.  It’s the treasure this forest’s been hiding.”
“Alright men…bring it down!”

The axe fell on the tree, and the pain was excruciating.  The blows kept falling, the splinters kept flying, and the tree kept begging for mercy.  After what seemed liked an eternity of torture, the chopping stopped and the tree, weak and beaten, crashed to the earth it once stood so tall above.  The men cheered and from every direction, they jumped upon him and began to chop and saw his limbs and branches away.  All of his royalty and majesty were stripped along with any dignity he had until only his tall trunk remained.  He was put on a cart and hauled off to the work houses.

The wind had not been near descriptive enough of the nightmare that dwelt in these horrid places.  The tree was stripped of even his bark, leaving him completely naked and bare.  These ruthless men worked many hours on him, carving and whittling away at his wooden flesh.  Though they got many of his splinters for their efforts, they never relented.  When they finally finished their evil acts, he was left raw and tender to the touch.  While he was still quite taller than any of them, they had taken away a good portion of his height.  The only kindness they had shown was twisting his body to give him two solid limbs on either side.  He was placed inside a warehouse with several of his kin, who had endured the same fate.

He knew this was not the end.  The empire must have some need of him still, though he could not imagine what greater pain they could inflict on him.  Day after day, light would break into the dark chamber as the door opened and the men claimed one of the trees and left.  Much like the horror that fell in the forest, he knew his time would come.  Perhaps he would meet his end as nothing more than dressed up firewood.  He felt the darkness of the room creeping into his own thoughts.  He could not recall the words of the songs the birds sang, as if they had never been written.  Darker still were his feelings toward the humans.  Why had he taken such joy in serving this horrible race?  They were nothing but worms all this time.  The bitterness welled up inside of him.  He regretted every shade he had provided, every limb he had ever held up.

One day, the doors opened again, and several men filled the chamber.  “We need 3 today, men.  Pick out some good ones.”  After some looking, the men chose the tree and two others from across the dark hall.  They were carried out into the bright sunlight, but it hardly filled his heart with any comfort.  He hoped he would be burned quickly, though he feared in the prime of his life, he would probably take hours to become ashes.  They were taken to a courtyard in what was apparently one of the human’s cities.  When they got there, he was surprised to see that there were no signs of a fire being prepared: no flint, no torches, nothing.  Suddenly, the doors to a building flew open, and soldiers poured out.  They led out a couple of men who looked as horrible as any humans he had ever seen.  The soldiers surrounded them and told them to pick up the other two trees with which he had come.

As they were lead away, the tree looked again to the open door and could not believe what he saw.  Another man was being lead out, but he was hardly recognizable in that form any more than the tree retained any of his former beauty.  But the tree immediately knew who he was – it was the Maker Himself.  All creation had always been able to recognize their Creator.  But why was He here in this form?  How could the Maker, mighty and powerful enough to have created the universe and all its amazing creatures, be standing here now as a creature that the tree had grown to despise?  An even bigger question filled his mind – how is it that all creation knew Him, but these humans did not?  How could they have done as horrible things to Him as they had done to the tree?  He was beaten, bruised, and bloody, barely able to stand on His feet.  The soldiers mocked Him and cursed Him as they led him toward the tree.  “Pick it up, King!” they yelled.  He complied, though weakly.  The tree couldn’t understand what was happening.  His Maker was carrying him in this horrible state.  Though He was the One who could move the mountains, He was struggling to carry the tree.  Finally, the tree’s weight was too much, and the Maker collapsed.  The soldiers quickly found another in the crowd to carry the tree.  As they came down the street and out of the city, a mob of a crowd surrounded them, throwing trash and waste and crying out, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”

At last, they stopped at the top of a hill.  The tree was placed on the ground, and the Maker lay down upon him.  More than anything the tree had ever desired, he wished he could provide shade for the Maker from the sun’s burning rays.  It seemed so wrong it was the other way around at the moment.  Then, the worst horror the tree had ever experienced in these dark days came.  The Maker stretched out his arms across the tree’s man-made limbs.  A particularly cruel soldier took a hammer and a spike and placed them on His hand.  The hammer fell.  The Maker cried out with the same pain that the tree had felt from the axe.  The blows continued until the tree, too, felt the sharp point of the nail splitting through him.  The soldier proceeded to do the same to the Maker’s other hand as well as His feet, and the Maker’s cries rang out over the hill.  The tree was lifted up and dropped into a hole in the earth –  replanted, not as a beautiful creation, but as an instrument of torture, pain, and death.

The evil mob gathered around and mocked the Maker that hung upon the tree amidst the other trees and their humans.  “If you really are the Maker, save yourself, and we will believe.”  The tree joined with them – not as a mock, but an encouragement.  He should show Himself as the Maker so these people will know the horrible things they have done.  Better yet, He should destroy them all for the accursed creation they were.  But the Maker did not echo the tree’s thoughts.  He softly spoke, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  In the midst of the darkness that mysteriously began to creep over the place, those words shone like the sun.  The tree wondered if they hadn’t been spoken directly to him.  After all the tree had been through and now had seen his Maker go through, those words carried some beauty he could not understand.

Hours passed in what was now a completely darkened sky.  The Maker gasped for breath after breath, painfully lifting Himself on the nails.  The tree would gladly have pushed Him off to release Him from the pain, but all he managed to give the Maker were more splinters in His already mangled body.  At long last, the Maker lifted His head and cried out, “It is finished!”  And the last ragged breath left His lungs.  A handful of people in the crowd came to Him with tears and sobs, allowed to release Him from the tree and carry His dead body away.  The tree could not bear what had just occurred.  His mighty Maker was destroyed cruelly by His own creation…and he was the one who delivered His death.  Guilt consumed him.  No bird would ever rest in another tree because of him.  They would fly over the forests and curse the ones who had destroyed their Creator.  The wind would rise at every opportunity to rid the world of every tree planted in the earth, for a tree had caused the death of the One who gave the wind its direction.  The humans seemed to agree with his guilt, or at least, they had no more use for him.  They rooted him out of the ground and tossed him into the valley.  Whatever fate awaited this tree would be welcome now.  He needed to be completely wiped out from existence for the part He played in the Maker’s death.

Early one morning, the ground shook where the tree lay.  Perhaps an earthquake would swallow him into the earth and all the better if it did.  But something in the way it shook gave him a different feeling. Though he could not explain after all the horrors he had experienced, he felt a sense of joy and purpose welling up within him.  A sparkle of hope grew in his timber.  And at that moment, he heard the wind.  It seemed to be rushing in all directions.  It was not carrying a message; it was singing a song.  The song it sang crescendoed with the amazing news – “The Maker is no longer dead.  He has risen!  He has risen!”  Could this be true?  The tree wanted to believe it, but he thought that perhaps it was just a winter’s dream he was experiencing.

Suddenly, he heard footsteps coming down the path.  As he looked around, his greatest hopes were realized – the Maker stood before him, fully whole, save for the scars on his hands, feet, and side.  The Maker was not moving His mouth, but the tree could clearly hear Him speak, more clearly than he had ever heard anything, more thrilling than the birds’ morning songs.  The Maker was speaking to him.

“My dear tree, you can rest assured I am alive and well.  And though you could not understand it, you played a most significant part in My amazing plan.”

“What was that plan?” the tree responded.

“To save these sin-sick humans and bring them back to their Maker.  The only way to do so was to take their sin upon myself and bear it, much like you bore me.”

“But why?” said the tree.  “Why save them when they would do such horrible things to me and my kin, when they would do such things to You?”

“Because,” the Maker said, “I created them just as I created you.  I love them.  And now, they have an open door to leave their sin and fall in love with Me.”

“But why me?” groaned the tree.  “Why did I have to experience so much hurt at the hands of those humans?”

The Maker sighed – not one of frustration, but one of tenderness and love.  It even appeared there were tears in His eyes as the tree heard His response.

“You have shared an experience with Me that few could understand.  I was born in a stable.  You were planted in a forest.  But like Me, you grew strong in life.  You took great joy as I did in my creation.  You served them and offered yourself in love for them.  And just as they turned on Me, they turned on you for their wicked designs.  But may that pain be a small and passing thing compared to the immense weight of glory that lies before us both.  It is only fitting now that I have risen to new life that you shall rise to new life, too.”

“You mean, I will be planted back in the grove, with all my branches and limbs strong and healthy again?” the tree responded excitedly.

“No,” said the Maker.  “I have a much greater plan.  You shall retain your current state.”

“But all that made me beautiful is gone!” cried the tree.

“My dear creation, you now carry a beauty of which every tree in every forest will boast.  Your beauty in this new life I have given you will be told from generation to generation.  You will not be remembered for bearing leaves or bearing branches.  You will always be remembered in your new life for bearing the Maker.”

“But that is what I fear,” the tree said.  “It will always be said that a tree killed the Maker…and I was the tree.”

“It was not you who put Me to death, young one,” the Maker said firmly.  “I laid My own life down.  No one took it from Me.  I freely gave it.  I have taken it back again.

“When people look on you and think of My death, they will not look in horror as they did 3 days ago.  They will look in hope, in fondness.  They will no longer see an instrument of torture and death.  They will see the gift of love, peace, and life.  Sinners twisted you into a means of carrying out their bloodlust.  I am transforming you into a means of carrying out My love for them.

“In your new life, you will find greater joy than you have ever known.  They will look on you in love and gratefulness for the part you played in ridding them of their sin.  You will bear fruit in their hearts that is sweeter than any other tree on earth.  For thousands of years forward, people will find shade, rest, and peace in your shadow.  The children will climb you to the very top, because they will know it is the only way they can reach Me.  All creation will perch on your limbs and sing the songs of My redemption throughout all eternity.  Just as I am transforming you into an amazing display of My love, I will transform the sinners into amazing displays of My righteousness.”

“Can it really happen?” asked the tree.  “Will I carry such beauty?  Can these humans really be changed?”

“I am the Maker!” He proclaimed with both thundering authority and overwhelming joy. “I make all things new – even the tree that has been cut down, even the human who cut down the tree.”

And so, the story of the tree spread far and wide.  Just as the Maker predicted, humans the world over were smitten as they saw what their sin had done.  They came running to the Maker in hopes that, like the tree, they might be changed and made brand new.  The tree, once ridden with bitterness over the crimes the humans committed against him, found it an honor to be planted in their paintings, their homes, their songs, and on top of the houses where they gathered to praise their Maker and Savior.  For every time a human looked upon him, he was filled with great joy that they remembered the Maker and His incredible love.  It is said that when the humans finally arrive in the Maker’s kingdom, they will find a beautiful tree of life.  It is planted on both sides of the crystal river, filled with delicious fruit and healthy leaves that will provide healing to the nations.  It seems that even the tree of the Maker’s fame will find its way into His holy kingdom along with all the saints he guided toward the Maker’s redemption.

“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame
But I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross
‘Til my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown.”
George Bennard

“Mighty, awesome, wonderful
Is the holy cross
Where the Lamb laid down His life
To lift us from the fall
Mighty is the power of the cross.”
Chris Tomlin