THE PALM TREE OF GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS
In real life a mustard seed only becomes a shrub; it never becomes a tree.
Nicodemus was a bible teacher of the Jews. But when he saw the manifestation of the spirit and power of God in the ministry of Jesus, he started having second thoughts about the value of his degree in theology. He came to Jesus in secret and at night, in order to broaden his knowledge about the kingdom of God from this strange preacher from Nazareth.
But then Jesus turned both his theology and his biology upside down. He said in order for him to see the kingdom of God, he would have to be “born again.”
Nicodemus was flabbergasted. How could an old man like him be “born again?” Would he have to go back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time? (John 3:4). On his part, Jesus wondered how Nicodemus could be the pastor of a church and yet find it so difficult to understand simple spiritual principles.
He said: “How can you be a teacher of Israel and not know these things? If you don’t believe when I talk to you about things on earth, how can you possibly believe if I talk to you about things in heaven?” (John 3:10/12).
In similar fashion, Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed that becomes a tree is Greek to most Christians, even when it is pointed out that in real life a mustard seed only becomes a shrub; it never becomes a tree. We did not become Christians in order to be shrubs: we became Christians because want to be trees. We want to be mighty oaks. We want to be like the celebrated cedars of Lebanon.
When I shared with an interactive bible study group that it is not the will of God for the believer to be great in this world, this did not go down well. One of them gently drew my attention to an Old Testament scripture that apparently says the very opposite: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” (Psalm 92:12).
Here was proof-text that the mustard seed believer would become a tree after all, contrary to the laws of nature. Indeed, the very fact that it would do so against the odds would testify to the power of God. That which is impossible in nature is surely not impossible with God.
However, when we read Old Testament scriptures today, it must be informed by the new wine of the Lord’s New Testament. Paul observes that this is the problem with the Jews: “Their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).
If we read Psalm 92:12 with a veil over our hearts, we would be frustrated to death, waiting indefinitely to flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. We must read such scriptures with a new heart and a renewed spirit. Otherwise, we could stand in the righteousness of Christ for years on end and discover that we are not flourishing like any palm tree and are not growing like any cedar in Lebanon or even in Nigeria.
Our businesses are not thriving. We lose our jobs. We suffer bereavement. We are jilted in love. We are persecuted and despised.
Without wanting to admit it, this leads us to the impulsive conclusion that the promises of God are illusory. We feel God just says a lot of things without meaning them. He says a lot of things without intending to bring them to pass. Thereby, the letter of the scripture kills our faith. Little by little, we stop believing in the word of God. When we hear someone pray a promise of God, we say the Amen of Jeremiah; the Amen of doubt and unbelief. (Jeremiah 28:6).
Let there be light
But when the veil over our heart is removed, we read Psalm 92:12 again and discover that this scripture that was so damaging to our faith is actually true-to-life. Although our businesses are not thriving, although we lose our jobs, although we suffer bereavement, although we are jilted in love, although we are persecuted and despised, nevertheless we are flourishing like the palm tree and are growing like a cedar in Lebanon.
However, this flourishing and growth is not physical but spiritual. The Lord is not trying to make us a physical but a spiritual cedar in Lebanon. We also discover that a spiritual cedar is not just different from a physical cedar; it is actually its antithesis. That which is flesh is flesh, and that which is spirit is spirit. A spiritual cedar is the very opposite of a physical cedar.
A spiritual cedar in Lebanon is not recognised or admired in the world. Eye does not see, ear does not hear, it has not come into the imagination of men what makes the spiritual man a cedar in Lebanon. The natural man cannot see it because he has a veil over his heart. But God has revealed it to us by his Holy Spirit.
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that becomes a tree. Is the mustard seed physical or is it spiritual? What about the tree? Jesus says: “the words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63).
The seed is the word of God. The tree is the believer. But in the physical, the believer never really becomes a tree. What happens is that he becomes a kind of a weed that “infects” and affects the vegetables in the garden of life.
Thus, Jesus came as the light of the world to teach us how to understand the Old Testament by being the fulfilment of its prophecies. (Matthew 5:17). After we have received him, we must not put the veil back on our hearts.
Suddenly, Peter becomes confused. “But we have given up everything to follow you,” he pleads with Jesus. “What then are we going to get for it?”
Jesus answered: “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions- and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30).
The houses, the lands, the family that Jesus promised Peter are all realised in this lifetime. But they are not physical, they are all in Christ. As believers, our inheritance is in Christ, and our inheritance is Christ. God himself is our reward. The question then is this: is he enough?
“At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth; that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight.’” (Matthew 11:25).