by Michael Catt
(Editor’s note: This column originally appeared on Michael Catt’s blog, www.michaelcatt.com, on April 18, prior to Easter Sunday, April 24.)
The other day, I randomly pulled a book off the shelf in my study at home. It wasn’t a spiritual book. It was Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader: History’s Lists by the Bathroom Reader’s Institute. Believe it or not, the books in this series can make great illustration material.
The chapter I read was “Trees of History.” The book mentions four particular trees in America that would be considered historical. The first was the Liberty Tree. As the story goes, in 1765 the British imposed the Stamp Act on the colonies. The result was a law that required all printed material to be produced on paper with a revenue stamp. The stamp was evidence that the tax had been paid, which helped pay for Britain’s military presence in America.
According to the chapter, the colonists saw this as a form of censorship. Since all printed materials from books to papers required the stamp, basically the British government was eliminating the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech. Only printed material approved by the Crown could be read.
To protest the law, a group called the Sons of Liberty gathered under a tree in the Boston Common and hung two dummies (representing tax collectors) from it. From that day on, the tree was known as the Liberty Tree. It became a gathering place for the populace to complain about the British.
In August 1775, British loyalists cut the tree down, and used it for firewood. The tree became the Liberty Stump. Today, a bronze plaque is in the Boston Common where the tree once stood.
The second tree was the General Sherman Tree, a giant sequoia discovered in 1879, and named after General William T. Sherman of the Union Army. In 1931, the General Sherman was named the oldest and largest tree in the world. It is estimated to be between 2,300-2,700 years old, and is nearly 275 feet tall. The base circumference is 103 feet.
The third tree is the General Grant Tree, also a sequoia. It has been declared a memorial to those who have given their lives in service to their country. It became a memorial in March of 1956 in a declaration by President Eisenhower. Before that, President Calvin Coolidge had called it the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.” Christmas services are still held at its base. It is the third largest tree in the world.
The fourth tree mentioned was the Bodhi Tree in Bihar, India, which grows on the spot of the birth of Buddha. The tree got its name because bodhi means “enlightenment” in Sanskrit. Although the tree eventually died (as all false religions will), the tree that is there today is said to be a “direct descendant of the original, planted from a branch.” This kind of reminds me of UGA, the Georgia Bulldog mascot who is always a “relative or in the blood line of” the first UGA.
This stirred my mind about the most famous tree not mentioned. It was cut down to make a cross for the Son of God. We don’t know where the timbers came from. We can’t say, “X marks the spot,” concerning where the wood originated, but Christians have traditionally referred to the cross as a tree on which Jesus was crucified. On that “old rugged cross” our Lord was pinned to the timber by nails. But not just nails, for His love for man held Him there.
I’ve been to the spot where many believe that tree once stood. It is at a busy point, outside the walls of Jerusalem. It would have been in the vicinity of what is now a Muslim bus terminal. At the base of the rock we call Mt. Calvary, our Lord would have been crucified for all to see.
Criminals were crucified along this busy road as a deterrent to crime and a reminder to criminals of what happened to those who broke the law. The Romans were cruel taskmasters, and they used crucifixion as the most violent form of punishment and eventual death ever known to man.
The tree we know as the cross was God’s Stamp Act, where His Son was imprinted with our sin. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He took our sin so that we could be set free from the tyranny of sin and death. He died there, so we might live.
That tree—that cross—became our Statue of Liberty. It is where God met man in his greatest need. He offered forgiveness and grace through His death. There is no plaque, no national memorial there, but millions upon millions have traveled to the Holy Land for the last 2,000 years to remember it was there that Christ paid for our sin.
Jesus was not a famous general; He was a humble carpenter and a servant. Jesus is not the leader of a religion, Jesus knows nothing of religion. Jesus came to establish relationships and to restore fellowship with man. Religion is man reaching up to God to try to appease Him and gain His approval. Christianity is God reaching down to man. Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
As we approach the celebration of the resurrection, it’s not about eggs, bunnies and candy. It’s about eternal love, shed blood and a cross. The most famous tree in the history of the world doesn’t exist. It served its purpose. It held the body of the perfect Son of God, the creator of everything on this planet. It’s gone, but HE LIVES.
Michael Catt is senior pastor of Albany, Ga. Sherwood, and executive producer of the films, Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous, which will be released in theaters on Sept. 30.