Once upon a time, two maple trees stood guard over our front yard. Towering above our home, the trees watched over the east and west edges of our property like uniformed soldiers. Though we had not planted the trees ourselves, we could tell by their nearly identical structure that they had been planted simultaneously.
They lived and served together for close to 20 years. Each spring new branches reached heavenward and sprouted a thick mass of green leaves. Each autumn the green would bloom into golden orange waves of foliage until the last frosty wind blew each leaf to the ground. To the average onlooker, these trees appeared identical in every way. But the winds of a late spring storm would eventually reveal a hidden truth. These trees were not the same. Though they came into life at about the same time, were planted in the same soil, and were fertilized and watered by the same schedule, a grave difference was occurring below the surface.
One tree had taken deep root in its firm foundation. The other had not.
On a stormy night two years ago, the tree in the west steeled itself against the heavy winds and stood firm. The tree in the east? We found it lying across our driveway the next morning, cut off from its life source. As I stood with the arborist later that day, he explained that the anchoring roots of the tree had rotted and decayed. Even though the tree appeared healthy and vibrant with foliage, its roots simply weren’t strong enough to support it.
Our maple trees remind me of the twelve disciples. Jesus called each one of them into a new life at roughly the same time. Each stood side by side with their Savior, being fed by “every word that [came] from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3), and being sustained by the Living Water. They lived together, dined together, learned together, and even taught and served together. But on the night of the Last Supper, the Bible reveals that they were not all the same. A grave difference was occurring below the surface.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me,” Jesus declared in John 13:21. Turning later toward his disciple, Judas Iscariot, Jesus said, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Judas immediately fled the room into the dark of night (vs. 27-30).
Just as our trees were planted in the nutrient-laden soil of our yard, the disciples were immersed in the life-giving teachings of our Lord. Most of the gospel seeds Jesus planted landed in fertile soil and took deep root in the Firm Foundation of Christ. But Judas was different. For some reason, other gods found their home in the fertile soil of his heart. Judas’s life became entangled with idols of greed, pride, and arrogance that cut him off from the true life that Jesus offered.
After Judas fled, Jesus led his disciples toward the Garden of Gethsemane—the site of the fallen disciple’s ultimate betrayal. Along the way, Jesus declared these words to the eleven: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).
How powerfully must these words have resonated in the disciples’ hearts as the hours, days, and months moved on! One of their own had just been taken away. The disciple Peter found himself pruned as he denied Christ three times. Jesus’s words must have captivated them as they considered how real and true they were!
Friend, what about you? Have the seeds of everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ been planted in the fertile soil of your heart? Are you abiding in the Firm Foundation of Christ, with anchoring roots that are holding you secure? Is your outer appearance bearing the fruit of faith in Jesus? I once heard a story about a 300-year-old tree in Alabama. The tree trunk is so wide that it takes about six men, reaching fingertip to fingertip, to encircle it. The farmer who tends it says that if you look underneath the soil, you would find a root system that nearly mirrors the tree above ground. How is your root system fairing? Where is it anchored?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24