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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Why is the Son of David hanging from a tree?
Text:2 Samuel 18:9 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 82:1,2

Hymn 82:3,4 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 22:1-3

Hymn 26

Hymn 23

Scripture readings: Matthew 27:32-54, 2 Samuel 18:1-15

Text:  2 Samuel 18:9

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Have you ever noticed how the Bible begins and ends with trees?  In Genesis in the Garden of Eden, there was the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In Revelation 22, we meet the tree of life again, now in the New Jerusalem.  Between these trees in the pages of Scripture, we find two other stories where trees are central.

With it being Good Friday today, I think right away of the cross.  Now you might want to say, “But the cross wasn’t a tree!  It was made of trees, but it wasn’t a tree.”  If you want to say that, technically you’re right.  However, Scripture does describe the cross as a tree.  You can think here of 1 Peter 2:24, for example.  It says about Jesus, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…”  If you think about it, it does make some sense.  After all, the cross is wooden, it’s planted in the ground, it has a trunk, and it has two branches.  So first-century Jews commonly referred to the Roman cross as a tree.  So you can say, “Jesus hung on the cross,” or you can say, “Jesus hung on a tree.”  It’s the same thing.

Now there’s another story in the Bible where a tree is central and that’s our text for this morning.  Absalom ends up hanging in a tree.  We’re going to look at the significance of this and especially how it connects with the tree on Golgotha where Christ hung.  In this sermon I’ll answer the question:  Why is the Son of David hanging from a tree?

We’ll look at Absalom and Jesus and their:

  1. Commonalities
  2. Contrasts

So first, what do Christ and Absalom have in common?  Several things.  To start with, they’re both sons of David.  David was directly the father of Absalom – Absalom’s mother was Maacah.  She was the daughter of the king of Geshur and one of King David’s wives.  Christ is called the Son of David because he is a descendant of David several generations down.  So Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus and he introduces it by saying, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David…”  

The first commonality is connected to the second.  Both of them were true human beings.  In the case of Absalom that’s obvious.  No one has ever claimed otherwise.  But in the case of Jesus, there have been those who denied he was a true human being.  However, the Bible is emphatic that Jesus was just as much a human being as Absalom was.  Jesus had a real human body and a real human soul.  That turns out to be really important.  Jesus couldn’t be our Saviour unless he was really human, because a true human being had to pay for the sins of human beings.  God wouldn’t punish another creature for sins human beings had committed.

The last thing they had in common was that both of their lives ended hanging from a tree.  With both of them, it wasn’t a chance occurrence.  At first glance, you might think verse 5 of 2 Samuel 18 describes it as random.  It says, “Absalom happened to meet the servants of David…”  He happens to meet them because he happens to get stuck in the tree.  However, this wasn’t random or a stroke of bad luck for Absalom.  For one thing, we know there’s no such thing as luck.  God is sovereign over all that happens in this world and that includes low-hanging oak trees and the paths of mules.  For another thing, there’s actually a clue in the original Hebrew that this situation was ordained by God.  Our ESV Bible translation says that Absalom “was suspended between heaven and earth.”  Literally it says, ‘He was given between heaven and earth…”  God gave him up to this.  This isn’t a chance occurrence.  It’s part of God’s plan.

It was the same thing with the cross.  The cross didn’t come as a surprise to God.  It didn’t come as a surprise to Jesus.  It had all been ordained, planned, managed.  According to Peter in Acts 2:23, Jesus was delivered up to death “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”  Like with Absalom, his tree had been prepared for him.

And for both Absalom and Jesus, their hanging from a tree symbolized God’s judgment and curse upon them.  You may remember what Scripture says in Deuteronomy 21 about this.  It’s quoted in Galatians 3 as “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”  Everyone hanging on a tree is cursed.  Absalom was under God’s curse.  Christ was under God’s curse. 

In our passage from 2 Samuel 18, that comes into sharper focus when it says that Absalom “was suspended between heaven and earth” or, as I just mentioned a moment ago, “he was given between heaven and earth.”  That word “given” is sometimes used in Scripture to describe God giving someone to his judgment.  And here it’s the hanging son of David given between heaven and earth.  You see, when you’re hanging from a tree, you’re in limbo.  Heaven doesn’t want you.  Heaven rejects you.  But so does the earth.  The earth that God made good, the earth doesn’t want you either.  Those who live on the earth don’t want you.  No place wants you, no one wants you.  Utter rejection.  That’s what was being communicated about Absalom as he hung, and that’s what was being communicated about Christ as he hung.  Both of them were under God’s judgment and curse.

Now that brings us to the contrasts between these two sons of David.  We’ll look at five of them, five really strong contrasts between Christ and Absalom.

First, there’s a contrast when it comes to choice.  Absalom didn’t choose to hang from his tree.  That tree was out of his control.  He didn’t choose to have his mule travel under that tree.  But that’s one way where Jesus and his tree are so different.  Christ did choose to hang from the cross.  He chose to go there.  Think of how he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:  “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  It was the Father’s will to put him to death and the Son agreed to it.  He willingly went to the cross.  He said in John 10 that he laid down his life of his own accord.  But why did he do this?  He did it out of his great love for you.  Jesus chose to suffer and die on this tree because he had your name on his heart.  Jesus said in John 10 that he would lay down his life for the sheep, for those whom the Father had given to him.  And 1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”  So why does the ultimate Son of David hang from a tree?  The first part of the answer has to do with his great love.  It’s a love that’s so great he carries it with him to death and beyond.

Next, there’s a contrast when it comes to creation.  Absalom was only a man.  As such, he didn’t have anything to do with the existence of that oak tree.  He didn’t create it.  Now earlier I said that Jesus is a true man.  But at the same time he is also true God.  As the Son of God he had an existence before his conception and birth.  Scripture tells us in John 1 that he was involved with creation, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”  That includes trees. That includes the tree or trees that were used to construct the cross on which he hung.  This is part of the wonder and mystery of the cross.  Because Adam and Eve ate fruit from a tree they weren’t supposed to, a tree that Christ had created, because they did that, Christ had to hang from a tree which he created.  The Son of God, the Creator, was hanging from his creation, put there by his traitorous creatures.  This is part of what makes the cross such a humiliation for Jesus.  He’s the Creator, he deserves to be worshipped and adored as such.  He has majesty and glory, but here it’s all hidden behind the horrible tree on which he hangs.

Third, there’s a contrast when it comes to kingship.  Absalom was a prince who wanted to be king.  He had a prideful lust for power.  That led him to revolt against his father and attempt to seize the throne.  Absalom declared himself king, set himself up in Jerusalem, and then decided to kill his father, the true king.  Now this pretender king, son of David, is hanging from a tree.  How he ended up there is also curious.  He was riding his mule, which was the ride of royalty in those days.  “King” Absalom gets stuck in the tree and his royal mule keeps on going without him.  He’s watching his stolen kingdom get away on him.

Now compare Absalom to Jesus.  Here is the true King, the King of kings.  There is no greater King than Jesus.  But from looking at the scene before and at Golgotha, you wouldn’t know it.  He has no royal mule on his way to the cross.  He has a crown, but it’s a crown of thorns.  He has a throne, but it’s just that little piece of wood the Romans stuck in the vertical beam of the cross.  It was called a sedecula.  It extended the suffering of the one being crucified because they would keep trying to prop themselves up on this little peg.  That’s the throne of King Jesus at the cross.  It’s all upside down because the cross is a time for his humiliation and suffering.  But afterwards, Jesus was glorified again.  He now reigns from the most exalted position, the right hand of the Father in heaven.  Absalom would never rule again after hanging on his tree, but King Jesus did and does rule forever after hanging from his tree.  That’s a good thing, it’s a good thing for us, because he’s a good King who rules with wisdom and love for his people.   

Then there’s a contrast when it comes to the curse.  We already saw that hanging from a tree meant you were cursed by God.  Both Jesus and Absalom have that in common.  But Absalom was a wicked man and he bore the curse of one man, himself.  He was rebellious and prideful and it led to his accursed death in the oak tree.  Now there are those who say that there was something of poetic justice as Absalom hangs from the tree.  They refer back to the physical description of Absalom in 2 Samuel 14.  He was said to be a handsome man, in fact, the handsomest man in Israel.  And Absalom had this incredible hair.  It would grow in thick and long.  He was proud of it.  Every year he’d get a haircut and it would weigh over 2 kilograms.  Now some say this hair was Absalom’s undoing.  It was his long thick hair that got stuck in the branches of the oak tree.  Now we have to realize the text doesn’t say it.  It just says that his head got stuck, it doesn’t tell us how.  Is it possible that he was caught by his hair?  Yes.  It is likely?  Again, yes.  But can we say that with absolute certainty?  No, that goes beyond what the text says.  One thing we know for sure is that when he was hanging from that tree, his good looks and long, thick hair were hanging there with him.  His pride was being condemned by God’s curse.  God opposes the proud and unless they repent, he condemns them.      

When the great Son of David hung from his tree, it wasn’t for his sin.  He wasn’t bearing his own curse.  He was bearing the curse for our sins, including the very sins that killed Absalom, pride and rebellion.  Jesus was a sinless man.  He never had his own sins.  But our sins were laid on him.  Second Corinthians 5:21 says it best, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Though he was sinless, Christ was made to be sin.  How?  By having our sins laid on him, imputed to him.  On the cross, Christ became sin, the thing that God hates. He takes the curse we deserve for our sins.  And as a result, we become the righteousness of God.  Though we are sinners, we become what God loves, we become righteousness.  How is that possible?  Because Christ’s right standing before God is laid on us, imputed to us, credited to us.  When God looks at us, he doesn’t see what he hates – our sin.  Instead, he sees what he loves, righteousness, the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.  This is why the good news is so good and so encouraging!  Because our Lord Jesus bore the curse of our sins on the tree, we have been forgiven all of them.  Loved ones, when we believe in Christ, all our sins, past, present and future, were nailed with him to that cross.  They’re gone.  Out of the way.  Just place your trust in Christ alone and it’s true for you, just like it’s true for every Christian.

And finally, there’s a contrast when it comes to the extent of the suffering that each son of David experienced.  Absalom’s suffering in that tree was limited.  It was for a limited time.  He wasn’t there long.  And there was limited pain.  When he was pierced by Joab’s javelins and when he was struck by Joab’s armor-bearers, he experienced bodily pain before he died.  But that was it.  That’s still horrible, but it pales in comparison to what the other Son of David experienced on his tree.

When we come to the cross, there’s what we can see and what we can’t.  We can see a naked man, bruised and bleeding, nailed to this tree.  We can see him struggling to breathe.  We can see the crown of thorns.  We can see the beard pulled off his face.  Jesus on the cross is a horrible sight.  The physical suffering was enormous.  We can see this much.  And then suddenly we can’t.  We can’t because God made the lights go out for three hours.  There was a supernatural darkness over the land.  Light is life and now light is gone.  Our Saviour Jesus hangs from the tree in the dark.  It’s then when he experiences the worst of his suffering.  The infinite wrath of God against your sin and my sin was poured out on Christ in both his body and soul.  This unending depth of suffering you and I will never understand.  Christ took hell in our place.  He turned away God’s wrath from us and returned his favour.  Only Christ could do that.  Only Christ can make atonement for others – and this is what he did for us as he was hanging on that tree.  Why did the Son of David hang on the tree?  For your salvation.  To rescue you from what you deserve – eternity in hell.  Loved ones, do you see it?  If you do, look to him in faith, whether it’s now for the first time or whether you’re doing it again.  Place your trust only in what Christ has done in your place on that accursed tree.

The story of the Bible begins with a forbidden tree.  Adam and Eve ate from that tree and plunged them and us into a world of brokenness, trouble, death, and sin.  That’s the world where Absalom lived and died – dying on a tree bearing his curse.  But this is also the world in which Christ lived and died – dying on a tree bearing our curse.  And not only did he die, but he lives again.  He lives and rules in heaven and believers share in his life.  Our curse is gone, we know that we have life in abundance.  Even if we die, we continue living.  And we’ll be there in the New Jerusalem to see that tree upon which no one shall ever hang.  We’ll see and enjoy the tree that instead of bringing a curse to God’s creation will only bring blessing forever.  “No longer will there be anything accursed,” it says in Revelation 22:3.  This blessing will be ours in the great Son of David who hung on that tree of Golgotha in our place.  AMEN.


Lord Jesus, great Son of David,

We adore you for choosing to go to the cross in our place.  We worship you as our Creator, the one who created the very wood of the cross that you died on.  We thank you that you are King forever, reigning over us in wisdom and goodness.  We love you because you loved us so much that you bore the curse of our sin on that tree.  You took the wrath of God we deserved.  You took our hell and we will forever be grateful.  Thank you that we can be sure that there’s a place waiting for us by the tree of life, a place of blessing.  We look forward to that, Lord, and we ask for it to come quickly.  As we wait, please help us to place our trust wholeheartedly only in you.  Please strengthen our faith with your Word and with your Holy Spirit.  And please help us to hate our sins which put you on that tree.  Lord, we humbly ask you:  help us to grow in despising wickedness and loving righteousness.                                             

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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