9 Then God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear"; and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth"; and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.
If I asked you to complete the sentence "On the third day...", what would you say? As a Christians, you would probably say, "On the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead." Good answer! Life came forth in that barren tomb on the third day after His Crucifixion. A few might quote today's verses from Genesis, but I think most of us would mention the Resurrection. But is there a connection between these third days, the third day of creation and the third day after the Crucifixion?
On the third day of Creation, God separated the waters below the heavens by placing dry land in their midst, and then He created the first plants. Like any good artist, the Creator puts together the background of His Composition: first the light (first day), and then the sky (second day), then land and sea, and now trees and plants (third day). On the fourth day He adds sun, moon and stars, then birds and fishes on the fifth day, and finally land animals and humans on the sixth day. Layer by layer, God worked. But why did He create plants before creating the sun? After all, we know from science that plants get their nourishment from sunlight, so it would make sense to create the sun first. We must trust that God knows what He's doing, and that the order and timing is significant.
On that third day of Creation, God created grass, seed-bearing plants (like wheat), and also trees. To you and me, trees are nice for shading us on a hot day, nice for building things, and they are pretty handy for climbing when we're younger. Trees create a natural fence for some folks, and some trees are particularly nice for the fruits they produce. (Like the apple I just ate!) However, it doesn't take much for us to realize that there is further significance to trees and wood: the Cross of Christ.
In Genesis chapter 2, we read that God placed the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" in the midst of the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:9) After seeing how Adam and Eve rebelled against God's commandment not to eat from that tree, it makes sense that we would be drawn to misusing trees. As I mentioned above, in its good form, a tree might be used for the fruit it produces, the lumber with which we build, or its natural properties as a wind-break, a place of shade, or a child's playground. But in humanity's propensity to sin and wickedness, we created another use for trees: crucifixion. That which God created to be fruitful and useful, humanity distorted to bring pain and death. God created fruitful trees on that third day - and then on another third day He undid their evil use.
In His abundant wisdom, God knew how humanity would misuse trees. He knew that one day His only Son would be nailed to a cross made from one of those trees. As part of the Trinity, Christ also knew that, and yet through Him all things were made (John 1:3), including trees. The inevitability of the fall of man was foreshadowed in the Creation, as was the inevitability of his salvation. For what humanity intended for evil was used by God for good. (Genesis 50:20 or Romans 8:28, anyone?) Before humankind had even been made, God created the means of our salvation, the Cross.
What an awesome God we have! This living God who created all of the universe, He had the foresight to create trees for us, so that we, like Him, would come to understand good and evil, and so that we could see the abundance of His mercy and grace. On the third day of Creation, God created the instrument of His mercy - a tree - and then on that other, distant third day, He showed His mercy by bringing forth life and undoing the death we deserve for our sin and rebellion. "And God saw that it was good." And so do we.
Blessed Heavenly Father, thank You for all of Creation - its abundance, its providence, and its beauty. Thank You, too, for Your mercy, for the grace which You extend to us even though we misuse Your Creation to our own ends. Thank You for forgiving us, Father God. And mostly, Lord God, thank You for the Cross. Amen.