Copyright © Edward Riojas
Some of us grew up having school teachers who gave subtle hints that we shouldn’t trifle with them. You know who they were. Those particular teachers didn’t necessarily incessantly yell or haul students by the ear out of the classroom and into the scholastic netherworld or burden students with punitive tasks. Those teachers simply made sure a yard stick was visible for all to see. Perhaps they would conspicuously place it on the chalkboard’s bottom rail [even though measuring was rarely needed]. Maybe they gently laid it on their desk at the start of the day. We all knew what its presence meant, and most, if not all, students strove to keep that yardstick in its place.
A while back I was asked by Rev. Michael Holmen to create cover art for a newly released book, “The Hardening of Israel’s Heart & The Hardening of Heart in the Church.” Holmen edited the volume, which was written by Rev. Paul Hensel and translated by Floyd Brand.
Several visual concepts were fused into one simple image for the cover art, but the theme lays heavily on the scathing words of John the Forerunner:
“But when [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”” (Matthew 3:7-10)
Because the thrust of the book is on hardening, however, I pushed John’s visual a bit further in time. While the axe is an inanimate object, the tree begins to throw itself to the wind. Without taking in nourishment from the ground, its foliage scatters; its limbs bleach; its life wanes. This is a tree that has ignored the axe. This is a tree that strives to be something it is not. The tree’s future is foreshadowed as dropping leaves reveal a not-so-subtle skull of death.
While we may chastise, with 20/20 theological hindsight, the hardened, foolish Israelites or the wayward early Church, John’s warning is certainly for us also. We simply cannot live on our own without the life-giving waters that flow from our Savior’s side. We dare not attempt to ignore the Gospel in preference of our own supposed goodness. Our limbs will surely fail when we lift them up to the ugly persuits of man instead of the glory of our Lord. To that end, it is wise to listen carefully to the Forerunner’s admonition; to see in our mind’s eye that yardstick gently laid for all to see. The sharpened axe is indeed laid at the root of the tree.
Giclée prints of cover art, “The Axe is Laid at the Root of the Tree,” are available from the artist. Prints are signed, and domestic shipping is included for U.S. residents. Sizes/Prices for prints:
21” x 30” / $150
17” x 24” / $120
12.7” x 18” / $80
To order, or for more information about this print or any other that I offer, please e-mail me at email@example.com