The Three Trees: a Folktale for Good Friday

[This post was originally put up on Good Friday, April 6, 2007. I thought about putting up something different this year, but I couldn’t think of anything that can approach the beauty of this little story. Enjoy.]

Once upon a time, three little trees stood in a forest high on a mountain, dreaming of what they would be when they were grown.

The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds in the night sky. “I want to hold treasure,” it said. “I want to be filled with gold and decorated with jewels. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked down the mountainside at the ocean far below. “I want to be a strong sailing ship,” it said. “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree said, “I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me their eyes will raise up to heaven, and they will think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world!”

Years passed, and the trees grew. And then one day, three woodcutters climbed the mountain.

One woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful! It is perfect for me.” With a dozen swoops of his axe, the first tree fell.

“Now I shall be made into a beautiful treasure chest,” thought the first tree. “I shall hold marvelous treasures!”

Another woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong! It is perfect for me.” With a dozen swoops of his axe, the second tree fell.

“Now I shall sail mighty waters,” thought the second tree. “I shall be made into a strong ship fit for powerful kings!”

The third tree felt its heart sink as the last woodcutter approached. It stood straight and tall and pointed bravely towards heaven. But the last woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a dozen swoops of his axe, the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter took it to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter was not thinking about treasure chests. Instead, he cut and carved the tree into a simple feedbox. The once-beautiful tree was not filled with gold or decorated with jewels. It was covered with dust, and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

The second tree rejoiced when the wookcutter took it to a shipyard. But the shipbuilder was not thinking about mighty sailing ships. Instead, he hammered and sawed the tree into a simple fishing boat. The once-strong tree was too weak to sail the ocean. It was taken to a little lake, where every day it carried loads of dead, smelly fish.

The third tree was confused when the woodcutter took it to a lumberyard, where it was cut into strong beams and then left alone. “What happened?” the once-tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountaintop, grow tall, and make people think of God.”

Years passed, and the three trees nearly forgot their dreams.

But then one still and silent night, golden starlight poured over the first tree, as a young woman placed a newborn baby into the feedbox.

“I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered.

The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the clean and shining wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said. And suddenly the first tree knew it was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

And then one humid and cloudy day, a tired traveller and his friends crowded into the small fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree sailed quietly out into the lake. But a thundering storm arose, and the second tree shuddered, knowing that it did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the fierce wind and rain.

The tired traveler awoke. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said with a strong voice, “Peace, be still.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had began. And suddenly the second tree knew it was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

And then one terrible Friday morning, the third tree was startled as its beams were yanked from the old lumberyard. It flinched as it was was carried through an angry, jeering, spitting crowd. It shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands and feet to her. It groaned as the man cried out in agony and died. It felt ugly and harsh and cruel.

But at dawn the next Sunday, on the first Easter morning, the earth trembled with joy beneath the third tree, and it knew that God’s love had changed everything.

It had made the first little tree a beautiful treasure chest. It had made the second little tree a strong sailing ship. And every time people looked upon the third little tree, they would think of God.

That was even better than being the tallest tree in the world.

11 comments for “The Three Trees: a Folktale for Good Friday

  1. Costanza
    March 21, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Thanks RAF. Thanks.

  2. Yet Another John
    March 21, 2008 at 10:26 am

    As a family, we have read this beautiful story every Christmas AND Easter.

  3. CS Eric
    March 21, 2008 at 10:34 am


    I have heard this story many. many times. But today, for some reason, it touched me like never before. Thanks.

  4. Adam Greenwood
    March 21, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Very fitting.

  5. Abraham
    March 21, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Thank you Russell,

    Happy (earliest since 1913) Easter to you and your family!!

  6. East Coast
    March 21, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    This has been a particularly poignant Easter season.

    After my fifth child was diagnosed and born with a complex heart defect last year (now partially treated with more surgery planned) I became active in a support group for families. I became good friends with another local mother awaiting the birth of her son also to be born with a broken heart.

    Baby Michael was born several days ago and it looked like the surgery (Wednesday) was going to be a success but then he suffered some major complications. His parents are sitting at his bedside watching him suffer with his chest open and draining blood and other fluids as they wonder whether they will be able to take their baby home or if they are going to have to make the decision to discontinue his life support. The fact of it being Good Friday today is not lost on them as they ponder their situation.

    Watching this mother suffer and crying together as we spoke yesterday and having seen my own son suffer in lesser degree has brought new meaning into the scriptural accounts for both of our families. I would like to make a more profound statement about the experience and go into more detail, but it is a very tender subject and I will leave my comment here.

  7. Darrell
    March 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    East Coast, thanks for sharing your experience here. The Atonement is much, much more that just a way of shedding sin. It blesses us in all our struggles–physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual. My prayers go out to you and to Michael and his family.

    Thank God for Christ.

  8. Ray
    March 21, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks, East Coast. What a perfect comment.

  9. Adam Greenwood
    March 21, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Father, God in Heaven, have mercy on helpless parents and their suffering son.

  10. Ray
    March 21, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Russell, I had forgotten this story. I am speaking Sunday under circumstances I can’t explain here. I have spoken on Easter more than once in the past, so I have plenty of “Easter talk material”, but the circumstances this year in this particular unit have made it very difficult for me to decide how to approach this talk. There simply are things I want to say and comfort I want to provide that don’t fit well into a “normal” Easter talk. As I was reading this story again, I realized that it gives me the framework within which I can say those things I have been struggling to find a way to say.

    This post literally has been a godsend for me, and while I hesitate even to imply that you were inspired simply for me, I also want you to know that this was an answer to my prayers.

    Thank you.

  11. East Coast
    March 25, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Since I mentioned Michael here, I will mention that he passed away peacefully yesterday. His parents were able to spend some very special final hours with him and were kind and generous in sharing the experience with us. I know they realize that they have a long difficult struggle ahead of them, but in their hour of deep crisis they have been able to feel a peaceful assurance that everything is all right and that their loss is in accordance to the Lord’s will.

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