Man’s Destiny Hung in Two Gardens
It must have been quite a place, the garden of Eden. I sometimes imagine that place. Journey with me there for a few moments. Imagine a garden, a perfect garden. I often think of it in the early morning, just before sunrise, or late evening, just after sunset. The sky is filled with the hues of orange, red, bordering on purples. In my perfect garden there is the hint of mist, a light ground fog that veils the distant plants. There are four rivers running through this garden, and the sound of water fills the air. Not overpowering, but gentle, always present, soothing the heart. Add to that the sounds of crickets chirping, birds singing, bees gathering pollen. Off to one side the tufts of grass sway gently in a very light breeze. And while I have no sense of smell personally, I cannot but think the aroma of flowers filled the air. Miles and miles of perfect garden. Not one weed to spoil the beauty, everything is in delicate balance. Blackberries, Scotch Broom and Dandelions in their appointed places and no further. And of course, there is the glimpse of a fawn following its mother, or a wolf on the prowl. It is a perfect place, on a perfect day.
Into this idyllic scene God place a man, Adam was his name. He had a job, tend the garden. I am not sure what “tending perfect gardens” entailed, but that was his task. God gave the man, and his wife, nearly unlimited access to the fruits this garden was to produce. Oranges, bananas, carrots, radishes, potatoes, tomatoes, cilantro, grapes, apples, whatever is your favorite. Man, that man, Adam his name, was home.
One of the real joys, I imagine, would be the evening walks with God. You and I can, of course, talk to God, but it is more like a the phone call than face to face encounter. This was face to face, every evening, walking and talking, visiting and sharing with his creator. No issues, no problems, no guilt, nothing to hinder that sweet fellowship.
In the midst, the middle if I understand correctly, stand two trees. Their exact relationship to each other is unknown. One is called the Tree of Life. Access to that tree was unlimited, and rewarding. It was the proverbial Fountain of Youth. The fruit of that tree would prolong life, offering not only youth, but unending life. And when one is in a perfect place, forever sounds very nice. As with all other trees in the garden, Adam could come here whenever he wished.
All other trees that is but one. For in the garden, I wonder if right next to it, was a second named tree. It was known as The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve, Adam’s wife, will note later that it was “good for food” and “delightful to the eye.” Exactly what that means is subject to some conjecture. It was pretty, that much I am confident about. Good for food is a bit more mysterious. Sweet scents, perhaps, crisp like an apple, or soft like a peach? The injunction regarding this tree, however, was clear. ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ Pretty harsh I would say. This one “Yes,” and all others, as well. But that one, that ONE, “No!” Don’t eat it, don’t touch it. If I were God I might have added, “Don’t even think about it.” And for all I know, for some period of time, weeks, months, years, decades, scores, centuries, millennia, who knows, that is exactly what Adam and Eve did. Maybe the tree was over the hill, out of sight and out of mind. Maybe it was in their back yard, outside their house. Always there, always present. And this man and his lady did exactly as God commanded.
Until one day! One day a serpent asked a simple question, “Did God really say?” At that moment the seed of doubt was planted and for the first time that first couple began to wonder about the question of will. Whose will would prevail? Remember it was good for food and looked desirable. And it had one other quality. It would make one wise. The Message puts it, “She’d know everything!” In one moment, one thought, planted by man’s arch enemy, perfection gave way to imperfection. God’s word and his truthfulness were called into question. But more to the point, His will was challenged. And two bites later, one for Eve and one for Adam, all creation changed. Weeds grew, guilt and embarrassment were birthed. Shame enters the picture as do sweat and toil. All because of a moment, one moment in time.
You and I bear the stain of that moment, as well as the consequences of the deed. The tree, the other tree, is no longer available to us. First guarded by an angel with a fiery sword, then removed to heaven itself. At that moment decay, disease, murder, hate, anguish, and punishment make their entry onto the world’s stage. One bite, one moment of defiance. It was a moment of destiny.
Journey with me to another garden. This one is just East of Jerusalem. It was located in the midst of an olive grove. The grove was known as the Mount of Olives and the garden within, the Garden of Gethsemane. It was not a perfect place. Yet, as gardens in the Near East go, it was a pleasant enough place. The sound of birds and crickets could have easily been present. The scent of olive blossoms and new flowers abounded. I imagine a bright moon, as Passover always happens on the full moon. While more arid than the first garden, it was a place people from Jerusalem and surrounding areas visited. Jesus knows the place, I presume he has been there before. It is Passion Week, Friday night (remember in Israel night came before day, at sunset). Jesus has just finished a meal with his disciples. It was an intense moment. He offered them an example of leadership, washing the feet of his disciples. He instituted a memorial meal, the Lord’s Supper. He spoke of betrayal and death. At the conclusion, after dismissing the one who would betray him, they sang a hymn and Jesus led the weary band to this garden place. At the edge of the garden he paused, dropping off eight disciples, instructing them to pray. Taking Peter, James, and John with him , he went further into the garden. He again stopped, and told them of his deep struggle. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Jesus then journeys a little farther, a stone’s throw away. He falls face down and begins to pray.
In the movie, The Passion, Mel Gibson places in this garden another figure. Reflecting back to the first garden, a serpent appears. Movie license no doubt, but fitting just the same. We see here another battle, another moment of destiny. Jesus is struggling. The intensity of the personal journey so intense that he sweats profusely. “As it were great drops of blood” are the words used to describe the struggle. Jesus’ prayer is most telling. “If it is at all possible,” are the beginning words as they are recorded for us. A long and arduous road lay ahead of Jesus that night. It was described as “this cup.” Judgment and cups have long been associated in Jewish scripture. Prophets five and six hundred years before spoke of the cup of wrath to be poured out. While both testaments of the Bible speak of the loving nature and quality of God, there is a wrathful side. God cannot, will not tolerate sin, rebellion, betrayal. And since that first taste so many eons before, the sons and daughters of Adam had followed Grandpa’s lead. Adam could have, and in effect did say, “Not your will, but mine.” There were exceptions to that, in a way. But it is clear from the Old Testament that God’s will was not followed and that man, every man, had gone his own way.
So on this night, in another garden, a decision was being made. The destiny of all men, past, present and future, hung in the balance. I do not know how long Jesus pondered the idea, “If it is possible.” Did he just speak the words? Or did he proffer some alternatives. Years earlier, at the beginning of his ministry, he had rebuffed the Devil’s suggestion of another possibility. But now, as he faced the moment, the idea of letting the cup pass enters him mind.
The picture painted by those three words, “cup of wrath,” is ugly. Staggering and dregs from the bottom of the cup are part of the picture. The All-Powerful, All-Seeing, All-Knowing God and wrath are a portrait of hurt, big hurt. Jesus knows what lies ahead. Eve saw beauty and could not resist. Jesus sees ugly. What would he do?
Then destiny words are spoken again. This time with an entirely different focus and outcome. “Not my will but yours.” “Not my will.” That had been the issue in the last garden. This time the answer was different, God’s will, God’s desire, God’s plan would be followed. Shortly after these words were uttered Jesus returned to his then sleeping companions. Voices were heard, torches became visible. Men, angry men, came looking for Jesus. Among them was the betrayer. Whatever his intent, Judas fails to derail God’s plan. Jesus set off from the garden to meet his passion and fulfill his call. It was a destiny to change the destiny for all men.
In the hours and days that follow the order of the world would be changed. Death, while not eliminated, would lose its sting. Satan, while still prince of this world, would have his days numbered and a chain would soon bind him. Hell awaits his arrival. God’s wrath was poured out upon Jesus. Spent was his anger. Punishment metered out upon him. Jesus becomes the savior. And it begins again in a garden. Man has a new future and a new hope.
There is a third garden mentioned in scripture. John, in his Revelation, shares many of the same images. The Revelation speaks of that serpent, of death, rebellion, and wrath. Yet, the Revelation is a book of hope of promise and an idyllic place where the sons and daughters of Adam will one day reside with him again, in a perfect place and in perfect communication with God. [Revelation 22] The place described here is possible because of what Jesus did in the garden that first Good Friday. It is an invitation to join Jesus, and God, in paradise. It is an invitation I pray you will accept if you have not done so already.