G ARDENS ARE beautiful and useful things. A humble backyard garden provides food. A flower garden inspires us. Gardens are filled with life.
The biblical image of a garden is powerful. God’s story begins in a garden, finds its climactic middle point in a garden, and reaches its final consummation in a garden.
Over the next three weeks we are going to visit each of these gardens: Eden, Gethsemane, and the garden-city of the New Jerusalem.
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THE STORY OF GOD begins with “planting” a garden and placing humanity within it. The Garden of Eden is a place of beauty and bounty. The trees are “pleasant to sight and good for food.” Here is a place that both God and humanity can delight in, a paradise. The garden is “good,” indeed “very good.”
Humanity, made in the image of God, enjoys the garden. Humanity is graciously allowed by God to play a significant role in it. They are to “work” and “keep” it.
We often make the mistake of believing work is a punishment. That Adam and Eve had life easy until their disobedience. Then he had to work. Not so. From the creation, from the beginning, from the first breath, Adam was to work and keep the garden. Care for it. Nurture it. Protect creation.
Man and woman are made for and enjoy relationship with one another, with creation, and with their creator.
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GOD CREATES the man to take care of the garden and to freely eat the fruit from the garden — except for the fruit from one particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The garden’s name is “Eden,” which literally means “delight.” So, this is an unbelievably beautiful, fruit-bearing, and delightful place.
To crown creation, God gives life to a woman and together the man and woman provide companionship for each other as they take care of God’s creation. It is a world filled with beauty, delight, abundance, peace, and harmony.
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YET, WE KNOW what happens. In a garden replete with blessings, they are not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent tempts Adam and Eve by raising doubt about God’s command, by challenging God’s word and character and finally to tempt Adam and Eve, in effect, to be God.
Adam and Eve commit the first sin, but it is also a picture of all sin. God gives gracious provisions and protective restrictions, but we humans choose to doubt and disobey God, all to vainly attempt to make ourselves God.
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THE CONSEQUENCES of this sin are catastrophic. Because of this disobedience, the ground is cursed and for the first time, we hear about thorns and thistles growing in God’s beautiful garden.
Shame and fear consume the first couple and they attempt to hide from God. They are estranged from their creator, estranged from each other, and estranged from creation itself.
The blessings of the garden turn into curses. The cost of sin is expulsion from the garden. Humanity falls prey to death — physical, relational, and spiritual death.
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THE STORY of this first garden reminds us that even though we see glimpses of God’s beauty and presence in creation, it is also a world that is filled with sin and brokenness.
We don’t have to look too far to see the thorns and thistles that are still part of God’s good creation. Low wages, high poverty rates, war, disease, drug addictions, hate groups, hopelessness, pollution, violence, and unfortunately, we can easily add more to this list.
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WHEN GOD CREATED the world, everything was good — the environment, the weather, the plants, the wildlife on the ground, in the water, and in the air.
Adam and Eve lived in the presence of God as caretakers in paradise. They did not need to worry about danger or famine or disease. In Eden, everything was in harmony. Everything was as it should be.
And then we messed it up.
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BUT IT’S NOT so bad now, right? People have enough to eat — if you have a steady income and live in a place where you don’t have to struggle to get food. People live healthy lives — if you have access to good medical care and resources like clean water, and don’t have to contend with chronic illnesses and diseases or injuries.
People are safe from danger … well, no, they/we aren’t. Look around. Everything is not as it should be.
We have lost the garden. We have lost paradise. The word “Paradise” derives from a Persian word meaning “enclosed park.” God exiled all humanity from the garden, the place of perfection, the place of His presence. And locked us out.
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GOD EXILED Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, but He did not forget them or abandon them. We are in exile but are not forgotten. We need rescued from this imperfect, fallen world and from our imperfect, fallen lives. And that is exactly what God promises.
Listen to the prophet Isaiah who points to the future hope. A time when thorns and thistles will be totally removed.
“You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush, a cypress will grow, and instead of the brier, a myrtle will spring up; they will make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign, never to be destroyed.”
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GOD PROMISED a Messiah, a Redeemer, who would overcome the serpent, sin, and death. God kept the promise.
God kept the promise by becoming one of us, a child of Eve, the new Adam. This new Adam will stand in for us and carry our sin to the cross.
Next week we find redemption in the Garden of Gethsemane.