Our passage, John 18:1-12, which follows Jesus’ preparation of his disciples for life after he is gone, takes us into a garden from where Jesus was apprehended, tried, and condemned before a Jewish Court, and then a Roman Court, having been sentenced to the worst from of execution the world has ever seen.
Who doesn’t like gardens? Please note, I didn’t say, ‘Who likes gardening?’ I’m one of those people who likes gardens but doesn’t “dig” gardening. I have really enjoyed walking through the Butchart Gardens in Victoria with my family. It’s quite a work of art. I like my neighbour’s gardens and their well designed and kept yards. I really like my mother’s huge, baseball-diamond-sized garden with perfectly straight and beautiful rows of produce with no weeds. But I really don’t like the work of gardening, of getting it to a place of beauty and productivity and then keeping it that way. I didn’t like gardening growing up on my grandparent’s farm. Yet, I did love raiding my grandma’s garden for carrots, strawberries, and the like. As you can see, I have no problem being the consumer—and that has to count for something! There’s also probably some room for repentance, for gardening is a great gospel analogy in the Bible, even more so when it comes to God’s purpose for all creation.
“Garden” is a big theme in the Bible. It is major. It runs through the entire Bible from the first chapters to the last chapters.
In the first chapters of Genesis (2:14-17) we see in Eden what was meant to be the Garden of all gardens. Seeing that this is how “we” began in Adam and Eve, we should ask what the biblical idea of “garden” is about?
On its own, this Hebrew term, “garden,” means a space, an enclosure, where you grow whatever it is you want to grow in a garden. When combined with the term, “Eden,” “garden,” comes to include connotations like “beauty,” “intimacy,” “paradise,” and “luxury”—the very thing Jesus promised a repentant person crucified beside him (Luke 22:29-43). Thus, the Garden of Eden was a beautiful and blessed place of perfect intimate fellowship with the Lord our God. We clearly see this wonder as the Lord walked in this garden in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8-9). This made the Garden of Eden the first temple, the Garden in particular the holy of holies.
Isn’t it interesting that our text, 11:1-2, says that Jesus regularly met with his disciples in a garden!
To make a long story short, this “garden” has grown, since the 1st century, into what we know as the church, which is Jesus’ “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:10-17). This amazing gospel truth is further reflected in the rich symbolism of the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven as the center piece of the new creation, which garden-city is in the shape of the holy of holies, and is also called the bride of Christ, enriching the image with a wedding metaphor (Revelation 21:1-3, 9-18). Then there is you and me, believers, who are each temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Back to the bigger picture: The original plan, all of creation, heaven and earth and everything therein, with man as the pinnacle, was to become God’s garden-temple.
All of this means that the original Garden of Genesis 1-2—which had been planted in the rich, fertile, and blessed land of Eden—was meant to be developed and extended throughout all the earth under the blessed rule of heaven. That is what was behind the command to be fruitful and multiply and so fill the earth with more and more image bearers (Genesis 1:26-28). By so doing they would extend the garden throughout all the earth. The heavenly city and country we read of in Hebrews is what Eden was originally meant to become (with plenty of green space!). Joy of joys, this is still the plan. But now, through the cross.
But take a moment and step into a time machine with me and wonder: Had Adam and Eve not fallen into sin, what a wonderful world ours would be right now! Just imagine, what would your perfect world be like? Tragically, though, the fall is exactly what happened. And, ever since, falling short of the glory of God in sin, we have not been able to realize God’s wonderful original purpose for all creation, where he is all in all and everything is perfect and blessed, and all creation becomes his temple through his image bearers. No, that didn’t happen. Instead, Satan entered into the most holy and intimate place and disrupted the good and right worship of God (Genesis 3:1-24), and now the world is no longer a safe and blessed place. It is not the wonderful, world-enveloping garden-temple it was meant to be. We live in a very sad reality now with a very bleak future.
Yet, even after the fall, our good Father never gave up on his garden plan. Even though Adam and Eve blew it they could not derail God’s good plan for us and our world. How do we know this?
We see this wonderful gospel fact being worked out later in the biblical narrative, after the fall and exile from the garden, with rich Edenic and cosmic imagery throughout the design of Israel’s Tabernacle and Temple (Exodus 25:1 to 30:38, 35:30 to 40:38; 1 Kings 5:1 to 8:66; 2 Chronicles 2:1 to 7:10; Ezekiel 40:1 to 44:31). In fact, the entire creation is portrayed in the design of the Temple, and even in the priest’s attire—it was a representation of the heavens, the earth, and the sea, intertwined with strong imagery of the garden of Eden—showing us that what was meant to be will in fact come to pass in Christ Jesus. Hence, we also see images of Eden and the Temple in the final chapters of Revelation, all of which gives us a picture of how the garden Eden is to grow, spread, and extend throughout all creation, by becoming a garden city, country, and world filled with the glory of God forever! Amen.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves, even though we had to for a moment to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture. Let us back up and behold Jesus in a garden in John 18:1-12.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus was betrayed and arrested at night in a garden (18:1-3, 12)?
One commentator has said: John is recalling the garden of Eden, which inference is supported by the use of the same term, “in Jewish literature as a reference to the garden of Eden … .” Something big is going on here! (See Genesis 2:8, 3:8, Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:3, Revelation 2:7; a garden is noted again in 19:38-42.)
The point I want to bring to your attention is this: There is no entering back into edenic intimacy with our beautiful, holy, and loving God without the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no garden plan without the cross, there is no restoration of all creation to its original purpose without the sacrifice of Jesus (18:8-9, 10-11a, 11b). There is none of this without Good Friday.
John 1:29: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (See Revelation 4-5.)
But there is something else to carefully note in our text, 18:3: Judas shows up, filled with Satan (John 13:21-30, Luke 22:3-6), the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve. Judas leads a group of armed soldiers and officers to Jesus who is then forcibly removed from the garden, just like Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden under the sentence of death, having been cut off from the tree of life and intimacy with God.
What’s going on here? Jesus is standing in their place. He stood in our place. And he is taken out of the garden, he is taken outside Jerusalem, he bears our sins away, he is forsaken by God on our behalf, so that people like you and me, who would repent and submit to the Spirit, can return to the garden, to intimacy with God again, now and forever. Amen.
What was meant to be a place of paradise and intimacy with God has become a place of conflict and opposition with God. Yet, because of Jesus, the garden is where the journey to atonement for us begins (John 19:38-42)—so that the place of wonder and nearness to God is fully and forever redeemed and restored.
The Story of God in John’s gospel account is revisiting the tragedy in the garden of Eden, but it is going to be a very different outcome this time around then it was with Adam and Eve. For Jesus is going to overcome Satan so that, through faith in Jesus, his people can be free from Satan’s bondage; free to know God in unhindered intimacy.
What is the garden of your heart like, what condition is your temple in? Is it redeemed and being restored back into a “green” space of intimacy and worship of God? Are our churches redeemed gardens and temples that are being restored into a place where people can see how Jesus loved us and laid down his life so as to restore us to abundant life in God?
Considering the intended expansion of the garden throughout all creation: What kind of a world do you look forward to? What will it be about? What or who will be the central focus? Is your heart merely yearning for a better deal in this world, or are you looking for that which is to come?
18:2. Where is the devil interfering in your garden of intimacy with God? Where is the devil interfering in our churches, hindering intimate worship of God in the Spirit? What footholds have we allowed him to keep, what ground have we given up to him?
Jesus has undone all of that by his finished work on the cross—so let him have your heart, and all of your life, as his garden-temple, let the Spirit open it to Jesus, submit and do not harden your heart. Let our churches do the very same thing.
Jesus continues to walk in and through our disastrous gardens, the ruined paradise of this world, with the desire and plan to make all things new and right. Therefore, heed our loving Father’s good command to repent, respond, receive, let Jesus into your garden so he can make it beautiful again! And together, combined, we can experience a foretaste of his garden spreading throughout Castlegar, the West Kootenay’s, and beyond.
This is the message of Good Friday, this is the message of the cross.