THE EASTER GARDEN Based on John 20:1-18
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A son kept asking his father questions until he was bugged. He decided and try to quench the lad's curiosity with the old cliche, "Remember, curiosity killed the cat." The son replied, "What was the cat curious about dad?" The plan backfired, for the boy was even curious about curiosity. The curious mind can be a nuisance, but its constant probing can make valuable discoveries, even in the most unlikely places. Sometimes the trivial stimulates the mind to curiosity more than the tremendous. Tell people that there are 281,796,349,000 stars in the sky, and they will believe you without question, but put a wet paint sign on a chair, and they will have to touch it and see for themselves. There is an attraction to the trivial.
This is true for me when it comes to John's record of the events of the first Easter. I am curious about a very minor detail that seems almost incidental and inconsequential. I am curious about why Mary thought Jesus was a gardener in verse 15. Why is such a trivial thing as that recorded in the Word of God? The world cannot contain all the books that could be written about Jesus is what John has said at the close of his Gospel. Why then would he use up even one precious line of his Gospel to tell us that Mary Magdalene mistakenly thought Jesus was a gardener. It was only a mistake that momentarily flashed through her mind, and yet this error is recorded for all time, and for all to see that she failed to identify her Lord at first sight on that first Easter.
Some may feel it is best to just leave such minor incidents in the limbo of neglect, but curiosity demands an investigation. The Holy Spirit had some reason for having it recorded, and a little searching could open up some valuable insights into the mind and plan of God. If you feel it is a waste of time, you will have to take up your quarrel with God, for He inspired this challenge to curiosity, and I for one love to bite on the bait and get hooked on God's Word,
even if it comes by way of a weeping woman making a mistake.
The first thing this mistake in identification tells us, by implication, is that the garden in which Jesus was buried was a beautiful and large garden with many flowers and shrubs. In other words, it was a sizable garden and well kept. The reference back in John 19:41 just says the place where He was crucified had a garden, and there was a new tomb in it where no one had ever been laid. If it was not for Mary's mistake we could never have guessed how nice a garden it was. Her mistake, however, tells us that it was large enough so that it took a hired man to maintain its order and beauty. She never could have supposed Jesus was the gardener unless she was in a garden that obviously needed the care of a gardener to maintain it.
The hymn writer was not merely dreaming, but had a good basis when he wrote, "I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses..." In this early hour the dew would be on the roses, and all of the flowers. It is fitting that He who is called the Rose Of Sharon and The Lily Of The Valley should come out of the tomb of the earth and first be seen in a garden. Like all flowers, He had to burst forth from the blackness and darkness of the earth into the light of life. Everything about this Easter garden is appropriate and fitting to the plan of God as it is revealed in Scripture. As we examine the Bible we discover that gardens play a major role. Pascal said, "Man was lost and saved in a garden." The Bible supports this.
God started human history in a garden, and it was no accident, but a deliberate plan. Gen. 2:8 says, "And the Lord planted a garden Eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed." God was the first gardener, and He made the first man a gardener. Adam's job was to keep the garden beautiful. It is no mistake that the second Adam was mistaken for a gardener, for He came to restore the paradise the first Adam failed to maintain because of his sin. How beautiful that the resurrection should take place in a gorgeous garden, for by His resurrection Jesus did in reality restore what Adam lost. If man fell in a garden, it is fitting that he should rise again in a garden, and that is just the way God planned it. God loves order, beauty, and what is fitting, and that is why He saw to it that His Son would be buried in the garden tomb of a rich man.
Kings who were anything at all had their gardens of beauty, and some of them were buried in their garden tombs. In II Kings 21:26 we read of Amon the King of Judah. "And he was buried in his tomb in the garden of Uzza." The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had the most beautiful gardens in ancient history built for his wife. The hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. The Scripture tells us, however, that even the king that Nebuchadnezzar left in charge at Jerusalem had his garden, for when Zedekiah rebelled against him, he came with his army to surround Jerusalem. We have the account recorded three times in the Old Testament that Zedekiah and all his men escaped by way of the king's garden. (II Kings 25:4).
In Neh. 3:15 we read of the rebuilding of the king's garden. Solomon, of course, had his beautiful gardens with great orchards of fruit trees. The point is, kings had gardens, and it is appropriate that Jesus Christ, as the conquering King over death, should have His garden as well. If God started with a garden, and intends to end history with a restored earth, and a beautiful garden in the Holy City, as the book of Revelation reveals, then it is appropriate that Jesus should rise and be victorious over the sin that lost the first garden, in a garden setting.
Jesus made His first appearance after His resurrection in a garden, and to a woman. Satan made his first appearance in a garden and to a woman. It is no mere coincidence, but a part of the total order of God's plan of redemption. As a woman was the first to be deceived by Satan, So she was the first to receive the revelation of the risen Christ. A woman brought the first word of temptation to man, and now it is she who brings the first word of ultimate truth to man. The environment was a garden because it adds to the beauty of the truth of the resurrection. It symbolizes the truth of paradise regained, and God and man reconciled. God loves a garden, and He loved to walk in the cool of the evening with man in the garden of Eden. Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote,
The Lord God planted a garden
In the first white days of the world,
And He set there and angel warden
In a garment of light unfurled.
So near to the peace of Heaven,
That the lark might nest with the wren,
For there in the cool of the even
God walked with the first of men.
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Then anywhere else on earth.
Jesus experienced this Himself, for His most intimate meditations and struggles in relationship to the Father took place in the garden of Gethsemane.
This was a garden where Judas betrayed Him, and where He was tempted to let paradise be lost forever, but where He gained the victory, and choose to go the Father's way, even to the depths of hell, that man might walk again with God in the garden. Surrounded by beauty He sweat drops of blood, for He had to endure the desert of damnation if men were ever to have the joy of perpetual garden beauty.
We can be sure of this: Mary's mistake in supposing Jesus was a gardener was no mistake as far as God was concerned, for no gardener ever created so much beauty as Jesus did. He could invite the thief on the cross into paradise, for He made it possible for all men to have access again to the garden of God, and the tree of life. Jesus is the only gardener that raises people. He raises them to life out of death. He beautifies them, and prepares them to wear the garments of glory for all eternity. No gardener can match Jesus. When He reaps what He has sown, all of the universe will be a glorious garden. Let's look at some reasons why the garden is an important symbol of the truth of the resurrection.
I. THE GARDEN IS A SOURCE OF LIFE.
The garden and the abundant life go together. The garden is a source of fruit, and when Adam and Eve were put out of the garden it was the end of abundant and fruitful living for them. The loss of the garden meant hardship, hunger, and a life of toil and sorrow. The desert is the opposite of the garden. The desert is symbolic of death and barrenness. Sin brings a desert of life. It is the life without fruit. God does not like a desert. He started with a garden, and can never be content until the garden is restored, and the desert blossoms as the rose. The prophet Isaiah tells us of God's love and plan in Isa. 61:11. "For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."
When the Rose of Sharon blossomed in the Easter garden, God had brought forth a message of life that would cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. The Gospel of the resurrection is the source of abundant life to be taken to all the world. It is of interest that there were four rivers flowing out of Eden. It was really one river which divided in four ways, which produced a symbol that has influenced all of history. Many ancients had gardens with the four rivers, and Persian carpets often have beautiful gardens on them with four rivers which cross and make the symbol of the cross in the garden. That is just what we see in the New Testament picture. We see a garden tomb with the cross nearby. The cross is symbolic of the four rivers which flow out of the garden into all the world. Four is the number of the world. You have the four directions, and the four winds. The four arms of the cross represent the fact that the Gospel of the resurrection is to be taken to all men.
The Easter message is in such harmony with the reality of Spring that it is no wonder that the two are united in so much poetry. God's world and God's Word speak in unison of new life and resurrection. Luther said, "The Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime." The garden and the Gospel go hand in hand. Jesus is the world's best gardener because He is the only gardener that can bring Spring and new life the year around. Christina Rossetti wrote,
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk;
Truly my life is void and brief,
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see;
Yet rise it shall-the sap of Spring
O Jesus, rise in me.
Jesus came to turn our personal deserts into gardens, and to give us life abundant. This is one reason why it is fitting that the resurrection took place in a garden. The garden is a source of life, and so is the resurrection.
II. THE GARDEN IS A SOURCE OF JOY.
Men plant gardens not just for food to sustain life, but just for the sheer pleasure of seeing beautiful things grow. Flowers and plants are the source of so much of the joy of life. Joy and a garden go together in God's mind and plan. Isa. 51:3 says, "For the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. When God really wants to bless His people, He grants them the joy of a good garden. A garden of beauty is a good environment for the production of the fruits of the Spirit. The Word of God, and all of history witnessed to the truth that a beautiful environment can promote beautiful living in harmony with the author of all beauty. Mary Howitt wrote,
Yes, in the poor man's garden grow
Far more than herbs and flowers-
Kind thoughts, contentment, peace of mind,
And joy for weary hours.
The Christian poetry on the joy of the garden and flowers, and especially Easter lilies and the rose is voluminous, and they all relate to Jesus who became the greatest flower ever to bloom when He burst forth from the tomb. We would not sing of Him in joyful song as the Lily of the Valley and the Rose of Sharon had He been planted but never risen. But He did rise, and the garden of His resurrection becomes the source of all our joy. Greater is the joy that Jesus was born from the tomb than that He was born from the womb. Christmas joy is completely dependent upon Easter joy. The birth of Jesus did nothing for our salvation, but the birth from the tomb made our new birth possible, and that is why the resurrection garden is the source of our joy.
The garden tomb was a place of gloom till God made His greatest flower bloom. Now it is the source of joy. Someone wrote,
Joy dawned again on Easter day.
The sun shone out with fairer ray,
When, to their longing eyes restored,
The Apostles saw their risen Lord.
III. THE GARDEN IS A SOURCE OF HOPE.
When anyone plants a garden for the sake of food, or the beauty of flowers, they do so with expectation and hope. When the seed is planted you hope for what you cannot see. Jesus often spoke of the kingdom of God in terms of sowing and reaping, and He even spoke of His own death and resurrection in these terms when He said in John 12:24, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Jesus looked at His own life like a seed, and by planting it in death He knew it would come forth from the earth in resurrection and bear much fruit.
Every garden in the world the symbolic of the Christian hope of the resurrection. The garden is such an obvious picture of our hope that Paul uses this imagery often to describe our resurrection hope. In Rom. 6:5 He writes, for if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection. In I Cor. 15, the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, Paul again refers to the radical change that takes place when you plant a seed. It looks worthless and of no value whatever, but in rising from the earth it changes to what is beautiful and fruitful. You can look at that bare seed you plant in your garden with hope, for the resurrection will transform it, and so also you can look at your body with all of its sin and weaknesses. When you get discouraged with your body, look at your garden and remember the seed. Paul says in verses 42 and 43, "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." Every child of God will be a startling beauty in eternity.
No, it was no mistake when Mary supposed Jesus to be a gardener, for He is not only the King of Kings, He is the King of gardeners. The Bible is full of garden terms to describe Him and His work. He is the alpha and omega of gardening. He is the Seed, the Branch, the Lily, the Rose, the First Fruits, the Tree of Life, and the Vine. The prophets call Him both a tender plant and a plant of renown. He is also the Lord of the harvest, and when He comes again He will reap the harvest from the seed He has planted in the world as the Sower. Someone wrote,
Christ is risen, Christ the first-fruits
Of the holy harvest field,
Which will of its full abundance
At His second coming yield.
Those who are ready because they have received Him as Savior, and bowed to Him as Lord, will enter the glorious garden of paradise to be with Him forever.
His reign shall know no end,
And round His pierced feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend
Their fragrance ever sweet.
Thy gardens and thy goodly walks
Continually are green,
Where grow such sweet and pleasant flowers
As nowhere else is seen,
Right through the streets, with silver sound,
The living waters flow,
And on the banks, on either side,
The trees of life do grow.
Such is the desirable destiny of all who become branches of the Living Vine.
If you have not attached yourself to Christ as the source of your life, do so today. There will no garden in hell, and no trees, shrubs, or flowers. Sin leads only to the desert of damnation, but faith in Christ leads to abundant life in an eternal garden. What you do with Jesus determines your eternal environment. It is either God and the garden, or the devil and the desert. Come to Christ, and you come to the garden where you enjoy beauty forever.
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