Back to the Garden

Read portions of Genesis 2:7-3:24 to start.

In 1969, there was a large music festival held near the town of Bethel, New York. This was of course the Woodstock festival, which was the biggest music festival that had ever happened up to that point, and remains easily the most famous gathering of that type in history. Dozens of musicians and hundreds of thousands of people attended, and it is considered a watershed moment of an entire generation.

Even though she was not present at Woodstock, singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote a song about the event, a famous song now, called “Woodstock” which was later covered by a number of other singers. The chorus of the song goes like this: “We are stardust, we are golden. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” In case that isn’t obvious enough, on the last time through she added the line “We are caught in the devil’s bargain” before “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

What does it say when a song about one of the most Godless events of the 1960s is filled with imagery pulled directly from Genesis chapter 3? What does it say when other musicians sing the same song, and it still is played on the radio decades later? It says that there is resonance here, that this speaks to the listener, perhaps on a subconscious level, but on some level, it catches the mind, or perhaps more accurately the soul. We’ve got to get back to the garden.

There are millions, indeed billions of people in the world today who would never openly acknowledge that the human race comes from Adam and Eve and that our first home was the Garden of Eden, but yet, there is that deep, underlying sense of loss in the heart of so many. We’ve never been to Eden, we’ve never seen it nor have our parents or grandparents or great grandparents going back two hundred generations, but we feel that we’re missing out on something, something that was always intended for us.

And indeed, we are. We all have missed out on something that was made for us. And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. It says that in verse 8 of Genesis chapter 2, as we read a few minutes ago. The human race, our first home was a garden, a garden planted by God’s own hand. Of course it would be ingrained in us that that is where we are supposed to be. It’s where we came from, long before we can remember, but it’s still our first home. It’s something that unites us as human beings, created in the image of God. Why else do you suppose so many of us have gardens? How many people here this morning have some sort of garden, whether a large vegetable garden or a small flower bed? Probably far more do than do not. People everywhere keep gardens, and it’s not like this is a new thing, people have done so for as long as there has been civilization. One of the Seven Wonders of the World was a garden, the hanging gardens Nebuchadnezzar built in Babylon. In cultures as diverse as Chinese to Celtic, you can find gardens as an integral part of the society and the landscape. You can find gardens on every continent on earth, even Antarctica. I’m not kidding on that, I looked it up, they have indoor hydroponic vegetable gardens at the research stations to provide fresh food for the people who work there.

From herb to flower to vegetable, we enjoy, we maintain, and frankly, we value gardens. We value them as a source of nourishment, in the physical sense of providing food, as well as for the mental and emotional wellbeing that comes with spending time in such a place, whether from the work of caring for and maintaining the garden, or simply from relaxing there. God put the man in the garden to dress it and to keep it, and that is a natural and a proper place for us to be.

We’ll never be able to go to Eden, but we make do with what poor substitutes that we can make for ourselves. It is a natural and completely understandable desire to wish to return somewhere that we have never been, or at least it is when you look at where that desire comes from.

It’s sad how many people are seeking Eden without even realizing what it is they are looking for, and so they settle for whatever it is they can find. There is so much discontent in this world today, people who are not satisfied with what they have, no matter how little or how very, very much that might be, and sometimes those with what the world would see as being the most, the best of which it has to offer, are the least satisfied. I’m no psychologist, I don’t propose to diagnose the mental states of people I have never met, or frankly, of people that I have met, but when you see those who are rich and famous and who the world considers tremendously successful, when you see people like that end their lives, either by accident from poor choices and foolish living, or with full intent, it certainly calls into question the satisfaction which the world can offer.

This is nothing new, people have had to fill a void for almost as long as there have been people, from about the end of Genesis chapter 3 until right now. What Joni Mitchell wrote about was not something she came up with all by herself. She simply framed it in the context of a 1960s music festival. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

We can’t, though. We can’t on two counts. We can’t get back, not to Eden, it’s gone, and we couldn’t get back on our own even if the way was clear. That is no longer available. Thankfully, we have something better available to us. Something we are not able to reach on our own, and unlike the garden of Eden, it’s not where we have come from. It is where we are going, or where we can go. I won’t have you turn there, but in John chapter 14, Christ said to His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them, and that He would come again for them, so that where He was, they might be also. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a more-than-adequate replacement for Eden. It sounds far better to me.

God may have made Eden for the man He created, and it was no doubt wonderful, but Christ is preparing a place for those who trust in Him. We don’t know precisely what it will be like, although we have some description in scripture, but that is another topic for another day. Regardless of the physical description of heaven, we do know this. We know that only those who choose to be there will be there. No one who does not want to spend eternity with Christ will be present. Christ said that no man comes unto the Father apart from Him, and He said that He stands at the door and knocks, waiting for the door to be opened so that He might enter in. No one will be dragged kicking and screaming into Heaven. They will be there because they chose to trust, because they chose to obey.

Sadly, Adam and Eve chose to disobey, chose to disregard what God had said, and so they forever lost access to that first created paradise. They could not go back, and we can’t go back. It’s an impossible dream. It is sad that so many people chase it, try to get back to the garden on their own, when it’s not going to happen, it’s not ever going to happen. The closest we are going to get in this life is in whatever gardens we build for ourselves, pale imitation of Eden they may be.

Adam and Eve lived in a garden, a garden made especially for them, and they chose to leave it. Not that they got up one morning and said “You know, this place may have all the food we need, but it’s kinda lame, and it’s tiring having to keep the garden tidy, we should leave and find somewhere else.” No, they chose to do what they wanted to do, regardless of the consequences. They decided that the instruction, and frankly, the warning that God had given was not credible, and that the risk was worth taking, that the danger from disobedience did not outweigh what they would gain from eating the forbidden fruit. Perhaps they did not really believe, as the serpent suggested, that they would surely die. They may not have realized what exactly it was they were choosing, what it was they would gain and how much they would stand to lose. They gained little and lost much.

Adam and Eve really should have understood that death was a serious consequence, even if it did not happen right away, but they either did not understand or did not truly trust in what God had said. Either of those is a real problem. They had been warned of what would happen, but they chose as they did regardless. Their punishment, their banishment from Eden, is now our punishment as well. They made a wrong choice, and it cost them their home, their relationship with God, and eventually their very lives.

Sometimes, often, in fact, choices are like that. You don’t know, or you don’t truly understand the full extent of the consequences before you choose. Other times, though, you might know exactly what the choice entails, what the consequences are, and what the ultimate result will be. You might know that the right choice, the best choice, will also be more difficult. Then it comes down to evaluating the cost against the reward. Is the end goal worth it? If the final outcome is a long way off, sometimes that makes the decision more difficult.

I am supposed to exercise ever day to help maintain my health, my target is to do 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise that gets my heart rate up. It is of course much easier for me to not exercise and to just be lazy. But the long term result is that my blood pressure will go up, and my blood sugar numbers will be poor. It doesn’t actually take too many days of skipped exercise to start feeling not as well. The easy way leads to worse results. The hard way leads to a much better outcome.

Not that getting my exercise is really all that hard. It’s not like I have to go run five miles every day or something like that. Most days I do manage to get my 20 minutes of cardio, I do usually make the right decision. But not always. Sometimes I’m tired, or busy, and occasionally I’m just plain lazy, and I take the easy way out.

This sermon isn’t about me and my questionable decision making. Pretty sure I’ve preached on a fairly similar topic in the past, though, now that I think about it. This morning we are talking about gardens and getting back what we have lost. We are talking about finding what we never had in the first place. Mainly, though, we are also talking about choices, because the choices we make, and the choices that are made for us, determine so very, very much.

Adam and Eve made a choice in the garden so long ago, and it brought a result of pain, suffering, and death. I don’t want to say that they took the easy way out, but they obviously did not put up all that much effort to resist and dismiss the serpent’s lies. The hard way would have been to stand up and to stand firm on the truth God had given them, and they did not choose it.

Sometimes the way may not seem all that hard one way or another. Other times the best path is so utterly challenging that it takes all we have to make the right choice. And while Adam and Eve may not have realized the true extent of their choice, or the repercussions that would follow when they made their choice in the garden, there have been other choices made in other gardens with results no less important. If you turn to the gospel of Matthew chapter 26, we’ll read about one now. Reading from verse 36 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. 37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38 Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. 39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. 40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. 42 He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. 43 And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. 44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

We’ll pause our reading there for now. The Lord Jesus Christ went to a garden. We know that he went to that particular place, Gethsemane, which was on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem, on a frequent basis. We are told as much in both Luke and John’s gospels. This was a peaceful place of retreat for the Lord, one where no doubt He came to step away from the hubbub of the city for a few hours, a place where He could be refreshed, where He could commune with His father in prayer.

As an aside, it’s always striking to me how often we see throughout the gospels that Christ prayed. He was God, yet He prayed frequently. We are told of at least 25 different times that He prayed. It was a way of life for Him, part of who He was. He was in communication with His father, not on an occasional basis, but a constant one. There is a lesson for us in that to be sure, as we, who are of course far, far short of being divine, and who are told to pray without ceasing, I don’t think that any of us prays nearly as much as we should. That is certainly one way in which we can strive to be more like Christ, one that would benefit us greatly.

We see in the passage we just read that Christ came to the garden to pray. Not just a calm and casual prayer, but a most heavy prayer, a series of three prayers in fact. Three times the Lord prayed asking if it might be the Father’s will that the cup, the cup of God’s wrath, be lifted from Him. At the same time He acknowledged that He was willing to go forward, as difficult and as devastating as it might be.

Christ made a choice in the garden that evening. He chose to do His duty, to maintain the responsibility that had been assigned Him, to shoulder the load that was placed upon Him, indeed the load that would soon be increased beyond what anyone else in the history of time could have carried. He made the hard choice. He did not take the easy way out.

Now, He had already decided this long before going to the Mount of Olives that evening. He did not arrive at the garden with a choice that was suddenly sprung on Him. You could argue that Adam and Eve were in a sense ambushed by the serpent, that they were deceived and mislead and that they could not have seen that coming. You could argue that. Mind you, they had already been warned away from the fruit of that particular tree, the tree in the midst of the garden, so while they were not prepared specifically for a talking snake to tempt them, they did know well in advance of the danger presented by the forbidden fruit, and that choosing to eat it was the wrong decision.

Christ knew exactly what was ahead of Him, there was zero element of surprise for Him. He knew what that night held for Him, He knew what the next day would bring. The garden of Gethsemane was simply His last opportunity to change course before it all began. He could have run, He could have hidden, He could have simply refused what came next, but He did not. I don’t believe that He so much as considered it. Even the thought of fleeing from His duty was not in Christ’s nature. He would not have started down a path that He was not willing to complete.

We are not like that. How many times do we change our minds, how many times do we start something but fail to finish? We begin with good intentions, but we lose interest, or we lose momentum, or we simply find that the path is too steep, and the obstacles more numerous than anticipated, and so we turn aside? Too many times I fear. Too many times for each and every one of us do we take the easy way out. How thankful we should be that Christ did not. That He chose to suffer to pay for our sins, starting I believe right there in the garden, where He was sorrowful almost unto death. His suffering started long before the Roman soldiers nailed Him to that cross. His suffering started before they beat Him, before they mocked Him, before they placed the crown of thorns upon His head. His suffering had already started in the garden, when He prayed that if there were some other way might the cup of wrath pass from Him. But there was no other way, and so the cup remained His, and His alone.

Christ Jesus chose to drink that cup for us. Not because it was mild, or manageable, but because He knew what the result of that choice would be. I won’t have you turn there, but in Hebrews chapter 12, verse 2 it says for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame… . The cross, the suffering, that was not a joy, far from it, but the end result, the victory over sin and death and hell, that was indeed a joy, that was worthy of enduring the cross. And so He despised the shame, and a point of clarification here, in the King James version, in many translations, in fact, despise does not mean to hate or to detest, as we often use the word today. The word despise means to disregard, to ignore, to think little of. The shame of the cross was not something worth considering in the Lord’s mind. It was a non-factor. He chose to go forward, to endure the suffering, in order to pay for the sins of all mankind.

The Lord was not the only person faced with a choice that evening. He was not even the only person in the garden of Gethsemane who had a choice. We read in Matthew 26 earlier, let’s continue reading at verse 47 And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. 49 And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. 50 And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. 51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. 52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. 53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? 55 In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. 56 But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.

The disciples were in the garden that night. Eleven of them had come with the Lord, and they all chose to run for their lives. Well, mostly, because Peter, impetuous Peter, he first chose to stand and fight. He forgot or he misunderstood what that the Lord had instructed previously, how He would be betrayed into the hands of His enemies. Peter had been told this, but he tried to fight the inevitable. He did not fight particularly well, mind you, but he tried. He did the wrong thing, and he accomplished nothing. We know from Luke’s gospel that not only did the Lord rebuke Peter, but He also healed the servant’s ear before allowing Himself to be arrested.

The other disciples, they all turned tail and ran after that, Peter included. They all chose to save themselves as best they could. Well, apart from one. Judas was there as well, and he also had made a choice. He had not come to the garden with the Lord, as had the eleven, as had they all so many times before, but he came. He came separately, and with ill intent. It’s not the same garden that Joni Mitchell referenced in her song as we mentioned to start, but he got himself back to a garden. He came back to the garden, not to join the Lord, but to betray Him. He, like Adam and Eve, was caught in the Devil’s bargain. Only Judas actively chose to betray. He was not deceived as Eve had been, but he wilfully chose to reject and to sell his master for 30 pieces of silver. He had a choice in the garden that evening, right up until the point where he kissed the Lord. He could have chosen another course, but he chose to betray.

He regretted that choice within hours. I won’t have you turn there, but in the very next chapter we are told of how Judas repented of what he had done, how he tried to return the money, but of course it was far too late, the priests did not care, Judas had done their dirty work already. He could not undo what had happened, he could not go back to the garden and make a different choice. He ended his own life not long thereafter.

Judas chose in the garden that evening what to do with the saviour of all mankind. At the time, no doubt he thought he was doing what was best for himself. There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

We are all faced with choices every single day. Whether we make our choices in the midst of the sound of fury of a busy world, or if we retreat to a garden, maybe not a literal garden with flowers and plants, but a quiet place of reflection at the very least, and we make our choices there, we are faced with choices. Some are important, some less so, but one is so crucial that it demands our utmost attention. What will you do with what God has said? What will you do about the danger He has warned of? God gave Adam and Eve the warning they needed about the tree, that eating the fruit would bring about death. God gives each of us ample warning in His Word that we are all under the same penalty, that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And it is abundantly clear that none of us are able to attain unto the glory of God on our own. We cannot get ourselves back to the garden.

Christ chose that night in the garden to set aside what would be safe and pleasant for Himself. He chose to do what had to be done, what only He was qualified and able to do, in order to save us. That was His choice, and we should be thankful every single day that He made it. He did not have to save us. But He did, and in doing so He opened the way, not back to Eden for us, but to spend eternity with Him. He did not undo the damage that Adam and Eve had done, He did not rewind it so they could make the choice again, but He overcame it. He conquered the power of sin and death.

This morning, there is only one choice you need to make. None of us has a tree whose fruit God has warned us against eating, but each of us has the opportunity to turn to the Saviour. The scriptures tell us what will happen if we turn to Him, and they also tell us what will happen to us if we do not. The choice is yours, and if you have not made that choice yet, I trust you will make the right one.