“Three Gardens,” New Era, Apr. 1972, 14
“… I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26.)
We celebrate this month the anniversary of what one writer has called the strangest story in the world. No matter how familiar we are with this story, it still remains infinitely above our understanding. It is more wonderful than any dream. It is unlike any other account. And yet it is true.
Because the story is true, the children of Adam shall live forever. Grasping this truth, man can hope for limitless, joyful tomorrows.
“He is not here, for he is risen.” (Matt. 28:6.) These words announced the most significant victory ever to be won in the history of man: a victory of God and man over death and sin. It was a victory for God because his power won it. It was a victory for man because Jesus, subject to all the temptations of mankind, proved that man can live above sin. Our Savior, being both Son of God and son of man, at great personal cost and personal valor, finally secured the field so that mankind could be redeemed. Our Redeemer, in awful loneliness, transformed longing into reality and plan into achievement as he walked the road toward a battle that he alone could fight.
Along that road there were three gardens—gardens that symbolize the great events in the plan. In the beginning God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and he placed there the parents of the human family. We are told that God walked in that garden in the cool of the evening, blessing the earth with his presence. Then, through his free choice, man left this garden, never to return, and entered a world of suffering, sin, and death. God withdrew his personal presence and man was left to walk by faith and the Spirit in a hostile world, in a world that was now enemy-occupied territory, for everywhere was found the influence of the adversary, the prince of this world.
Thus man began his long journey through mortality, made bearable by simple moments of hope, companionship, beauty, love, family closeness, and earth-oriented goal achievements. As he ventured further and further from the garden, the awareness of his true condition settled over him like a dark cloud. This was a world of time where everything would soon pass away. Youth, physical beauty, even life—all would one day be gone. Man, a little lower than the angels, knew that at the end of all his most cherished dreams and associations was a grave and a few spadefuls of earth.
His ideals never seemed quite within his grasp. Always there was a dark and sinister force trying to pull him down, tempting him with strange, unholy thoughts and deeds.
“I have seen,” says the writer of Ecclesiastes, “all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
“That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” (Eccl. 1:14–15.)
Yet beside this cry of despair there was another voice, the voice of a small, politically insignificant people claiming that beyond all hope and from beyond the world, help would come. “For I know that my redeemer liveth,” cried Job, “and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:25.) Could such a thing be believed?
In a small province of the Imperial Roman Empire, an aged man, Simeon, first believed, and then knew beyond doubt: “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
“And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
“And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
“Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
“For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
“Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” (Luke 2:25–31.)
At some time in our Savior’s own earthly youth, he knew what he would do when grown. He came to know that he was the person prepared from before the foundation of the world to be offered as a lamb in sacrifice. His life, by its very nature, was to carry him toward a grim rendezvous with the prince of darkness. And long before that crisis came, his face was set toward Jerusalem and toward a garden called Gethsemane. There he would meet his adversary. There all things would hang in balance, awaiting the outcome.
As the duel began that night, his seconds fell asleep. In terrible loneliness he stepped off the brink of earthly support and plummeted downward in his spirits, grappling with his foe and his duty of love until, in a way unknown to us, he had plumbed to infinity the wages of human sin and suffering. And then he rose. He had carried with him the whole of the world’s weakness into a garden and a night; now he must bear it up a hill toward day.
As he hung on the cross, he experienced that which was essential to his victory and yet almost too much to bear. His feeling was beyond words as he pleaded, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46] The sustaining power of heaven had been withdrawn. The face of his Father had turned away and he was left unto himself that the awful battle could be his alone—to win—or lose. From the purity and love and power of his own soul he drew his measure of strength, and (as it appears) breaking his heart, fulfilled his quest. “It is finished,” said the Savior, and then he died.
The power of sin passed away in that moment. The victory of love had been won. The Son of God had ransomed his Father’s children paying a price of suffering none of us really understand.
Then, on the third day, friends of the Christ, coming at daybreak to the place of his burial.,found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. To Mary, lingering in confusion and grief before the abandoned tomb, it was given to behold the risen Christ—walking again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.