Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Spring reminds us of gardens. It is when we bury seed in warm fertile soil, anticipate the arrival of burgeoning sprouts, and tend fledgling plants as they make their way toward the sun. It is also the season of Lent, when we meditate upon the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, events in which two gardens figured prominently, and were made necessary by what occurred in a third garden long before.
A garden is a plot of ground set aside for the cultivation of plants grown for some benefit, usually their appearance, scent, fruit, or flower. Scripture mentions a variety of them, a garden of spices (Song of Sol. 4:16), a garden of lilies (Song of Sol. 6:2), and a garden of trees—what we call an orchard— like Eden. There, the Lord God made to grow every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food (Gen. 2:9; Ezek. 31:9). A garden on Mt. Olivet was called Gethsemane, or ‘oil press,’ likely because the fruit of its olive trees was processed nearby. Scripture also mentions gardens of herbs (Deut. 11:10)—we might say vegetable gardens. The kingdom-like mustard seed in Jesus’ parable was planted in such a place (Luke 13:19). Kings like their gardens. Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard for an herb garden (I Kings 21:2). Denied a place in the sepulcher of the kings, Manasseh was buried in his royal garden (II Kings 21:18). Perhaps through that same garden, Zedekiah briefly escaped the Babylonians (Jer. 39:4). And Jehoram would be killed in the garden that his father stole from Naboth (II Kings 9:26).
Human history is bracketed by gardens. It shows man is related to gardens; he is meant to work in and live from them. Immediately after forming man from dirt, the LORD God planted a garden in some more dirt and placed Adam there to live from its fruit (Gen. 2:8). He was ‘planted’ there to dress that garden and to keep it (Gen. 2:15). He failed miserably. Because he sampled fruit from the one tree he was forbidden to eat, Adam and the rest of us would decompose into garden soil. But in the day of our Lord Jesus, those reduced to dust in Adam, but given eternal life in Christ, will be planted in another garden He cultivates, a lush oasis, Eden the second, there to drink freely from its pure river and eat the fruit of its life-giving tree (Rev. 22:1-5).
Gardens are places of transition. From life into death. Know not, that the seed sown in a garden cannot live except it first die (I Cor. 15:36)? In that garden east of Eden, Adam went from living soul back to dust, from total perfection to total depravity. Where he formerly walked with God his friend, he hid, afraid. And so later in a garden east of Jerusalem, God would press out of the second Adam the bloody sweat of hard toil under His heavy wrath. Thus, gardens would also be a place where death is turned into life. In that garden where Adam heard the bad news that he was banished, he also heard the good news that he was restored in Christ (Gen 3:15-23). The angels that kept Adam out of one garden, strengthened Jesus in another (Luke 22:43). Strengthened, Christ went from praying, “Let this cup pass from me,” to saying, “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it (John 18:11)?” And near to where He was crucified, this seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) was planted in yet another garden, where He Himself passed from death into life (John 19:41).
Fitting, because in all this the King was busy planting, cultivating, and tending His own royal garden. His people: A watered garden for which He provides (Is. 58:11), an enclosed garden He protects, and a garden of spices and pleasant fruits He enjoys (Song of Sol. 4:12-15). But it is also a garden grown for our enjoyment. The garden of the LORD is where joy and gladness, thanksgiving, and melodious song are found (Isa. 51:3). It is such because it is the one place where He lives with us eternally as our beloved husband (Song of Sol. 8:13). Where we will hear Him whisper, “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse. I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved” (Song of Sol. 5:1). What a life that will be!