red flowers

The Gardener

In All Articles, FAITH, Theology by Josh Elsom

red flowers

Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” And that’s certainly proven true when we look closely at John’s report of what happened the morning of Jesus’ resurrection. It reads like a song that you used to know but have long since forgotten the melody. There’s just something oddly familiar about this story. See if you can hear it too.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” – John 20:11-16

It was a Sunday morning, the first day of a brand new week when Jesus rose from the grave. We don’t see him in the story at first. It’s almost as though he’s hiding somewhere in the garden. What we do find though are two angels and a weeping woman. And the entire scene is cast in the shadow of something dreadful that had just happened upon a tree. Weeping Mary has lost something very precious to her. And now she’s despairing, looking for the body of her teacher. But he’s no longer there.

After the angels failed Mary, not being able to tell her where Jesus’ body had be taken, she turns and walks away. With her vision still blurred with tears in her eyes the former prostitute turns to see another man. And who does she suppose him to be? The gardener.

Do you hear the rhyme echoing in your heart? Can you feel the melody coming back to you? Do you see what Jesus is doing?

Jesus is very calculated in what he’s doing and what he wants you to see. He wants you to understand that he’s begun the process of undoing all that went wrong in that other garden; the garden he’d planted at first, east of Eden. And he’s causing Creation to be born again.

If you take a look back at Genesis 1-3 you find that God commissioned his humans, Adam and Eve, to act as his client king and queen here on earth, to represent him as his image bearers to all of creation. They were commanded to “Be fruitful and increase in number” and to “fill the earth and subdue it.” In effect, their job was to multiply image bearers and to expand the borders of the garden sanctuary where God had placed them; and to subdue the land that existed outside of his garden until the paradise that they experienced in Eden filled the entire earth.

We remember the unfortunate way that story turned out though, don’t we.

Adam and Eve believed a lie, they sinned against God, and the world has not been the same since. And because they sinned against him, and did not listen to God’s warning —that they would surely die if they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil— they were cast out of God’s sanctuary garden, but not without a gospel promise. It was the promise that one day that the woman would bring forth a son who would crush the head of the serpent. The son would be bruised but the serpent would be destroyed, effectively undoing the threat of the serpent and opening up the possibility that one day, perhaps there might be a way to return to the garden.

In his mercy, God did not kill Adam and Eve for their rebellion against him. But he did cut them off from the Tree of Life which was the source of their health and immortality. Two mighty angels were stationed at the entrance to the garden to prevent the humans from reentering and eating from the the Tree of Life. It was God’s grace to do that, by the way. In case you’d never stopped to think about it, it was actually very kind. Because in preventing their access to the tree, he allowed the humans to become mortal so that they would be unable to live forever in unending broken relationship with him. So he allowed them to wither and die but not without the hope of restoration.

Flashing forward to resurrection morning, we see the woman —Mary is like Eve; we see two angels —who have nothing left to guard; and we even have a tree that brings both life and death —the cross is a composite picture of the two trees in the Garden of Eden. But where is the man, where is Adam in this story?

Paul calls Jesus the Last Adam in 1 Corinthians 15. And as the Last Adam, Jesus came to accomplish for us what Adam could not. So what we see here, on resurrection morning, is a total reset of the entire system. Everything that had gone so terribly wrong in the world because of sin and the curse would from that point forward forever be different. God was setting the world to rights through the Son of Eve and Mary, the Last and better Adam, the perfect image of God. On Friday, Jesus placed his foot on the head of Satan. His heel was bruised but by Sunday Satan’s head had already begun to crack.

And here’s the thing, the resurrection of the Son of God hasn’t simply restored us to our Creator, it has restored us to our created purpose. The moment that stone was moved from the front of Jesus’ tomb was the very same moment when the better Adam broke ground on his new and better creation. He is walking among us now in the Eden of his Church, dressing it and keeping it, and expanding the boundaries of his garden sanctuary.

Jesus is King! And he will accomplish for his Father what Adam could not do. He was given the nations as his inheritance and a kingdom that will not end. He has all authority in heaven and on earth and he’s unleashed his apprentices upon the world; to be fruitful and multiply, to make more faithful image bearing apprentices of all the nations that he was given. And he’s sending us out as his kingly priests, his client kings and queens, with all the energy of heaven behind us; to subdue the earth and push back the chaos of sin, to pull the weeds of injustice and to cultivate righteousness throughout all of Creation —far as the curse is found.

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” —Romans 16:20

What would it look like for you and your faith community to expand the shalom and paradise of the gospel life that you experience within your churches out into the places where it does not yet exist in your homes, jobs, neighborhoods and cities?

Josh Elsom