June 15, 2013

Chester V. Clark III: A tale of two gardens

— Last month we discussed the fact that the good news of the gospel is not confined to the New Testament alone; in fact, the New Testament is only a confirmation of the truthfulness of the things foretold in the Old!

The gospel in one is expectation, in the other, realization. In one the news of salvation is prophecy, in the other, history. Both Testaments alike bear witness that Jesus is the Redeemer of the world, and that those who trust in him receive the gift of eternal life.

It all began in the Garden — the Garden of Eden, that is. There the first parents of the human race had their loyalty tested, and there they failed the test (Genesis 3). You know the story — how God gave them everything they needed for their happiness, and placed them in the middle of the beautiful Garden of Eden with only one restriction: They were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Of course, there was nothing wrong with the tree itself. God had made it, and it must surely have been included in his review of his creation which was pronounced “very good.” To the human eye there were no defects in this tree to suggest its danger. Its fruit was non-toxic and probably nutritious; Eve found it to be “good for food.” The only reason it was not to be eaten: God had said so.

And so we discover from this early human experience what comprises genuine obedience. To obey God when it’s obviously in our best interest to obey is not really a demonstration of our loyalty to him. To obey God when it makes logical sense, when his requests are scientifically or socially or financially corroborated, doesn’t prove our hearts and wills have been surrendered to him. Obedience that the Bible describes as righteousness by faith requires obedience to his word even when we don’t fully understand — and a heart willing to obey just because he asked us to.

And that’s where Adam and Eve failed. Eve was deceived, and chose to trust her senses and others’ experience over God’s express word. Adam chose to join her in her disobedience. And as a result the night of sin fell over the human race. Even the perfect Garden became less hospitable, as fear gripped our first parents’ hearts and shame overwhelmed them. Hiding in fear, they even dreaded the heretofore much anticipated time with their Creator.

Had I been God I might have left them there — for a while at least. Left them to suffer in their deserved shame and misery and guilt. But thankfully (for all of us), I’m not God, and God isn’t like me. For he knew something that would bring them hope. He had already devised a plan to redeem them from their sin and eventually restore the universe already wracked by the rebellion of Lucifer and now the defection of Earth. And when God knows something good, he can’t keep it to himself!

And so we have, in the same chapter that records man’s disgraceful fall, the first presentation of the good news of the gospel. In theological circles it is referred to as the protoevangelium. It’s the promise that humanity would not be left to suffer its deserved fate of eternal death, but that God would himself undertake our salvation. Speaking to the deceiver, God said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  

Fast forward to another Garden — the Garden of Gethsemane. Here the world’s Redeemer faced a much more fearful test than the one that confronted Adam and Eve in Eden. Would the Savior submit to the plan devised before the foundation of the world? Would he figuratively crush the head of the enemy, as predicted, and win back the rebel world? Would his obedience to the Father be perfect and entire — even at such a dear cost to himself?

Wonder, oh heavens, and be astonished, oh Earth! Jesus in Gethsemane chose to carry that cross, and die that death, that belonged to Adam and Eve — and to each of us. Paul marvels that Jesus “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8)

The two gardens offer a study in contrasts, in life and death, obedience and disobedience. And the victory that Jesus gained in Gethsemane is a victory for each and every one of us who are willing to be born again into his spiritual family.

“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in Earth, and things under the Earth; that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

Chester Clark III is pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dalton.