The Seventh Sunday after Trinity: Gardens and Paradise

Readings: Genesis 2:7-17, Romans 6:19-23, Mark 8:1-9
Hymns: 616, 819, 572, 631, 689

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

If you read the first page of the Bible, you will read the Creation account. If you read modern commentators on the first chapters of Genesis, you will find that many do not believe what God teaches concerning Creation. One rationale offered is that the people were too simple to understand evolution, and so God spoke in a way that resonated with them. But this explanation implies that God is not truthful in His words. And if He’s untruthful, then He lies. If He lies, then He cannot be perfect as He says He is (Matt. 5:48).

When Peter later reflected on the Transfiguration of Jesus, Peter wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

You see, God’s Word is not cleverly devised myths, but God’s Word is divine truth. And truth is something we are certainly longing for in these uncertain times. You would think the advancements we have in technology, the ease of communication, and our collective scientific knowledge would have helped mankind come to an agreement on many truths. Yet, there remains, as they say, two sides to every story. You have people advocating masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and you have people who insist that masks do not help. You have studies that suggest masks help and studies that suggest masks aren’t so effective.

But that really is the way of life in our fallen world. Some make this claim to advance this agenda and others make that claim to advance that agenda. This boils down to an advancement of self-love and self-gratification, as opposed to love for the neighbor and care for the well-being of others.

What we all need, then, is divine truth—truth that does not change, truth that does not err, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That’s what God reveals in the Sacred Scriptures. The Bible is God’s Word. He does not lie, and He reveals what we need for our salvation.

He reveals who we are and where we came from. Genesis 1 teaches the six days of Creation—how everything came into being, simply by God’s voice. Genesis 2 reveals how God created man and how God intended for man to live. “The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7).

Mankind’s existence is not the result of chance, as evolutionists would have you believe. Instead our existence is the result of the work of God. He made us in His image and likeness. That is, He made us pure and holy, with righteousness, without sin, and able to know God. As Christians, we are blessed to have this knowledge. It is comforting to know who we are and where we came from. We do not have to live with the uncertainty the world faces. We have the certainty of God.

Despite this certainty, there are many who do not want it. They hear God’s Word, His account of Creation, the Fall of man into sin, and the redemption earned by Jesus on the cross for their sin. They hear of the way of salvation and how to receive eternal life. And then they hear the uncertainty of the world, get caught up needless speculation, and go along with all the uncertainty the world endures. It’s stunning, actually, that many will walk away from God’s truth so that they can be as unsure as the world is unsure. There’s no comfort in such uncertainty.

When God made man in such a magnificent and particular way, God planted a garden in Eden—in the east—for Adam to tend. Plants and trees grew perfectly. Food was abundant. All was good.

This is recorded in Scripture, not as a “cleverly devised myth” but as divine truth. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which was the language of the ancient Israelites. Some portions of the Old Testament were later written in a related language, Aramaic. In the Hebrew, the phrase Garden of Eden means “garden of delight.” It was, of course, a delightful place. A garden planted by God and without corruption from sin.

Imagine tending to it. Everything grew well. The animals, worms, and bugs left your food alone. There were no diseases to destroy your hard work. It was a delight for Adam to tend to the Garden. There was no hardship involved.

God also planted two specific trees in the Garden (Gen 2:9). One was the Tree of Life. The other was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God said they can eat of any tree in the Garden, except for one. God said, “Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” For when they do, they will die (Gen. 2:16-17).

Now, when we think of death, we normally think of temporal death, that is, when our life on this Earth ends. The Bible not only speaks of this kind of death, but two other kinds of death. These are spiritual death and eternal death. Spiritual death is when a person is still alive but does not have saving faith. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they died spiritually. Then God restored them as He gave them the promise that His only-begotten Son would defeat the Devil and take their sin away. Eventually, they died a temporal death, but not were not dead spiritually. So, they went to Heaven. If a person is spiritually dead and then dies temporally, his death results in the third kind of death, which is eternal death. Eternal death only occurs for those who die without faith. They die and are condemned. God spared Adam and Eve of this death.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the entire world became corrupt and filled with sin. They were removed from the Garden of Eden and an angel blocked the entrance to the Garden. Their sin brought many curses upon the land. Man will now sweat and fight weeds as he tries to survive. Tending to a garden was no longer a purely enjoyable exercise.  

The Hebrew word for “garden” does not occur very often in the Old Testament. There are several references to the Garden of Eden. There are also several references to the kings’ gardens. Gardens are described as things that are good and lovely. More frequently, the Hebrew word for field occurs. When Sarah died, Abraham bought the field at Machpelah to serve as a burial ground. Fields serve as the country grounds where crops are raised and where cattle graze. Gardens were usually enclosed, as was the Garden of Eden.

As I mentioned earlier, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew with a few portions written in Aramaic. Prior to the time of Christ, the Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is known as the Septuagint. It is interesting to note that the Garden of Eden is translated into Greek as παράδεισον ἐν Εδεμ. Our English word for paradise comes from that same Greek word. And this Greek work occurs just three times in the New Testament and none of them refer to gardens, like it often does in the Greek Old Testament. In Luke 23:43, Jesus is being crucified and He tells the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Jesus is telling the thief that He is restoring His creation through His crucifixion and that He will not be defeated by this death. Instead, the thief will join Jesus that very day in Paradise—Heaven—in the presence of God. For when this believing thief died, his soul went to Heaven. He had gone from spiritual death to life, receiving eternal life.

For that which was ruined by sin is restored by Jesus, as it is written, “As through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18-19).

Now, if Jesus can feed the 4000, He can certainly pay for the sins of the world through the shedding of His innocent Blood on the cross. And if Jesus can guarantee that a thief will join Him in Paradise, Jesus can also guarantee that you may join Him in Paradise. For when Jesus declared, “It is finished,” He really did atone for the sins of the entire world (John 20:30).

This word “paradise” is also mentioned by Paul as referring to Heaven (2 Cor. 12:4) and it comes once in Revelation 2:7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” What God is saying here is that believers will live forever and join our Lord in Paradise forever.

So, while the word “paradise” occurs just three times in the New Testament, the word “garden” occurs five times. Once in a parable (Luke 13:19) and the rest surrounding our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1, John 18:26). Where Jesus was crucified, “There was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41). There Jesus was buried. And when Mary Magdalene returned to see the stone rolled away on Easter morning, she thought she was talking to the gardener, asking where Jesus’ body went. But then Jesus said her name and she saw that He is Jesus, risen, just as He said.

And so, God’s Word is proven to be true. Jesus accomplished what the Father said He would do. In His death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life are earned for us.  And when Jesus returns, recreating the Heavens and the Earth, all gardens will truly be paradise. And we will dwell with Him in Paradise forever. Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen.