My own garden is full of tulips and daffodils that are starting to fade now, but my cherry tree is still in bloom and dropping pink petals on the grass. The grass is bursting out of itself, growing too fast, faster than a mower can keep up with. And the birds are singing as they wing over my plantings. Gardens are beautiful in the spring.
Jesus' death and resurrection was in the spring-- right around the time of Passover. Two gardens feature heavily in that story. There was a garden at Gethsemane, where He prayed and cried on the night He was arrested. And there was a garden where His body lay entombed.
When Adam and Eve first sinned, it was in a garden. And they were driven out of the garden by an angel with a flaming sword. In the garden stories of Gethsemane and the tomb, angels appear again.
Gardens. Temptation. Angels. Death.
I think that when we see Jesus in gardens, in narratives that repeat so many of the motifs of Eden, it's good to pay special attention. Jesus, after all, is called "the second Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45).
Matthew and Mark tell the story of the "place called Gethsemane" (Matt. 26:36, Mark 14:32), but it is John who informs us that the place where Jesus withdrew after the Last Supper was in fact a garden (John 18:1). The original readers, of course, would have recognized the name of this garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives (which is how Luke describes it in Chapter 22) without having to be told. But look what Jesus does in this garden:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39)The passage says He prayed this way three times. Three is an interesting number, because that is the number of times Jesus asked Peter to reverse his denial of Him (John 21:15-17). It is the number of times Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). Adam and Eve were tempted just once, and they fell. Jesus, as the second Adam, resisted three times. Somehow, three is the number of reversal, of undoing what has been done.
Adam in the garden at Eden, all of his life ahead of him in a place of joy and peace, chose his own will over God's. Here in the garden at Gethsemane, Jesus in an agony of distress for the death He is facing, gasps out three affirmations of God's will.
And an angel comes (Luke 22:43). Not with a flaming sword to drive out, but with outstretched arms to strengthen and comfort.
And then there was the other garden.
At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:41-42)The narratives give several different versions of what happened next-- just as we might expect if a number of people all told individual eyewitness stories. But several elements appear over and over again.
The stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb.
Angels appeared-- again not to drive out, but this time to proclaim: Jesus had risen from the dead.
And the first to see and speak to the risen Christ were women.
I want to focus on the story in John:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”One thing stands out immediately. Mary didn't see Jesus just because she happened to be the first one there. Jesus could easily have appeared to Peter and John, but He didn't. He waited until they had gone home. Then He appeared to Mary. Why?
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. [Emphases added.]
In the first garden, the garden of Eden, the woman who listened to the serpent was thinking about her own gain. She saw that "the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom" (Genesis 3:6). And so she took, and she ate.
In this garden, the one with the empty tomb, the woman isn't thinking about herself at all. She's thinking about something else. Someone else. Three times she says it: "They have taken Him away. Where is He?"
The third time, He answers her Himself. "Mary."
And she rushes into His arms and won't let go.
Just as Jesus reversed what Adam did, Mary has reversed what Eve did.
But He has something He needs her to do-- something He chose her, and not Peter or John, to do. So He must ask her to let go of Him and do it.
After the scene in the garden of Eden, God warned Eve that now her husband will rule over her (Gen. 3:16) And what we see in the biblical story from that time on, is men ruling over women.
Until Jesus came along.
Two years ago I wrote an answer to the question, Why Did Jesus Choose Twelve Men?
The twelve were the main witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In the Ancient Near East and Roman cultures, the testimony of women was considered invalid. It was not accepted in court; it was not legally binding in any way. The world was simply not going to listen to women, and Jesus knew it.Before Jesus commissioned the apostles to take His message to the world in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene and her sisters to take His message to the apostles. This was a much bigger deal than it looks like. As Christianity Today's online article Five Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon puts it:
So here’s what He did. His very first act upon Resurrection was to appear to the women. In fact, John tells us that though Peter and John ran ahead of Mary Magdalene on the way to the tomb, they saw nothing. Then after they left, Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Resurrected Christ. John 20:3-14. Other women also saw Him shortly afterwards– but no male saw the Lord, revealed for who He was, until that evening, eight hours or more afterwards. . .
The significance of this would not have been lost on the male disciples in that patriarchal culture. They knew that they themselves had refused to believe the women’s testimony that morning. Then when Jesus appeared to them, they realized the women had been telling the truth.
Jesus was communicating this very clearly (the fact that we miss it today is a product of our culture): “The world will not accept the testimony of your sisters, but I have just forced you to listen to it. My kingdom is to be different from the world. You are to listen to your women and allow them to testify of Me.”
As you preach this Easter, do not bypass the testimony of the women as an incidental detail. In the first century, women were not even eligible to testify in a Jewish court of law. Josephus said that even the witness of multiple women was not acceptable "because of the levity and boldness of their sex." Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a "hysterical female … deluded by … sorcery."
This background matters because it points to two crucial truths. First, it is a theological reminder that the kingdom of the Messiah turns the system of the world on its head. In this culture, Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness. Second, it is a powerful apologetic reminder of the historical accuracy of the resurrection accounts. If these were "cleverly devised myths" (2 Pet. 1:16, ESV), women would never have been presented as the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ.Jesus does not send Mary back to the male disciples to be ruled over by them. He sends her back to them to teach and proclaim His truth. Far from telling her to know her place, He deliberately raises her out of a woman's place and into a place of equality.
Mary, in desiring Christ above all else, has undone what Eve did. And Christ responds by undoing "he shall rule over you."
Last year Preston Yancy wrote the most beautiful blog post I have ever read anywhere. He called it When It Matters Because of Two Gardens, and I probably would never have written this post if I had not first read that one, and thought about it ever since. Here is a little of what he said, though I encourage everyone to read the whole thing:
I think of how one little verse, one little verse of a redemption in the twentieth chapter of the most beautiful Gospel, the story of us, could mean all this.
Could mean systemic patriarchy has been overthrown. Could mean that equality is now. Could mean that the Law of Moses would be overcome by the law of grace. Could mean that a woman is a person not a thing, joy of father or husband, and that her word is worth, her voice use. . .Jesus in the garden is an undoing and reversal of what drove humanity out of the garden. He has begun the righting of all that has been wrong-- and not least what has been wrong between men and women.
And I think of them, sometimes, of that second Man and that other woman, in that garden west of Golgotha, and I think of her as she was sent forth, running east, and I think of the tangled mess of grace tripping and dancing round her in her wake, her feet bringing the news of healed cosmos, healed creation, and He has done this, first, and we shall follow, and so comes the Light.
We should not read the rest of the New Testament in ways that negate this truth.
For He is risen indeed.