(Based on the sermons included in: “Return from Exile: A Lenten Journey.”)
The Garden of Eden was the first garden. As part of the original creation, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31) It was a perfect paradise.
In the beginning, gardens were places of peace, perfection, and the provision of the Lord. Gardens were where one walked in the presence of God, seeking His face. The Garden of Eden was the first garden … a perfect paradise … into which God placed the crown of His creation … the man made in His image. Man walked with God, conversed with God, and saw Him face to face in this beautiful garden.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Before the fall, work was a joy. There was no frustration of battling weeds, insects, mildew, or fungi. There was no “Murphy’s Law” to force the worst possible thing to happen at the worst possible time. There was no hail, no damaging winds, no drought. The weather was always perfect. Nothing ever went wrong.
The best thing of all was the relationship with God. God and man were united together in perfect unity. God and man walked together, talked face to face, lived in perfect communion. A beautiful, perfect place with God and man united in a beautiful and perfect relationship. The beautiful Garden of Eden, the place where God and man dwelled together in perfect harmony.
So it was in the beginning, but it didn’t last. Although everything was perfect, the devil persuaded the man and the woman that something was missing … that God was holding something back. God had created them in His image and so they were already “like” God. Never the less, the serpent convinced them that something was still missing. The serpent convinced them that although things were very good, they could be better. They could become more “like God” then they already were.
The Lord God [had] commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17) The serpent convinced the man and the woman that there was something to be gained by eating the fruit of the tree. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6) They believed Satan, and they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they tasted death.
They had been king and queen of a perfect universe. Now the universe was broken. Paradise was lost. Their relationship with God became a relationship of terror. Their lives were no longer immortal but bound by death instead. It was all lost.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22–24) God did not want Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in a state of sin and decay. So He exiled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and their return was forbidden by the flaming sword of the cherubim. They left the perfect place of light and beauty and entered a place of thorns and pain … a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. They were exiled, and their return was forbidden, their access to the tree of life cut off.
Dust to dust … they were created in God’s image from the dust. Eventually, they will return to the dust in disgrace. God created them to live forever in His presence. Their sin exiled them to a land of darkness and death far from the face of God with its light and grace. How tragic for Adam and Eve. How tragic for their children. How tragic for us!
Since that time, all mankind lives in exile from the beautiful garden; exiled from before the face of God, from before the presence of God; exiled and driven out into the darkness of a sin-damaged world with sin-filled hearts. Sin exiles man from God. Sin exiles us from the courts of heaven, from the courts of everlasting life.
Oh, if we could only become perfect once again … if we could resist all sin and walk in absolute purity, if God would find us righteous in His sight by the works of our own hands, then … only then … could we earn our way back into the garden. Its gates would be thrown open, and we would be received with great rejoicing. Once again, the garden would be our dwelling place and God would be our constant companion, as we would walk together once more in the cool of the day. Once again, we would have access to the Tree of Life.
But the truth is our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (Isaiah 64:6) Our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: (Isaiah 59:12) We enter this world dead in the trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1) We cannot return from our exile by our own reason or strength. We cannot enter the presence of God by means of the work of our hands. We find ourselves helpless and hopeless, wandering in the darkness. We are sinners, exiled from the garden, exiled from the presence of God.
We cannot return on our own. The journey is too difficult, too demanding, too treacherous. We need help. We need a Champion. We need One who will restore us to God’s presence, One who will return us to the garden.
God did not expel Adam and Eve without hope. He promised them a Redeemer, a Messiah. God told them that One would come to do battle with the evil serpent and overcome the darkness. The Seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan even as her Seed suffered the pain and indignity of bruised flesh. The Promised One would sacrifice Himself to win the victory. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one …make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11) The burden He would carry to the cross would be our sin. The sacrifice would be His body. Christ would suffer what we deserve. He would bear what we could not. And He would accomplish that which has always escaped us: a return from the exile of sin and death.
The Christ, Jesus, on the tree, removed the dividing wall of hostility. The blood of Jesus, the Lamb, cleanses and returns us to our God. To the one who hung on the next cross, Jesus, the Lamb, promised and he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
And so, it has come to pass. We have been redeemed and restored by our Champion, Jesus Christ. He has fought the good fight in our place and overcome all that kept us from the garden. The gates of the garden of heaven stand open before us. We who were exiled from Eden shall return through the gates of everlasting life. Indeed, the day shall come when we will walk through those gates and see the Lamb on His throne. There we shall see the waters of life flowing around the tree of life. There we shall bask in the Light that is the Lamb and dwell in His presence forever. Amen
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