And in the Garden a Sepulchre

"Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they JESUS" (John 19:41).

A garden! We all like a garden; it means to us the fair sunlight or the restful shade; it means beauty and fragrance and colour, and the song of birds, and the joy and ease of life. But in the garden a tomb! Ah! that is another matter. At the thought of a tomb we rise up as though fearing the attack of an unseen foe, the air grows cold, the music dies, and life droops. We love a garden, but not a tomb, for the tomb means — What does it mean? If your heart can tell you, then you know, but if it cannot, you do not. But suppose your heart could tell you all that it was possible for a human heart to know of the defeat and humiliation, the disappointment and loss, and sadness and tears that the tomb in the garden means, the full truth of it would still remain untold, for God alone knows it and He tells it in His own way.

But why should a tomb force itself into the same sentence as a garden? Cannot we have a garden without a tomb? May we not exult in a garden without a tomb near by to cast its shadow on our joy? No, we cannot, they are brought together in God's Word with a purpose, and they cannot be divorced in this earthly life. The garden first and then the tomb, thus is the story told, and how many have heard it and learnt it in bitter woe, and have seen how soon the garden can shrivel and shrink and all its beauty disappear, while the tomb spreads wide its base and rears its monstrous head, until naught save itself is seen in earth or sky.

It is not a tomb and then a garden; that is not the order here. It is the habit of civilized man to plant a garden round a tomb. Sentiment demands it, and the heart cries out for a garment with which to cover naked death, and chooses flowers; and they spring and bloom as a tribute — yes, and perhaps in defiance, in feeble and futile defiance of the tomb. But it is not that, it is beauty yielding to corruption, joy ending in sorrow, day fading into night, life closing in death. In the garden a tomb.

But why is it so? There was once a garden that God planted "eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And a river went out of Eden to water the garden" — and there was no tomb there. But that old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, entered that enclosure of life, and secured the ear of the man's wife and stirred the ambitions of the man, and they thought that the devil's lie was better than God's truth, and with the hands that God had made the gate was opened wide for the destroyer, and "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom 5:12). And since that day the tomb has been with us. No matter how full of promise and hope and prophecy a garden may have been, the tomb was there, for sin was there, and death came in with sin and will not retire so long as sin remains That is why.

It is remarkable that God started man upon his career in a garden. Not in primordial slime as a wriggling maggot, or in the virgin forest as a chattering ape, as the scientists (?) would teach us — men who have grown wise in their own conceits, but are fools, blindly fighting against God's own account of things — but in a garden, a scene of ordered beauty and delights, planned and planted by God's own hand. In that garden he stood erect, for "God has made man upright," created in the image and likeness of God, and there was nothing lacking in his fair surroundings to complete his joy, and no tomb was there to cause him grief. So satisfied should he have been with the bounty of his God, that the tempter would have shrunk abashed from the fullness of his gratitude. But it was not so, his glorious heritage did not content him, he craved for that which God had withheld, and through that uncurbed desire he fell. Thus death passed upon him, and as no tomb could be in the garden where grew the tree of life, he was banished from it, a sinful and dying man, his only prospect on earth a tomb. Such was man's brief history in God's garden without a tomb.

He carried out of that earthly paradise, however, a craving for beautiful surroundings, and has laboured incessantly to secure them; but if God's garden did not satisfy him, it is certain that his own cannot, and in his own garden there is always the tomb to mock his best endeavours. And is there no hope? Shall the tomb for ever triumph? Let us see.

Among the writers of the New Testament John is the only one who speaks of a garden. He is always great on environment, the setting is necessary in his Gospel to bring out either the full beauty or the stark nakedness of the deeds he records. So he speaks of a garden, and with it he shows us a traitor, a cross, and a tomb. I confess that when I first saw the garden, as John shows it to us, it startled me. The purpose of John's Gospel is to present the great fact that God has come down to men. In it we learn that THE WORD was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And can it be possible that when He came, so suitably to the deep need of men, and entered into man's garden, that He was confronted by the traitor, and condemned to a cross and a tomb? Yes, so it was, men had nothing better than that for Him. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not" (John 1:10); and when men saw Him they hated Him without a cause.

The traitor's kiss ranks as the most dastardly deed ever perpetrated beneath the heavens, and the name of Judas is universally execrated, but what of those who gave him the money, who bribed him to betray his Master into their murderous hands? They were the chief priests, the teachers of morality and religion, the cultivation of what is best in man was supposed to be in their hands, and they should have driven the covetous wretch from their presence with scorn when he made his base proposals, but they did not; they had determined to rid themselves of Jesus, there was no place for Him in their scheme of things, and they were glad to have the traitor as a confederate in their crime, for they were as base as he. So the Lord of glory was betrayed in a garden, not in the bleak wilderness, where the wild beasts were, and where He had hungered for forty days before His conflict with the devil, but in the garden, in a spot that had been tamed and cultivated by man's labour. Thither He had resorted with His disciples for prayer, and it was there that His quietude — for the agony was past — was rudely broken by the advent of the soldiers led by the traitor.

But that was only the beginning of the treachery and insult, and unparalleled cruelty that He had to suffer. Who can describe the road that He trod from the garden to the high priest's house, and from there to the court of Pilate, mocked by Jew and Gentile, beaten, spit upon, scourged, crowned with thorns and condemned to die, until at last, with a cross upon His shoulders He reached the garden again? The garden of the cross may not have been the garden of the betrayal, but this we know, for the Scripture tells us, that "in the place where He was crucified there was a garden" (John 19:41).

Raised above every plant and tree in that garden was the "plant of renown," the Son of God nailed to a cross, and in the presence of it we bow; we bow our heads with shame for the sin of man, we bow our hearts with adoration for the love of God: man's sin and God's love, they met in that cross, and it was the proof and the measure of both. It may have seemed to us when first we thought of it, that God did a harsh thing when he drove the man and his wife from Eden for one act of disobedience; but Golgotha clearly declares what lay in that act. It was a blow aimed at the supremacy of God, an act of rebellion against His throne, a challenge to His majesty, and last but not least, a refusal to believe His goodness and love. From the time of the fall onward the chief aim of man was to cultivate his own powers; to make himself independent of God, and to make things pleasant for himself at a distance from God. Alas, he was cultivating an evil nature, and the test of it came when the Son of God came into the world. Then it was manifested what sort of fruit his garden had produced; then it was fully revealed that hatred of God lay at the very root of his nature; a hatred so fierce and intractable that all the grace that was in Jesus failed to abate it. Nothing would satisfy it but the murder of the One who was the Word become flesh, and that murder was of the most deliberate and calculated kind. Not only must the greatest physical suffering be inflicted on the Object of their hatred, but His every sensibility must be outraged and His character defamed for all time. So He was numbered with the transgressors, laughed to scorn by those who beheld His suffering and shame, and given a felon's death. It was not in the uncultivated and wild part of the earth, in the habitations of cruelty, where the naked savage lived his ignorant and degraded life that this sin of mankind was consummated. No, it was "the princes of this world" that "crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. 2:8) — "In the place where He was crucified there was a garden."

If that climax of all sin had been the only side of the cross, there would have been no hope. But God's love was there, and God's love was greater than man's sin. If the cross is dark with the blackness of man's hatred, it is bright with the glory of God's love, and through it He commends that love towards us, for while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Raised up there upon the cross, Jesus was the bread of life, which if a man eat he shall live for ever. And that cross which on man's part was only hatred and murder, has become a new and living way by which sinful men may enter into everlasting blessing; it is the door into a heavenly paradise where death can never come. Thus did grace much more abound where sin abounded.

Now the malice of men would have pursued the Lord beyond death, for "they appointed His grave with the wicked," as Isaiah 53:9 should read. They had prepared a rough hole near the cross in which to cast His body with those of the thieves who had also died there; but God intervened and "He was with the rich in His death." In the garden there was "a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus."

It was a new tomb; we must lay the emphasis upon this. There had never been a tomb like it before, if we judge it by what was laid in it, and by what came out of it. To that hour the grave had stood first in the list of those things that are never satisfied. It had never cried, "It is enough." And with one exception, when it had bowed to the authority of the living Lord, it held its prey with relentless power. There had ever been a natural affinity between the tomb and what it held, for God had said, "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." But in this new tomb there was no such affinity. The death of Jesus was voluntary. He died for the sake of His flock. No man had taken His life from Him, He had laid it down of Himself. He had the power both to lay it down and to take it again. He was the Holy One of God and could see no corruption; death had no claim upon Him, and so the tomb could not hold Him. The grave had never received such an occupant to its close embrace before; it had triumphed hitherto, but now there had entered into it the One who was to break its power for ever.

There seemed to be an eagerness on the part of the Jews to be rid of His body, for they begged Pilate that it, with those of the thieves, might be taken away, and Pilate seems to have been relieved when Joseph besought him that he might have it, for he readily gave consent, and the world rejoiced when the tomb closed upon Jesus. But what a wonderful Seed was sown in that tomb in the garden with the tears and lamentations of Joseph and the women! And how wonderful was the springing up of that Seed on the resurrection morning! Ah, then was the day of victory, the beginning of a new creation.

The garden had been the scene of man's treachery and shame, of Satan's long mastery over man and the length to which he could drive him, and of the power of the grave. It was now the scene of God's victory, sorrow had given place to joy, the night had vanished before the morning light, death had given place to life, for as by man came death, so by man came also the resurrection from the dead, and the joy of heaven found expression in the angel's words, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen." "Come, see the place where the Lord lay." An empty tomb at last! The pledge and token of victory over it for all who are Christ's; for Christ is the firstfruits afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming.

The faith of the believer links him up with God's victory, and that vacant new tomb in the garden has changed everything for him, for he possesses a life in the risen Christ that death cannot destroy; and his hopes and joys are no longer resting in a garden, the beauty of which is all spoiled by death and the grave, but he looks on to the time when he will "eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7). And if he falls asleep through Jesus, he does so in the sure hope that his body, sown in corruption, shall be raised in incorruption; sown in dishonour, shall be raised in glory; sown in weakness, shall be raised in power. But while such a glorious hope is certain for the Christian if he dies, it is not certain that he will die, for, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:51-57).

It is the light of that world into which death can never enter, that, shining into the heart of the believer, enables him to turn his back upon the earth and lay hold on eternal life. Arid while he does not feel the less that death is here, it holds no terror for him since his Lord both died and rose again. He may sorrow, but not as those who have no hope, and his hope makes not ashamed, for it is as an anchor both sure and steadfast which holds his soul amid the storms and stress of life, if I may for the moment pass from a garden in which the tomb is to the sea where tempests rage. It is a blessed hope. "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. WHEREFORE COMFORT ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS" (1 Thess. 4:16-18).