Beyond the Garden

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A garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a symphony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

“The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have permitted perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another 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.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, clean air of a garden grove. By law He should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead He was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified Him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it laid buried. Then a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

“Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.

A Sword and a Saviour

Jesus_Heals_the_Ear_of_Malchus_001Malchus’ eyes stung in the smoky haze of many torches, and his ears rang with the clang of boots and weapons. He let himself be carried along by the crowd of soldiers and temple guards streaming through the gate into the olive garden. Leading the way was a man called Judas Iscariot, purported to be a follower of the revolutionary they were sent to find. Malchus’ master, the high priest, had ordered him to witness the arrest and make sure the prisoner was brought immediately to him.

Malchus expected armed resistance, or at least a search for the fugitive and his men. Instead he saw a man robed as a rabbi walking purposefully toward them out of the gloom. A few men followed him, some with swords at their sides. When Judas Iscariot approached the rabbi and kissed him on the cheek, Malchus heard the man say, “Friend, would you betray me with a kiss?” Judas then slunk back behind the crowd.

“Who is it you want?”, asked the rabbi.

“Jesus of Nazareth,” was the reply.

“I am he,” Jesus said. At those words the whole company of men stumbled backward and fell to the ground. Malchus felt as if a mighty hand had pushed him from his feet, where he lay for a moment in a daze. He expected the rabbi and his men to use the opportunity to run, but the question came again, “Who is it you want?”

Unnerved, his captors restated as they got to their feet, “It is Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I told you I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

Looking into the resolute face of the rabbi, Malchus thought, “he is about to be arrested and yet he protects his men? What kind of man is this?”

The rabbi’s men drew closer, ready to defend their leader at a moment’s notice.

Malchus didn’t see it coming until it was too late. A sword flashed in torchlight, sudden, searing pain smote the right side of his head, then his hand come away holding the scrap of his ear drenched in blood. The soldiers around him bristled as Jesus commanded the man who attacked him, “Put away your sword! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Turning his powerful gaze on Malchus, the rabbi placed his hand over the streaming wound where his ear used to be. He felt a tingling warmth, then the cessation of pain. Never taking his eyes from Jesus, he tentatively raised his fingers to feel a whole, healthy ear attached to his head. His hand came away clean, no blood staining his palm. Before he could speak, the soldiers surged around him to grab the rabbi, bind him roughly and drag him out of the garden.

After the rabbi’s crucifixion and burial, Malchus heard rumors whispered around his master’s house, rumours that Jesus was not really dead, that his tomb was empty because he had come back to life and had been seen by many. These rumors caused his master, the high priest, many sleepless nights. But they were more than rumours to Malchus. They were confirmation of the truth that the healing touch he experienced in the olive garden belonged to none other than Jesus, the Messiah, now his Lord and Savior.

(based on John 18:1-11 NIV)

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Along the Road

EmmausTravel has a way of drawing out internal things. As the body is engaged in getting to a destination, the mind has time to ponder and explore, away from daily routine. On a seven mile journey by foot from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a few days after Jesus’ crucifixion, two of His disciples discussed the internal things closest to their hearts.

Shoulders slumped, feet scuffing the dusty road, faces sad and perplexed, their demeanor spoke their discouragement. They had put their hope in Jesus of Nazareth as the one who was going to redeem Israel, but he had been arrested, crucified and buried, and his body probably stolen, for his tomb was now empty. With the road stretching before them, their conversation was tinged with sorrow and confusion.

In the aftermath of a life-shattering event, we want to study it from all angles, dissect the details, try to figure out the why and how and now what? Somehow it gives us a sense of control to analyze the facts and search for some answers, preferably with someone who can commiserate with us.

Processing a traumatic event turns the focus inward. The two walking to Emmaus were so absorbed in their discussion, they probably did not notice a fellow traveler until he came alongside them. Wrapped in a robe, dusty and windblown, like themselves, they did not recognize Jesus. Even though it was Jesus they were discussing, seeing Him in person was the farthest thought from their minds. Although He had spoken of it often, His resurrection was outside their realm of possibility.

When we are caught up in our own problems, trying to cope with an imperfect reality, we can miss Jesus walking beside us. Life narrows our vision to focus on looming bills, a serious medical diagnosis, a fractured relationship. Even when we fail to recognize Him, He is beside us through all the difficulties because He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. (Heb. 13:5)

Still disguised, Jesus gently chided the two on the road for being foolish and slow of heart. In modern terms, He admonished them to “look at the big picture”. Then painting the big picture in words, “He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27 NIV) And they still were not aware it was Him.

When all I can see are the problems right in front of me, the best thing I can do is adjust my spiritual lens, go wide angle and take in all of who Jesus is, what He has accomplished and what He has promised for the future. His story is woven throughout the Bible from the first word to the last. Reading it reminds me of the providence of God so clearly demonstrated in the life of His son Jesus, so I can trust Him for my life too.

The two travelers warmed to their wise companion as they walked. They strongly urged him to stay with them and have a meal. “He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

This part of the story touches my heart, because it was in the act of thanksgiving and sharing bread that Jesus revealed Himself. And He will continue to reveal Himself as we practice thanksgiving, focusing on the One who has given us all things. We are called to give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess. 5:17). Thanksgiving points us to Jesus, our true north, who guides us into all truth.

Finally they put the two together. Jesus, the man who walked to Emmaus with them, once dead and now alive, was the Messiah. fulfilling all the prophecies in Scripture. Their hearts burned within them with this revolutionary knowledge.

The story of the two on the road to Emmaus is our story too. Often blind to the presence of Jesus right beside us, we listen to His story in Scripture, but until we thank Him for His body broken and His blood poured out for us, we cannot see who He really is. When we finally recognize our constant companion, our hearts will burn within us — with love, with gratitude and with worship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Solitary Seed

amaryllis1-300I was given an amaryllis bulb as a gift one winter. When I planted and nurtured the bulb, it produced a long stem with four large, red, lily-like blooms at the top. I enjoyed the exotic flowers for several weeks before they died off. In order for the bulb to produce flowers again it needed to have a dormant period of several months in cool darkness without water. Having never grown an amaryllis before, I found myself checking the bulb as it rested, sure it must be dead. But when replanted and cared for, it grew and bloomed again even more beautifully.

Within the darkness of a garden tomb lay a Seed, fallen to the ground and dead, like a kernel of wheat. “I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.” (John 12:24 The Voice)

This Seed, called Jesus, endured vile abuse and death. His body was not dormant; not in some inactive state of reduced metabolic activity. He was actually dead. For three days His corpse lay cold in the darkness of the grave.

Then in the hidden depths, a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation from earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. Stale air was stirred with an intake of breath, the whisper of a burial shroud discarded on stone. The Seed, planted in death, was now unleashed to begin a great harvest.
“But God raised Jesus and unleashed Him from the agonizing birth pangs of death, for death could not possibly keep Jesus in its power.” (Acts 2:24)

Because of His resurgence after death, we too are given opportunity for new birth. But not without dormancy. First our spirit, that part made to be responsive to God, is dormant. Muffled in darkness, cold to His breath of life upon us, sin’s inertia keeps us stuck in the dirt. When a crack of light seeps into the darkness, we begin to rouse, to stir to the hardly believable possibility of life beyond this confining skin. The agony of cracking open the dry shell of our earthly existence is a small but necessary death. Offering the brittle roots of brokenness to God, we minutely share in His crucifixion. It is what is necessary to absorb the life of Jesus into our own, thereby living anew.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

Without dormancy, the amaryllis would not bloom again. Without the death of Jesus, suffered willingly so we might be restored to God, we would never bloom in new, eternal life with Him. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

 

 

 

 

Looking for the One

lightning-caspian-sea_57275_990x742I think I was always looking even when I did not know who I was looking for. Like any child, my days were spent doing small things in my small world but I remember a vague yearning, a searching for something outside myself. Lying on my back in the grass, gazing up into the limitless blue sky, I wondered who had made it all so beautiful. Surely this amazing world had a Maker and if the Maker made the world, then he made me too. So I went looking for him.

The cardboard Jesus stuck on a flannel board at Sunday School hardly fit my idea of a Maker. His pristine robes and benign expression belonged to someone who appeared too mundane to explode a universe into being, no matter what my teacher said. So I kept on looking.

I looked within my family and friends, but their love stayed on the plane of earth, imperfect and variable. I looked for the ultimate answer in education and knowledge, but came away confused by too many contradictory ideas. I ran fast after romantic love, thinking all questions would be answered through the heart, but found it to be a tender organ, quick to bruise and slow to heal.

The gravity of this world held me down. My eyes saw horizontally, my time taken with looking after my physical needs day after day. Yes, I was looking, but through squinted eyes, instead of opening them wide to the reality of a Maker who is Messiah, the anointed, God with us. I didn’t bother to look up, to raise my eyes to the Risen One, to recognize that death had no hold on Him.

Years later when the words of God took on life for me, I saw my seeking self in the women who came to Jesus’ tomb after his burial. They expected to find an earth-bound Jesus, no longer reachable, his body cold and gray in death. Reality was much different. “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.’ ” (Matt. 28:5-6 NIV) They were looking for the living among the dead, as the angel said. But Jesus was not there. He was alive again! And later he appeared to them in the flesh.

It wasn’t until the painful weight of this world pushed my face in the dirt that I truly looked. Looked up with sin-caked eyes, desperate to be loved no matter what, yearning for a life beyond this. Looked up because to look down meant death. Looked up to discover a free, forgiven, forever eternity with Jesus, the lover of my soul. He once said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40) When I believed, then I discovered He had been looking at me all this time, waiting to welcome me into His embrace.

I am still looking, but not because I am still seeking. I have found who I was looking for all my life, even when I did not know who He was. I am looking to Jesus now because He is beautiful to me, in His perfection, in His power, in His compassion. And I will never stop looking.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

 

 

Facing Doubt, Finding Faith

doubting ThomasHe might have been called Thomas the realist, or skeptical Thomas. But Jesus Himself gave Thomas the title he would be known by down through the centuries — doubting Thomas. The apostle refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus, whom he had seen crucified, had appeared to the ten other apostles. Until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross, he could not accept their story. Thomas was present when Jesus appeared to them again. Jesus personally addressed the pessimistic apostle, showing him His wounds and saying, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27 NIV)

I find myself relating to Thomas. My belief sometimes wavers in the face of hardship, prayers unanswered the way I would want, the pull of worldly thinking. Even after many years as a Christian, the question, what if? still niggles at times. What if this is all a story made up by men? What if there is no heaven? What if I’ve put my faith in a dream? The enemy of my soul loves to stick that question into my head to confuse me. I refuse to entertain it.

Thomas was a questioner. He needed physical proof to believe the outlandish story his fellow apostles were telling him. Even though he had lived with these men for three years, trusted them with his life, he still could not accept what they claimed to see. This is where I wish there were more details to the story. How could Thomas doubt when he had witnessed Jesus performing miracles and raising the dead? How can we deny the sincere witness of someone with a changed life, a healed heart, a peaceful spirit, because of Christ living within them? But often we do. We look for every possible alternative instead of believing Christ has changed them from the inside out.

When Jesus appeared again to the disciples in a locked room, He deliberately sought out Thomas. He didn’t rebuke him for his doubt, but instead compassionately offered him proof of His resurrection. Jesus lovingly met him at the point of his weakness. Just like He does with us. In our constant battle to maintain our faith, He is committed to help us in our unbelief. We may not have His physical body for proof but we have the true, inspired Word of God containing eyewitness accounts of His resurrection. We have the witness of the Holy Spirit alive within us, burning in our hearts with the truth of a living Savior. We experience our own lives changed, and evidence of Christ’s spirit at work in the lives of other believers.

Thomas began as a doubter, but ended up a believer. Once he saw the proof of the wounds in Jesus’ resurrected body, He exclaimed to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), declaring his faith in the deity of Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God. Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) Thomas believed because he saw actual evidence which convinced him. We are given the choice to either hold out for physical proof or believe in the resurrected, ascended Christ even when we do not see Him. This takes hard, stretching faith. Faith in the face of doubts and questions. Jesus knew we would not have Thomas’ advantage so He promised us a special blessing, that “by believing we may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) Doubt dissipates in the reality of such a life with such a Savior.

 

(I have included this song in another recent post, however it musically expresses the theme of this post as well.  SD)

Beyond the Garden

Hatley gardensA garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a cacophony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

 “The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have allowed perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another 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.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, sweet air of a garden grove. By law he should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead he was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it lies buried. Then a supernatural germination occurs; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life sheds the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

    “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)