Easter 2023: The Re-Creation Story (John 20:1-18)

April 9, 2023. Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama. James Jackson, Pastor

 Good morning, and Happy Resurrection Sunday! Please open your Bibles to John 20, but for now just put your bookmark there, because we are actually going to be going through the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. But don’t worry, I will still have you out in time for lunch!
I know on days like this, when there is a larger than normal crowd, preachers tend to say something snarky and sarcastic like, “Just to remind you, we do have church every week.” And if I have ever been guilty of that, I’m sorry. Every Sunday morning, every person is fighting an incredible spiritual battle with the devil, who will do anything and everything to convince you to spend your Sunday morning doing something else. So the fact that you are here, whether it’s the first time, the first time in months, or every Sunday, tells me that at least for this morning, you gained a victory over the enemy.
And today, we get to talk about the story of how Jesus won the victory against the enemy for all time and for all of us!
Many of you know that In February 2022 I was part of a group that toured Israel. The last day we were in the country, we went to the Garden Tomb. This is one of two possible locations for where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
The theory started getting traction in the mid-1800’s. The Bible says that Jesus was taken outside the walls of the city to a hill known as the place of the skull. So a group of scholars was looking at the hills and cliffs outside of where the walls of Jerusalem would have been in Jesus’ day. And they noticed a rock formation that resembled a skull. This picture of the site is from 1900. Do you see the skull on the side of the hill?
By the way, here’s what it looks like today. The cliff overlooks a bus parking lot. But you can still see the skull in the side of the cliff.
In1867, archaeologists unearthed a tomb less than a tenth of a mile from where I was standing in this picture. Israeli archaeologists have dated the tomb to the 8th century BC, 800 years before Jesus was born. Here’s a picture of the inside of the tomb.
This is a huge deal, because if you know the story, you know that the tomb had to be near the site of the crucifixion. According to Jewish law, the body had to be buried before the beginning of the Sabbath at sundown. So finding a 3000 year old tomb so near a rock formation that looked like a skull was pretty epic.
Scholars will continue to argue about whether or not this is the actual location of the garden tomb. But as we sat there that afternoon getting ready to receive communion, something occurred to me that I had never thought about before. It was the Garden tomb. And I started thinking about how gardens have a way of showing up at crucial times in the Great Big Story of God’s redemption plan:
·      There was a garden at the beginning.
·      A garden on the last night of Jesus’ life.
·      A garden on the morning Jesus rose again.
·      And when this world comes to an end, there will be a fourth garden: the garden of Paradise.
So this morning, I want us to talk about Four Gardens that tie together the whole story of God’s plan for creation, our need for salvation, our reconciliation with God through Jesus, and God’s ultimate restoration of heaven and earth.  By the way, don’t worry about matching up the blanks with what’s on the screen. A lot changed between Thursday and Sunday. Just take notes on the back of the listening guide, and if you are desperate to know what goes in the blanks, just see me after the service.
Let’s talk first about the garden of Eden. Let’s review some of the details of Genesis 1. How does Genesis open?
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Then you have all the five more days of creation, ending with the creation of Adam, the first human being. We read in Genesis 2 that
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
God’s plan for humanity was that they would live in an earthly paradise in unbroken fellowship with their heavenly father. He placed the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden, so that human beings could eat from the tree and live forever.
But he also put another tree in the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And he warned the man not to eat of that tree, “for in the day you eat of it you will surely die.” It wasn’t that God didn’t want humans to know the difference between good and evil. It’s that He didn’t want them to rely on themselves to decide what was good and evil. He wanted them to always depend on Him to be the ultimate standard of what is right and wrong (By the way, He still does!)
You know what happened next. The serpent tempted humans to eat from the one tree God commanded they not eat from. Sin entered the world when man rebelled against God’s authority over him. When humans made up their mind that they wanted to determine good and evil for themselves, it separated them from God.
Genesis 3 tells us they had to leave this paradise God had created for them. They would no longer have open access to God the Father. Why did God drive them out? If you’re like me, you’ve always heard that it was because sin separates us from God, and so Adam and Eve couldn’t be in His presence anymore.
But think about it. For that to be true, then God would have only been in the Garden of Eden. Christians believe that God is omnipresent—that He is everywhere, all the time. There wasn’t any place in the world Adam and Eve could go where God wasn’t. If it was all about being separate from God, it would have made more sense to keep Adam and Eve in the Garden and for God to leave.
Verse 22 gives the answer. God drove them out so they wouldn’t eat from the tree of life and live forever. God knew that the only thing worse than being separated from God because of our sin would be if we lived forever on earth that way. So He assigned angels (at least two, because cherubim is plural) to guard the way to the tree of life.
Remember that detail, because it’s going to show up again.
So you see, the ultimate point of being thrown out of the Garden wasn’t to separate us from God. God continued to be involved with Adam and Eve. He made clothing for them from animal skins. He continued to be active in people’s lives throughout the Bible, and He has continued to be involved in our lives throughout history, even though we have all inherited a sin nature from Adam and Eve.
But if we die in our sins, then what God didn’t want to happen in the Garden of Eden will happen in the fires of hell. We will live forever, forever separated.
But God loves us so much He made a way for that not to happen. And that is where the second garden comes in: The Garden of Gethsemane.
God sent His son Jesus into the world so that the curse of sin could be reversed. Let’s review: how does Genesis begin? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
How does the gospel of John begin? In the beginning was the Word.
What was the earth like, according to Genesis 1:2, before God began the work of creation?  Empty and void, with nothing but darkness. Then God said, Let there be light, and there was light. Light dispelled the darkness from creation.
How is Jesus described in John 1? Look at verses 4-5
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jesus is the Word that was with God in the beginning. And John goes on to say in 1:14 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s Jesus! Jesus took on flesh and bone. He was born of a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit, and so wasn’t born with the sin nature that every other human being inherited from our first parents.
For 33 years, He lived a perfect life. He never disobeyed His Heavenly Father. He never sinned against another human being. He never sinned at all.
Nevertheless, it was God’s plan that this perfect, sinless human being would be the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. It was God’s plan that His perfect, sinless Son would be opposed by religious leaders, be a threat to the Roman government, and would shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sin (Hebrews 9:22)
And so, on the last night of His earthly life, Jesus came to the Garden of Gethsemane. (Matthew 20:36, 29). He prayed that God would let the cup pass from Him. The cup was the cup of God’s wrath, poured out against the sins of the world. It was the curse we all deserve—ultimate, eternal separation from God.
More than anyone else, Jesus understood the horror of that. He knew what was in store for him—not just the physical agony and torture of the next twenty-four hours, but the emotional and spiritual impact of bearing the sins of all humanity. So He prayed three times for God to allow Him not to go through with it. He prayed with such emotional torment that He literally sweated blood (Luke 22:24).
The next morning, after the mockery of a trial, after He was scourged, spat upon, beard pulled out, a crown of thorns beaten down around His head, He stood before Pilate and watched all the people He had come to save turn their backs on Him. Choose to release a criminal instead of Him. Cry, “crucify!”
He carried a cross to the place of the skull, a hill outside the city. There He was nailed to the cross by His hands and feet. There, for six hours, He hung between Heaven and Earth. Between God and man. Between all that was sinful and all that was holy.
And according to John, His last words were “It is finished.”
What was finished? The work of salvation. The curse of sin. The separation from God. And three days later, the power of death itself. Because of Jesus’ shed blood, the curse was reversed.
Let’s look at what happened in the third garden. Read along with me in John 20.
[Read 20:1]
“While it was still dark” Mary went to the tomb. We had darkness at the beginning of Genesis. Darkness at the beginning of the Gospel. And now, darkness before the glorious truth of the resurrection was revealed.
Let’s keep reading: [Read verses 2-11]
One of the details I hadn’t noticed before is verse 10. After Mary runs to get Peter and John to tell them that someone has taken Jesus out of the tomb, they all go back together. John can’t resist pointing out that he beat Peter to the garden and got to the tomb first. But after that, what does verse 10 say?
10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 
In their excitement, or confusion, or whatever it was, Peter and John leave Mary Magdalene alone with her grief. As far as we can tell, they don’t offer her any comfort or support. They just walked right past Mary, who was sobbing. They did not see or acknowledge her pain. They left her alone.
But you know what? She’s not really alone! Let’s keep reading
[Read v. 12-13]
Still weeping, Mary bends down to look into the tomb, and what does she see? She sees two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been.
Remember at the beginning of this sermon, when I told you to remember that there were at least two angels guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden? Who do we have sitting in the empty tomb Two angels!
Wouldn’t it be cool if they were the same angels? Like God said to them, “Hey guys, I’m reassigning you. Your work here is done because I’ve abolished the barrier to the tree of life. In fact, my Son is the tree of life. Why don’t you pop on over to Garden #3?
The angels ask what seems to be a ridiculous question: “Woman, why are you crying?”  Mary is still convinced that a tomb robbery has taken place. “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have laid him”
Notice that her response is almost the same as what she ran to tell Peter and John, with one big difference. She told Peter and John  that “they had taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.”
But now, she tells the angels, “they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where to find Him. I love that. For Mary, Jesus wasn’t just the Lord, He was her Lord. She goes from reporting the story to personalizing the story.
Can I suggest to you that salvation happens when we make it personal? When we go from saying Jesus is the Lord to Jesus is my Lord.  Many of us come to church every week, but we’ve never done that. We hear the story, but we never make it our story.
But guess what? When we come to Jesus personally, Jesus comes to us personally. Let’s keep reading:
[Read v. 14-16]
When Jesus called her by name, Mary recognized Him. Listen to me, because this is so important: Peter and John might have left her in her grief, but Jesus was there the whole time. The disciples didn’t notice her weeping. Or if they did notice, they didn’t care. They were too preoccupied with their own problems.
But Jeus saw. Jesus noticed. And Jesus sees you today. He knows what you are going through. He knows where you’ve been. Mary Magdalene had a past. Luke 8:2 says that seven demons had been cast out of her. But in spite of her brokenness, in spite of her grief, in spite of her past, Jesus was standing behind her.
And. He. Called. Her. By. Name.
[Read 17-18]  
She must have wrapped her arms around Him, or fell at His feet in worship, because Jesus told her not to cling to Him, Instead, He sent her to the disciples to tell them the Good News.
The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.” So when Mary Magdalene announced to the disciples “I have seen the Lord,” she became the apostle to the apostle. This woman, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, was the first person to ever share the complete gospel: Jesus is alive.  Jesus will ascend to His Father. And because of His resurrection, He can be your Father too.
In the garden of Eden, the story began with life, and ended with death. In the Garden Tomb, the story began with death and ended with life.  The resurrection of Jesus reverses the curse from Genesis. It reconciles us to our Heavenly Father, and makes possible eternal life with God.
And if we trust Him for the forgiveness of our sins, if we surrender our will to His will; then one day, we will meet him face to face in the Fourth Garden.
Usually we focus on the streets of gold and the pearly gates when we think about Heaven. And yes, Revelation 21 describes all of that. But don’t miss Revelation 22:
22 Then the angelshowed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 
Yes, Heaven is the holy city, with streets of gold and pearly gates.
But in the middle of the city is a garden. And in the middle of the Garden is the tree of life. Sound familiar?
Only instead of two angels blocking our access to eternal life without God, we will eat from the tree of life in every season. And every wound or scar or rejection or pain or hurt will be healed, because the leaves of this tree are for the healing of the nations.
And the promise of Revelation 21:5 will be fulfilled. The Lord is making everything new.
By everything, he means you, too! His resurrection life and power is available to you, if you want it.
You can be saved today, if you want to be. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, over three thousand people were baptized on the spot. The crowd was so moved that they interrupted him and said, “Brothers, what must we do?” And Peter said, ““Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  
I’m not going to try to improve on Peter’s invitation. It’s all there. To repent means to turn away and go in another direction. Stop making your own decisions about what is right and wrong. Stop trying to find your own way to the tree of life.  Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins. Be baptized. To be baptized means to be immersed. Not to be saved, but because you are saved. And then allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and teach you and remind you of everything Jesus said.
And know that you have access to the tree of life. It has been opened to you through the blood of Jesus.



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