I. The Man in the Garden
The curtain on St. John’s account of the Passion of our Lord opens on a garden. John arranges the characters on the stage in such a way that all eyes are focused on one Man in the garden. He is a perfect man – a man in the image of God – a man whom the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” (Heb.1:3)
THIS MAN has come to THIS garden many times before. In fact, His coming here has become very predictable. For Him, this place has always been a peaceful and safe place for prayer and meditation and rest. On this night, He comes to pray.
Other gospel writers are interested in THIS MAN’S friends who come with him and how they behave while he prays. But John is not interested in any of that and barely even mentions them. Nor is John interested in the content of His prayer OR the tears and the drops of blood that mingle with His prayer as others are. John’s only concern is with that serpent that is making its way up the hillside towards the garden – its long tail of fiery torches slithering towards its target.
The serpent is only interested in one thing – THIS MAN who is in THIS GARDEN. It wants to have THIS MAN just as it had THAT MAN in another garden long, long ago. THAT MAN was also PERFECT and he also bore the image of God. In the garden called Eden, the serpent came with sweet kisses for the man and his wife – and after just a bit of flirting, they received its kiss in a deep and adulterous embrace.
THAT MAN fell so easily – just like we all do. The mere promise of a better life than the one he had was all that it took. As if anything could have been BETTER than the life they already had. What a fool he was.
All the serpent had to do was SIMPLY SUGGEST that there was WISDOM to be gained that they sadly lacked; PLEASURES to be enjoyed that they unfortunately were missing out on; POWER to be had that would give them control over their destiny which they pathetically lacked; and FREEDOM to escape from the bondage of that most confining and stifling Word of God – for if the serpent sets you free, you shall be free indeed, it said.
And if THAT MAN could not be had by false promises of WISDOM and PLEASURE and POWER and FREEDOM – which were really FOOLISHESS and SUFFERING and WEAKNESS and SALVERY – (but they wouldn’t know that until it was too late) – (and they would always keep trying to make it work because who ever wants to admit that they’ve been duped by a talking serpent – I mean really) – (oh, isn’t PRIDE such a wonderful thing when skillfully used…?)
Where was I – oh yea – If the false promise of the POSITIVE didn’t do the job, then the crafty serpent would offer ESCAPE from the NEGATIVE.
The mere suggestion that he if he were to continue to follow the way of God, he might actually SUFFER – emotionally and / or physically – would be enough to cause him to rethink things, and find any number of completely rational reasons for why this thing called a ‘cross’ was completely unnecessary and utterly ridiculous.
But that was then. And THAT MAN was weak. This is now. And THIS MAN is not so easily to take down. The serpent comes to the garden again – not with a kiss of sweet words to seduce THIS MAN with its half-truths and three-quarter lies.
Actually, it has met THIS MAN before – not in a garden but in a desert. There in the desert, it tempted THIS MAN with all of the same, sweet promises of PLEASURE and POWER and FREEDOM that had been so successful with THAT MAN. But THIS MAN would not take the bait. He would not kiss or be kissed.
John tells us nothing about the ‘kisses’ of the serpent in this garden as the other gospel writers do. In John’s account, the serpent attacks THIS MAN with blunt force trauma and the threat of PAIN and SUFFERING and HUMILIATION. It had taken THAT MAN by cunning cleverness. It would take THIS MAN by force. But one way or the other, it would have THIS MAN.
II. It Is Finished
We can fast-forward now to the penultimate scene in this bloody and gruesome drama. The serpent carries out its desperate attempt to break THIS MAN – first through His own Church – and then through the Government – with incredible emotional and mental humiliation that would have undone any other man – and with excruciating physical suffering and pain that would have broken any other man.
Our focus is now is on another garden – this one is called Golgotha – a very bizarre garden that is seeded with dry bones and skulls. The only trees that grow in this garden are those cross shaped DEATH TREES that the Romans were so clever at growing – that bear nothing but the bitter fruit of bloody corpses.
Once again as in the other garden, John arranges all of the characters so that THIS MAN is again the center of attention. All eyes are focused on Him. He is hanging by nails from one of these DEATH TREES. No one who looks on this fruit would ever conclude that it was “good for food and a delight to the eyes… and desired to make one wise.” (Genesis 3:6)
John draws our attention to a SIGN posted above His head – “It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The religious scholars argue that it’s bad grammar. It’s written in the OBJECTIVE whereas it should be written in the SUJECTIVE. Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to lose sight of the real issue in these ‘side issues’?
THIS MAN on the cross is actually more interested in His mother than in that stupid sign or even Himself. He wants to be sure she’s going to be taken care of as only a loving son can care for his mother.
But it is THIS MAN’S final words that John ALONE includes in his account – that we want to hear again. “It is finished.”
Those are familiar words – or at least they ought to be.
The creation account from Genesis 1 closes with these words, And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning the sixth day.” And then chapter 2 opens with these words, “Thus the heavens and the earth were FINISHED, and all the host of them. And on the 7th day, God FINISHED the work that He had done.”
That word “finished,” when it is spoken by God, means that everything is done. The work is over. There is no more work to do. You can’t add anything to what God has “finished,” and if you try, you end up ruining the whole thing.
No sooner does God SEE all the work that HE DID and pronounce His divine blessing of VERY GOOD upon it all, than He says, “IT IS FINISHED.”
And yet, as we well know, His VERY GOOD creation did not remain VERY GOOD for VERY LONG. It will in fact become VERY BAD very quickly.
Could it be that God didn’t see THAT SERPENT slither into THAT GARDEN called Eden and tempt THAT MAN and his wife? Could it be that somehow, as God looked out over the entire EVERYTHING that He created, that somehow this escaped His notice? Was He just so delighted with the beauty of the peacock and the hilarity of the giraffe and the comedy of the hippopotamus and the striking handsomeness of the man – that He failed to see what was slithering into the garden? Was the fall of Adam a surprise to God? Did He NOT SEE it?
NO, it was no surprise. YES, He saw it all – BEFORE THE BEGINNING! Before TIME began – He saw it ALL! Just as He saw it ALL when THE TIME HAD FULLY COME.
And THIS MAN saw it all too. Because as John tells us, ‘He was in the beginning and through Him all things were made and without Him nothing was made that has been made. He was in the beginning.”
THIS MAN knew, before time began, that there would come an HOUR when He would make all things VERY GOOD again. He called it ‘MY HOUR.’ And when others pushed Him to hasten and rush to this hour He would say, MY HOUR HAS NOT YET COME.
Until THE TIME HAD FULLY COME, God would plead with His people in every generation to repent and receive His forgiveness and turn from their sin and resist the temptation of the serpent – SO THIS MAN – Who is – MY SON, MY ONLY SON, WHOM I LOVE – might not have to face HIS HOUR.
BUT WE WOULD NOT. False promises of pleasure, power, and prestige – the chance to escape from the pain, the suffering, the humiliation are all far more appealing to us than, “come, take up your cross and follow me.” “O my people, what have I done to you?”
So, Luther had it exactly right when he said that the proper way to meditate on the holy sufferings of Christ is to “deeply believe and not at all doubt that you are the one who tormented Christ, for your sins have certainly done it. So St. Peter struck and frightened the Jews as with a thunderbolt when he said to all of them in common: “You crucified Him…” Therefore, when you see the nails piercing through Christ’s hands, believe surely that that is your work. When you see His crown of thorns, believe that it is your evil thoughts that encircle His head.”
In THIS MAN, God has done a NEW THING. He grew tired of waiting for you – tired of being disappointed by you – tired of being betrayed by you – how many times, every day, all of your life.
God put forward THIS MAN who will not disappoint Him nor betray Him, nor make Him wait. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from THIS HOUR. No, but for THIS HOUR I have come into the world. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12). This is the hour in time that all eternity revolves around.
John opens his gospel with these words – “In the beginning…” And as he concludes his gospel, we hear the Word of God once again announce – “it is finished.” In the Latin, it’s “consummatum est.” The consummation of God’s NEW CREATION is FINISHED.
You cannot add anything to what God says “IS FINISHED.” He has done it all. If you try to add anything – your good works or your good intentions or your excuses – to what He has ‘finished,’ you will lose it all.
All that you can do now is to take His body down from the cross – and bury Him – and wait for the sun to rise.