In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This is what happens to the Garden when sinners get hold of it. This is what’s left of the Garden, when the Son of God takes flesh and enters His creation; when He’s anointed with the Holy Spirit, and that same Spirit drives Him out into the wilderness. No more Garden; no more God bringing the animals to the man to see what he would call them; no more peaceful dominion of the man over the animals. Only wilderness and wild animals, and the Serpent, who was more crafty, more clever than all the other animals that the Lord Yahweh had made. When Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the Serpent instead of the voice of their Creator, they were sent out of the Garden; as it says, “God drove out the man from the Garden and placed an angel with a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24). Driven out onto cursed ground, which will now give up its fruit only with hard work and sweat. There is no way back into that Garden; no way open to the tree of life.
And it has been that way ever since. We wander in this wilderness, which is full of sin, death, and the devil. Full of temptation barely resisted. Full of broken promises and broken lives; so much sorrow and sighing, brought on by our own choices and actions. So much hurt and harm that we have made in this good creation. We long for Easter, but all we see is Lent. All we see is this wilderness. Whenever the prophets want to describe the judgment of God on Jerusalem or other cities, they describe a city laid waste, devastated, made into a wilderness, where wild animals run rampant. In Revelation, one of the things that the fourth horseman, Death, brings is animals that kill and threaten.
But there is another prophecy. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah of someone who would come bearing the Spirit of God. And when this one gets here, what will happen? The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat; the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together, and a little child shall lead them! The cow and the bear will both eat grass, and their young will lie down together. And they will not hurt nor harm on all My holy mountain, says God. The One who bears the Spirit, putting all creation right again. Restoring peace in the Garden; peace between predator and prey; peace between man and the animals. So Jesus is driven out into the wilderness, because Adam was. Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days because Israel wandered there for forty years. Jesus is the new Adam, the new Israel, the eternally faithful Son of God. He always hears and trusts His Father’s voice. He always follows the road laid out before Him. And all of this because God wants His creation restored. Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, and when He comes out, He invades the Kingdom of Satan to plunder and devastate his house. He comes to reverse the reign of the devil, by casting out the devil’s angels and bringing His own. He comes to reverse sickness into health. He comes to reverse death into life. He comes to reverse uncleanness into purity. Wherever death and the devil go, Jesus pursues them. All the way to the cross. Jesus goes into the wilderness to restore the Garden; and He walks the way to the cross to open again the way to the Tree of Life.
Sin, sickness, sorrow, sighing; death and the devil; wilderness and the waste places of the earth; these are not unconnected problems. They all flow in one direction from the Serpent and the sin in the Garden. So Jesus comes to reverse the work of Adam and Eve, of Israel, and of you and me. He comes to restore His good creation and remove death and the devil from the throne. That’s what it means that the Kingdom of God has come near. The King has come to His earth, and all other rulers are cast down from their thrones. I admit, it appears that death and the devil still exercise their rule in this creation. We see it in the sickness of our bodies and minds. We see it in the sickness of the spirit, where people forsake their God. We see it in the sickness of the world, where people are beheaded simply because they bear the name of Christ. And I admit, what we have seems much weaker than all those things. All we have is the word of this Man, who said, “The time is fulfilled, and the Reign of God has come near; repent and believe the Gospel.” All we have is the testimony of men like Mark, who report what Jesus did as He traveled, that every created thing must answer to Him, whether demons or bodies or wind and waves. All we have is the testimony that this man is risen from the dead, that new life has begun in His very flesh. All we have is a word attached to water, whereby Christ gathers people under His reign and rule. He puts His Name on them and claims them for His own, just as He has spoken to Eli this morning. We have only this Word, but it is the Word of the one who has never lied, who is called Faithful and True. He has given us the signs of the new creation in His Body and Blood that we eat and drink. If He is not risen from the dead, every word He spoke is absurd and insane. But because He is alive, every word He speaks is bound to the truth of that empty grave.
For now we have the promise, but on the last day we will see what we have now by faith. On that day, God says through the prophet Hosea, I will make a covenant between them and the beasts of the field. On that day, the whole creation will be restored. On that day, we will walk the final stretch of the road that the Lord walked. There will be a road in the wilderness, Isaiah says, and on it the ransomed of the Lord will walk, and return to Zion with singing; everlasting joy will be on their heads; they will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. No lion or ravenous beasts will threaten the people of God on that day. The Resurrection day for which we have longed will come, and our long Lent will finally be at an end. No more wilderness, no more Serpent, no more sickness and death, no more lives cut short; no more brokenness, but only peace; only the Paradise of God restored, with the tree of life standing on either side of the road. That is what peace means, what shalom means: everything made whole, everything fully restored, everything made right and complete. And we will see it on that day, when we are driven by the Holy Spirit into the new creation, gathered to Jesus and His Father with the holy angels, and all the holy, ransomed ones of God.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/21/15