Life and Death in the Garden of God – Matthew 27:57-66

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Sometime during the afternoon of Christ’s death, Joseph “went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.” After the governor verified that Jesus had truly died, he “commanded the body to be delivered” to Joseph. John tells us that Joseph and Nicodemus personally took down the lifeless body of our Saviour. They wrapped Him in linen cloth soaked or encrusted with an hundred pounds of aloes and myrrh. If this was done in the ancient way, perhaps Christ was laid in a shallow pool of these spices. By the way, a hundred pounds at that time was about 75 pounds of our weight – still a lot of spice. “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never a man yet laid.” Matthew says that this sepulchre, or tomb, belonged to this Joseph of Arimathaea – it was his property. We are also told that it had been hewn out of rock – one more proof of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. The walls of this sepulchre – were solid – it was rock – “petra.” This was not a man-made mausoleum, with the possibility of a hidden door.

I have no information on this next point, but I wonder about the ownership of the garden. Was it a public garden which backed up against a hill made of solid rock? Could ordinary citizens purchase sites at the rear of this garden where they could dig out private tombs? Or was it more likely that Joseph owned the garden and the private access to what would eventually become the family cemetery “sleeping place?” I think it is interesting to notice that all four gospels describe Joseph as coming from Arimethaea. The name is probably a derivative of Ramthaim-Zophim in the hill country of Ephraim, the home of the great prophet Samuel. Wherever Arimethaea was, this Joseph was a relative new-comer to Jerusalem, but he was apparently sinking his roots into the soil there. What brought him to Jerusalem? I assume that the answers to those questions are not really important.

But I raise the question of the garden’s ownership for the sake of this morning’s message. I would like to allegorize this garden – I would like to make it into a parable. Just as the Lord Jesus made a parable about a farmer sowing seeds in his field, I would like to look at this garden as the life of Joseph – and through him we might have a picture of you and me. I only wish that I was as good an allegorist as John Bunyan or the Lord Jesus.

Your life might be likened to a garden.

When the Oldfield’s moved into the house where we now live, the backyard was undeveloped. Someone had planted grass, but under the snow, it was in a dismal condition. There were no trees, no flowers, no vegetables – it was a disaster area. As the snow melted, my girls started making their plans for roses, tomatoes, dogwoods and a yard. First, we stained the untreated fence, knowing that in a couple years, we might not find it again. Then we outlined the limits of grass, dividing the yard from the potential garden. We installed a sprinkler system to water what we hoped would grow. Judy and I bought one raised garden for vegetables, and then the church bought us a second one. Jackie and I went up to Sandpoint and dug up half a dozen native trees, to transplant back there. Then Judy and Jackie started planting – both in the raised patches and along the fences. Now we have a garden, and a pretty nice back yard.

Similarly, sixty-six years ago, my parents, when living in Vancouver, decided to start a garden, and I was born. There was nothing in their backyard at the time – I was something completely new. They invested a lot of time, energy, and money into making me grow. They have both passed away, but the garden they started, and in which they invested so much, is still going. The same might be said about you.

I don’t suppose that there are any two gardens in the world which are exactly alike. The Gardens at Manito are beautiful, but they are quite different from the Butchart Gardens in Victoria. There are many people who want nothing but roses, dahlias, and chrysanthemums. Another gardener prides himself on his fruit trees. And another plants every available inch of soil with a variety of vegetables. There is a difference between an old English garden and a Japanese garden – which may not have a single plant. There may be a garden focused on stream and a pond, but another is dry as a bone, filled with cacti and succulents. Most people have their own special blend of beauty and utility.

Similarly there are no two people in the world who are exactly alike. I will leave it to you to try to figure out what kind of garden you are. Are you a rose garden – full of beauty and fragrance? Are you a vegetable garden, constantly producing practical blessings for others? Maybe you’re more like the gardens we had down in New Mexico – beautiful but prickly. Of course, gardens are a lot more than tomatoes and irises. At times during the year, our back yard hums with bees, wasps and other flying creatures. In the fall, there are days when after a trip to the back yard we are covered with blue wooly aphids. Judy has her two bird feeders, so there is the constant nattering of sparrows and finches. Then along come the strange sounds of the doves and the quail. But also, periodically, a sharp-sinned hawk invades the garden , killing and eating a bird or two. Of course, there are lots of rocks and weeds, then there are slugs and mice. Our garden is a mixture of beauty, utility, noise – and then life and death.

Your life might be likened to a garden. It is filled with a variety of ingredients – both good and troublesome. Some years the harvest is plentiful, because there has been a good mixture of sun and rain. Some years the bugs seem to eat the vegetables the night before you intend to harvest. There is some sort of disease in the roses and the birds have attacked your berry plants. For a couple of years your clematis plants grow and prosper, but the next year they seem lifeless. Perhaps 2014 was a great year for your garden, but 2015 has been just the opposite. Or was it the other way around?

How dependent we are on one another. Most gardens lean on other gardens – or seed catalogues. So many of our tomatoes came as starts from someone else’s green house. Seeds have been shared, and so has information about the care and treatment of plants and problems. And then over and above it all there is the essential blessing of God. The heat, the timely rain – the smile of God is critical to a good garden.

And of course, every garden is seasonal. The seeds and the starts are put into the ground at, what is hoped, is the optimum time. The garden is seasonal and gardener knows that – especially at this time of year. The calendar and the weather reports are checked regularly. The roses are prospering in the cooler shorter days, but some of the veggies have to be harvested – even though they aren’t quite ready – lest they be hurt by a sudden frost. Gardeners know that the flowers won’t last much longer, because the dark days of winter are coming.

But those same gardeners sometimes forget that they too are seasonal – their lives are temporary. James reminds us “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life?” He says, people are “as the flower of the grass” – they “shall pass away.” “For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth….” David testified, “I have seen (people) in great power, and spreading (themselves) like a green bay tree. Yet is passed away, and (they are) not; yea, I sought (them) but (they) could not be found.” Peter added “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.” Every garden, at least in our part of the world is seasonal – it is temporary. And your life, too, my friend, is temporary as far as this world is concerned.

Let’s say the garden just down from Calvary two thousand years ago, was fully owned by Joseph. Let’s say that garden represents Joseph – it is an image of his life. I won’t even try to guess what wealthy Jews planted in their gardens back in Jesus’ day. But whatever it was it told the story of the life and labors of Joseph. And at the very end or at the back of the garden there was a tomb with his name on it.

Joseph’s garden has lessons to teach us.

John 19:41 says, “Now in the place where (Jesus) was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.” As we are told, this garden was very close to Calvary. Although it can’t be said in the same way for everyone, YOUR garden, too, is very close to Calvary. Your garden has been planted in close proximity to a church which has a love and interest in the cross. Hundreds of times during the last twenty-five years, the sacrifice which Jesus made at Calvary has been the subject of sermons and Sunday School lessons. I, and others, have preached the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We have tried to make it plain that if blood of the cross has not been brought into your garden, then the fruit of that garden will come to nothing. If the body of Christ has not become a part of your landscape, then the purpose of your garden is nothing.

What might have happened to Christ’s body of, if Joseph had not petitioned to take it down from the cross? What would the disciples have been able to do with it? Could they have taken it back to Galilee, to be laid in one of their family tombs? Did Mary’s husband, Joseph, have a burial plot prepared for the rest of his family? Were Jesus’ half-brothers ready to transport His remains back to Nazareth? What would have happened to the body of Christ if the Jews or the Romans had been given that responsibility? Those questions are moot, because Joseph and Nicodumus brought Christ down from the cross. And after preparing the body, they laid it in a borrowed tomb.

How old was Joseph? My guess would be that he was my age or perhaps older – relatively speaking. Let’s say that he had a few more years to live, and then he, too, would be buried. Where would he have been interred? In his own tomb, of course.

Death is not a bad place to be, if it is Christ Jesus we be following there. If we are following the evolutionists or atheists, then death ought to be a dark and fearful cloud. If we are following the cultists, liberal Protestants or Catholics, then death should be as terrifying as the stupid Halloween stories make it out to be. In contrast to them, I like the way Paul poetically finishes his great chapter on resurrection “O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the stgrength of sin is the law. But thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Elsewhere he said, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”

The body of Joseph, may have eventually been laid in the very spot where Peter and John saw the empty grave clothes of Jesus. In John 12 Jesus was speaking to His disciples, while staring past them towards Calvary. He said, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, very, I say unto you except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, bringeth forth much fruit.” Jesus was that corn of wheat, and He did die, after which He was planted in Joseph’s tomb. When He miraculously reemerged from that tomb, in a sense He carried Joseph and others with Him. Galatians 1:4 – Christ “gave himself for our sins. That he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” “This is a faithful saying, ans worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and this He did with His death on the cross. “Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost that some unto god by him.” “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Changing the subject slightly, there can be no doubt that the Old Testament teaches capital punishment. I believe in the importance of capital punishment for theological reasons, but that is not today’s message. Deuteronomy 21 is one of several scriptures which teaches this Bible doctrine. Verse 22 says, “If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God).” Joseph knew the law, but what he did wasn’t motivated by Deuteronomy 21 alone. He didn’t take down and bury Jesus in order satisfy that scripture; He did it out of love and respect. And in the process, he knew that as he put his hand on the body of Christ, he was touching an accursed thing. Joseph was making himself just as cursed as Christ Jesus – he was becoming “unclean” according to the law. He was rendering himself unfit to participate in the festivities of the Passover week. But Joseph was willing to completely and fully identify with Christ Jesus. His identification with the Lord wasn’t confined to using his tomb, but to everything he did that afternoon. Galatians 3:13 had more meaning to him than to most other believers “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a cruse for us for it is written, cursed is every on that hangth on a tree.” Joseph brought the accursed thing into his sepulchre – into the place where he intended to go when his time came. “For Christ also hath once suffered fro sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.”

I remind you that the Jews were in a hurry for the death of Christ – they had religious things to do. But for Joseph and Nicodemus, at least in one sense, their Passover activities were about to end. John 19:42 – “There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day.” There is a sense in which it was also Joseph’s preparation day. He knew that no matter how many years he might reside in Jerusalem, one day would be his last. The burial of Christ in his own tomb, in his own life and his own place of death, was a part of his preparation day. This was the Passover, and what were the Jews supposed to do with the blood of that Passover? They were to apply that blood to the door of their homes. Joseph was applying the blood of the ultimate Passover to the doorway of his tomb. And just like the Jews so many years before, Joseph would one day come out of that door a free man – eternally freed by the blood of Christ.

Your life might be likened to a garden – there is Biblical basis for making that comparison. At the back of every garden there is a tomb. At the end of every life there is a death, and for that death we had better be prepared. “It is appointed once to die, and after this the judgment.” “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”

Whether or not he knew it, Joseph was making preparations for the sanctification of his tomb – his own death. His faith was in this one who called himself “the Son of God.” Joseph didn’t shy away from the cross, the blood of Christ, or the death of Jesus. All these things were invited by faith into his garden and his life. Without Christ there would have been no future – no eternal future for this man.

And without Christ YOU have no hope of eternity either. Bring the sacrificed Saviour into your life, your soul, your tomb. Repent before God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”