We are in a series called in the garden because gardens are an important part of the biblical story and our story. Life began in a garden, the Garden of Eden, and life ends in a garden. Some people see heaven as the Garden of Eden restored. In the middle of the scriptures we have the life of Jesus who suffered, died and rose again in a garden and the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection actually thought Jesus was a gardener. So our life, salvation and eternal life all comes from the work of God in a garden.
Last week we learned how life in the Garden of Eden got so messed up. Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent and their desire wasn’t to walk with God but to be God. They weren’t content being children of God they wanted to be like God in all ways so they took control of their lives and did the one thing God told them not to do – eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In that moment – paradise was lost – life in the King’s Garden was lost. What was beautify, righteous and holy become soiled, broken and filled with sin. Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden and to this day we live in a world that is broken and filled with sin – but we were created to live in the King’s Garden which means that there is a part of us that longs to return to that garden. There is a part of us that longs for life with God and for life the way God intended it to be lived.
In the Old Testament we see this longing to live with God and the longing God has to live with us in His garden in the ideas about the Promised Land. God called a man named Abram to leave his home and go to a land that God was going to show him and give him and in this land God would bless him, Genesis 12:1-5. Later on we hear this land described as well watered, like the garden of the Lord. (Genesis 13:10) So the Promised Land was a garden. It was to be a beautiful place where God would bless his people and where God’s people would be a blessing to the world. In some sense, people would be returning to live in the garden with God.
While for Abram and his family, and later for Moses and the people of Israel, the Promised Land was a specific geographic location, the original idea God had wasn’t so much a location but a way of life. If we go back to Genesis 12, the land was simply going to be a place where God would bless Abram and his family and where they could be a blessing to others. The important thing wasn’t the location as much as the way of life to be experienced when we walk with God. It was going to be a place where love for God and love for others was going to be the way of all people.
But let’s be clear, the location God led them to was a lush and fertile garden. In fact, when the people of Israel were returning to the Promised Land after their time in Egypt they sent spies to check out this land and this is what it says, When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. Numbers 13:23.
The Jezreel and Jordan Valley, which make up much of the geographic area we think of as the Promised Land are very fertile and lush lands.
As you drive through this region you see field after field of grain, produce and orchards. It is a garden where everything grows, but the Promised Land was never just to be a location that looked like this. In fact, at the end of Moses life he is taken to the top of Mt. Nebo and shown the entire Promised Land and here is what it looks like from the top of Mt. Nebo.
You don’t see any lush green gardens here. You don’t see all fertile land with an abundance of vegetation. It’s out there in certain locations, but this is hardly what we would envision as the garden of God, which tells us that the Promised Land is so much more than the location of a specific garden. It was life with God and life the way God intended it to be for us. In all of us there is a longing to return to this garden. We all long for a life filled with God’s grace and peace and goodness. We all long to be blessed and to be a blessing.
Moses and the people of Israel did enter into this Promised Land, this specific location, but they never fully embraced the life God had for them so in time they were driven out of the garden. Just like Adam and Eve didn’t follow God, neither did the people of Israel and so they too were driven out of the garden of God. The nation of Israel was defeated by the Babylonians and most of the people were taken into captivity and forced to live in exile but while they were living in a foreign land, their hearts longed for the garden of God. The Prophet Isaiah wrote to the people of Israel living in captivity and this is what he said – Isaiah 51:3-5.
Isaiah talks about restoring Eden and returning life to the people but for Isaiah this didn’t mean returning to specific location it was describing a certain kind of life. The Promised Land was a place filled with joy and gladness and thanksgiving. What the garden of God is all about is justice, righteousness and salvation. So we can talk about the Promised Land as a garden, but the fruit in that garden is joy, gladness, thanksgiving. The trees that bring life to the people are justice, righteousness and salvation.
Adam Hamilton has said that the Promised Land is not a location – it is an idea and it is an ideal. The idea is that God’s garden is more than what we can see with our eyes, it is a way of life that passes our highest hopes and dreams. It is a place of joy, gladness and thanksgiving. The ideal is that God’s garden is a life that we are called to live and a kingdom that we are to work for, a place of justice, righteousness and salvation.
The Promised Land is the life we long to live and what this life looks like might be different for each of us. For some the longing is to live in a world where all children are loved and cared for. For others the focus might be racial reconciliation or economic justice. For some the idea of God’s garden is primarily a place where families are held together in love or people are being drawn to God. While we might long for all of this, in each of us there is a dream of what life in the garden is to be like. We each have our own personal longing for life in the Promised Land.
To give you an example of what I am talking about – watch this.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision of the Promised Land. He had a dream of what this garden of God was to look like and he held that vision up for the world to see but it wasn’t just a dream or idea, it was also an ideal that he worked for. It was a dream he gave his life to.
Racial justice and equality was the Promised Land for King – what is it for you? What dream do you have for your own life, your family, our church, community and world? What is it that your heart longs for and what is the ideal you will give yourself to? Each of us was created to live in the King’s Garden which means that in each of us there is a longing to experience the fullness of life with God and life the way God wanted us to live. We have lost this life but we still long for it and still need to work for it. What dream do you have? What vision of the Promised Land moves you and motivates you to work and serve and sacrifice so we can get to the Promised Land?
Ron Heifitz is an author on developing leaders and he has a great illustration that can help us here.
The bottom line is life right now. This is where we live with all the problems and brokenness we see around us. The upper arrow is life how we want it to be. In our conversation, this is live in the Promised Land. It is truly life in the garden.
As you can see there is a gap in the middle. While we live along the bottom line we long to make our way to the top line. We long for God and to experience the fullness of life. In leadership, Heifitz says that the role of the leader is to help move people from here to there. Adam Hamilton has said that the role of the church is to help the world move from here to there. Our role isn’t just to long for life in the garden but to help people see this life and to help make that idea or dream a reality. It is to help move the needle closer to the Promised Land.
Every time we lift up a vision and share our own hopes and dreams and every time we pray for and work for the world to become this more beautiful place we are moving the needle toward the Promised Land. Every time we dream big dreams about how the world can be better and plan how to make that happen we are moving the needle toward the Promised Land.
So the Promised Land calls out to us. We long to experience its beauty and power but it also is a dream and reality we need to go out into the world and work for, so let me close with this image of the statue Christo Redeemer.
You have probably seen it before but there are two ways we can interpret what Jesus is doing here. First, we can see this as Jesus with his arms open wide to welcome us into the Promised Land. He is gathering us in his arms, welcoming us into his garden, calling all those who are weary to come and experience rest. So this is an invitation into the Promised Land, but we could also say that Jesus has his arms open to send us out into the world to work for the Promised Land, to create it in our lives and families and community and work to make it happen.
So yes, let us long for the garden, let us look for it in our world and be inspired when we see it, but let us also work for it and give ourselves to it so others can experience the fullness of life in the garden.
The Garden and the Promised Land
1. In the Old Testament, the Promised Land was described as a land flowing with milk and honey.
• How would you describe the Promised Land?
2. We all long to live in this Promised Land. We all long to return to and live in the Garden of God.
• What values are most important to you when you think of life in the Promised Land?
• What dreams for our world inspire and motivate you?
3. At times we catch a glimpse of the Promised Land in the world around us (Stories of forgiveness, racial reconciliation, economic justice, food for the hungry, care for the hurting, healing for families…).
• Identify a time recently when you were able to see into the Promised Land.
• What it was like?
• How did it inspire you?
• How can you share this vision with others?
4. The Promised Land is an idea (dream for a better world) and an ideal (something we work for).
• What idea and ideal are you willing to give yourself to?
• Is your dream as big as the Promised Land and as life giving as our God? If not, why?
5. Identify one way you can work to bring the needle closer to the Promised Land for you, your family, our community and world.
• Accomplish this work before Easter.
• Invite others to join you.