A Garden in a Graveyard (Jeremiah 12:7–17)

“I have forsaken my house;
I have abandoned my heritage;
I have given the beloved of my soul
into the hands of her enemies” (Jeremiah 12:7).

garden-3345970_1920.jpgGod made dirt and from that dirt He made man. He planted a garden (which is wild in itself—He didn’t plant a seed, or even a sapling, but a garden!), and put man in it. God blessed and all was very good. But man rebelled, the dirt was cursed, and man was driven out of paradise. Yet, a promise was given, the promise, the promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, bringing salvation by judgment and reversing the curse.

Soon in the Biblical narrative, not so soon historically, but soon insofar as the story unfolds, we come to Abraham. In covenant, God promises Abraham offspring, land, and that being blessed, he will be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:1–3). Throughout Abraham’s story we’re waiting for a seed because of the promised hope to come from his loins.

When God redeems Israel out of Egypt to bring her into a land flowing with milk and honey, it is in remembrance of this covenant made with Abraham and the promise of the Seed. When God promises David that his son will build a house for Him, that promise richly draws its sap and life from this extended narrative; that promise has roots in the garden and the promise of the Seed given there.

Some have summarized this story, the story of the way things should be and the way things will be, as the story of the kingdom of God. “What is the kingdom of God?” Graeme Goldsworthy answers, “The New Testament has a great deal to say about ‘the Kingdom’ but we may best understand this concept in terms of the relationship of ruler to subjects. That is, there is a king who rules, a people who are ruled, and a sphere, where this rule is recognized as taking place. Put in another way, the Kingdom of God involves: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” 

When man rebels against God’s rule, he is driven from God’s place and forsaken so that he is no longer His people. So then, with Judah left desolate, desolate, desolate (Jeremiah 12:10–11), it seems the hope of all mankind is destroyed. How can one grow blessing out of curse? Can the seed of redemption ever take root in the soil of our sin its thorns? Only the Farmer who made His own dirt, who can plant gardens, could possibly grow a garden out of such a dessert. And to do so, you would think He would begin by making old things new.

Following Judah’s desolation, though an initial word of destruction is spoken concerning the nations, it soon gives way to consolation.

“And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the LORD lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people” (Jeremiah 12:15–16).

Implicit in this is that Judah herself is walking in faithfulness to Yahweh. The hope of the nations is blessing in Israel. But how has Israel been restored, such that she can teach others the way of her Lord? The answer is later spoken of in Jeremiah as the new or eternal covenant.

“Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (Jeremiah 32:36–41).

God’s people again are in God’s place under God’s rule and the nations are being grafted into this blessed garden.

We know how we go from blessing to curse, from the garden to the wilderness, but how is it that we move from a particular curse on Israel to global blessing? By what means and upon what grounds is Israel made new? The answer is found in Jeremiah’s calling. God told His prophet, “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). 

How would Jeremiah accomplish such a thing? Simply by speaking the Word of God Almighty. Immediately following this statement we read, “And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see an almond branch.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’ ” (Jeremiah 1:11–12). I won’t take the time to tease out how the almond branch relates to the explanation save to say that the word for “almond” sounds like the word for “watching.”

As Yahweh watches over His Word, nations will be plucked up and planted. Kingdoms will be broken down, and built. Yahweh watched over His word to give His people a new heart by way of a new covenant. This ultimate Word of redemption is the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Can God grow blessing in the soil of the curse? That is precisely what He did when by the Spirit the Seed was planted in the virgin’s womb. But for that Seed to germinate with new life, for hope to come to the nations, the Father must first crush and bury the Seed. Jesus, the temple of God on earth, was forsaken. Jesus, the Son and heir, was abandoned. Jesus, the beloved of His Father, was given into the hands of His enemies. The ground shook. The sky grew dark. All seemed desolate as He was laid in the grave.

But He arose, defeating sin, death, and the serpent. Cursed in death, He rose to bless. He is the firstfruits of new creation. He is making all things new, beginning by turning the hearts of His people to Him, making them new.

Know this, the planting will exceed the plucking. Grace will build greater than sin broke down. This is why we sing:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

Not only will blessing flow far as the curse is found, the blessing will bloom far brighter than the curse dulled. The salvation of “Israel” swells to engraft the nations and the promise of land swells to the world.

Only the Farmer of the cosmos could grow such a garden in a graveyard. And He did so by planting His Son’s body dead in the grave, and from that Seed, new creation is blooming. The colors of redemption will outshine the curses dulling gray.

Matthew 15:29-39 – Healing in the Hands of the King

We have seen many healing summaries like the one in vv. 29-31, and Jesus just fed the 5,000 in the previous chapter, so why revisit these themes? The greatest danger we face every Sunday is not a failure to learn something new, but a failure to remember something old. As Luther said, the gospel must be beat into our heads continually. We must visit the same themes again and again because we forget. There is a feast for us here too. The feast we must partake of daily; God’s miracle Manna for us in our wilderness.

Yet, there is something distinct about this summary, and the feeding of the four thousand. Jesus has left the area of Tyre and Sidon and headed back to Galilee (Matthew 15:21, 29); so He has withdrawn from Gentile country, right? The acute reader among Matthew’s original audience would ask which side of Galilee Jesus is on. Mark informs us that He is in the region of the Decapolis. The Decapolis was a league of hellenized cities that were predominately southeast of Galilee. Jesus is still in Gentile country. Matthew brings this out when He says this crowd, “glorified the God of Israel.” The messianic feast is for the Gentiles too (Matthew 8:11). The kingdom has dawned, and its salvation is sweeping up the Gentiles too.

So these healings and the feeding are to be linked with the healing of the Gentile woman in Matthew 15:21-28. She came to Jesus crying out for the “Son of David,” to have mercy. She bowed before Him and called Him “Lord”. Why would a Canaanite woman come to a Jewish King – for healing? When the Jewish Messiah came, Isaiah foretold the effects of His rule:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:5-6).

Adam was a king under God. He was given dominion over the earth. He was told in Genesis 2:15 to work and keep (guard). Because of Adam’s presence the garden was to be safe and flourish. But Adam didn’t protect the garden. He let the dragon in. Now everything, instead of flourishing, is wilting. Because of Adam’s sin we are not safe, we are under the dragon’s sway. Because of Adam’s sin, we are not flourishing, all of creation is in a state of chaos.

But Jesus comes as the second Adam (Romans 5:14, 17). As Adam’s disobedience resulted in de-creation, Jesus’ obedience results in new creation. All things are put under His feet. He is undoing the curse and putting all things right. Jesus comes into our wilderness, and instead of making food for Himself, becomes God’s miracle Manna for us. The desert is blooming! Things are again becoming safe. Things are flourishing. Even death itself is working backwards.

In The Lord of the Rings, Aaragon the long awaited king saves Minias Tirith, the great city of men. The salvation he brings the city comes because he chose a deadly path. He does not look like a king, he has lived as a wanderer. How was the city to know their king? It was said, “The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”

When black breath blows
and death’s shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas!
come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king’s hand lying!

Our King came disguised. He rode a donkey, not a mighty stead. He took the deadliest road, defeated the dragon, and conquered death. How are we healed? From where does our healing come? It is in the hands of the King. Those hands had to become incarnate. They had to take on flesh, be pierced, and let blood. Blood so precious, it is making all safe. Blood full of life causing all to flourish.