History seems to pivot around gardens. The history of humanity began in a garden—one planted by God himself, bound by the circle of cultivation that his own hands created. Into it, the Creator placed his newly formed humans and blessed them with authority over the garden. Implicit in his commands ran the thread of subordination—the created world would serve humanity but only so long as humanity served him.

As a physical symbol of that order, two trees grew in the garden—one giving immortal life and the other offering independence from God. The power to decide for oneself what is good and what is bad proved too seductive to the humans, though, who, with the help of the ancient dragon chose autonomy over submission.

The human will, it seemed, would not easily bend the knee. And so it was that the order that God had created and called good was broken. The garden was lost and with it went nature’s obedience to humanity. Men and women would war with the earth and each other just to survive and war with God for control of their destiny. By the time of Noah, that war had spilled the blood of many and left the heart of God torn in two. In sorrow he sent the flood to reset the world he’d created. And in hope he reissued his promise to Noah’s family as they sat under his rainbow.

But the spirit of humanity is stubborn. In less than a generation, Noah’s descendants returned to their self-serving ways and once again the world suffered. What began in Eden dominoed into rebellion after rebellion. Even the specially chosen people of Israel struggled to submit to Yahweh’s rule—trading him for gods they could manipulate with rituals and seances or kings that would toss off the yoke of obedience directly to him.

The history of the world has been the history of self-centered humanity. Whenever an option for humility and others-centered behavior presents itself, humans inevitably choose self over submission. Entire nations have sprung into existence from the notion that the individuals should answer to no one but themselves.

But it’s that self-same autonomy that slammed the gates on the garden of Eden in the first place. And, though every human he’d offered the chance to actually succeed had failed, God wasn’t done with his creation. The Father sent Jesus—God-become-human. In Jesus humanity was remade. A second Adam walked the earth.

We often think of the crucifixion as the climax of Jesus’s story. We look at the horrific beatings he suffered and the hours-long trials he endured before stumbling beneath the weight of the evil tree from which he’d bring us good. But before that cacophony of thorny crowns and threatening crowds—was a stiller moment. The new Adam had his own garden.

If you’ve been around Christianity for any length of time, you’re familiar with the garden of Gethsemane. After Jesus celebrated the last supper with his disciples, they went for a walk in the cool of the evening to the garden. There, Jesus entreated his friends to stay with him and pray. But full of food and wine and well past waking hours, the disciples slept—unaware of the events fast approaching.

Alone in the dusk, Jesus faced the trial of his life. If history began in a garden, then its balance also hung in a garden. The Gospel of Matthew presents Jesus weeping and struggling with God over the task set out for him. Like Adam, Jesus’s own will strove against God’s plan. Three times he asked that the plan be changed. Three times he asked for some other way forward. Three times Jesus bent the iron will of humanity and submitted to the Father.

Jesus’s victory was in the second garden. He succeeded where the first Adam failed. The first human had looked at God’s arrangement of blessing-in-submission and rejected it. The new human took the Father’s direction and—though he struggled—submitted. The evening’s betrayal, the night’s trials, and the morrow’s execution were foregone conclusions with Jesus’s final utterance of “your will be done.”

For those of us who followed the story of the Bible from the beginning, Jesus’s obedience in Gethsemane comes with a relieved sigh. History hinged on his choice, just as history hinged on Adam’s. The hope of humanity lay in the bent will of Jesus who submitted to the Father and laid aside himself.

And it’s that very pattern that Paul tells us to shape our own lives around. In the second chapter of Philippians, he picks up on the thread of the garden and points to a submitted, obedient Jesus. Humanity’s proper place is on bended knee in submission to the Father, but we also find the life he intended for us when we submit to each other.

As we hold each other more important than ourselves, we carry in our lives the new nature Jesus purchased for us on the cross. As we deny our sinful selves and live in obedience to God, we live the life meant for us in Eden. And we have the hope that one day we’ll see the last garden—with the tree of immortality standing in the very presence of God.

History pivots on gardens. The garden of failure. The garden of pain-filled victory. And the garden of perfect peace.

—Jed Ostoich

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