No one can tell a story like God can. If you were to combine Shakespeare, Tolkien, Austen, and Dickens into one fantastic writer, you could still not come close to the imaginative, creative, fascinating stories that God composes. His stories have layers and hidden nuances and double meanings like none other. Open your bible and read through its history and you will find the greatest literary work on the planet. What makes this book the greatest (outside of the obvious life-transforming gospel and theology it carries), is that these layered true stories and complex plots were not written as stories: they were written as invitations - invitations to experience what is being told first hand. You see, the bible records more than words of life, more than doctrine, more than theology and truth - it records the location of an actual veiled Kingdom filled with endless treasures that are more of a reality than the world we see. Every parable, every lesson, every life-changing truth is an invitation to come into this Kingdom and see as God sees and live like God lives. For those who will accept this invitation, they will find that they are not just reading about this God, they are literally experiencing him. What other book can do that? Truly God is The Great Storyteller.
Just look at the way God weaved gardens into the bible. It's incredible. In scripture, we find three instances where God is in a garden with man: Eden (Genesis 2-3), Gethsemane (John 18:1-11), and The Garden Tomb (John 19:38-20:18). In each of these gardens, we find the Lord asking man a question. In Eden, he asked Adam, " Where are you?" and in Gethsemane and the Tomb Garden, he asked, "Whom are you seeking?" Now, we know God doesn't ask a question because he needs information. I believe God asks questions to invite us to see as he sees. In Eden, God asked Adam where he was in order that Adam may have his eyes truly enlightened to his fallen condition, to his "short of the glory of God" position. God wasn't simply awakening him to his sin, however - he was also awakening Adam to His holiness. It's as if God was saying to Adam, "There's a gulf between us, son. You are there and I am here." This is the message of repentance. Though the message of repentance makes many uncomfortable and many shy away from preaching it, it is vital for drawing men to their loving Father. Man must know their sinful condition in order to rightly desire something more. Imagine walking aimlessly trying to get somewhere with no thought of direction or location along the way, just walking with no plan. Then, suddenly you think, "Wait...where am I exactly?" You pull out a map and see how off-course you are. This is the beginning of repentance. It is mercy for you to realize how far off track you are because only this realization will get you to your desired destination. This is why God is the author of the message of repentance. He doesn't merely point out our sin to make us feel bad - he points out our sin in order that he may pull us out of our sin and back into his glory. But it does require us to answer the question, "Where am I?" in order to be with God where he is. This is why the Law of Moses entered the story - to answer the question, "Where am I?" The Law came to show man that they had fallen from God's glory. It entered to show man just how sinful we are (Rom. 5:20). Read through the Law and you will see how large the gulf between God and man is. Each year on the Day of Atonement, the question from Eden echoed, "Where are you?" and they were all reminded of their sinful position with the slaying of the lamb. This is the question that God asked in Eden and continued to ask all throughout the Old Testament.
Fast forward to the time of The Lamb of God. Jesus enters the scene on the heels of John the Baptist's message of repentance. His message was in essence, "Wake up to where you are! God is near and you can come near to him if you will but answer Eden's question." Jesus took up this message and preached the same, "Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is near!" Here was The Tree of Life from the True Eden walking and talking among God's people, proclaiming how they could return to the garden of God. "Eat my flesh and drink my blood," he pleaded, and the message offended the majority.
Now follow Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. Here in this place, he answered Eden's question for all mankind. He said, "Father, they have all fallen away and I will gladly do something about that." He knew of our guilt and said yes to the Father's will, taking upon himself the cup of God's wrath that we all deserved. I believe when Jesus arose from his prayer time in the garden, the sin of the world was already upon his shoulders. He took Adam's fall right then and there upon himself. Then, no sooner then he had said amen, an angry crowd entered the garden in order to arrest and ultimately kill the Lamb of God. Standing as Almighty God facing fallen man, God once again asked a question of man: "Whom are you seeking?" Since the fall, man had been searching for something more, searching for God, although they didn't even know it. But only those who will answer Eden's question rightly can find the One they seek. Jesus tells them plainly that he had been with them everyday, right there in front of them. But because they had not acknowledged their sin-sick souls, they couldn't acknowledge his holiness. You see, sin will keep you searching for something that is right in front of you. God has made himself readily available to the one who will but ask in sincere repentance (Acts 17:27-28) . This angry mob could not recognize who they were seeking. Some would have said Jesus was just a teacher, some would say a zealous mad-man. But only a few recognized him as "I Am."
In the first garden, God required man to leave. In this second garden, man required God to leave. Here is the Second Adam clothed in the shame of the world, chained up and forced out of the garden. Can't you just see it? The garden that had once been the place of holiness was corrupted by sin when Adam fell and now it's effects were in every heart. Gethsemane is a picture of the power of sin. In Eden, after some quick excuse making, man had shown little remorse for his sin and little thanks for the covering of his nakedness. By the time Gethsemane rolls around, sin had grown so deeply in the nature of man that mankind chained God up, kicked him out, and hung him naked on a cross. The One who had clothed our nakedness, we stripped naked before all. The one who had told us to repent, we silenced under our weight of sin. Jesus had asked, "Whom are you seeking?" The Lamb of God was answering his own question in a way that no one could have seen coming. But through his death, he was saying, "I am the God that you are seeking, the One who willing lays down his life. I am the way to be clothed again in the Father's glory. I am the one who will forgive all of your sins."
God asks questions to stir up conversation in order that we might be brought out of shame and death and into grace and life. Only when Adam engaged with God's question was God able to deal with his nakedness. Only once the conversation became two-sided, did God clothe his shame. And how did he cover him? In the skin of a sacrifice (Gen. 3:21); most likely a lamb. Because of the cross, Jesus became the Lamb in whom God clothes us. It was his body that was skinned and bloodied and wrapped around us in order that we might become the New Man, sons of righteousness, clothed in the very glory of God - Jesus (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:17-24). At the cross, we come face to face with Eden's question, acknowledging our sinful condition. But at the cross, we also come face to face with Gethsemane's question: we are seeking the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But there is still one more garden to mention: the Garden Tomb. Here in this garden is the fruition of all the previous stories. Here we find Mary searching for a Lord she cannot find, similar to the angry mob not recognizing Jesus in Gethsemane. Only this time it is not sin that blinds the heart to who Christ is - it's simply location! You see, she was looking for Jesus among the dead, when he was not there - he was alive! Jesus stands next to his empty tomb and asks Mary, "Whom are you seeking?" She was expecting to simply find, "The Lamb who is slain." But now he stood living, the Lamb who WAS slain, the now resurrected Lord who lives forever. "Whom are you seeking?" Jesus asked her and this question still echoes to our hearts today, along with Christ's other question, "Why are you weeping?" You see, Eden and Gethsemane's questions cause our hearts to mourn because of the weight of sin and costly price Jesus paid. At Eden and Gethsemane exchanges were made: man exchanged God's glory for shameful sin at Eden, and Christ exchanged his glory for man's shameful sin at Gethsemane. It is reason to weep, indeed. But here at the empty tomb, it wasn't about an exchange taking place: it was about partnership. It was about likeness, oneness, a union with our Holy God! Because of the resurrection, we are now made like him! The cross wouldn't mean a thing if there wasn't a resurrection, for that would have meant sin and death had a hold of Jesus (for the wages of sin is death). But because he was the pure, sinless Lamb of God, he only experienced death in order to conquer it forever. This victory brought us into total union with God! It's a reason to rejoice not weep!
Many in the church today come to Christ with head down, hearts broken, like Mary approaching the empty tomb. They know that Christ has died and confess that he is living, but they have not really entered into the invitation of the question he asks at the tomb:" Whom are you seeking? Why are you weeping?" We must come face to face with this question, awakening to the work of the cross AND the resurrection. When we let this question come alive in our hearts, we suddenly realize that God has completed the work. It is finished. We are one. Yes, Eden's question is vital to lead us to our sin position. Gethsemane's question is vital to lead us to our forgiven position. But the Garden Tomb's question is vital to awakening us to our seated position, reigning with him in victory. I believe Christ asks of us personally, of our own hearts, "Whom are you seeking? Are you seeking your old man who was crucified with me? Are you seeking what is dead and gone, what was thrown into the sea of forgetfulness? Seek the new man! For you were not only crucified with me, you were raised up with me! You are seated with me! You are a new creation!" The Garden Tomb tells us not to look for the living among the dead. We are alive with Christ! "As He is, so are we (1 John 4:17)!" When you come to the Garden of Gethsemane, you are seeking the One in whom you are clothed for forgiveness. And when you come to the Garden Tomb, you are seeking the One who has clothed you in his eternal glory. You are not just made clean, you are made bright! This is what God did for us all at that final earthly Garden. And I say 'earthly' for I know that a day is coming when a heavenly garden will become our home. In that day, not only will our spirits and souls be clothed in resurrection, but so will our bodies. It's the blessed hope of what's to come - the knowledge that we will literally and physically dwell once again in the garden with God! For now, the victory at the Garden Tomb propels us towards that day with a hope in our heart that cannot be shaken.
What a story! What a truth! What an invitation! No one could have weaved it all together like our God did. He is the Greatest Storyteller of all time and that story is still being written on our hearts. We are his living epistles, his testimony of all that he has accomplished through His Son. Our very lives live out the answers to each of the garden questions: we were lost, but now we are found. We were blind, but now we see. We were dead, but now we are alive. And as we wait for the heavenly garden to be made our home, we wait with joy and growing anticipation. For reading God's book we have not only learned that he is the Greatest Storyteller of all time - we also know his story is guaranteed to have a happy, eternal ending.