The Sepulcher in the Garden
"In the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a sepulcher, in which no one had ever been laid." John 19:41
I. Sin Obtrudes Itself into the Fairest Scenes.You see around a cross a multitude come together to perform the foulest act ever perpetrated. The object of their hatred has never wronged them; but, on the contrary, has ever blessed them. His character presented an assemblage of graces such as the world had never witnessed. And now He hangs on a cross in a garden! What a place for the perpetration of such a crime! A garden! where nature seems best fitted to exert a soothing influence on the angry passions! Surely nature cannot have her sanctuary violated by such an outrage.
Thus the text contains a most emphatic refutation of the fiction that by giving them access to natural beauty you may restrain the wickedness, if not transform the character, of men. True, there is nothing in what is beautiful, whether in nature or art, unfavorable to religionóbut very much by which religions feeling may be induced and fostered. And, certainly, they are not the worst Christians who have the most extensive and loving acquaintance with nature's works.
But nevertheless the influence which these things exert depends entirely on the state of mind with which they are surveyed. They may foster and strengthen feelings which already exist; but they have no power to produce feelings which are not there. They have no power to change the heart, so as to make bad men good.
One of the loveliest scenes in the world is the site of Pompeii, but it would seem that God has preserved her ruins that she might testify to the nineteenth century, that she resembled Sodom in the depth of her wickedness before she resembled her in the terribleness of her overthrow. Man fell in Eden angels sinned in Heaven.
"In the place where He was crucified there was a garden."
II. Sorrow Mingles with All Earthly Enjoyment."In the garden was a sepulcher." How emblematical of human life in which every joy is marred by some sorrow, and the presence or the memory or the prospect of death casts its shadow over all. There is some fitness in the choice. A garden is the scene of beautiful life, where everything is fitted to minister pleasure. And to erect in such a scene the receptacle of death, might, without destroying the pleasure which the place afforded, serve as a useful monitor to remind men of the sorrows which lie so near and mingle with our joys, and of the termination which death brings to all earthly pursuits.
It is a good thing, as moderating our present expectations and leading us to seek after a better inheritance, to be reminded that there is no such thing here as pleasure without drawback or alloy.
Most people have a sepulcher in their garden; for have not they suffered loss here, and disappointment there?
But others whom they see what sepulcher have they? Their life is all garden. It has neither desert bounding it, nor sepulcher within its walls. But depend upon it you see not all. "The heart knows its own bitterness." Could you look beneath the surface, you would see even in that lot which seems so enviable, not a little which might excite your pity or surprise.
Of Naaman the Syrian, it is said, that "he was captain of the host," etc.; BUT he was a leper!
Of Haman we read how he told his wife and friends of his good fortune, and then, "YET all this avails me nothing so long as I see Mordecai," etc.
In the same way, there is some "but" or "yet" to the most favored condition.
There is no rose without its thorn.
In every garden there is a sepulcher.
III. The Presence of Christ Converts Death into Life, and Sorrow into Joy.It was fit that the sepulcher should be placed in a garden:
1. Seeing it was to contain the body of our Lord. His presence there gave to the grave a significance which it had never possessed before. And it is fit also in the case of all who are His. I like the change from the crowded unattractive churchyard, to the garden-like cemetery. I like, too, to see flowers growing around, or strewn upon the grave of the loved ones. The tomb in which Christ lies, in the person of His members, is a seed-plot of immortality, from which radiant and glorious forms shall spring; "for that which you sow is not quickened unless it dies."
2. Because of the change which the Savior's death is to produce in the aspect of the world. Reduced by sin to a desert, physically and morally it shall yet be covered with garden-like beauty and fertility because Christ has died. It is a sufficient pledge of its renovation, that it has contained His sepulcher. Men are said to take possession of a country when they have buried their dead in it. So the Savior will never regard with indifference, the world which contains His tomb. He will return living and glorious to the place where once He lay dead and dishonored, and the same scene which witnessed the commencement shall witness the completion of His triumph over sin and Hell over death and the grave.
3. As symbolic of how the presence of Jesus tends to change our sorrow into joy. Christ in the sepulcher transforms the receptacle of death into the source of higher life. And therefore have no sepulcher without a Savior in it no trouble in which you do not seek to have the presence of your Lord. A life all pleasure would neither be so desirable nor so profitable, as a life whose sorrows are sanctified by fellowship with Christ.
Nor should you seek, as is sometimes done, to have the sepulcher of your own fashioning, saying, "If I had only such-and-such trials, I could bear them well: I should not complain if I were only like so-and-so." No man ever got to choose his own trials. He who gives the garden, gives the sepulcher with it; and determines at once its position and its form. All that you need is to have Christ in it!