Throughout human history, we have been captivated by stories of kings. I especially found this was true when I was younger and I witnessed people in America, a country which has never had a monarchy, obsessing over the British royal family. Some of the greatest stories that we know, such as Lord of the Rings or the tales of King Arthur always start out “once upon a time, there was a great king who ruled. Throughout the whole land, everything was well. There was peace, the people prospered, and were able to reach their full potential.” All the great tales start this way. Of course, one of the greatest stories of all time start this way. The very first line of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” Genesis 1 is a poetic song describing how the great cosmic King created everything. Each time God created something he declared it was “tov meod” or “very good.” The Hebrew phrase tov meod means something that is aesthetically please– like when you eat a great meal or see an incredible sunrise. It gave God pleasure and he rejoiced over all creation of how splendorous and beautiful it was.
The second chapter of Genesis is about God setting up his cosmic temple on earth where he would rule and reign (the word God rested cogitates to cosmic temple language). God made Eden which was filled with beautiful rivers, mountains, vegetation, animals, birds, and reptiles. Eden’s name signifies “pleasantness.” God then creates man and woman in the Garden of Eden–Adam and Eve. They were tasked to be fruitful and multiply; flood the earth with the image of their Creator and imitate Him. By creating, building, and ruling with God. They were to subdue the earth, to rule, and take of it. Back in the ancient times, kings claimed to be the image of God and everyone is subject under their rule. But the Bible says that God has created humanity in His image; we were design to rule and reign with Him.
Not only that, but there is fulfillment of life in the Garden of Eden. Scripture mentions God plants in the Garden the tree of life. It not only signified eternal life but fulfillment of life. There was absolute cessation of our deepest hearts desires and longings. It was a gift from God. We were made whole in the Garden and in the presence of the great King. In the beginning, God was the King who ruled with absolute authority and benevolence. All was well and there was shalom (peace) in the land. But like in all the stories and tales, something goes wrong. Something that takes the King away. In our pride, we decided to become our own masters. God told Adam and Eve “obey me about the tree, do not eat from it, and you will live.” Of course, they did not obey God. They ate from the tree. Sin and death enter into the world which distorted creation. Sin turned what was beautiful and made it ugly. Adam and Eve ran and hid from God, naked, ashamed, and broken. We were driven out of Eden and a flaming sword was placed in front of the entrance cutting us off. We lost access to the Garden, the tree of life, and we lost more importantly our relationship with the great King. Since Eden, life has been on the downward spiral to distortion, chaos, and death. But like all stories, there is hope. The hope lies in the King coming back and restoring everything back to the way it was. God promises in Genesis 3:15, the first prophecy of the Messiah, that he will come from the seed of Eve and crush the head of the Serpent. When the Messiah does return, he will restore creation, reconcile humanity, and destroy death. We will live happily ever after with the King. The prophet Isaiah talks about this coming King’s reign:
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
Of course, to our typical modern western reader this sounds absurd. After all, we have since and reason guiding our lives. We read or hear these stories and we say, “How can they be true?” Maybe you’re not a Christian or do not even believe in the story that the Bible tells you. We hear these stories and we say, “Well that’s nice, but we have be realistic. That’s not how the world works.” Some may chalk it up as wishful thinking or perhaps it’s all ridiculous. There are no real happy endings. There is no purpose. The King is absent on the throne and it all ends with the grave. After we die there is nothing but black. We separate these stories between difference of ideal and the real. The world that it is and the world that it ought to be.
But why is it we get moved whenever we hear stories like these? Although they don’t seem true, they do seem to be true. Of course, they may sound ridiculous; but we want them to be true. For example, Beauty and the Beast is not a real story, but the idea is true. The idea of sacrificial love will transform deeply moves us. This doesn’t happen in real life. Nevertheless, why do we get so moved? Sleepy beauty is another one. We aren’t really asleep but we are under a spell. Then some great prince is destine to come and break the spell. Of course, these stories are not true. But we want them to be true despite us knowing they are not true.
You may very well believe that those stories are ridiculous. But deep down, there’s a sense of something not right. Our deepest longings, whether it’s love, relationships, money, success, fame, or whatever it is, can never satisfied us because it promises us something that it cannot fulfill. We feel this deep metaphysical void that seems unquenchable. We are locked in this deep depression wanting life to be more. There is even at times an overwhelming anxiety within us that happens even when external circumstances are great. We are desperate for hope. Which is why we are so fascinated with these fictional stories and movies. We long for these stories to be true. Every one of these stories is telling us something that is true. There must be a love that can break death. There must be a way to live forever. There must be an ending where we live happily ever after with the person of ultimate significance. Nobody put it’s better than C.S. Lewis, “If I find myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
We actually find the answer in the Bible: “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Remember the tree of life? The tree of life is not just eternal life but fulfillment of life–absolute cessation of desires a million times over. The tree of life is a cosmic nostalgia: longing for something we remember but never had. We long for a home, which we remembered, but never had. When you look for love, you are looking for arms, that you remember, but you’ve never really had. But Genesis tells us we lost access to the tree of life when we decided to rebel against God. In the story of the Bible, we are the enemies of God who betrayed him. So how is it we can be reconciled?
Did you know that in the New Testament it says that Jesus was crucified on a tree? It says in 1 Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” You may find that puzzling considering you may have heard it taught that Jesus died on a cross. I remember continuously reading this verse so many times and thinking to myself, “that’s weird,” and I would gloss over it. But it is so significant.
In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve, “obey me about the tree, do not eat its fruit, and you will live and be blessed,” and they didn’t. Then God came to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and says, “Obey me about the tree and I will crush you”– and Jesus does. Jesus is the first and last person in history to be told that obedience would bring a curse. Jesus went knowingly the infinite suffering he would have to endure. He cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).” What was the cup that Jesus was talking about? In the Old Testament, the cup was referred to as the cup of God’s wrath (Ps. 11:6; 75:8), fury and trembling (Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-18, 28 cf. Zech. 12:2), astonishment and desolation (Ezek. 23:31-33), and the cup also symbolized a violent death (Mt. 20:22, 23; Mk. 10:38,39; Jn. 18:11). The cup was the judgment and wrath we deserve for our rebellion. It’s the full persecution of God’s holy law and punishment.
But Jesus drinks from the cup so to speak and is nailed to the tree. He bears the penalty that we deserve. He was utterly crushed. Jesus cries out Psalm 22 while being mangled on the cross. Verse fourteen says “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.” Why did he do that? Why in the world would he drink from the cup? For you and me. Because he loves you. He put his ultimate hope in his Father and lost his love eternally for us. He took all that we deserved so that we can get what he deserves. There’s a famous line George Herbert’s poem about Jesus’ death where Jesus in the poem utters, “O all ye who pass by, behold and see; Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree; the tree of life to all, but only me: Was ever grief like mine?” The cross was the tree of death. He climbed the tree of death so we could have the tree of life. He was hung on the tree of death so that it could be a tree of life for us. Through his atoning death and resurrection, he overcomes death, sin, and brings life in abundance. He makes us clean and clears the barrier between us and God.
Isn’t that good news? When you realize that you will experience what J.R.R Tolkien called “joy beyond the walls of the world.”
Jesus is saying the reason why you feel that way is because there is a cosmic reality beyond the wall. He not only says all the biblical stories point to him, but so do all the tales of kings, Jesus says, more or less, “my story of my birth, my life, death, and resurrection, is not one more legend pointing to that great reality but it is the reality that all those legends point to.” My seminary professor Derek Hiebert once said it nicely, “the idiom that all good things come to an end does not apply to the gospel of the new heavens and the new earth.” It sends chills throughout my body when I read the great tales of sacrificial love overcoming death or the king returning to make every wrong right. I realize that in light of what Jesus did at Cavalry, it’s all true.