Be fruitful plants of Christ, even amid COVID/Isaiah 51:3
This past year was a difficult year for our country, our communities, our families, and the same could be said for people around the world. It was also difficult for the church. Many Christians have been unable to attend worship services except via live streams for months. The church has not been exempted from the problems caused by the virus, neither have individual Christians.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember how the Lord looks upon his church in this world. It is the apple of his eye; the garden of his planting, even in the midst of tribulation. Our text reads: “For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.”
In Genesis 2 we are taught that the Lord God planted a garden and there he put the man whom he had formed. We also know that the Lord made a practice of walking in the garden; that the goodness of his presence dwelt with man. After man sinned, he was expelled from the garden, and the fellowship and comfortable presence of God was lost.
When Jesus died, we read in John 19:41, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” Christ lay in a garden. It is from this garden, Jesus would be raised from the dead, and restore life and fellowship with God to man. The church in this world, the people of the Lord, is like a garden in the midst of a wilderness.
We may ask the question why is the church compared to a garden as we see in Isaiah 51? One reason is that a garden is taken out of the common ground to be appropriated for a more particular use. So the church is taken out of the wilderness of this world, to a particular use for the Lord. The church is like Goshen to Egypt, a light shining in the darkness.
In a garden, nothing comes up naturally of itself, but as it is planted and set. So nothing is good in the heart of sinful man but what is planted by the Spirit of God. The earth is naturally full of weeds, but the Lord plants and grows his plants by his own hand. So each Christian called and redeemed by the Lord is a branch growing from Christ. He died to make them alive.
My father is a very good gardener. He and my mom take delight in their garden. When I am able to visit, he will take me on a tour of their garden, what he has planted and how it is doing. Christ’s chief care and delight in this world is for his church. He feeds it and waters it with his Word and Spirit. He walks in the midst of his church (Revelation 2:1).
The church on earth, and individual Christians beloved of the Lord, may go through difficult times on the earth, but the Lord refreshes them with his Spirit, which is like a spring in the midst of it. All the promises of God to them are sure in Christ. They are never being neglected.
Every garden stands always in need of weeding and pruning. It requires constant attention and labor. The Lord’s care to his people includes correction and discipline. He leads us to repentance for our sins which implies difficulty and cost. But he does all he does out of love and for our good.
When we think of belonging to the Lord and his church in this world, we should apply the garden analogy. One way is by living as men of a severed condition from this world, and seeking to be watered and pruned by the Lord. Afflictions are no sign Christ is not with us but are promptings to draw nearer to him. We should bless God he can make the desert an Eden for us by his Spirit, both in plenty and want; in trial and in ease. The plants in Christ’s garden will endure forever.
This should also move us to seek to be faithful and fruitful. My father isn’t concerned about a fruitless plant growing in the woods near his garden, but in his garden he can’t endure it. The purpose of his garden is to have fruitful plants. It is strange to be barren if the garden we live in belongs to the Lord, being watered by the dew of heaven and the influence of the Lord’s Word.
We can’t control what events may occur this year, but we can set out to be fruitful plants of Christ, listening to his word, and conforming to it. If Christ has planted us to be noble vines, then we should hunger for his word and grow by it (1st Peter 2). And make a practice of pleasing him.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Union.