|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 13
Meditation Title: Curses and Blessings
Gal 3:13,14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
You will remember that Paul has just been comparing salvation by faith in Christ versus salvation by effort, by keeping the Law. Now he pursues the latter: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (v.10) He is quoting Moses from Deut 27:26 which the Jewish believers would know all about. That requirement was stringent: you had to keep ALL the Law. Actually at the time of Moses that was not an onerous thing because the laws were clearly laid out and easy to follow, but by the time of Jesus, the religious leaders had ‘interpreted' them so as to make keeping them a nightmare. There were now so many minor interpretations that it was impossible to follow the Law. Having said that it had been relatively easy to follow these laws from God, Paul himself declared how difficult it was (see Rom 7) once you examined your heart.
Now it probably wasn't so much the individual laws that we find in Exodus or Deuteronomy say, for as we've said, many of those were very straight forward; what was difficult were some of the more general exhortations from say Deuteronomy, such as “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5). Would you know that you were keeping that in its entirety all the time? But actually failure to keep the Law is not Paul's main point here; it is other Scripture: “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith.” (v.11). Now he's quoting Hab 2:4. Life flows out of faith he says here, not out of the Law. In fact, “The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them.” (v.12). Here he is quoting Lev 18:5. The Law was quite specific, he is saying, that if you don't keep the Law you will be cursed but if you do keep it you will live. Now that didn't require faith, you either did it or not!
That is your standard, he is saying, if you follow the Law! Implied within that is the question, are you happy with that? Are you happy to follow the Law when you can almost guarantee that you will not manage to keep everything written in the Law in the books of Moses? Are you happy to carry on doing that when you can almost guarantee that you will be cursed for your failure? Are you happy to stay with law-keeping when you know the prophet said that life flows from faith? Are you happy about that when you realise that keeping the Law isn't about faith, so by keeping the Law you guarantee you won't receive life? A powerful argument isn't it!
That's when he arrives at our verses today: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (v.13,14) There really is so much here we need to take it slowly in bits.
The Gospel is that although we were under a curse for failing to keep God's design-rules, Jesus stepped in and took the effects of the curse (death) for us by dying on the Cross. Again Paul quotes the Old Testament Law for these Jewish-following-believers, Deut 21:23, where it speaks about capital punishment. Those who are hanged (or crucified) are clearly condemned and are under God's curse. As Christ was crucified, he was clearly under God's curse. He was clearly there taking the punishment for sin – but he was sinless the Scripture tells us, so if it wasn't for his own sin, it must have been for us. We were cursed because of our sin, but Christ took our curse on the Cross. Having removed the guilt and punishment from us, that leaves us open to receive the blessing that was promised to Abraham which was a promise of life and blessing from God. That has now come in the form of God's own Holy Spirit. God wanted to bring that blessing to people but He couldn't while they were still condemned sinners. Condemned sinners can't receive all the goodness of God, only death, and so that death had to be taken by Jesus as THE Son of God who could thus die in the place of every person who would come to him.
This is the wonder of the Gospel. We might have tried being good, we might have tried keeping the rules, but we realised whenever we based our life on that, that we failed and never managed it. We always failed in some way. Thus we condemned ourselves. There was no hope for us. We were continually condemned to be punished for our ongoing failures. Yet God was there holding out His hands to us, offering blessing to whoever could receive it, yet none of us could, because we were condemned. So Jesus stepped into our place and took the curse or punishment for our failures and suddenly the way was open for us to receive all of God's goodness that He was offering us. All we had to do now was receive it, and that is a faith thing. No longer keeping rules! How wonderful!