How Did Jesus Become a Curse for Us? #275

Happy Lord’s Day to you, dear friends! This Sunday at 11am Pacific on Facebook live, I’ll be teaching on the power of weakness from 2nd Corinthians 12. If you’re on Facebook, I’d love to invite you to join us at VBC Salinas – just drop in and jump on the livestream!

Today’s Bible readings are short one chapter, because we went ahead and read all of Psalms 78 yesterday, but we will be reading the last words of David in 2nd Samuel 23, as well as Ezekiel 28 and Galatians 3. That 2nd Samuel 23 passage has always captured my imagination, because it talks about ‘David’s Mighty Men’ and the thirty warriors who followed him and did amazing exploits. Sadly and startlingly, we find that the murdered Uriah the Hethite was one of the thirty – a great hero who was killed by the unchecked ambition and lust of King David – yet another reminder of the dangers of unchecked sin in our hearts, and the dangers of ‘everybody doing what seemed right in their own eyes.’

Today we’re talking about curses. Not bad words, but accursed things and accursed people. Let’s read Galatians 3 together, and pay attention to all the ‘curse’ talk – especially the part about how everybody hung on a tree is accursed.

The word “Curse” occurs five times in one paragraph of this chapter, and the way Paul talks about curses is absolutely brilliant. First, he challenges any idea of religion – the thought that man can earn their way into God’s love and favor – with a cannon blast of truth, “All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.” Wow – what does that mean, exactly, Paul? Well – he answers the question quite succinctly from Scripture, “Everyone who does not do EVERYTHING written in the book of the law is cursed.” This is a serious, serious problem. Imagine you have a deadly disease – which I guess is not too difficult for us to imagine right now, is it? Imagine this disease is killing you, you go to the doctor, and he says – I HAVE THE CURE! Give it to me, you beg, and he gives you a list of instructions several pages long – hundreds of them, and none of the instructions are easy. You look at the doctor in confusion, “what do I do?” And the doctor, unblinkingly, tells you that if you don’t do EVERY SINGLE THING to perfection on that list of hundreds of commands…you will die. This is the situation we are faced with – so many commands in the Old Testament, and God demands 100% holiness and perfection. We’re sunk, right? And that is what Paul is saying: If you are relying on BEING a good person to save you. If you are relying on TRYING to be good to save you. If you are relying on being better than the average person to save you…you’re sunk. Worse than being sunk, you are under God’s curse!

Not fair, I hear you squealing – NOBODY could obey all of God’s commands perfectly! Well, you’re almost right. Almost NOBODY can obey God’s commands perfectly…with ONE big exception – Jesus. He did it perfectly as fully human, showing that it IS possible to be 100% righteous, so that we are without excuse.

Still, it doesn’t seem fair right? Out of billions of people who have lived – ONLY ONE has lived up to God’s standards…how can we possibly do that? And that is exactly what Paul is saying to us. If you are trying to be saved and enter eternal life by being good and doing good – good luck, because you are accursed. Terrible news, thanks for listening to the podcast. See you next time!

Oh wait…there’s more: speaking of curses, Paul tells us that Jesus BECAME A CURSE for us. How? Well – He was perfect, and deserved no punishment, and yet He was executed by sinners like you and me. Further, He – the perfect and spotless son of God – was executed by being hung on a tree – a horrible and stigmatic death for a Jewish person, because only accursed people were killed like that. So – Jesus became accursed because He died on a tree…but He also became accursed because the ‘punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.’ In other words, all of the payment and penalty for my sin – all of the curses that you and I have earned due to our sin…was poured out on Jesus. Here’s pastor Tim Keller with more:

It doesn’t just say he was cursed. It says he became a curse. What does that mean? That’s enormously strong. It doesn’t say he just was cursed. It says he became a curse. The only other place we have something like that is in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where it doesn’t say he was just punished for sin.
What does it say? It says, “God made him be sin.” Same thing. You say, “Well, it’s just metaphorical.” This is what all the commentators want to say, and Stott shows why the Greek doesn’t allow you to do that, but I’m not going to get into that. What does it mean to say not just that he was cursed but he became a curse? Well, three things.
First of all, it teaches us he was punished. When I say, “Of course it means he was punished,” it simply means, of course, he actually did get a terrible infliction. It says he was punished for us, in our place. That’s not all. It doesn’t just say he did get a punishment, that the curse is a punishment.
Secondly, it tells us what the punishment was like and what it actually affected. What it was like means … Remember, this is covenantal language. What is a curse? When you think of the word curse, you have all of these stupid B-grade movies in your mind, like The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. The curse can be anything, but this is covenantal language. The curse is always the loss of relationship.
Now you know what happened to Jesus on the cross. Jesus Christ’s curse was not the nails in his hands. It was the hole in his heart where God used to be. Again, I’m doing this for completeness, not for effect tonight, but you may have heard me say this. The level of pain in the loss of a relationship completely depends on the level of relationship.
When an acquaintance says, “I hate you,” it doesn’t hurt as badly, though it hurts, as when a friend says, “I hate you,” and that doesn’t hurt as badly, though it hurts, as when your best friend says, “I hate you,” and that doesn’t hurt as badly as when your parent says, “I hate you,” and that doesn’t hurt as badly as when your spouse says, “I hate you.” Don’t you see?
When you get to the relationship of the Father and the Son, we’re way beyond even our imagination. People are always being devastated by the loss of relationship. Counselors see this in their offices. Pastors see it. If you’re just a friend, you just know people who have never gotten over a rejection. I mean, this is worse than being branded. This is worse than bamboo shoots under the fingernails. This is far worse. This ruins your life.
When it comes to what Jesus experienced on the cross, and even before that … Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, Christ’s Agony, is about “Why was Jesus sweating blood in the garden?” This is surmise, but it’s probably fair. Edwards says probably Jesus Christ sat down … In his whole life he had this perfect relationship with the Father. He had an incredible prayer life, but he sat down in his moment of greatest need, and he turned to God, and maybe, just maybe, hell opened up.
He turned to the Father, and where the Father had been there was nothing. The Father rejected him. The Father cursed him. See now what it means? This is a little hard for us to get into, because somebody says, “Well, he knew just three days …” No, it couldn’t be. When it says, “He suffered for us,” it must mean he experienced in his heart what we would have experienced in hell forever and ever, having lost God.
Even the people here on earth who think they have no God, they have God. They have God everywhere. The Bible says, “In him we live and move and have our being. In him all things hold together.” When we actually lose God, everything will fall apart forever. Our ability to love, our ability to have joy … Everything will fall apart forever. We’ll be howling misery. We’ll be totaled. We’ll be hell.
Yet none of us ever have had and never will have the relationship with the Father the Son had. As a result, what Jesus experienced there … He experienced the loss of the Father. He experienced the curse. As far as he knew, he was gone forever. He would have felt that way. It would have been a hell infinitely greater than all of our hells in this room, all of our hells in the whole world all put together.
Jesus Christ, whenever he talked about the Father or referred to the Father, always called him “Father.” “Our Father. Holy Father. Your Father and my Father.” Only once did he call him, “God.” It was on the cross, when he lost the Father.

Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

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