Cursed Is Everyone Who Hangs on a Tree
Deut. 21:22 ¶ When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree,
Deut. 21:23 his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land that the LORD your God is giving you for possession.
Gal. 3:10 ¶ For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”
Gal. 3:11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Gal. 3:12 But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.”
Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—
Gal. 3:14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
The Galatians struggled with their new-found faith for they believed that they would be saved through following the law. However, they were unable to follow the law and they found themselves struggling to be victorious in their Christian walk. Paul was trying to help them understand what it was that Jesus truly did for them. This small portion of Scripture in Galatians helps us to understand Jesus' work on the cross.
Jesus Christ redeems us from the curse. The word here is not the word for "ransom" but rather the same term used for a transaction, such as the purchase of a slave. It is not so much that sin is holding us ransom, but that we have sold ourselves into the slavery of sin and he is willing to buy us back. The difference here is that it has been of our own volition that we have become cursed.
Back in Deuteronomy Moses' law had specified that one who hung on a tree was under God's curse. Therefore the fact that Jesus dies on a tree is significant. It is this issue of the curse which Paul tries to tackle. The people have been cursed, both Jews and Gentiles for neither is able to follow the law. There have been attempts but Paul reminds them that "no one is justified before God by the law." It simply hasn't happened for human nature constantly takes over. The problem is that the people need to live by faith. There must be faith in what Jesus Christ has done for them and here we find a description of the work of Christ. Let's be clear here, Jesus Christ is not cursed by the Father for Jesus has done no wrong. It is we humans who have been cursed because we have been unable to be made righteous through the law. The curse is on humanity and it is Jesus who becomes "a curse for us." In essence he steps between us and the curse and allows the curse to fall on him instead of on us. It is our curse and pain which he bears, not his own.
Jesus bears our punishment so that all of humanity may be justified, both Jew and Gentile. Now, all may receive the promise of the Spirit if they will believe in him, through faith. The curse is gone for those who have been justified by faith.
On a daily basis we may choose whether we are slaves to sin, or whether we walk in the freedom of the Spirit. It is amazing to think that many continue to choose the chains and bondage of sin. I'm afraid that our world has become so accustomed to the curse of sin that we choose to live in this manner. We choose to follow the ways of the world without realizing the baggage that this creates. God wants to set us completely free from the curse which is on us, if only we would be willing to accept Jesus Christ by faith. He has already stepped into the gap; he has already died on that tree; he has already taken our curse upon himself, if only we would receive him by faith.
The punishments that we face in life are a result of the curse which we choose to carry. What kinds of punishments exist? What about extramarital sex with multiple partners? The possibility of STDs and unwanted pregnancy are certainly foremost. These are the natural consequences of life. What about the "joy" of drug use? What joy is there in playing with drugs until your mind no longer sees life clearly and in a moment of stupor one takes their own life? What about alcohol abuse? I think of the commercials on the radio about "buzzed driving is drunk driving." A man is in the hospital with his fiancé and she is now on life support, just because they wanted to drink a little alcohol and then get behind the wheel. There are consequences of not having a clear mind.
These were the punishments of sin, or the consequences or curses of sin. Jesus was not cursed, but he stood in the gap and took our punishment for us. Why do we refuse to accept him and the punishment which he has taken in our stead? Do we enjoy the consequences of our behaviors? Many in the world call these behaviors freedom; the freedom to do anything that I want! Jesus provides us with true freedom; freedom found from a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus took our punishment and curse so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is full of freedom -- freedom from the things of this world. No longer are we attracted to the things that the world has to offer but instead the Spirit transcends the things of this world and the joy we have comes from following Jesus Christ. Our focus changes completely. We no longer look longingly at the world, but lovingly at our Savior and our all consuming desire is for him. We want to look like him, we want to walk like him, we want to talk like him. He becomes our everything and the things of the world become a faded and distant memory. In this there is great joy and freedom; the freedom to soar with our Creator.
The chains are gone -- we have been set free! The curse is broken and today we can walk in the freedom of the Spirit. The one who hung on the tree took the curse.
Lord, my heart sings with gratitude today. Amen.