Curse of the Law: Galatians 3:10-14 (Sermon)
Welcome, I am pastor Rob. It is great to have you with us. And welcome, to those of you tuning in online. We are glad you are here. Spring is in the air. Don't you love it? I was reminded of some trouble I got into as a kid in preparation for his morning.
I hung around the neighborhood a lot, and we learned vocabulary our teachers never taught. Our parents called them curse words. Once, I said them around my mom and immediately knew she didn't appreciate it. She let me know with this, a bar of soap. Did that ever happen to you? It certainly deterred me from speaking “curse” words in front of her again. If someone said the word curse, that was what came to mind.
In some places in the world, that is all a curse is. On the other hand, much of the world views a curse as more than foul language. It has supernatural consequences. You go to Haiti, Africa, Central America, South America, or Asia, and you will find witch doctors, shamans, and fortune-tellers. People pay big bucks to predict the future, offer blessings, and cast spells. This happened in Biblical times and is why I bring it up.
In the Bible, God condemned sorcery and witchcraft but acknowledged the real power of some prophets, prophecies, oracles, blessings, and curses. Last week, Pastor Mike talked about a blessing God spoke four thousand years ago to a man named Abraham. This blessing was not a greeting or a whimsical wish. Instead, God was giving Abraham an expansive, sure promise. He was going to do something extraordinary. The one-hundred-year-old man and his ninety-year-old wife would have a baby. They would be ancestors of a blessed nation who would bless all nations, all the Gentiles. God would bless all who bless him, and all who dishonor him, God would curse.
The first time God mentioned blessing in the Bible was in chapter one. The Lord blessed Adam and Eve and told them to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth, and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). God first mentioned the word "Curse" in the third chapter. Because Satan deceived Eve, God cursed him. Because Eve disobeyed God, he cursed her childbirth and marriage. Because Adam went along with Eve, God cursed his work. God banished both Adam and Eve from the Garden and promised they would die because of their disobedience. Their sin had killed them spiritually, and we inherited their nature and death sentence. Yet, all was not lost.
Outside of the Garden, Adam and Eve had their first child, Cain, as we keep reading. Then another, Able. Time passed, and sin grew. Cain became jealous of his brother and killed him. God cursed Cain (Genesis 4:11). Time passed, and sin grew. Things went from bad to worse. Finally, God decided to wipe out the entire planet with a cataclysmic flood. He started things anew with Noah and his three sons: Ham, Shem, and Japeth. All was good. Time passed, and Ham sinned, and Noah cursed his family (9:25). A few chapters later, we arrive at the blessing we read in Genesis 12 last Sunday. "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3).
Centuries later, God fulfilled part of the promise. Abraham's people had become as numerous as the stars of the heavens. Yet, God promised land, and that was still to be realized. It was not that far away. Time passed, and their sin grew, so God punished God's people by extending a few weeks' journey to forty years and death. God wouldn't let the oldest generation enter the land. As the people drew close to the border and their forty-year mark, Moses passed on the basics of God's law to the next generation. In chapters 27 and 28 of Deuteronomy, we read a series of blessings and curses. It was a congregational affirmation of faith. Let's read some of it.
Picture being on the cusp of getting what your ancestors long for. Your parents and all your friend's parents have died. Yet, you have been eating the same magical food called Manna day in and day out. God has taken care of you in your nomadic, rustic camping. Finally, you are about to relocate to a new home flowing with milk and honey.
If you have your Bibles, you can follow along. Look at Deuteronomy 27, starting at verse 16. Notice their use of the word "curse."
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ [Amen means so be it.]
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ ….
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’(Deuteronomy 27:16–26)
That is intense. I skipped four or five curses. Could you say Amen to those? Some are easy. I thought it would be powerful if we did. One of my friends said don’t. Why? What would be the big deal to agree with the Israelites? Because we might be calling down curses on ourselves. They spoke these words. I bet they couldn’t conceive of going against them. But time passed, and sin grew. What was said one day was taken back the next. The nation, as a whole, fell. They did what was right in their own eyes. And they suffered a curse, slavery, and eventually exile. What was the remedy? What is the secret recipe for success? How do we please God? Mercy. God’s people needed to turn repeatedly from their sin to God for mercy and grace. That is a long-on ramp for us as we dive back into Galatians. Paul will address this need for mercy and the idea of a curse. The main idea he is saying is that relying on law results in a curse while relying on Christ results in blessing. Again, relying on law results in a curse, while relying on Christ results in blessing.
Turn in your Bibles to Galatians chapter 3 verses 10 through 14. I am going to have D.W. read for us. The year is about AD 47. Starting at verse 10,
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10–14)
Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for your Word. It gives us hope in our trials. We love you. Thank you for taking our curse and blessing us. Thank you for giving us your Holy Spirit. You are good, in Jesus’s name, AMEN.
As we come to the text, let’s remember where we have been. Galatians is a letter from the Apostle Paul to the churches in Galatia, a region of modern-day Turkey. He was there at the church’s inception. First, he taught the gospel to them. Then, he left to plant and encourage others in the Mediterranean. While he was away, teachers came in and distorted his message. They were teaching that righteousness came by doing certain religious practices. The church bought that lie. Paul got wind of this and wrote to them. He reminded them that he didn’t make up his message; it was God’s. He reiterated his message in chapter 2. In chapter 3, Paul gave further evidence that his message was God’s by quoting two well-known passages from the first book in the Bible. The point of his letter was for the church to return to the gospel of grace so they could walk in freedom with the Spirit. He desired them to avoid #gospeldrift.
Again, in verses 10 through 14, Paul wrote that relying on law results in a curse while relying on Christ results in blessing. Let me show you what I mean. Look at verse 10. Paul quoted the Deuteronomy passage we read. “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10)—Paul picked up on the word “Curse” and used it five times in the following few verses—Now, what he wrote seems contradictory. If you don’t follow the law, you will be cursed, but you are cursed if you rely on the law. Does it sound like a catch 22? What is Paul getting at?
Let’s keep reading. “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11). That sounds familiar. How are we justified? Remember chapter 2, verse 16? Paul told us how we are justified by what? (Faith). Right. Like Abraham, we are justified by believing in God, not moral purity (Galatians 3:6). We need God’s mercy and grace.
Notice the quotation marks around the phrase, “The righteousness shall live by faith”? Where is that from? That is from Habakkuk. What did Paul see in that minor prophet from the Old Testament? He saw moral rightness existed by faith.
In the next part of verse 12, he tells us faith and law are different. In verse 12, “But the law is not of faith” (Galatians 3:12). What then is faith? Do you recall what the book of Hebrews says? It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). So faith is what we hope for. Faith is not like proof or evidence. Where is faith placed? That depends.
You are all sitting on chairs. Do you trust they will not break under your weight? I suppose you do. You are sitting there. Where is your faith? Is it in the manufacture, the metal, the bolts, experience, or the laws of gravity that you trust? For some reason, you trust the chair to hold you. That is faith. It is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
FAITH IN JESUS
In the same way, Paul was calling the disciples of Galatia to distinguish between their efforts and God’s. They were to put their reliance on being justified and made right before God, on God’s shoulders, not their obedience to the law.
In the second half of the verse, we read a quote from Leviticus. “The one who does them shall live by them” (Galatians 3:12). What or who is the word “Them” referring to?—I had a friend in church say this could be what his detractors are saying to distort the gospel—Let’s read the reference and find out. Leviticus 18,
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord. ( Leviticus 18:1–5)
God was saying, if you have the rules, obey them. Live what you believe. Don’t be hypocritical. Do what you say; however, how does this work with the previous verse? What if you fail? How do we deal with failure? For example, one of the laws we read in Deuteronomy deals with honoring our mothers and fathers. What if we mess that up? How do we get right? The Bible teaches, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). I have broken all of God’s laws if that is the case. How about you? The matter is that the Bible says that nobody is right before God (Psalm 14:3). So do we live by the law or by faith? How do we live? How do we keep going?
So what do we do? Where is our hope? It brought death to Adam and Eve and promised us the same. That is where verse 13 breaks in like a ray of sunshine. Look at Galatians 3 verse 13. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). What is the curse of the law? Paul wrote that a person couldn’t be right by following the law. It condemns us. The law demonstrates that we are disobedient. Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” So, if we break the law, we are looking at a curse of death. But the gem of verse 13 is that Christ took our sin by becoming a curse. Romans chapter 6 goes on and agrees with that, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)—What is odd is that it says that Jesus became a curse by hanging on a tree? He died on a cross. Did you ever think that? Well, the cross is made out of what? Wood. Where does the wood come from? A tree. This thought about curse and hanging is from Deuteronomy 21 verses 22 and 23—Jesus removes our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He purifies us and makes us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Paul summed up his thoughts in verse 14. “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14). This is good news and sounds like what we read last week. By faith, God blesses us just like he blessed Abraham. How? Let me count the ways: Jesus became a sin for us. He took our place. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In the children’s book, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the character Edmund betrayed his brother, Peter, and sisters, Susan and Lucy, to the White Witch. In the magical land of Narnia, that deed meant that she owned Edmund. Good and evil drew up lines for a battle. Edmund repented of his evil and ran to the good for protection. The witch sought to parley with the good. She conveyed that Edmund did wrong and, by law, must come to her and submit to her rule. Aslan, the good king, shockingly opened talks with her. He negotiated for Edmund’s life. They made a closed-door deal. Edmund survives. How? What did Aslan say? What did he promise? What did he offer? How could he subvert the law of the land? If you know the story, you know how. He promised himself for Edmund. He was the substitute. The perfect for the imperfect. The holy for the unholy. The good for the wicked. Aslan took his place. He is the Christ figure of Narnia.
In the same way, while we were enemies, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). He took our curse. He became our curse. He suffered. He died. He paid our debt. He is our righteousness and our only hope.
This passage concludes by offering one final blessing we have briefly mentioned and will mention again: the Holy Spirit. Look at verse 14. “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14). The Spirit was not new to the Jews. For centuries, they looked forward to God’s indwelling Spirit. For example, Isaiah wrote:
But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.” (Isaiah 44:1–5)
Brothers and sisters, if we believe in Jesus, we not only are justified and righteous, but we have the gift of the Holy Spirit inside us. Instead of being cursed, we are blessed. The promise of blessing to the Gentile through Abraham has come true. Why? Because of faith. Faith in what? Faith in Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us. He became our curse and has given us his Spirit in our hearts. So what? So what is the proper response to such an incredible turn of events? Praise, honor, and thanks. Let us turn to God in song and worship with vim and vigor.
If you don’t believe or have not believed in Jesus, you can. Assent in your heart right now that you are a sinner. You have been selfish and prideful. You have done things your way, not God’s. You have broken the law. And if one part, in a sense all of it. According to the Bible, you suffer under the curse like the rest of us. You may or may not feel it, but know it is true in your head. If that is you, turn to God in your heart and ask God to forgive your sin and purify you. Ask him to make you right with him because Jesus freely gave himself for you. Jesus joyfully endured the horror of his death sentence that you might have the blessing of eternal life with him. He conquered death and offers you the same if you believe. Will you? If you do, join us in praise.
Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for dying for my friends and me here. Thanks for taking our curse. Thanks for being our substitute. You are good. We love you. Hear our praises in Jesus’s name. AMEN.
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