I believe that our understanding of the cross, our worship of the crucified Christ, our celebration of the cross, and the level of passion or emotion we bring to the cross is really a result of our understanding of the cross. Really, the theological foundation for the cross is what leads us to worship. It’s not enough to know that Jesus was innocent and that Jesus was betrayed.
It was of course tragic. But it is not enough to know that Jesus was hated by His own people. It is not enough to know that He was beaten, scourged, mocked, humiliated and nailed to the cross. All of those things are true and elicit a certain amount of emotion, but it falls short of what really is the true understanding of the cross. A lot of people have been mistreated, betrayed, humiliated and executed.
There’s something far more significant about the cross. Look at Galatians 3 again that will help us tonight to get a fresh perspective on the cross to take us to a higher level of worship. Galatians 3: 10 begins with, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law to perform them.’
And continues with verses 11-13, “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident, for the righteous man shall live by faith. 12 However, the law is not of faith. On the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them.’ 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us. For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”
In order to understand the cross, we must understand what it means that Christ became a curse for us. What is the meaning? Well the Bible is actually filled with curses from the beginning to the end and all the way through. So what is a curse? It is a pronunciation of destruction, of doom, of damnation on someone. In ancient times many efforts were made to bring curses on people who were hated.
In the Old Testament, there was a prophet for hire named Balaam, a diviner and a soothsayer. Numbers 22:6 says, “Because whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” He could invoke curses that apparently came to pass. When the land across the Jordan was threatened by the invading Israelites, Balak the king of Moab, called for Balaam, to come and curse Israel.
However, God took over and Balaam wound up pronouncing a blessing on Israel rather than a curse. Goliath cursed, by invoking demonic gods in 1 Samuel 17, on David. Shimei of Saul’s house cursed David in his flight from Absalom. Both were as futile as Balaam’s effort to curse. Far more important are the many curses in the Bible invoked by God Himself.
In Deuteronomy 27 and 28, the blessings are not mentioned but the curses are mentioned. And they all are a result of violating the Law of God. This is to dramatize and symbolize this not only for Israel but for everybody else who violates the Law of God, you’re under a curse. And that is exactly what we read in Galatians 3:10. Not just Israel, but anybody who violates the Law of God is cursed.
Moses declares to Israel in Deuteronomy 27:9, “Oh Israel! This day you have become the people of the Lord!” 10 Now, on the basis of that, you are called to obey.” If you obey, you will be blessed. But if you disobey you will be cursed. Now here is the clear concept of the divine curse. Now to dramatize the significance of this covenant, Moses held an amazing ceremony.
Moses went to Shechem in north Israel, where there were two mountains. On the one side is Mount Gerizim and he asked six tribes to go to the top of that mountain. The other was Mount Ebal, and he asked six tribes to go to the top of that mountain. The six on Gerizim symbolized blessings. And the six on Ebal symbolized cursing. Now you have a choice. So what do you choose to receive from God?
That's the choice that God offered to the Israelites. And you know something amazing? Did Israel gather at Gerizim in their history? The mountain of blessing? No. They gathered at Ebal, the mountain of cursing. And all those things that were prophesied happened. That whole thing is fulfilled in the history of Israel. But they were warned. When God curses, He curses.
In Deuteronomy 28 are some extracts in which the curses are stated. If you disobey Me, if you break My Law, “20 The Lord will send upon you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your doings, because you have forsaken Me. 22 The Lord will smite you with fever, drought and mildew.”
25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. You shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 Your dead bodies shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. 28 The Lord will smite you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29 You shall grope at noon day as the blind grope in darkness.
30 You shall betroth a wife but another man shall lie with her. 32 Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, and there shall be no strength in your hand to prevent it. 45 All these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes.
58 If you’re not careful to do all the words of this Law which are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, severe and lasting, and sicknesses grieving and lasting. 60 He will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt which you were afraid of and they shall cleave to you every sickness.
61 Every affliction which is not recorded in the book of this Law the Lord will bring upon you until you are destroyed. 64 And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone which neither you nor your fathers have known. 68 You shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.
When Shimei tried to kill David, Abishai came to David and said, "King David, take off his head!" But David refused because David was not a vengeful man. Listen, whenever David invoked the curse of God against anybody it had nothing to do with what that individual had done to David. It had to do with David's zeal for the righteousness and the holiness and the majesty of God.
And in Psalm 69:9 David said, “Zeal for your house has eaten me up and the reproaches that are fallen on You are fallen on me.” And when David cried to God to act in vengeance against his enemies it was to save the name of God from tarnish, not to save David. There was no selfishness nor personal vendetta. David just loved God so much he couldn't stand God to be dishonored.
These curses for violating the Law of God, are for anyone who breaks the Law of God. The Psalms we turn to, which are so comforting and encouraging to us, are also full of curses. The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Psalm 79:12, “And return to our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom their reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord.”
The prophet Nahum pronounces a terrible curse on Nineveh, “2 The Lord is a jealous God and avenging. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries and keeps wrath for His enemies. 3 The Lord is slow to anger and of great might and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. 6 Who can endure the heat of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken asunder by Him.”
“7 The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble. He knows those who take refuge in Him. 8 But with an overflowing flood He will make an end of His adversaries and pursue His enemies into darkness. Woe to that bloody city.” Isaiah 13:9 utters a similar curse on Babylon, “Behold, the day of the Lord comes cruel with wrath and fierce anger to make the earth a desolation and destroy its sinners from it.”
But curses are not just reserved for the Old Testament. Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and all unrighteousness.” Anyone who preaches a false gospel, Paul says in Galatians 1, “Let him be cursed.” Revelation 16:6 ends with this line, “They deserve it.” In Revelation 19, hallelujahs ring through the universe as destruction comes and God is vindicated.
And Jesus describing the day when He will judge said, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into eternal fire.” All through the Bible, such curses are given. In Luke 11, He cursed the Pharisees and the scribes. In Luke 17, He cursed those who cause His own to stumble. In Luke 22, He cursed Judas, the betrayer. Paul quotes God, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
And in one of the most difficult statements in the Scripture, Revelation 16:5, "I heard the angel of the water say, “You are righteous, O Lord, The One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things.” In other words, God must judge to be righteousness. How? “6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets and you have given them blood to drink.”
They're getting exactly what they deserve. Final judgment is going to come, says Revelation 18:20. God is going to come in and wipe out the whole of human society in and when He does, "Rejoice over her,” over the fall of the final world system Babylon, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!”
This is not a surprise if you understand the holiness of God. He is holy and just, hates sin and punishes sinners. Anyone who breaks His Law is a sinner and falls under this kind of curse. 1 Corinthians 16:22 says, “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be cursed.” You say, why are you bringing all this up? Because we all have to understand what a curse from God means.
Go back to Galatians 3:13 when it says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” That’s what our redemption means. And that’s why I say, it isn’t about the emotion of a man scourged. It isn’t about the sympathy we have toward one who was betrayed and hated and rejected and misunderstood. It isn’t even that we feel sorry for the nails and the crown of thorns and the public humiliation.
What’s really happened here is that Jesus is freeing us from the divine curse that falls on all who violate the Law of God by becoming a curse for us. To understand the cross is to understand that the curse that we deserve fell on Christ. He felt the full power of the destruction that should have come on us. He took the curse. This is a monumental reality. If you don’t know what God’s curse means, it is hard to grasp what He did.
Jesus took the full impact of God’s holy wrath against all our violations of His Law. He felt the full curse in a brief period of time. And the question always comes up, how could He feel the full curse in such a brief period of time? Because He is an infinite person. It’s as if all the curse that should have fallen on all the people who would ever believe and be saved, all hit Jesus at the same time, and He bore the full curse.
So when you come to the cross and you think about the significance of the cross, you have to think about the curse. God pronounced some horrific judgments and, of course, ultimately the judgment of eternal hell on all who violated His Law. And Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, and snatched us out from under the wrath of God and took the wrath on Himself.
And did He successfully take the wrath? Yes. That’s why throughout the New Testament, it says over and over, God raised Him from the dead. God killed Him under the weight of the curse. And when His wrath was satisfied and the curse was paid for, He raised Him from the dead. What we have to understand about the cross, is not just the physical features of it, but the spiritual reality of bearing all sins to satisfy the curse.
It’s just an awesome thing to contemplate, stretching way beyond our limited minds. When we think about all the sins we’ve committed, all the violations of Your Law and how every time we sin in our whole life, we are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath, accumulating a massive accumulated judgment, every sin adding more weight to the mass of guilt.
And so it is with all men, and yet on behalf of those who are saved, Jesus Christ bears the full curse for all our sins. How wondrous is this? How rich is Your love, Your grace, and Your mercy to provide such a sacrifice for us? And such a sacrifice could only be borne by someone who is supernatural, someone who is infinite to bear such a massive curse for all men in a few hours and redeem them from the curse.
This is a time, Lord, for You to look into our hearts, and probe us by Your Holy Spirit, reveal any sin that is there that we need to confess, any sins that we have become attached to, any relentless occurring frequent sins that we cherish and perhaps even unknown to the people closest to us. Root them out of our hearts and expose them to us and cleanse us from them. Oh Lord, we are desperate without You. Let us pray.