Galatians 3:13

Sermon preached on February 20, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Growing up on Cape Breton Island was for the most part a great experience. But there was one part of it that at times would almost scare me to death. That had to do with the tradition of ghost stories, haunted houses, forerunners, séances, the curse of the evil eye and things like that. Normally, those things didn't bother me, as I considered them nonsense. But the problem was that these stories were often told after dark when we were in a frightening situation. For example, the biggest memory I have of ghost stories is when I was camping with our friends—as we were going to sleep someone would tell a ghost story. There wouldn't be any adults around to protect us and my friends would scare us with their stories that they swore were true. But even worse than that was the fact that some adults would tell us some stories and swear they were true. To children, adults have a great deal of credibility and it was very disconcerting to have an adult scaring you half to death with a ghost story. I don't know why they'd joke with kids like that, but that's what some of them did. But even worse was when I found out that there were books about these stories. I remember being terrified by one particular book. It was called, Bluenose Ghosts. The reason that book was scary was because it was about Nova Scotian Ghosts—(hence the name of the book) and the vast majority of the stories (according to my memory) were about incidents that happened in Cape Breton. One time we were camping and someone brought this book along. We were in the middle of nowhere and he read some of the stories that happened right there. There ware ghost stories about places we knew and visited. But then I didn't know that a lot of what is written in books isn't true—so it was particularly disturbing.

I'll give you one example. This is not from Bluenose Ghosts, for this story is too mild for that. Rather it's from a book called, "The Highland Heart in Nova Scotia". It was written by Neal MacNeil, a former editor of the New York Times, who, as a young boy, spent some of his summers on the Washabuckt Peninsula at his grandparents home. Our cottage is on the Washabuckt Peninsula so you can relate to how a story would impact a young child. In the book, the author relates an incident about the curse of the 'evil eye', that he insisted was true. He writes, (p. 79-80)

"I did have a personal experience with the evil eye, and to this I can testify, simply telling what I saw and heard. Grandfather and I were riding in our buggy one day. We stopped to pass the time of day with a neighbor. A grandfather and the neighbor asked about each other's families and about their crops, and made small talk about other matters. In the course of the conversation I noticed the neighbor looking intently at Old Maud, Grandfather's mare which was standing relaxed and glad of the chance to rest."That's a fine animal you have, Michael Eoin," remarked the neighbor. "Indeed and she is, and may Saint Columba bless her," replied Grandfather.Shortly after this we were again on her way; but something had happened to Old Maud. The mare limped badly in her hind right foot, so badly in fact that she could make progress only with difficulty. I was doing the driving. I thought she might have picked up a stone in her shoe, or that a nail or stone had injured her foot. I got out and examined the hoof and found nothing was wrong with it. We drove on and Old Maude was as lame as ever.Grandfather, who was watching this performance in silence, finally spoke."That neighbor has the evil eye," he said. "That is why I asked for Saint Columba's blessing on the poor creature. I was trying to save her. Water off silver will cure the spell. So let her move along gently until we reach some water.This we did. When we reached a small brook I stopped the horse and grandfather lent me a silver coin. Under his instructions I held it in my cupped hand and get some water from the stream. I rubbed the water first and then the coin on old mare's leg and foot. After some of this grandfather remarked: "That will do."I got back in the buggy and we drove off. Old Maud's limp was gone; in fact I never saw her more happy or more sprightly."

I tend to be totally skeptical about such things—but you can perhaps understand how a young boy would find stuff like that scary—especially coming from an adult. Although I'm skeptical about such superstitions, I have no doubt that demonic activity gave them their start.

Although I'm not particularly worried about someone giving me the evil eye, we must not discount the reality and horribleness of the curses that we read about in the Bible. They are very real. We read about them first in relation to the fall into sin at the beginning of Genesis. The serpent was cursed after he was used by Satan to tempt Eve. From then on he had to crawl on his belly and eat dust. The woman was placed under the curse of pain in childbirth. The ground was cursed so that it easily produces thorns and thistles, man has to work hard to get good crops.

But the worst curse of all is that of death. It applied to both men and women. That's the curse that we all need to get out from under from. It's that curse that the apostle Paul deals with in our text. He writes, (Galatians 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 is hung on a tree.'"

The first great truth we see here is that

there is a curse associated with the law.

If you're not a Christian you need to pay close attention to this. If you are going to do one worthwhile thing in your life it should be getting out from under the curse of the law. You're doomed if you don't. In verse 10 Paul wrote,

"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.'"

The law demands perfection. It demands that we keep it perfectly. It demands that we keep both tables of the law—that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

But none of us can do that. As Romans 3:23 says,

"for all have sinned and fall
short of the glory of God,"

That means that we can never get out of the curse by doing good or trying to do good. In Galatians 2:16 Paul wrote,

"know that a man is not justified
by observing the law,
but by faith in Jesus Christ.
So we, too, have put our faith
in Christ Jesus that we may be justified
by faith in Christ and not by observing the law,
because by observing the law
no one will be justified."

But what does it mean when it refers to the 'curse of the law'. What exactly is a curse?

An important thing to remember is that a curse is not a force in itself. Hermann Ridderbos tells us that we are not to think of this curse of the law, (Ridderbos, Paul, An Outline of His Theology, p. 196)

"as an independent, blind force detached from God, but as the fulfillment of the divine threat against sin."

The curse is, according to Ridderbos, (Galatians, p. 127)

"the personal judgment of God."

The curse of the law is the judgment of God against sin. It's ultimate sanction is death. When Adam sinned the great curse that was invoked was the one that was threatened beforehand. Adam was told that if he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil he would surely die. God said to him, (Genesis 2:17, HCSB)

"you must not eat from the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil,
for on the day you eat from it,
you will certainly die."

The curse of death was threatened. After Adam sinned, that curse came into being. In verse 19 of chapter 3 of Genesis God said to Adam,

"By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust
you will return."

Death is the curse of the law. Adam's body was formed from the dust of the ground and to dust it returned.

But what we must understand is that the death threatened had different aspects to it.

Physical death was only part of the curse. It is obvious from the first part of Genesis that this curse did not merely refer to physical death. This is evident from the fact that Adam didn't die physically until many years later. Yet God told him,

"on the day you eat from it,
you will certainly die."

What happened on the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit? They didn't die physically. But they did die spiritually. They realized they were naked. Their covering of glory, that came from being made in the image of God, was gone. They were undone. Later, when they heard God walking in the Garden, they were afraid and they hid themselves. They were terrified. Their reaction was something like that of Isaiah when he had his vision of God on His throne. Isaiah said, (Isaiah 6:5)

"Woe to me.
I am ruined."

Isaiah was profoundly shaken. He was faced with what felt like personal disintegration. He knew he was not fit to dwell with God.

It was the same with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The curse had taken force. They instinctively knew they were not fit to dwell with God. God confirmed this to them when He drove them out of the Garden.
Thus part of the curse of sin is separation from God.

The curse of the law also involves being subject to the wrath of God. God is holy and righteous. Sin is an affront to Him. It is opposition to His righteous rule. We read about our natural condition in Ephesians 2:1–3. Paul writes,

"As for you, you were dead
in your transgressions and sins,
in which you used to live
when you followed the ways of this world
and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air,
the spirit who is now at work
in those who are disobedient.
All of us also lived among them at one time,
gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature
and following its desires and thoughts.
Like the rest, we were by nature
objects of wrath."

Romans 1:18 says much the same,

"The wrath of God is being revealed
from heaven against all the godlessness
and wickedness of men
who suppress the truth
by their wickedness,"

Hebrews 10:27 speaks of,

"a fearful expectation of judgment
and of raging fire that will consume
the enemies of God."

The book of Revelation has much about God's wrath against sin. Revelation 6:16–17 says that those who don't know Jesus will say to the mountains and the rocks,

"Fall on us and hide us
from the face of him who sits on the throne
and from the wrath of the Lamb!
For the great day of their wrath has come,
and who can stand?"

It also speaks of the lake of fire as being the second death. (Revelation 20:14) In Matthew 13:42 Jesus spoke of how at the end of the age the angels will weed out from His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. He said,

"They will throw them
into the fiery furnace,
where there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth."

God is a terror to sinners. All who are not in Jesus will experience the curse of the law.

The second thing we see from our passage is that

in Jesus is this curse removed from His people.

Paul writes,

"Christ redeemed us
from the curse of the law
by becoming a curse for us,"

The idea here is of substitution. Christ became a curse, for us, on our behalf, in our place. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21,

"God made him who had no sin
to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God."

As Donald Macleod writes, (A Faith to Live By, p. 154)

"He is the Victim, suffering in our place. All our sin was placed on Him."

We read about this in Isaiah 53:4–6,

"Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace
was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all."

To really appreciate the horror of the curse of the law, we should consider the horror that Jesus experienced in His suffering and death.

Consider what Jesus experienced. What happened in the Garden of Gethsemane is astounding. Jesus was almost crushed there. We read, (Mark 14:33)

"He took Peter,
James and John along with him,
and he began to be
deeply distressed and troubled."

He said to them, (Matthew 26:38)

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow
to the point of death."

John Calvin says,

"This phrase expresses a deadly wound of grief;""When He saw the wrath of God put before Him, as He set Himself before His tribunal, burdened with the sins of the whole world, He was bound to be terrified at the profound abyss of death."

In the Garden Jesus was taking our sins upon Himself and it almost crushed him. It was as if the mouth of hell opened in front of Him. He staggered under the curse of the law.

Yet, as Hugh Martin reminds us, Gethsemane is but the shadow of Calvary. The horrors had just begun. Consider being nailed to a cross and suffering for hours there. Consider being naked on a cross. The horror. The shame. The humiliation. Consider the mocking of the people around. They paraded in front of Him, taking turns hurtling insults at him and disparaging Him.

On the cross, when Jesus was made a curse for us. There was no one to help. He cried out in a loud voice, (Matthew 27:4

"My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?"

Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after the fall into sin. When they heard God coming they hid themselves. They were afraid. God's presence was terrifying. Yet, that feeling in Adam and Eve was but a small part of the horribleness of separation that their sin caused. God was being gracious to them in not having them feel the horrors of hell and ultimate separation from Him in His wrath. The feeling of terror that they experienced in the Garden was but a miniscule preview of the horror of the full force of the curse.

Jesus felt the full horror of the curse. He was abandoned by God. Donald Macleod writes, (A Faith to Live By, p. 146)

"Above all, He experienced the agony of being forsaken by God His Father, and becoming, as Bearer of the world's sin, the Great Outsider."

The Apostle's Creed says that Jesus descended into hell. Some Christians today will tell you that we shouldn't say that because it's not totally accurate. In one sense they're right. When Jesus died He committed His soul to the Father. It was in the Father's hands. You'll remember when He laid down His life He said, (Luke 23:46)

"Father, into your hands
I commit my spirit."

He also said to the criminal on the cross, (Luke 23:43)

"I tell you the truth,
today you will be with me in paradise."

That suggests that Jesus' soul went to heaven, not hell.

Nevertheless, I think there are good reasons for leaving the expression, 'He descended into hell' in the creed. His body was in the grave. It was separated from His soul. He tasted death. He underwent the curse. While on the cross, as John Calvin says, (Institutes, 2.16.10)

"it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death."

What He experienced on the cross was the terrors of death, the terrors of hell. He was not being dealt with as a Son, but as Sin. (Macleod). Donald Macleod writes, A Faith to Live By, p. 146)

"There was no answer to the Son's cry. There was no comfort. Jesus was left God-less, with no perception of His own Sonship, unable for the one and only time in His life to say, 'Abba, Father.'. He was left with no sense of God's love and no sense of the operation of God's purpose." "in the moment of the Son's greatest need and greatest pain, God is not there. The Son cries and is not heard."

Now what does this mean for us?

First, for those of you who are not Christians,

without Christ you are cursed.

This is a truth that we should all understand. If people today understood that they were under a curse, that they are lost, they might begin looking for a solution. But because most people in our society have been fooled by Satan and the lies of our society, they think that they're okay.

If you're not a believer in Jesus you're in a terrible predicament. You're cursed. The most important thing for you to do is to get out from under this curse. Only Jesus can do that. Go to Him today.

Secondly, for Christians,

appreciate what Jesus has done for you, what He has saved you from.

You were cursed. He took that for you. You never had such a friend as Jesus. He redeemed you from the curse of the law.

The word 'redeemed' comes from the ancient marketplace. It was often used at the slave market and referred to the purchase price of a slave. Sometimes a relative or friend would buy a slave back from captivity and grant him his freedom. The slave would be liberated through the payment of a ransom.

But at what price was our ransom accomplished? Usually in the marketplace, the slave was sold to the highest bidder. In our case, the price of our ransom was the incredibly high—nothing less than the death of Jesus. As we read in 1 Peter 1:18–19,

"For you know that it was not with
perishable things such as silver or gold
that you were redeemed
from the empty way of life
handed down to you from your forefathers,
but with the precious blood of Christ,
a lamb without blemish or defect."

Christians, how you should appreciate what Jesus has done for you. Live for Jesus. Forsake sin. Praise His great name. Bring Him glory and honor to His great name.

May God give us all grace to do so.