Sermon on Galatians 3:10-13 for Good Friday, April 19, 2019
- I’m afraid the word “curse” is a foreign word to us. Yes, we know what people say when they accidentally hit their thumb with a hammer or shut their fingers in a door. That’s cursing. Our Catechism class definition of cursing is “Using God’s name to wish evil on someone or something.” Maybe we saw something about a curse in a horror movie. A man is under a curse and whenever the moon is full, he turns into a werewolf. That’s fantasy. What is a curse in reality? It’s a combination of shame and hopelessness and condemnation—and dread because there is no way out of it.
- In Galatians, St. Paul said, “Those who rely on the works of 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.’” To paraphrase and expand on what Paul said, “Those who think they can get to heaven by obedience to God’s commands or by doing good things will be left with nothing but shame and hopelessness and condemnation and dread, because nobody can keep everything perfectly. Nobody’s good deeds will ever be good enough.” Even when we think we’ve done everything right outwardly, our conscience accuses us. “Was your heart really in it?” “Did you do the good deed simply to be seen?” “Was your motivation truly selfless?” God knows—and deep down, we do too.
- Does that mean that there is no point in doing good? Absolutely not. God gives us his commandments, and tells us to love him and serve our neighbor. He even tells us to imitate him in his love (Ephesians 5:1). Jesus told his disciples, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The good deeds can’t flow from our hearts because our hearts are twisted and uncertain—we are never sure of our own motivations. Instead, good deeds must flow from faith in Jesus.
- Earlier, we heard Jesus say “It is finished!” That means “Everything that needs to be done is done.” And what needed to be done? Isaiah told us. “The punishment to bring us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way, but the LORD has laid on him the guild of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6). This is what covers our sin—Jesus himself. This is what makes us holy and blameless in God’s sight—not our holiness or blamelessness—we have none. Jesus’ blood and righteousness. This is what we must trust. With us there is nothing but doubt. “Have I done enough?” “Was I good enough for God?” and that nagging is that curse at work. With Jesus there is no doubt. He is the Father’s only Son, in whom he was well pleased. And the lord laid on him the guilt of us all.
- “Clearly no one is declared righteous before God by the law, because ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” …specifically, faith in Christ and his death to take our sin and give us his righteousness. God forgives your sins—that’s his gift to you. So what does that mean? The curse is lifted from you because Jesus took it already. Shame, hoplessness, condemnation and dread. None of that needs to be yours anymore. Sometimes we hold on to those things. The memory doesn’t let them go easily. Sometimes we even say, “I just can’t forgive myself.” God forgives. He declares that to you. And he wants you to live by faith.
- That verse, “The righteous will live by faith” is one that we Lutheran’s know well as part of our heritage. Martin Luther read that verse and learned that all the things he was told to do to get God’s peace were worthless because Jesus already gives God’s peace. Instead of fretting, “I can’t forgive myself.” “What can I do to get peace?” enjoy the peace God has already given. You have been made righteous because Jesus has given you his righteousness. Live by faith. What does faith in an all-good, all-holy, self-sacrificing Savior move you to do? That’s where the good deeds come in—as our response to God’s love. That’s what “living by faith” means, too.
- “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” That word “redeem” has some history to it. Usually we say that “redeem” means “to buy back” or “to ransom.” But in Greek and Roman times, “redeem” meant something else. The Greeks and Romans had slaves—it was not as brutal as American slavery before the Civil War—but it was still a terrible practice. If you were a slave, you were owned by someone else. Many times people became slaves because they owed a great debt, so they sold themselves into slavery and worked until they could pay off their debts, which usually meant (That sounds a lot like a curse, doesn’t it?) If you were a slave, and you had a wealthy friend or relative, that friend or relative could redeem you. That means pay your debt and give you your freedom. That’s what Christ’s redemption means for us. We now owe God nothing for our sins—nothing but our thanks for the price that has already been paid for us. We are no longer bound by our sin, stuck in our disobedience, in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves—because someone else, Jesus, has already freed us. That’s our power for living by faith. It’s also our chief weapon in fighting temptation. We can say, “I am freed by Christ. I am forgiven by his blood. I have a better master than the devil, who wants to burden and destroy me. I have a better master than the world, that wants to drag me into destruction with it. I have Christ who gave himself for me so that I could be his and so I could be free.
- I’m afraid the last sentence of our lesson is lost on us. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” That was something God wrote in his Old Testament law that forbade letting a body hang on a tree or pole (Deuteronomy 21:23). The Romans governed their empire with fear, and crucifixion was meant to be shameful and fearful. Christians did not depict a crucified Jesus in art or use the cross as a symbol until about a hundred years after crucifixion was abolished in the Roman empire. The reason was that crucifixion was familiar to them, and it was horrifying. It took the passing of several generations until everyone forgot the horror of it, and then to remember what happened to Jesus, they made crosses, crucifixes and paintings. But more than the horror of crucifixion, the curse of it was borne by Jesus. The sin of the world. He became sin, or a sin offering, for us. He became a curse for us… all so that we could live by faith under him as God’s people.
Galatians 3:10-13 (EHV)
10 In fact, those who rely on the works of 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.” 11 Clearly no one is declared righteous before God by the law, because “The righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law does not say “by faith.” Instead it says, “The one who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. As it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”