The Cross: Sign of the Curse

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Galatians 3:13-14

Now because of the forgiveness and cleansing which Christ purchased by His death, human lives can become fit temples for the Lord of glory. God Himself can dwell personally with us.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree” – that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:13-14 RSV

GOD LIVING IN US

Would you dare to say that the Almighty God is living in your life right at this moment? Has the Maker of heaven and earth come to dwell personally within you? That’s really what you’re being asked when someone inquires, “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” The astounding message of the Bible is that such a thing can happen, that it has happened and that it still happens. We may well ask, “How could such a thing possibly be? How can the heart of a human being become the home of the eternal God?

We stand here at the gates of a great mystery and yet our relationships with other persons may give us hints about it. What do we mean, for example, when we say that a teacher has poured his life or poured her life into their pupils? Or that the spirit of a great leader lives on in his closest followers? We’re talking about the power of influence, of how the personhood of one human being can somehow flow into that of another. When you associate constantly with a person, when you admire him, when you trust and love him, something of who he is becomes a part of you. His perspective on life, perhaps, his qualities of character, his ways of relating to people, maybe even his foibles and mannerisms are to some degree reproduced in you. In that sense, one human being can be said to “live” in another.

But there is an indwelling of God in human lives, the Bible tells us, which goes far beyond that. Not merely God’s likeness comes to abide in us, but God Himself. Our human personality, however, is not displaced or obliterated. God never violates anyone’s personhood, never forces His way into any life. Each person remains very much himself or herself. Yet those who experience what someone has called “the life of God in the soul of man” are very much aware that He is there. This miracle of God making His home in human hearts had been anticipated for many centuries in the Old Testament. In the earliest pages of the Bible, we learn that God wants to dwell with His people. He created man and woman in His own likeness and made Himself known to them. When He later called a special people to Himself, He promised to be their God and to dwell in their midst. The tabernacle in the wilderness became a sign of His abiding presence. In its inner sanctuary called “the Holy Place” or “the Holy of Holies,” His special nearness was promised to the people.

The same thing was true when Israel had settled in the land of Canaan. Solomon’s temple was to be God’s house, His dwelling place among His people. King Solomon marveled at that in his beautiful dedicatory prayer:

Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of thy servant and to his supplication, O LORD my God … that thy eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which thou hast said, “My name shall be there.”

1 Kings 8:27-29

Yes, God’s name, His promised faithfulness, His saving presence, was to be there in the temple, right at the center of Israel’s life.

Yet that temple, with all its magnificence and rich symbolism, was not an end in itself, not the final form of God’s presence among us. When the temple was later looted and destroyed by invaders, Israel’s prophets looked forward to something even better. Ezekiel pictures in bold visions a greater temple yet to be, out of which streams of refreshing water would flow into the desert, making everything fruitful. God was going to do a new thing and be present in a new way with His people. The Lord says:

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you.

Ezekiel 36:26-27a

The temple in Jerusalem, of course, was later rebuilt, but that didn’t seem to be the answer. The prophetic visions of God’s more manifest presence with His people were not fulfilled. That only began to happen when there appeared within Israel a man who spoke of a different kind of sanctuary. He called it “the temple of his body.” Jesus said on one occasion to His contemporaries, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He spoke, as people understood later, of His own bodily life. Jesus never made a claim more amazing, or more far reaching, than this one. All that the temple had meant in Israel’s history was now fulfilled in Him. The special place of God’s presence in the world was no longer a huge building made of wood and stone but the flesh and blood of one human life. Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. In Him God’s reign had broken into history. In Him God had come in person to visit and redeem His people. The temple was obsolete. All worship was now to center in Jesus, the Lord Incarnate. The light of the Shekinah glory was shining now, not in the temple but in His face. In this one human life, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Marvelous!

At the climax of Jesus’ ministry, they did destroy the temple of His body. Then, true to His own word, the Lord raised it up again on the third day. And this was what led to God’s personal dwelling in the lives of other men and women. Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to the Father’s right hand and sent forth the promised Holy Spirit to His people. To have God dwelling in them by His Spirit became the shared experience of all Jesus’ followers. Paul could write to the Christian community in Corinth, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” He could ask the same question of individual believers. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you which you have from God?” Paul was concerned that every Christian should recognize that his or her body had become God’s sanctuary, His holy temple.

CHRIST BEARS THE CURSE

But right here, a crucial question comes up, “How can sinful human beings be a holy temple for the Lord? What fellowship,” as the Scripture says, “has light with darkness? How can the God who is of too pure eyes to look on sin consent to dwell here in the midst of it? Since the dawn of history, our sin, our rebellion, our ingratitude, has cut us off from God. It was because of our disobedience that we were banished from God’s presence in the first place. And even when God stayed among His people in the tabernacle and in the temple, there was a wall of separation that shut them out from His immediate presence. At the entrance of the Holy of Holies, remember, hung a thick veil. Beyond that veil into that sanctuary, no Israelite could go except for the high priest. And he, only once a year, to make atonement for the sins of the people. The tabernacle, in other words, proclaimed this double message: God is in the midst of His people. And yet because of their sin, they are denied access into His presence. He is near and yet far, revealed and yet somehow hidden. Something still stands in the way.

That is the fundamental problem with which the Christian gospel deals. How can a holy God dwell with sinful people? His love moves Him toward them, but their sin repels Him. Tender mercy seeks them but outraged justice cries out against them. That’s why God came to us in Jesus, to do something about our sin. That’s why Christ died on a cross, so that the separating wall could be taken away. Matthew’s gospel tells us that in the hour of Jesus’ death, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The barrier, in other words, was broken. From God’s side, the way into His presence is now open wide.

When the apostle Paul was writing to the Galatian Christians, he wanted to show them why wayward, rebellious, sinful people like themselves could still receive the promise of God’s Spirit. He wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,” – that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:13,14

Our sins, in other words, have brought us under the wrath and curse of a righteous God. The divine law, which each has broken, condemns us all. But Christ the sinless One has borne our judgment. He who deserved only blessing was made a curse for us, dying there on a cross of shame. He dealt fully and forever with the dark reality that had shut us out of God’s presence. He died for our sins.

Now because of the forgiveness and cleansing which Christ purchased by His death, human lives can become fit temples for the Lord of glory. God Himself can dwell personally with us. The gift of the Holy Spirit, then, the presence of God in human life, comes to us only through the crucified and risen Jesus. The cross, the sign of the curse, is also the secret of the blessing.

FAITH RECEIVES THE BLESSING

How then does a person receive the Spirit? Paul leaves no room for doubt about that. We receive the promise of God’s Spirit, he claims, through faith, faith in Jesus Christ. Paul, remember, has preached the good news of Christ to these people in Galatia. His proclamation has so centered on the Cross that it was as though the crucified Jesus had been placarded, openly displayed before the people. Paul had taught them that people become right with God not through any efforts of their own but through the simple trust that receives God’s gift in Christ.

The Galatians had believed this gospel. They had trusted in Jesus as their only Savior. They had placed their full reliance on Him for pardon and peace with God. And they had received, each one, the gift of God’s Spirit. Recently, however, some had been advising these Gentile believers that in order to be bona fide Christians, they had to first submit to circumcision and obey the details of the Jewish law. Only that, it was argued, could bring them into a right relationship with God.

Paul protests with white-hot intensity. He reminds them of their own experience:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith.

Galatians 3:1,2

The answer was obvious. They had found new life, they had experienced God coming to dwell within them when they had first placed their trust in Christ. For them now to depend on some legal observance, on rites and ceremonies, would be to seek by their own achievements, what God had already given them as a gift.

The question, “How does one receive the Spirit?” is still a burning issue, but in a somewhat different way. There are those who say that receiving the Spirit is an experience subsequent to conversion, not directly related to faith in Christ. Some contend that it must be preceded by the laying on of hands. Others say that it must be accompanied by the gift of tongues. Others argue that one must prepare for it by reaching a certain level of purity. Paul would have been indignant at all that and so ought we to be. There is one way to forgiveness and peace with God, one provision for inner transforming and new life, one basis on which God comes by His Spirit to dwell in our hearts. That one all-sufficient way is faith in Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again.

He bore the curse, friends, that we may have the blessing. If you will acknowledge your sin and your inability to make yourself right with God and if you will trust in Christ alone for your salvation, you will receive this very day the gift of God’s Spirit. In all His grace and power, the Lord of the universe will come to dwell in your heart. You can be sure of that. And let all who have already trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord be assured of this: God has fulfilled to you the promise of His Spirit. Whenever and wherever it was that you trusted Jesus, God came then and there to live in your heart. Praise Him for that. Acknowledge His presence. Rely upon His power. All who trust in Jesus crucified for us are God’s dwelling here on earth. They have received the blessing of the Spirit.

PRAYER: We praise You, Lord, for bearing what we deserve, that we may receive the gift of forgiveness and have Your Spirit dwelling in our hearts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.