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” …
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.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (verses 10, 13-14)
During the years prior to the Damascus Road, Paul (then known as Saul) could never have been convinced that Jesus was Messiah. For him, it was beyond imagining. We don’t know if he had ever seen Jesus in the flesh, nor if he’d heard his teaching or seen his miracles. But whatever impact any of that might have had was entirely obliterated by the cross. Saul, deeply committed Pharisee that he was, knew the Law inside and out. He knew the edict of Deuteronomy 21:23, ringing out in unyielding tones: “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”
When it came to Jesus of Nazareth, if Saul had ever entertained any doubt regarding his own convictions, the cross put it entirely to rest. How could Messiah be crucified? It was self-contradictory. The Law declared such a one cursed by God. How could this possibly be true of Messiah?
So, as Saul strode down the road that day, determinedly drawing nearer to Damascus with every step, he was absolutely convinced that he was absolutely right. Without question, Jesus was cursed by God. He knew it – the cross proved it.
But in an instant his world was turned upside down. Jesus, risen and exalted, was revealed as Lord, and Saul’s life was never the same thereafter. All his understanding was rewritten. Yes indeed, as the Law declared, Jesus was cursed as he hung on that tree. But what he now understood is that Jesus had become a curse for us. He’d done it intentionally. What a stunningly upside-down reality. Jesus, Messiah, was cursed for our sakes so that we, in turn, might be redeemed from the curse of the Law.
Which is Good News writ large when we understand the full extent of the curse. Although in his best moments Saul, the Pharisee, had been able to admit, at least to himself, the extent of his own transgressions against the Law (as he later admitted in Romans 7), yet he kept pushing it aside, focusing on his own self-righteous accomplishments, seeing himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews, top of the class. But all along it had been true, as the Law also stated, that the curse extended to “everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Much as he sought to deny it, Saul himself was included. Through Christ Jesus, the Gentiles were brought into the blessing given to Abraham. But so was “everyone”who did not – could not – keep the Law.
Wonder of wonders, Messiah came to save us all. Thank God, for we all needed it. Saul included. Me, too.
The curse is lifted. The blessing given. The promise experienced. We are redeemed. Praise his name.
Thank you, dear Lord Jesus, that you became a curse so that I could be released from the curse. Thank you for redeeming me, blessing me as you did Abraham, releasing faith in me that I might receive the fullness of your promise. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your presence. Thank you, Father, for the gift of your Son. Praise your name.
Reflect further: This passage gives us a great exchange – Jesus took the curse so that we could be relieved of it. Paul speaks of this great exchange in 2 Cor 5:21, also: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Reflect on all that has been lifted off your shoulders. Name it. Give thanks. Reflect on all you have received, purely by grace. Name it. Give thanks.