The title for this post comes from Galatians 3:13 which reads: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree…” For many it is a familiar passage that specifically speaks of Christ’s death on the cross as an atoning sacrifice. It was there where he bore the curse for our sins thus propitiating (quenching, satisfying) the wrath of God for us.
Matthew Tuininga has an interesting take on this verse. He argues that we often speak about this redemption from the curse in abstract ways - we have broken God's commands, we deserve his wrath and punishment, but Christ took that in our place. He affirms that those things are true but he also brings clarity to the phrase" Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law." Tuininga writes:
"Reformed people are very good at explaining why Christians are no longer bound by the Jewish ceremonial law. We understand quite well that although its function was to point forward to Christ, we no longer need the sign now that we have the substance. What Reformed people realize less often is that Scripture talks in a similar way about the Israelite penal code. Indeed, the New Testament declares explicitly that Jesus fulfilled the curse of the law as it was represented in the civil penalties administered to those who committed various crimes. As Paul says in Galatians 3:13-14...In other words, the curse that Christ fulfilled was the curse of the Israelite penal code. The prescription of capital punishment for 30 various crimes that could be committed by Israelites – ranging from rebellion against parents to adultery, witchcraft and sabbath violation – was never designed as a model of civil government for all nations. It was not an expression of the moral law, or of natural law. On the contrary, the purpose of such capital punishment was to teach Israel about the curse that falls upon sin and injustice. It was this curse that Jesus satisfied, and his satisfaction of the curse made it possible for the wall that divided the Jews and Gentiles to be broken down (Ephesians 2), such that the gospel of faith could be preached to all nations."
Having recently preached through the book of Galatians I must confess that I did not see this point. What is so helpful about this analysis is the connection between our sins (crimes) and the specific punishment for our sins. All of a sudden our sins look much worse than we may have thought. Likewise, Christ’s work as our penal substitute is seen in a richer, fuller light. Now we see him not in abstract terms as a “sin-bearer” but as a man convicted of crimes he did not commit and punished for those crimes.
The next time I reference Galatians 3:13 in our worship service this point will be made clear for my congregation. If you are a pastor I hope you will do the same.