For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 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”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:10-14 ESV
[Moses said:] “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” Deuteronomy 11:26-28 ESV
In ancient Babylon there was a king named Hammurabi, who developed a code of laws for his people. There were laws for many different kinds of things, including murder, attack, divorce, adoption, debt, merchant’s fees, farming practices, and even disputes over the brewing of beer. For people who broke the laws, the punishments they were to receive were also part of the code. The punishments were often very harsh. The death penalty was given even for stealing something from a temple or the palace, or for shielding a runaway slave. King Hammurabi wanted the kings that followed him to continue to obey his code of laws, and he put a curse on any king who would try to change his laws. Part of the curse reads: “Anu, the father of the gods, the one who designated me to rule, will surely remove from him the splendor of sovereignty, whether that man is a king or a lord or a governor or a person appointed to some other function, and he will smash his staff and curse his destiny.”
God’s law carries a curse for anyone who doesn’t obey it perfectly, and that curse is death and eternal separation from God. King Hammurabi could put to death people who broke his law, but he couldn’t do anything to them after that. He tried to put a curse on people who came after him who might change his law, but only God can really put a curse on someone and make it come true. None of us could ever obey the law perfectly, but God has had mercy on us and put our curse on Jesus. Under God’s law, anyone who was hanged on a tree was considered cursed, and Jesus was hung on the tree of the cross. When he hung there, God punished him for the sins of the whole world, and Jesus took away our curse for us.
We can’t earn God’s love or favor by obeying his law, no matter how hard we try. Instead, God’s love and forgiveness come to us as a gift that is ours by faith. God the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith so that we trust in what Jesus has done for us, and because of that God sees us as righteous. A righteous person is someone who has kept the law perfectly, but our righteousness is a gift. God gives us Jesus’ righteousness, and he sees us through Jesus, his holy Son who obeyed the law perfectly for us and took away its curse when he died on the cross.
Dear Jesus, thank you for taking the curse of the law away from us and for giving us your righteousness instead. Amen.