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Catechism Class: LD15 Q39 The Curse of Sin

16/10/2021

The Curse of Sin

LORD’S DAY 15, Q39

We have been looking at Lord’s Day 15, Q39, and we have been dwelling upon this Lord’s Day for quite a few weeks.  But there’s a reason for that.  It’s concerned with the suffering of Christ – and all our Christian faith and doctrine and our hope for eternity centres of that suffering and death.  Jesus died for sinners, and specifically, he died on a cross.  That’s what this lesson is about.  Why a cross, and not some other, less brutal means of execution?  The Catechism will explain this for us, and it talks about the cross assures us that the great curse of sin has been taken from us by Christ.

The Curse of Sin

A few weeks ago in Ballymacashon Church, I preached on Acts 23. In v14, when these Jews themselves spoke about the curse under which they had placed themselves, they referred to it as ‘a GREAT curse.’  I had to stop and think about that!  I’ve heard of wicked people cursing others, even of evil-doers, like Satanists and practitioners of magic and voodoo who think they can place a ‘curse’ on others – perhaps on their enemies, – but why would anyone want to call down a curse upon THEMSELVES?  Yet that’s what they did.  It made me rethink that whole sermon, – because we, mankind are also under a great curse, – a curse that we have called down upon ourselves, a wicked and dreadful curse, and one that we cannot lift from off of us.  What’s the answer?  The Cross!

Our catechist asks us, – Q39. Does it have a special meaning that Christ was crucified and did not die in a different way? The answer we must give is: Yes. Thereby I am assured that he took upon himself the curse which lay on me,  for a crucified one was cursed by God.  

So, what is this curse that we are under?  I thought it would be interesting and informative just to return to that passage in Acts that I was referring to earlier.  In Acts 23, Paul is in Jerusalem, and now, as a Roman citizen, under arrest, but still technically innocent, he is on remand…  Paul is in the Roman army barracks, under guard, but being fed, and protected from the Jews, and with some privileges.   But there are a number of fanatical Jews who hate him, and hate the gospel enough to want him dead.  These were fanatics who would kill for the Jewish cause, for its religion and for its aim of a national restoration and freedom from Roman rule. Perhaps there was even a converted zealot among the disciples of Jesus, “Simon called Zelotes”. They were so fanatical that they had placed themselves under a great curse.  Acts 23: and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.  In verse 14 when these fanatics enlist the priests in their plot they refer to the curse as being very great! It was a very serious oath indeed, and it involved a period of fasting until the oath had been fulfilled, and Paul was dead. There are two indications of its seriousness.  Firstly, the dreadful word used. The word for ‘vow’ or ‘curse’ used here is the Greek word ἀναθεματίζω (anathematizō). It the same word that Paul himself used when he wrote to the Galatians about people who preach a false gospel. Galatians 1:8-9  There it could literally be rendered, ‘let him go to hell!’  AMP: But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we [originally] preached to you, let him be condemned to destruction!  This is one serious curse!  It has dreadful consequences too. Here’s another indication of its seriousness; the Talmud stated that the punishment for breaking a vow is the death of one’s children.  That’s an indication of just how fanatical and determined these men were.

Let me take you back to another, similar curse, sworn by the Jews who were outside Pilate’s Judgement Hall, at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, in Matthew 27:25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.  That too was a curse, and like this other curse, it was a reaction to Christ, to the Gospel and the messages of forgiveness in Christ, through grace alone.  Jesus had been before the Roman governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, and had been mercilessly whipped, mocked, dressed in a purple robe and with the sharp, wicked thorns on his head.  Now he stands before the Jews and Pilate asks them who he will release, Jesus, or Barabbas.  They make their choice.  Barabbas.  “What will I do then with Jesus?” Asks Pilate.  “Crucify him…”. When Pilate insists that they take responsibility for the death of a man who had done nothing wrong, that’s hen they call down the curse upon themselves and their children.  The essence of the curse is the wilful rejection of God, his law, and his means of salvation – His Son Jesus.  It’s what we have done from Adam’s day to this day.  Paul sums it up in Romans 1:18-24 

Now, this is where we must pause, and remember that we too are under a great curse, far greater even than the curse upon the heads of those Jews that day.  

  • It is a SELF INFLICTED Curse.  We bear Adam’s curse.  The curse of sin, and guilt and condemnation.  Like those Jews, our curse is self-inflicted.  We have called it down upon our own heads, by our rebellion and wilful rejection of God’s law.  We fall short of God’s standards and requirements.  We miss the mark – we break God’s righteous law.  Galatians 3:10.  
  • It is a WEIGHTY and DREADFUL Curse.  This curse is OUR anathema.  It is even more awful than the curse that the Jews wrecked upon themselves, and it will bind us to a lost and unending eternity.  I want you today, because of what I am going to say next, to fully appreciate the weightiness, and the horror of this self inflicted curse.  See how Jesus, our loving Saviour describes it.  Mark 9:44-48  
  • It is an INESCAPABLE Curse.  I’m told that the Jewish curse, binding and horrendous as it was, could nevertheless be escaped from – there was a get-out clause, if it became impossible to keep the vow.  But for the curse of sin, and the curse of the law, there is no get-out clause!  Someone had to bear the full burden of the curse, someone had to pay the debt for the broken covenant.  We are unable to pay and we are doomed.  

Now, you can see our plight.  We have by our natural birth, this awful curse hanging over us, a curse that will eventually bring us to the very pit of hell itself.  But God’s justice, and his terrible anger with our sin, is tempered by his love, and his mercy for sinners.  I want you now, having grasped the awfulness of the curse, and the consequences of the curse, to be able to appreciate more fully, what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross.  He TOOK OUR CURSE. The anathema, the weight of our awful punishment was laid upon Him and he bore it, our of love for you and me! My eternal punishment was laid on him.  In Q39, the Heidelberg Catechism asks, Does it have a special meaning that Christ was crucified and did not die in a different way?  Yes. Thereby I am assured that he took upon himself the curse which lay on me, for a crucified one was cursed by GodGalatians 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:  God cursed his own son, so that you and I would not have to suffer the consequences of our curse. Jesus, bore the curse for ME! 

The 17th century Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt wrote:

Extended on a cursed tree,
Besmeared with dust, and sweat, and blood,
See there, the King of Glory see!
Sinks and expires the Son of God.

2. Who, who, my Saviour, this hath done?
Who could Thy sacred body wound?
No guilt Thy spotless heart hath known,
No guile hath in Thy lips been found.

3. I, I alone, have done the deed!
'Tis I Thy sacred flesh have torn;
My sins have caused Thee, Lord, to bleed,
Pointed the nail, and fixed the thorn.

4. The burden, for me to sustain
Too great, on Thee, my Lord, was laid;
To heal me, Thou hast borne my pain;
To bless me, Thou a curse wast made.

Podcast Airs: December 14th, 2021

One Comment
  1. Henry H McAuley permalink

    Psalm.81:12; God gave Israel up to the lust of their own hearts. Romans 1:24; God gave the ungodly up to uncleanness through the lust of their own hearts….
    But God … John 3:16 gave (up) His only begotten Son to the curse of the cross, that we may be saved.
    What a Saviour who gives….all other religions demand.

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