Easter Sermon 2019
In the year 1755, on what seemed to be another typical Saturday morning in Lisbon, Portugal, a powerful earthquake (a magnitude somewhere between an 8.5-9.0) nearly destroyed the city of Lisbon. The churches were full that morning, because it was All Saints Day and 30 churches were turned to rubble with an estimated 10,000 – 100,000 casualties. The French philosopher, Voltaire, responded with a question that, no doubt, echoes what many have asked in the wake of such tragedies: “How could anybody now believe in the benevolence and omnipotence of God?” Some have concluded that because evil and suffering exist, God is neither good nor almighty.
The Bible does not provide and explanation for why God allowed suffering and evil in the first place. What the Bible does do, however, is explain the origin of evil and suffering and provides an explanation for how that evil and suffering will, one day, be overcome. Galatians 3:10-14 tells us how the Cross is our guarantee that Evil and suffering will be overcome once and for all.
Our problem, according to the Bible, is that we are all under a curse. The origin of our problem is ancient and can be traced all the way back to a garden. We are told that in the beginning, God created everything and all of it was good. The first human couple, Adam and Eve, were given the freedom to enjoy everything in the garden, but were not permitted to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). It is in the garden that we are introduced to a Serpent, who is also known by a host of other names such as Lucifer (Isa. 14:12), the Adversary (1 Peter 5:8), the Deceiver (Rev. 12:9), the Devil (1 John 3:8), and Satan, to name five.
Genesis 3, shows Eve with Adam before the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil talking to the serpent. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” asked the serpent. This question was his way of getting Adam and Eve to question the truthfulness and good of God. Satan also told the couple that they would not die if they ate the fruit even though God said that they would. Adam and Eve believed the serpent and ate the fruit that God told them not to eat. Jesus said of the serpent that he, “was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, a curse was place upon them and the creation for which they were supposed to care and manage. To the woman, God promised that in the giving of life, she would be reminded of death. To the man, God promised that in the bringing of life from the ground he would be reminded of death. Both Adam and Eve, and all who would come after them, would lose to the great enemy of life, which is death.
However, of the serpent, God promised: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). In other words, what God promised Adam and Eve was that one would be born out of the human race who would destroy the serpent, but not without the serpent first wounding him.
Every single one of us was born into the world, cursed, with a nature bent on sinning. Satan is not the cause of most of the world’s evil and suffering; likewise, neither are his demons the cause for most of the evil and suffering in the world. We are the cause of most of the evil and suffering in the world. We may not be the cause for catastrophic earthquakes, tornados, or tsunamis, but the sin problem of humanity is linked to preventable diseases, world hunger, poverty, trafficking of children, slavery, and so much more. We are a cursed race in great need of a deliverer that God promised he would one day send.
What does it mean to be cursed? For the Red Sox, it was believed to be the curse of the Bambino, because the team traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankee’s and did not win another World Series Title again until 2004. Some might think that one of the jersey’s that I wore only twice is cursed, because the first time I wore it, I crashed into a car whose driver cut right in front of me, and the second time I wore it, I crashed and fractured my pelvis.
When the Bible states that we are under a curse, it is not referring to “bad luck.” It is referring to both a physical and spiritual death that we all deserve. To be under the curse of God is to be under the judgment of God. To be cursed, is to be incapable of living up to a standard of righteousness that God requires, because of his perfect, sinless, and holy nature. In fact, our greatest problem is that God is holy and we are not. The curse we are under and we experience is the result of a relationship for which we are all made, but are hostile against from the moment of birth. The Bible says of all mankind: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
When it comes to the 10 commandments, what we learn is that they serve to remind us that no matter what we do, or how hard we try, we will always fall short of obeying God’s commandments perfectly. And for those who feel that they are doing a pretty good job at keeping the commandments, the Bible states: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (Jas. 2:10). God’s commandments reveal to us just how far we really are from measuring up to God’s standard of a righteousness that would warrant our salvation.
The apostle Paul states in Galatians 3:10 that, “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.” What he means is that anyone who thinks that they can go to church enough, be religious enough, read their Bible enough, or whatever else one might think they can do to obtain a level of righteousness to make God obligated to forgive, or to get a pass into heaven, is still under the same curse that affects us all. These sentiments are why Paul continues in verse 11, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” It is evident, because no one can be justified before God by anything they do religiously. The prophet Isaiah states, “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (64:6; NIV).
What we need to remedy our problem, is a perfect righteousness that is impossible for us to generate on our own. This need is where faith comes in, and this need is where the bad news of Galatians 3:10, becomes good news in Galatians 3:13.
What is our hope? Our hope is that there is one who is able to save us from our sins by providing us with a righteousness that is impossible for us to generate on our own. Oh, my dear friends, what we learn from Galatians 3:13-14 is that God provided us with the righteousness we need through Jesus Christ! Look at verse 13, you have got to see this! “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…’”.
“How is it that a person is cursed on a tree?” I am glad you asked. The answer is found in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 21:22–23). In other words, God commanded the Hebrew people under Moses, that if a person committed a sin that was punishable by death, and was serious enough, after that person was put to death, their body was hung on a wooden post, or tree, as a deterrent. Anyone whose body was hung on a tree or post was viewed as one extraordinarily cursed.
Although the tree that was used to hang Jesus was one created by the Romans, it was a tree nonetheless. The difference between Jesus and those sinners who were hung on trees, is that Jesus was innocent and was not cursed, but became a curse on behalf of those who were. The tree on which Jesus was hung was not a living organism, but an instrument of torture and death. The word we use to describe pain at its highest level is “excruciating.” Did you not that “excruciating” literally means: “from the cross?” As horrifying and terrible as crucifixion was, this was not the worst experience Jesus had while on the cross.
Hours before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed in another garden, but it was not Eden; it was called the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus went off to pray, he told his disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…” When Jesus prayed, he asked: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” The cup Jesus referenced in his prayer, was the cup of Isaiah 51:17, “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.” As Jesus prayed, we are told that he sweat drops of blood, which can happen when a person is under great stress, because Jesus was to bear the full cup. He was to accept the wrath of God in our place.
Here is the point of Resurrection Sunday: when Jesus died on the cross for your sin and mine, He wasn’t cursed, but instead, he became our curse. Jesus wasn’t just punished for sin, but on the cross, he became our sin. The Bible says that on the cross something amazing happened: “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus wore the crown of thorns, and the ground quaked, because He became a curse for us so that we could one day be liberated.
While dying the death we all deserved, Jesus made seven comments; one of those statements was in the form of a prayer. While hanging on the cross, Jesus prayed: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46)? What did not occur to me until this week was that this is the only time that Jesus addressed his Father as ‘God’ instead as a father while praying. Every other time Jesus prayed, he addressed God has “Father.” But on the cross, Jesus referred to his Father as God.
The reason Jesus staggered over the cup of God’s wrath in Gethsemane is the same reason for his referencing his Father as “God.” On the cross, Jesus not only became sin. On the cross, Jesus not only became the curse. But on the cross, Jesus was treated as evil by his Father. On the cross, Jesus was forsaken and abandoned by God so that we would never abandoned or forsaken. On the cross, Jesus experience the wrath of God, so that we could know the grace, mercy, and love of God. On the cross Jesus prayed: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me.” So that we can stand before God not as one who is cursed and condemned, but as sons and daughters who are redeemed by the shed blood of his Son. As one song so adequately celebrates:
Alone in my sorrow and dead in my sin
Lost without hope with no place to begin
Your love made a way to let mercy come in
When death was arrested and my life began
Released from my chains I’m a prisoner no more
My shame was a ransom He faithfully bore
He cancelled my debt and He called me His friend
When death was arrested and my life began.
However, if Jesus stayed dead, then all we would have are the empty promises of a dead martyr. The curse of sin is both spiritual and physical. Jesus had to die to redeem us from the spiritual bondage of sin as the only one qualified to do so in our place. However, for there to be a complete victory over the curse of sin, Jesus not only had to die for our sin, but he had to defeat death by rising from it. The only way for evil and suffering to be swallowed up by life was for Jesus to walk out of that grave by defeating death. The good news is not only that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, but also that he was raised on the third day. He rose because it was not possible for the giver of life to be held by death (see Acts 2:24).
Outside of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no hope for mankind, because the empty tomb is affirmation that what Christ did on the cross was enough to reconcile me to a God who is legitimately angry over my sin. The resurrection of Jesus Christ assures me that I can know God as my heavenly Father, instead an angry judge whose wrath I deserve. In another part of the Bible, the apostle Paul explained why the resurrection is so necessary when it comes to the curse: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:19–22). Through the cross, and because the tomb is empty, evil, suffering, and death all have a shelf life with an expiration date that will indeed come one day!
In a moment we will sing a song as we conclude our celebration of the resurrection and all that Jesus did on the cross. I want to share two final verses of that song with you, so that when we sing it together, you can sing it like you mean it:
Our Savior displayed on a criminal’s cross
Darkness rejoice as though Heaven had lost
But then Jesus arose with our freedom in hand
That’s when death was arrested and my life began
Oh we’re free free forever we’re free
Come join the song of all the redeemed
Yes we’re free free forever amen
When death was arrested and my life began!
 Death Was Arrested, by Heath Balltxglier, Brandon Coker, Adam Kersh, and Paul Taylor Smith.
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