The Curse and the Tree
October 1st, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THE CURSE AND THE TREE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-1-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. In the course of the providence of God, I am changing the sermon from the announced topic to a continuation of our preaching through the Book of Galatians. We are in the midst, in the very heart of the third chapter of Galatians. And first, I shall read from the Book of Deuteronomy, out of which twenty-first chapter the apostle Paul quotes a verse:
And if a man hath committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:
His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Now Paul is going to quote that part, “For he that is hanged is accursed of God” [Deuteronomy 21:23]. And in the third chapter of Galatians he says,
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:
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
And the title of the message is The Curse and the Tree.
There was, close to Jerusalem, in the days of Caiaphas the high priest, a tall, towering, beautiful tree. And depraved and degraded men cut it down, ripped off its foliage, tore off its branches, ripped off its bark, left it nude and bare. Then as though that were not enough, they cut its body in two and made two great crossbeams. One of those beams they put down in the earth, with the other end pointing toward God in heaven. And the other beam they placed across, with its arms extended to the east and to the west, as far as the east goes east and the west goes west.
In those same days, in the days of Pontius Pilate, there was a Man, God’s Son, holy, heavenly, kind, good, unselfish. Degraded and lost men took God’s only Son and they cut Him down. They stripped Him of everything that He had. They even gambled for the seamless robe that He wore next to his heart [John 19:23-24]. And they hanged Him on that tree, naked, exposed, bare; and lifted Him up with the tree, beneath the sky and above the earth [John 19:16-30]. And from that day forward, and forever, that Man was identified with that tree, and that tree was identified with that Man [1 Peter 2:24]. When the agony was over, they separated the dead Man from the dead wood. But in the mind and in the memory of humanity, they are ever inseparable, that Man and that tree [Matthew 27:32-50].
The Man was raised from the dead, and He lives again [Matthew 28:5-9, Luke 24:5-7]. The message of His glorious resurrection, like liquid fire, spread from heart to heart, from tongue to tongue, from mouth to mouth, from word to word. It covered all Jerusalem, that marvelous good news, that He lives again! It spread throughout Judea. It spilled over into Samaria. It went around the Roman roads to encircle the whole Mediterranean Sea, and finally, spread to the ends of the world. He lives again! [Luke 24:5-7].
That tree also came to life, and it grew and it grew. And it shot down great roots into the heart of the earth through fire, and mist, and water, and flood, and mind, and soul, and culture, and society, and civilization. It bare twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations [Revelation 22:2]. For the tree of life in the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:9], and the tree of life that has been transported and transplanted to the paradise of God in heaven is none other than the cross of the Son of God; forever identified, the tree and the Man, the cross and the Christ [1 Corinthians 1:18; Hebrews 12:2].
The death has brought to us life. Ugliness has been turned into beauty, and the curse into a blessing. As it is written, “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus; and that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” [Galatians 3:13-14]. This is without doubt one of the most marvelous, miraculous, and glorious things that human mind could imagine, that human eye could ever behold, that human heart could ever feel. The ugliness has been turned into beauty.
What could be more unsightly than two crossties? Their very angularity a repudiation of every form and principle of beauty; dark, ominous, and rugged, that cross. If you’ve ever been in the Coliseum in Rome, there on one side are two great crossties. And as I look at it, I think, “That is the cross itself. That’s the kind of beams on which Jesus was nailed to that tree.” Yet, as rugged and as ominous, as full of foreboding of agony and pain and death as the sight of it brings to mind and heart, it has been immortalized and glorified. As Paul writes in this same Galatian letter, in the last chapter, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14].
That tree has been immortalized in poetry, and in song, and in sermon, and in message, and in art, and in literature. Great, beautiful temples of worship are built in the form of that cross. Beautiful stones, priceless gems, have been cut in the form of that cross. It has been cast in silver and in gold. It has been immortalized wherever civilization has brought blessing to mankind.
In Macao, a Portuguese colony just down from Hong Kong, in that city, now under the surveillance of Red China, the most prominent thing in it, on a hill, is the remains of St. Paul’s Cathedral. An awesome earthquake, and fire, and flood tore it down. Yet the façade of that church has stood there through the centuries. And it is crowned by a great cross. One of the most astonishing things you can look upon: the entire church gone except the front and the great cross that crowns its summit. John Bowring, born in 1792, visiting Macao, looking at that marvelous sign of life, and glory, and God, and salvation silhouetted against the sky, wrote that beautiful hymn:
In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the line of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,
By the cross are sanctified;
Peace is there that knows no measure,
Joys that through all time abide.
[from “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” John Bowring]
Out of ugliness has come supernal, incomparable beauty. And out of the curse has come our blessing. Our salvation is determined by our attitude: whether we accept or reject that suffering, agonizing death of the Son of God [Matthew 27:26-50]. In the first chapter of the first Corinthian letter the apostle Paul wrote, “For the Jews seek a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we, we preach Christ crucified” [1 Corinthians 1:22-23]; Christ nailed to that tree, Christ hanged on that cross, Christ suffering for our sins, Christ bleeding and sobbing and dying, Christ pouring out His blood into the earth. “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a skandalon,” translated, “unto the Jews a stumbling block” [1 Corinthians 1:23].
How could an instrument of execution, a gallows, an electric chair, how could an instrument of execution be a sign and a means of salvation? How could it? “Unto the Jews a skandalon, a stumbling block; unto the Greeks a mōria, moronic idiocy and foolishness; but unto us who are saved, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God” [1 Corinthians 1:23-24]. As an instrument is the medium through which music is heard and expressed; as these lines, these cables, these wires, are the instruments through which electricity flows; so the cross is the instrument of God through which spiritual life is poured out into the world! The curse has been changed into a blessing.
In the cross is our liberty. Bowed down by ignorance, and superstition, and darkness, and degradation, in the cross of Christ God brought life, and glory, and liberty to the human heart and to the human soul. Our Lord said in the eighth chapter of the Book of John, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” [John 8:32]. Then in the fourteenth chapter of John, our Lord said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” [John 14:6].
Our liberty, our freedom, is in the dying, agonizing, poured out life of the Son of God. It brought deliverance to the gladiators. It shut down forever those combats in the Coliseum. It brought freedom to the serf and to the slave. It brought nurture to the sick. It brought help to the helpless, shelter to the orphan, the elevation of womanhood, and the protection of innocent children. Wherever the cross of Christ is preached, and planted, and believed in, there do you find liberty for the human spirit and freedom for the human soul!
And in that cross, transferred from a curse into a blessing, there do you find the power of God for the regeneration of the human life, human soul, human heart. Out of the darkness, light; out of the death, life; out of the suffering, our salvation. Three years His blessed ministry, three hours of darkness on the cross [Matthew 27:45-46], three days in the cold, dark tomb [Matthew 27:57-60]; then the glory of the poured-out power of the Son of God in His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7], in the glorious gospel, in Pentecostal power [Luke 24:49; Acts 2:1-4]. How the disciples were changed, how Jerusalem was changed, finally, how the Greco-Roman world was changed; and finally, how civilization was changed; and finally, coming down to us, how we have been changed!
I heard of a poem, an illustration of that. There was a man in the gutter, taking his paycheck and spending it in the dive, and in the den, and in the joint, and at the bar, drinking beer and whiskey, ruining his life; his children starving and ragged, his home neglected and forgot, finally coming to possess his furniture, the family living in a barren house. Then Christ came into his heart, and that rough, drunken workman was gloriously saved and marvelously transformed.
Upon a day, one of his old cronies was kidding him about his faith in Christ and about his belief in the gospel of Jesus. And one of the things that his former friend said to him in derision, he said to him, “Do you believe that old story there in the Bible about His transforming water into wine? [John 2:1-11]. You believe that?” And the rough, old workman replied, “Sir,” he said, “I’m an unlearned man. I’m not a theologian. I’m not able to explain it; but this I know, in my heart and in my house He has transformed beer into furniture, and whiskey into house payments, and drunkenness into a family altar! And that,” he said, “is good enough for me!” How do you like that? “And that is good enough for me!”
After I have studied for the years of my life––and I have been in this ministry all of my conscious life, in one way or another––there are still ten thousand things about the cross of Christ, the atonement of Jesus, the power and medium of its message, the future beyond the grave, the past in its eons, there are ten thousand things I cannot explain. My finite mind cannot enter into the infinitude of the Almighty God, but there are some things that are enough for me.
I see His blessing upon little children, and that is enough for me. I see His blessing in human heart and home and life, and that’s good enough for me. I see His blessing upon men as they work and women as they pray, and that’s good enough for me. I see His presence in spiritual power and grace upon the missionary in the heathen and darkened land, and that’s good enough for me. And I feel His living presence in my own soul and heart and life, and that is good enough for me. What I can’t understand, I’ll leave to the wisdom of God. What I can see and understand, I accept in humble faith, receiving the blessing from His gracious and nail pierced hands.
We’re going to sing a hymn of appeal, and while we sing the song of invitation, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus, down one of these stairways, into the aisle and to the front: “Here I come, pastor. I’m making it today. I’m choosing Christ today.” Make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, come, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.
AND THE TREE
I. The agony and glory of death
the trees around Jerusalem, one towered beautiful and magnificent above the
Debased, degraded and cruel men cut it down and made of it a cross
the men who lived in the days of Pontius Pilate, there was One who towered
above all others – the holy and pureSon of God
Debased, degraded and cruel mennailed Him to that cross
and the tree were lifted high together on a hill beyond the city wall
the power of God, the dead Man lived again
The tree began to grow
II. Ugliness into beauty
A. Tree reduced to
degraded form of two crossbeams
1. Yet no other
tree so immortalized, ennobled(Galatians 6:14)
B. FaÃ§ade and cross of
St. Paul’s in Macao
1. John Bowring
wrote the hymn, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”
III. A curse into a blessing and a promise(Galatians 3:13-14)
A. Our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-24)
B. Our liberty(John 8:32, 14:6)
C. Our transformation (Galatians 6:14-15)
1. Out of
darkness into light, out of bondage into freedom