And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to 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.(Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
The Christian church has never had such an implacable enemy as Saul of Tarsus. The young Pharisee hated Jesus, and utterly hated christians, seeking to do “many things against the name of Jesus”. Why was this zealot so incensed and so utterly opposed to the emergence of what was at the time considered to be a sect of Judaism?
Saul was outraged at the gall of the christians to suggest that the long-awaited Messiah of Israel had been executed on a Roman cross. In biblical terms, the christians were claiming that the Messiah of Israel had been hung upon a tree!
Preposterous! Everyone who knows scripture knows that those who have been hung upon a tree are accursed of God. Absalom was hung upon a tree, Saul was hung upon a wall, the pagan kings of Canaan were hung upon trees, all as signs of the curse of God. Now the christians want to claim that the messiah himself died the death of a man cursed of God?
The man who hung on the cross outside of Jerusalem, between two murderous thieves, wearing a crown of thorns, (the very emblem of God’s curse), was very definitely under the judgment of God.
The public spectacle of his death, abandoned by friends, lovers, followers and family, dying in humiliation, jeered at by his enemies, and so helpless he couldn’t even wipe his bloody, sweaty brow, was a manifest testimony that indeed Jesus of Nazareth was being “smitten and afflicted by God” himself.
How dare the christians champion this cursed man as the Messiah, the saviour of Israel and of the whole world! Messiah is Divine power ! Jesus is humiliating weakness. Messiah is God’s favored one, exalted to the very right hand of the Holy One! Jesus was derelicted , he even cried out in agony,”My God…Why have you forsaken me?”. Messiah crushes the enemy! Jesus was crushed by his enemies.
But Saul would be made to see, what Isaiah the prophet predicted that all of Israel would one day see in the obscene spectacle of the accursed and crucified one. Isaiah predicted that Israel would believe that Jesus was being judged by God,
“… we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted…”(Isaiah 53:4)
They look at Jesus like this, “See that man on the cross? He is being judged by God for blasphemy! He made himself equal with God, He called himself the Son of God, He has performed his “signs” by witchcraft! No wonder he hangs there, naked and helpless, crowned with thorns”!
But one day, through a series of events, God revealed something to Saul that would change everything. As Isaiah predicted, those who thought the man on the cross was being judged by God, would prove to be half right.
…yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Jesus was indeed cursed of God as a blasphemer, and adulterer, a witch, a liar, a murderer. But it was not for his own blasphemy but for ours that Jesus suffered the Divine curse.
The penny dropped for Saul, when God revealed to him, that man on the cross abandoned by all including God himself, is the scapegoat of Leviticus, bearing the sins of the people, taking them into the wilderness of God’s judgment. The man wearing the very crown of the curse, (thorns) died under God’s curse as a substitute for our sins, transgressions, and iniquities against God.
Saul of Tarsus under his new name,Paul, would say,
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: (Galatians 3:13)
One day this realization will come to the whole world, that the despised one who hung upon the cross is in fact the only Saviour for sinful humanity, the one mediator between God and man, and the only way back to a Holy God. For most the realization will come too late.
And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.( Zechariah 12:10)
What humiliation this revelation works in the hearts of men ! How the realization forces a change of heart! Paul went from being a proud self-righteous religionist, confessing himself as the chief of sinners, and the bondslave of Jesus.
Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:(Phillipians 3:5-9)
Jesus died for me? Jesus took my place in judgment? Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou my God should die for me?