A Tree You Don't Have To Decorate

Bible Book: Galatians  3 : 13
Subject: Christmas; Cross

The congregation of Calvary Chapel Eastside, near Colorado Springs, CO, was surprised when they arrived this past Sunday to find that a 7-foot pine tree had been chopped down and stolen from the church’s property. Associate pastor, Tracy Dodson said, “It’s pretty obvious why they took it…It was an ideal Christmas tree.” For the past several years, the congregation had decorated the tree themselves.


To protect their remaining trees, the church sprayed them with skunk scent, and the pastor has vowed to plant another tree in the place of the one that was stolen.[i]

There is different kind of tree that the church of the Lord Jesus ought to be concerned about. It is not a Christmas tree, though it is certainly connected to Christ. Rather than lights and ornaments to add its beauty, this tree boasts only blood stains. It is the tree of the cross of Jesus, and it needs no decoration on it to cause the celebration of it.

In Galatians 3:13, Paul mentions this tree as a part of a quote from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.

Though the Christmas season is meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are mindful that His supernatural birth would be nothing to celebrate were it not for His sacrificial death.

The manger in which He lay as a baby was but the first stop in route to the cross where He hung as the Savior.

Let’s consider the tree of the cross and why we celebrate it. First of all, as we look at this verse, we see that:


In verse 13, Paul wrote, “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.”

Reading that verse, the word that reappears and rings throughout it is the word “curse”.

When we hear the word “curse”, some are tempted to think of a sort of voodoo spell, or hex; but the word here does not carry that meaning.

It speaks rather of a punishment and judgment that specifically comes from God. The cross was a place of punishment and penalty from God.

With that in mind, consider with me the curse that is associated with this tree. First of all, notice that this curse was:

A. A curse based on the law

As I said a moment ago, this verse includes a quote from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. Notice the last phrase of the verse. It says, “…for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”

Paul indicates that by Jesus being hung on a tree, He was subjected to a curse. However, before His curse is mentioned, something is said about our curse.

Before the curse of the tree, there is in this verse, “…the curse of the law…” The curse of the tree was necessary because of the curse of the law.

The law to which Paul is referring is the law of God. Earlier in this chapter, in verse 10, Paul wrote, “…for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

God gave His law, specifically to Israel, but generally to all men. All people are ultimately accountable to God and to His law.

Those who do not obey the things written in that law are subject to the penalty of that law. The breaking of God’s law is called sin, and the penalty for sin, the Scriptures clearly reveal, is death.

The curse of the law that hangs over the heads of humanity is the judgment of God upon sin.

Preaching about this curse, the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon said, “All who sin against the law are cursed by the law; all who rebel against its commands are cursed—cursed instantly, cursed terribly.”[ii]

The curse associated with the tree goes back to the curse demanded by the holy law of a holy God. It is a curse based on the law, but furthermore we see here that it is:

B. A curse borne by the Lord

Look again at the truth of this verse. Paul said, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us…”

There was the heavy, hard, and holy curse of the law that hung over humanity as a result of their sinfulness. Paul says that Christ “was made” a curse for us.

We were cursed as sinners, yet Christ was not a sinner. No curse hung over Him. Yet, by hanging on the tree, He became a curse Himself.

Look at the little word “for” in this verse. He became a curse “for” us. The preposition translated “for” here is the word for “above.”

Kenneth Wuest explains the picture. He said, “Christ came above us, thus between us and the curse. He took the blow of the…blade that hung over us…”[iii]

Over our heads hung the curse of the Law, ready to justly fall upon us. Then at the cross, Jesus hung between us and the curse, becoming a curse for us and took upon Himself the full force of the judgment that belonged to us.

During the recent tornadoes that struck the southeast, I heard a powerful story. The Lee family lives in Shoal Creek Valley, AL, a community northeast of Birmingham.

The family, which includes thirteen children, lost their entire home when a tornado leveled it, with them in it. 25 year-old Jordan told news reporters of how his dad ended up on top of him when the house began to crumble around them.

He said that he heard his dad, Tom breathe his last breath while praying for his family, his own body covering the body of his son.

1On the cross, Jesus hung between us and the curse that threatened to fall upon us. He died covering our sins with His blood and praying for our forgiveness!

1There is a curse associated with the tree of the cross. It is a curse that belonged to us, but was borne by Jesus instead.

1When we think about this tree, we see not only that there is a penalty associated with this tree, but we see also secondly that:


Three times in this one verse we find reference to the curse. Yet, this verse is really not about damnation and punishment.

No, the real subject of this verse is found in the word “redeemed.” Paul said, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us…”

Few words in the Christian vocabulary are as powerful and wonderful as the word “redeemed”. Though we don’t use it as much in these days, it ought to be one of the church’s favorite words.

In 1882, the blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby wrote:

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it,

Redeemed by the blood of Lamb!

Redeemed through His infinite mercy,

His child and forever I am!

What’s the big deal about redemption? Consider with me the purchase of our redemption that was accomplished on the tree of the cross. Consider first of all:

A. The concept revealed in our redemption

Notice the word “redeemed” in this verse. The word translated “redeemed” in this verse is not a uniquely Christian word.

In fact, it appears that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament writers adopted this word from their society because of the picture it paints.

The word translated “redeem” literally means “to buy out of the marketplace”[iv] It describes the act of someone paying the price, the ransom, to purchase a slave off of the auction block.

Think of that! People, born in sin, are slaves to their sinfulness. They are held under its control and bound by its chains.

The gospel proclaims that Christ has come to pay the necessary price to redeem those people; literally, to buy them out of their slavery!

To its shame, America both promoted and tolerated slavery for over 100 years of its existence. On January 1, 1863, using an executive order, President Abraham Lincoln issued the now famous Emancipation Proclamation.

The document declared the immediate freedom of some 3.1 million slaves. While the proclamation declared those people to be free, it was not by definition an act of redemption.

No price was paid for the freedom and liberation of those slaves. They were declared to be free, but their freedom was only by decree; not by deed.

The tree upon which Jesus died not only proclaims us to be free, but it is the receipt for the purchase of that freedom as well!

1As we consider this purchase that was accomplished on this tree, notice with me not only the concept revealed in our redemption, but notice also further:

B. The claim resulting from our redemption

When we look at the word “redeemed” in this verse, we need to consider not only the picture it paints for us (that of being bought out of slavery), but we need to also consider the implications of that purchase.

Redemption means not only that we have been bought out of slavery; it also means that we have bought by and for the Savior.

Because of the price He has paid for us, the Lord Jesus now has a claim upon us. We now belong to Him.

I Corinthians 6:20 says, “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.”

Romans 6:18 puts it another way. It says, “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”

One of my favorite writers, Handley Moule says of those who are redeemed, “They are not for one moment their own. Their acceptance has magnificently emancipated them from their tyrant-enemy. But it has absolutely bound them to their Friend and King.”[v]

Redemption brings with it a relationship and a responsibility. The cross is not only receipt for the price that has been paid, it is the reason we now serve and love the Lord Jesus.

Jesus did not lay down His life so that you could live yours as you please! He has not only pardoned you; He has purchased you as well!

Vance Havner once said, “Using Christian terminology means nothing if one is not a Christian. Having a case of athlete’s foot doesn’t make you an athlete!”

1The word “redeemed” is more than just Christian terminology. It is a purchase made at the cross that changes who and what we are forever!

1When we look at this tree in our text, we see not only that there is a penalty associated with this tree, and a purchase accomplished on this tree, but we see also thirdly that:


By definition a paradox is a figure of speech in which a statement appears to be contradictory. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character says, “I must be cruel to be kind.”

When we consider the tree of the cross, we find in it a paradox of reality and spiritual truth.

Consider the paradox attached to this tree. For one thing, consider:

A. The cross viewed as a grim place

Look again at the last phrase of our text. Paul said, “…for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”

While Jesus hung upon the tree, those who saw Him would have viewed Him as an accursed man. They saw him condemned by their law and cursed by their God.

There was hardly anything so offensive and repulsive to the Jewish mind than that tree turned into a cross of Roman execution.

In many ways the cross is still a grim, gross, and ugly thing. The offense of the cross is still real to people today.

Though writing almost a century ago, the Scottish preacher, G.H. Morrison described this modern offense of the cross well.

He said, “Written across Calvary is sacrifice; written across this age of ours is pleasure. On the lips of Christ are the stern words, I must die. On the lips of this age of ours, I must enjoy.”[vi]

To much of our world, the cross is still a grim place. It is the scene of suffering and shame. It is a picture of barbaric bloodshed and dirty death.

To our world in pursuit of its own pleasures and enjoyment, the cross stands like a dark cloud over the parade.

A gold plated world wants little to do with a blood-covered tree. To many people, the cross is viewed as a grim place.

1And yet there is a paradox, for that same blood-spattered tree looks very different to others. Consider not only the cross viewed as a grim place, but consider also:

B. The cross viewed as a glorious place

The very same tree that was so offensive and grim to the Jews and the world; the tree that designated a curse for the one who hung upon it, is the very same tree that we as God’s people now celebrate!

Because on that tree and through that Savior, the curse that belonged to us was taken and we were redeemed from its power over us.

A little later in this same book, Paul says in chapter 6, verse 14, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The tree that is grim to the world is glorious to those who believe! We glory in that curse-covered, blood-soaked tree!

We sing from our hearts with tears in our eyes:

The old, rugged cross,

So despised by the world,

Has a wondrous attraction for me,

For the dear, Lamb of God,

Left His glory above,

To bear it to dark Calvary!

Oh the paradox attached to this cross! Something at once ugly, gruesome, and horrific is in the eyes of those who believe lovely, glorious, and awesome!

I wonder; how do you see it? Do you see only the grim and gory side of the cross? Or, do you with eyes of faith see the glowing glory of the tree so grim?

Charles Wesley wrote hundreds of hymns, many of which are still sung today. Yet, it is reported that Wesley said he would have given all of them up if he could only have written the one composed by Isaac Watts, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

In that great hymn, Watts said:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small,

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all!

1The cross will either repel a man or compel a man. That is the paradox of it. For those of us who see it with eyes of faith, the old, rugged tree is the most compelling thing we’ve ever seen.

I read some statistics from a few years ago that indicate that as many 22 million household in the U.S. will not have a Christmas tree during this season.

As Christmas approaches, there is certainly nothing wrong with putting up a tree and decorating it. Likewise, you are not necessarily a “Grinch” if you choose not to put up a tree.

There is however one tree that none of us can do without this season, or any other for that matter.

The tree of the cross is indispensible for our lives! That cross and what our Lord accomplished there are of the utmost value both now and for eternity.

We need not decorate it. We love it like it is, curse-ridden and crimson stained! We glory in that tree and the Savior who died there for us!

It might be Christmas without a Christmas tree, but rest assured, there would be no Christmas without Calvary’s tree.

[i] Handy, Ryan Maye, “Thief steals Christmas tree from church lawn”, 11/29/11, gazette.com, accessed 12/1/11, http://www.gazette.com/articles/church-129348-christmas-year.html

[ii] Spurgeon, Charles, “The Curse Removed”, 7/15/1911, spurgeon.org, accessed 12/1/11, http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/3254.htm

[iii] Wuest, Kenneth, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: Vol. 1, (William B. Eerdman’s, Grand Rapids, MI, 1978), p. 97

[iv] Rogers Jr., Cleon & Rogers III, Cleon, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), p. 426

[v] Moule, H.C.G., The Epistle to the Romans, (Pickering and Inglis, London), p. 174

[vi] Morrison, G.H., Morrison on Galatians through Hebrews, (AMG, Chattanooga, TN, 1982), p. 11