|Vol. 14 No. 1 January 2012||
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
While knocking on doors to try to set up Bible studies, I met a Unitarian with whom I had an interesting conversation. He said something like this: “I really appreciate Jesus, for he had so many human qualities. I feel that I can really relate to him when he got mad and cussed out the fig tree.” He was referring to the story in Mark 11 where it says in verse 21, “And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Rabbi, behold the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.” I suppose the word “cuss” comes from a Southern pronunciation of “curse,” just as we hear “work” pronounced “woik.” In some sections of the country, “park” is pronounced “paak,” and apparently, the Harvard pronunciation of “Cuba” is “Cuber.”
At any rate, I asked him what he thought Jesus said to the fig tree, and he responded that he did not know. I pointed out to him that the curse Jesus placed on the tree is found in Mark 11:14, “No man eat fruit from thee henceforward forever.” We need to understand that in the Bible the words “cursing” and “swearing” do not always have the same meaning that we normally apply to them. Most of my life I have assumed that when Peter began to curse and swear and say, “I know not the man” (Mark 14:71), he was using God’s name in vain and all sorts of vile and ungodly language. It is not necessarily so, although we do not need to try to soften or explain away Peter’s terrible sin. If he did no more than lie and deny the Lord, it is bad enough.
However, it may be of some value to us to know that the word used to describe his cursing is the same word used in Acts 23:12, “And when it was day, the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.” They may have said something like this, “May we starve to death if we do not kill Paul, for we swear that we will not eat or drink until he is dead.” When Peter cursed and swore that he did not know Jesus, he might have said, “May God strike me dead if I know him. I swear that I never had anything to do with him.”
Exactly what he said does not matter. We are simply trying to encourage each person to study more deeply what the Bible actually teaches on any subject and especially to distinguish between what we commonly mean by some word and what the Bible means by that word. Whether we use the word “cuss,” which to most of us involves the use of vile, offensive, ungodly language, or some word that is actually used in the Bible, we need to know the meaning. We normally understand this about a few words, such as “baptism” or “church” and various other words. We realize that the common or denominational usage of the term “baptism” may be “a religious act by which water is applied to a person.” In the Bible, it always refers to an immersion, whether literal or figurative, and may not involve water at all. It might be a baptism of fire, Holy Spirit or suffering.
Often, we do not use the same care in analyzing such terms as “adoption,” “born again,” “cursing” and many others. All of us should take the time to find out the Bible meaning of terms, especially those of us who write, preach or teach. If we do not, we may be a curse instead of a blessing, and might even be accursed (Galatians 1:9). That is, if a person does not know that the Gospel includes doctrine and commandments as well as the good news of God’s love, he may be teaching a different “gospel” than that which Paul preached, and thus stand condemned.
“The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). There are approximately 613 different laws that make up what we commonly call the Law of Moses. Few if any, save a few devout orthodox Jews, have them memorized or could even list a fraction of them. Most would struggle to get through the Ten Commandments, which are really kind of a prelude or introduction to the Law.
Have you ever wondered why God gave the Jews so many laws? I guess there are a number of answers one could give. Some might say, for instance, that the ancient Jewish people lived under what you might call a Limited Theocracy, where God is not only the spiritual leader, but the civil governing body as well. Thus, He gave them not only a spiritual law, but a civil law, too.
Yet, I think another very strong argument that we could make, and perhaps one that is a little more practical and perhaps not fraught with some difficulties, is the simple fact that God went out of His way to give us abundant evidence for the need of a Savior. Consider those 613 laws in light of what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:24-25. “So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now faith that is come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
The Law of Moses pointed to something. It pointed to the same fact that you and I face every day. We have been sold to sin and fall short at every turn. Yet, we have a Savior who lived and died for us so that our failure to uphold the law may be turned into victory. In this day, let us remember just how much of a debt that we owe and thank our great and gracious God for the sacrificial Son He gave for our weaknesses.