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March 22, 2020

Sermon II Corinthians 8:9 . . .“Paul said:  ‘Though He was rich, yet He became poor’”

“Paul said:  ‘Though He was rich, yet He became poor’”

II Corinthians 8:9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

The story is told of a great Persian king who reigned in a time of splendor and magnificence.  But even though he lived in such wealth and prosperity, he had a heart for people who were common and poor.

So one day, he decided to dress himself as a poor man, descend from the lofty heights of his splendor, and make a friend of the simplest and most common man he could find.  And after a little searching, he found one whose job was to make fires, then take them in little containers to keep people warm.  All day, every day, he worked deep down in the basement, in soot and ashes, and smoke and filth.  People called him the “fire man,” because he was always tending the fires.

So wearing the clothes of a poor man, the king walked down the dark, damp cellar stairs, and sat and talked with the man in his room full of soot and ashes.  Then at meal time, the fire man brought out some coarse, black bread and a little bit of water, and they ate and drank together.

Day after day after day, the great Persian king came down to visit that man, because he had such a great love and sympathy for his people.  He counseled him from his vast wisdom and experience, as the poor man opened his heart to him.  And the man loved his friend who was so wise and kind, and so poor, just like himself.

Finally, the king thought, “I can’t keep this up.  I have to tell him who I really am.  And when I tell him, I’ll ask what gift I could give him, now that we’ve become friends.”

So the next day, as they sat and talked, the king said, “You think I’m poor, but I’m not.  I’m the king, the emperor!  Ask for anything, and I’ll give it to you.”

The man was silent as he looked at the king in wonder and love.

“Don’t you understand what I’ve told you?” said the king.  “I can make you rich!  I can make you noble!  I can give you a city!  I can give you whatever you want!”

The man replied, “Yes, my lord, I understand.  But you have left your palace and your glory, to sit with me in this dark place, to share in my coarse bread, and to care whether my heart is glad or sorry.  Never could you give me anything more precious than that.  On others you may bestow rich presents, but to me you have given yourself.  So I ask for only one thing, that you never withdraw your friendship.”

So it is in the words of our text, from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1230 as I read the words of our text.  II Corinthians chapter 8, starting at verse 1:  “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints--and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.  Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace.  But as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you--see that you excel in this act of grace also” (II Corinthians 8:1-7).

To better understand what’s going on, let me first give you a little context.  Here in his second letter to the Corinthians chapter 8, Paul brings up the subject of giving.  He’s asking the people of Corinth to take up a collection of money for the poor saints in Jerusalem.

So why were the saints of Jerusalem so poor?  Because many of those who lived there were pilgrims who once came to visit Jerusalem, and then came to Christ.  Then they stayed there in Jerusalem, and never went home.  So with no job and no money, they had no food and no home.

The church in Jerusalem had already done what it could.  Those who did have land or money sold what they had, and gave it to the poor.  But before long, that was gone too.

So now what?  How could they care for the saints in Jerusalem?

Look again at verse 1:  “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (II Corinthians 8:1-4).

So what Paul wanted the church in Corinth to understand is this--even though the people of Macedonia had so little, they gave much.  It was their act of love for their fellow Christians.  It was their worship.

Now here in the words of chapter 8, Paul commends them to follow the example of the Macedonians, to do what they did.  Just like them, by the grace of God, they too should give voluntarily, generously, and sacrificially.

As he wrote in verse 8:  “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.”

Then in the heart of this appeal for the desperate need of the saints, Paul displays a gem, a thirty-one word diamond, outshining all the jewels around it.  And though his words are so very simple, they speak of the deepest and most profound truth we could ever hope to find.

Verse 9:  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”

What’s going on?  As Paul thinks about love and giving, he can’t help but think of the greatest love and the greatest gift--Jesus Christ.

As one commentator put it, “When you talk about love, you have to talk about Christ.  And when you talk about love that gives, there’s no example better than Jesus Christ.”  He’s the greatest gift.  He’s the supreme example of giving.

And as Paul writes in verse 9, notice he doesn’t simply call Him Lord or Jesus or Christ.  Instead, he calls Him all three--the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is Lord, the name, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, that’s above every name, the name at which every knee will bow, in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, the name that every tongue will confess, to the glory of God the Father.

And He’s Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried.  It’s a name that means, “Savior” and “Deliverer.”  It’s the name Gabriel once gave to His mother, Mary:  “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

And not only is He Lord Jesus, He’s Christ--the Promised One, the Anointed One.  He’s Messiah and King.

As Paul wrote:  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ...”

Then he goes on:  “...and though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor…”

How rich was He?  Psalm 50 says:  “Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you.  I am God, your God...Every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is Mine.  If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are Mine” (Psalm 50:7, 10-12).

Colossians chapter 1 says:  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  And He is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15-18).

And Revelation chapter 5 says:  “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:  “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor…”

How poor?  He was born in another man’s stable.  He rode another man’s donkey.  He was buried in another man’s tomb.

When men demanded that He pay the temple tax, He sent Peter to catch a fish.  His friends weren’t the Pharisees or the Sadducees.  They were tax collectors and “sinners.”  And while foxes had holes, and birds of the air had nests, He said, “The Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

Eyes that He created, to whom He had given sight, looked on Him with scorn.  Tongues which He gave the power to speak, cursed Him to His face.  Men that He had made, to whom He gave life and breath and being, hit Him, spit on Him, and nailed Him to a tree.

In the words of a poem, “You were crowned with thorns, that I might wear a crown of glory.  You were rejected and despised, that I might be accepted and complete.  You were wounded for my transgressions, stricken sore, that I might sin no more.  You were weak, that I might be always strong.  You were bound, that I might be free.  Yours was the sentence and the condemnation, mine the acquittal and full salvation.  Yours the frown, the hiding of God’s face, mine the smile of His grace.  Sorrows of hell and bitterest death for You, all heaven and everlasting life for me.”

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”

Almost sixty years ago, back in 1964, author Shel Silverstein wrote a children’s book called, The Giving Tree.

And in that book, he tells the story of a tree that loved a little boy.  And each day, as the boy gathered leaves to make crowns and play king of the forest, he climbed up her trunk, swung from her branches, and ate apples.  When he was tired, he fell asleep in her shade.  And the tree was happy.

Time went by.  As the boy grew older, the tree was often alone.  Until one day, the boy came back to the tree.  The tree said, “Come and climb my trunk, swing from my branches, eat my apples, and sleep in my shade.”

The boy said, “I’m too big to climb and play.  I want to buy things and have fun.  I want some money.  Can you give me some money?”

“I don’t have any money,” said the tree.  “I only have leaves and apples.  So take my apples, and sell them in the city.  Then you’ll have money and be happy.”

Again the boy stayed away for a long time, and the tree was sad.  When he came once more, the tree shook with joy and said, “Come, climb my trunk, swing from my branches, and be happy.”

The boy said, “I’m too busy to climb trees.  I need a house to keep me warm.  Can you give me a house?”

“I have no house,” said the tree, “but you can cut off my branches and build a house.  Then you’ll be happy.”

Again, the boy stayed away for a long time.  When he came back, the tree was so happy, she could barely speak.  “Come,” she whispered.  “Come and play.”

“I’m too old to play.  I want a boat that will take me far from here.  Can you give me a boat?”

The tree answered, “Cut down my trunk and make a boat.  Then you can sail away.”

So he cut down her trunk, made a boat, and sailed away.

After a really long time, the boy came once more.  “I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you.  My apples are gone.  My branches are gone.  And my trunk is gone.  I wish I could give you something, but I have nothing left.  I’m just an old stump.  I’m sorry.”

“I don’t need very much now,” the boy said, “just a quiet place to sit and rest.”

So he did.  And the tree was happy.

On the cross, on the ultimate Giving Tree, though Jesus was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you, by His poverty, might become rich.

And it’s all because of the amazing, overwhelming, and unending grace of God.

 

We thank You, Father, for Your great gifts, especially for calling even us to believe.  Grant that we may always find hope and help in the cross, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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