The Poverty of Christ

Title: The Poverty of Christ

Bible Book: 2 Corinthians 8 : 9

Author: J. Gerald Harris

Subject: Sacrifice of Christ; Cross of Christ



This morning I want to speak to you about one of the most significant verses in all of the bible. Just as John 3:16 is the gospel in a nutshell, so is 2 Corinthians 8:9. What a wealth of meaning is summed up in the words of this verse of scripture. These words underscore and illustrate the marvelous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning if I wanted to preach a message on sacrificial giving, I could certainly use this verse of Scripture. In fact, if you will read this entire eighth chapter of 2 Corinthians you will find that the apostle Paul was making an appeal for a worthy offering from the church at Corinth. In his effort to arouse a Spirit of liberality and sacrificial giving among the people of Corinth, he pointed to the liberality of the Macedonian churches. Notice what it says in the first three verses of the Chapter (read 2 Corinthians 8:1-3).

Now, that was a worthy example of Sacrificial giving, but it was not the greatest example. The mighest example, the supreme Example of giving a sacrifice is to be found in The Lord Jesus Christ. Look at our text once again (read 2 Corinthians 8:9). So, you see this would be a great text to use to challenge the church to give and I could point you to the example of the Macedonians who gave generously in the midst of trials and afflictions. I could point you to the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who gave up the riches of glory to become our Savior.

“Oh, the love that drew salvation's plan

Oh, the grace that brought it down to Man.”

Our text reveals the marvelous working of that divine grace. “...though he was rich,” Yet for your sakes he became poor...”

I. His Initial Prosperity

Notice our text. It says, “though he was rich…” that points back to his high estate before the incarnation, before the virgin birth. To think of the story of Christ a beginning with his birth in Bethlehem is to miss an essential part of it. That birth had meaning only because of what lay behind it. Christ lived with his father and shared the glory of the Father before he ever came to this earth. Many verses of scripture could be quoted of this truth. Look, for example, in Proverbs 8:22-30. The writer of proverbs is referring to Christ in this passage of scripture. He is talking about the excellence of wisdom. And, of course, Jesus is known as the wisdom of God. So, notice what he says about Christ in this passage (read). So, we see from this passage of scripture that Jesus Christ existed from eternity past.

Do you remember what Jesus prayed in his great high priestly prayer in John 17? He said, in verse 5, “and now, Oh Father, glorify me together with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was.” folks, it is just as great a mistake to begin the story of Jesus with his birth as it is to close it with his death and burial.

So, Paul’s declaration here is that Jesus had a glorious existence before his birth. Jesus Christ was rich rewards fail when one tries To describe the eternal riches of Christ. However, let me mention some of the riches of Christ before he came to live among men.

A. He was rich in possessions

The whole world was his for he created it. Listen to the words of Colossians 1:16. It says, “for by him all things were created that are in Heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for him.” So, before the incarnation, Jesus Christ could stand on the heights of the universe with its myriads of worlds and could say, “all that is mine.”

I am amazed at the wealth of some people. Robin Leech has brought into our living rooms The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I never cease to be amazed at the homes and the cars and the lifestyle that some people are able to enjoy.

Several years ago we were in Los Angeles and we drove up to Beverly Hills one afternoon. Beverly Hills is truly a city of superlatives. Some of the richest and most famous people in the world live there. The streets are lined with Rolls Royce’s and Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Choice business property sells for $100,000 a front foot. You cannot even go into some of the stores on Rodeo Drive unless you have an appointment. A home remodeling job may cost $5 million.

But the wealth of all of the people in Hollywood Beverly Hills - and the wealth of all the world’s multi-millionaires, would not compare with the wealth of Jesus before His incarnation. Indeed, he could have bought out all of the Ross Perots and Sam Waltons and H.L. Hunts with his pocket change. “All things were created by him and for him.”

You know there are some things that you just remember forever. There are certain things that happen in life that are just indelibly etched upon your memory. I remember when President Kennedy was shot. I was playing basketball in the gymnasium in Wake Forest. North Carolina at Southeastern Seminary when I got news of the shooting of the President. I remember so vividly the Explosion of the challenger space shuttle on January 28, 1986. I was visiting in a hospital room in Jackson, Mississippi when a nurse came running into the room and told us what had happened and we cut on the television set and saw the videotape of it over and over again. It was a horrifying, terrifying moment.

Another thing that I shall never forget was Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon back in July of 1969. We were in our first church after graduating from the seminary on the east Coast of North Carolina. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to see that monumental event take place. An American Flag was placed on the moon a quarter of a million miles away and supposedly claimed for the United States, but the truth of the matter is that at the dawn of creation it was the claim of Jesus Christ and listed among his assets were not only the moon, but the sun, the stars, all of the heavenly bodies and every work of creation. All things were created by him and for him. He was rich in possessions. He was also rich in possessions.

B. He was rich in person

It is difficult to explain the eternal and divine qualities embodied in the person of Christ before his incarnation. In the first verse of His gospel, John says, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”

I had my car worked on several weeks ago and the manager of the garage brought me back to the church while my care was being repaired. His name was Mike and I said, “Mike do you know the Lord?"

He said, “Oh yes, I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.” Now, you know, the Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ. They don't believe in the Trinity. They do not believe that Jesus is co-equal with the Father. So I thought to myself, “Oh boy, here’s my chance.” I asked him, “Mike, do you believe that God is the Eternal Father?”

He said, “Well, yes. I believe that.”

I said, “if he is the Eternal Father, who is His eternal child?”

I want you to know old Mike looked at me like I had just hit him over the head with a frozen mackerel. Then he said, “Come to think of it I don’t believe we use the term ‘Eternal Father’ with reference to God.” Now, the Jehovah Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible and in John 1:1. Their translation goes like this: “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was a god,” and they spell God with a little "G". You see. They do not believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ.

But do you know what Jesus said on one occasion? He said, “whosoever hath seen me hath seen the Father.” The author of Hebrews says that ‘Jesus is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person.’ I want you to know that Jesus Christ is the very essence and nature of God himself. He was not merely God-like, he was God. Without becoming involved in the discussion of the Trinity, let me just say that Jesus Christ was rich in person.

C. He was rich in position

The 6th verse in the 2nd chapter of Philippians speaks of Christ as having been “on an equality with God.” In his prayer, Jesus spoke of “the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”

He shared all of the glory of the father. He sat upon the throne of the universe. All things were subject unto him. The angels and the cherubim and the Seraphim worshiped him and adored him. All the heavenly hosts willingly And unanimously bowed in submission to his majesty and sovereignty.

There is no rank or position ever granted upon this earth that can compare with the exalted position of Christ before his birth. You take all of the admirals in the navy and all the generals in the army and all the C.E.O’s of corporate America and all of the presidents and the kings and the prime ministers of the Nations combine their authority and their position would not equal the rank of private when compared to the position of the Supreme Commander of the heavens and the earth, Jesus Christ. He was rich in position.

He was also rich in power. Creative power was his for he made all things. Sustaining power was his for “in him all things hold together.” Reigning power was his for dominions and principalities and all other distinctions of power were subject to him. All the power of God was his.

Now, I have attempted to relate to you something of the vast riches of Christ in his glorious existence before he came to this earth. We have read of millionaires who are rich in possession. We have heard of great noble men who are rich in person. We have known of high-ranking officials who are rich in position. We have known of national world leaders who are rich in power. But what wonder stirs the heart of man as he tries to understand the riches of the eternal Christ.

There you have it - his initial prosperity.

II. His Intense Poverty

Our text says, “…though he was rich, yet he became poor.” His initial prosperity gives way to his intense poverty. It was not poverty that was thrust upon him by the hand of another. It was a voluntary act on his part. The scripture tells us that “he emptied himself and took upon himself the form of a servant.” No Being in heaven or earth or hell could take his riches from him. He became poor of his own choice.

In what way did Jesus become poor? He became poor in possessions. Jesus had no earthly possessions during his ministry in this world. When upon the cross the soldiers were casting lots for the only material object Jesus could call his own - one seamless robe. Jesus summed up his condition in these words, “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have their nests. But the son of man hath not where to lay his head.”

When he walked on earth Jesus was a poor man. He might have been the world’s richest man if that had been his desire, but he voluntarily took his place with the poor people of earth. In our “Donald Trump” world of values and our materialistic emphasis, this is difficult for us to understand. But Jesus willingly became poor in possessions.

Some poet has described the poverty of Christ in these lines.

They borrowed a bed to lay his head

When Christ the lord came down;

They borrowed the ass in the mountain

Pass for him to ride to town.

He borrowed the bread when the crowd

He fed on the grassy mountainside;

He borrowed the dish of broken fish

With which he satisfied;

He borrowed the ship in which to sit

To talk to the multitudes.

He borrowed the nest in which to rest;

He had never a home so crude.

He borrowed a room on his way to the tomb

The Passover lamb to eat.

They borrowed a cave from him a grave;

They borrowed a winding sheet.

But the crown that he wore and the cross that he bore were his own.”

A. He became poor in possessions

Years ago in London, there was a godly man by the name of Harold St. John. He was the president of one of London’s well-known banks. But as a Christian there came a time in his life when the Lord burdened him with the desperate need of the derelicts in some of the ghettos in the city. On weekends he would go down to visit them in some of their makeshift houses. But his presence was not appreciated and his message was scorned. One day he got down on his knees and he said, “God, show me how to love these people. Show me how to win these people to Faith in Christ.” The Holy Spirit revealed to him what he should do.

Like a flash he was made aware of the sacrifice that would be involved. He would have to leave his beautiful home. He would have to divest himself of his good clothes and put on the rags of a derelict and go and live among these men as a servant. This Harold St. John did - and with amazing results. Many of those men were won to faith in Christ and they were rehabilitated and made useful citizens.

Now, this is a symbol, a weak symbol, but nonetheless a symbol of the Lord of Glory who left the celestial chambers of paradise for the stench of the stable and the curse of the Cross. He became poor in possessions.

B. He became poor in person

In Philippians Chapter 2. We are told that Jesus Christ “emptied himself.” Volumes have been written in an effort to explain the meaning of those words. Certainly the words cannot mean that Christ emptied himself of his deity. He was still the Son of God. The eternal Son of God became a man voluntarily, taking upon himself the limitations and weaknesses of the human body. One commentator says, “He stripped himself of the insignia of majesty.” He who existed in the form of God came to earth was made in the likeness of men how poor in person was the tempted man of the wilderness. How poor in person was the tired and hungry man of Galilee. How poor in person was the sorrowing man of Gethsemane. How poor in person was the dying man of Calvary in comparison with the eternal Christ who lived and reigned on High. He became poor in person.

C. He also became poor in position

Surely all of you have been reading about Prince Charles and Lady Di. Oh, the news has focused upon the royalty of England in recent days.

History records another interesting moment in the royal lineage of Great Britain. On January 20, 1936 Edward VIII became the King of England. All of the honor and splendor and prestige that the office of king afforded were ascribed to him. But for the love of an American woman he left the throne of England on December 10, 1936 and abdicated his position as king. He took the far lessor title of the Duke of Windsor.

This is a poor illustration of how Christ became poor in position. But hopefully, it will serve its purpose. He who had ruled in heaven became a tiny baby in a manger in Bethlehem. He who had created all things became a carpenter in a shop in Nazareth. He who had been a prince took the form of a servant. He who lived in the ivory palaces of heaven came down to a world of sin and disgrace. He who had received the ministry of angels girded himself with a towel and washed the feet of the disciples. He who had received the petitions of men now prayed in the garden in agony. He who held the scepter of the universe in his hand was bound and smitten by men. He who had worn the diadem of heaven was crowned with thorns. He who was the prince of life hung on a cross and died. “Being found in fashion as a man he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” From the throne of heaven to the cross of Calvary he stopped. He who was loved by the Father was despised by men. He who had known the fellowship of angels was crucified between two thieves. He who had known the sweet communion with the Father cried, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He became poor in position.

Then He became poor in power. In becoming poor, he voluntarily limited his power. He became a helpless babe in a woman’s arms with all of the weaknesses of a little child. He grew and developed, as did other children. When he became a man he felt the pangs of hunger and grew tired and weary in body. According to the scriptures Jesus never performed a miracle until the Holy Spirit came upon him at his baptism. Finally, he yielded himself to the will of his enemies and died on the cross. He who had created the universe lay dead in a tomb. It was only after he had come forth from the grave victorious over death that he stood before his disciples and said, “All power and authority has been given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Jesus, the Lord of the universe, became poor. He tasted the bitter pangs of poverty.

His initial prosperity, his intense poverty, and now:

III. His infinite purpose

What is the meaning of this voluntary poverty? What is the purpose behind it all? The Bible says that “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor that ye through his poverty might be rich.”

Paul was writing to people who had never known Christ in the flesh. Some of them had been born since Christ’s death on the cross. Yet Paul says, “for your sakes he became poor.” Christ had them in mind when he came to earth To seek and to save the lost. He had us in mind when he came to this earth and went to the Cross.

There is an impressive picture that you have probably seen entitled “the praying hands.” Back of that picture is a beautiful story of sacrifice and devotion, which I think is applicable in this message.

Albrecht Durer is the artist who painted the praying hands. He was the son of a Hungarian Goldsmith who was born in Nuremburg. Germany. He was obliged to work at his father's trade while he was a young boy because of a very large family and very little money. But he always wanted to paint and draw. Finally, he was allowed to leave home and go away and study with a great artist.

Because he was very poor, it was hard for him to study and make a living at the same time. During these days of struggle Albrecht Durer found a friend - a man somewhat older than himself, who also had a desire to become a great artist. The two of them decided to live together. One day when the struggle to earn enough food had discouraged both of them almost to the point of giving up their dreams Albrecht’s friend made a suggestion.

The friend said, “This way of working and trying to study is intolerable. We are neither making a living nor are we mastering our art. Let us try another way. One of us could make the living for both of us while the other continues to study. Then, when the paintings begin to sell, the one who has worked may have his chance.”

Albrecht said. “That’s a good idea. But let me be the one to work first.”

“No, I must be the one to work first because I have already a place to work in the restaurant. I am older and I do not have as much talent. You must not waste your years. Let it be as I say.”

So, the older man had his way. Albrecht worked faithfully to master his art while his friend worked at any kind of labor that he could find to buy them food and to pay for the little apartment where they lived. He served in the restaurant washing dishes and scrubbing floors to add to the small sum he was paid. His hours were long and the work was menial and hard, but he did it cheerfully because he was helping his young friend and looking forward to the time when he would be able to use his brush again.

At last the day came when Albrecht Durer came home bringing the money, which he received, for the sale of a woodcarving. It was sufficient to buy food and to pay for their rent for a considerable length of time.

“Now,” he said, “the time has come when I will be the bread winner and you shall begin anew your study to become an artist. You need no longer work but I will care for both of us.”

So his good friend left his serving and dish washing and scrubbing and took up his brush, but something had happened in those days during which he had worked so hard with his hands. Hard work had stiffened his muscles, enlarged his joints and twisted his fingers so that they could no longer hold a brush with mastery and skill. He worked long and hard only to find that his art would have to be sacrificed forever.

When Albrecht learned what had happened to his friend, he was filled with great sorrow. Of course, he would always care for him and give him a friends’ love, but he could not give him back his skill. One day Albrecht returned to his room unexpectedly and heard the voice of his friend in prayer. He entered softly and seeing the work-in-worn hands folded reverently, a great thought came to him.

He thought, “I can never give back the lost skill of those hands, but I can show the world the feeling of love and gratitude which is in my heart for his noble deed. I will paint his hands as they are now, folded in prayer, and the world shall know my appreciation for a noble, unselfish character. It may be that when people look at the picture they will remember with love and devotion all hands that toil for others.”

Here are those praying hands. They remind me of the hands of the Master - hands that were pierced on the cross. Jesus left his home in glory, came down to Bethlehem, and lived his life on this earth and then endured the shame and suffering of a cross that I might be redeemed. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor that ye, through his poverty, might be rich.” In Him we are rich. We are saints. We are righteous. We are heirs of God. We are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We are new creations. We are kingdom of priests.

I could stand up here this morning and browbeat you with the awfulness of sin and try to frighten you by talking about the wrath of God and the judgment of God and the justice of God. I could try to intimidate you by talking about hell and retribution. I could try to put you on a guilt trip by reviewing with you the consequences of sin.

But I have tried to share with you this morning the tremendous significance of the love of God. Romans 2:4 tells us that “it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance.” I trust that when you come to the full realization of what God had done for you in and through the gift of Jesus Christ, that you will recognize and realize that your only worthy alternative is to trust the Savior and to live for Him.


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