His Rags, Our Riches

“For ye 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.” - (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Hard times, these: daresay I needn’t tell you. They say the banks had a good year – but then, so did the food banks. On every hand restructuring, cutbacks, and downsizing are making the payrolls shorter, and the Employment Insurance office line-ups longer.

Youngsters leaving school have their own notion of paradise – a job; a notion of seventh heaven too – a secure job. No longer do they dream of building ‘a nest’, as did their grandparents. No, they’re getting into the swing of moving from tree to tree, grabbing what bananas they may, and hoping against hope they don’t drop into the quicksand beneath.

Yet, even these days, a few still make the big times. Week after week all too many squander cash they can hardly afford to play the lottery - and “imagine the freedom!” Keep dreaming! Nothing fills, and nothing sells those magazines at the grocery check-out counter like the profiles of “the rich and famous.” Long past are the days when our heroes were statesmen, or surgeons, or saints – if we have any, they’re in the money: the Donald Trumps of enterprise, the Bill Gates of technology.

Hard times, big times, few times like these highlight the truth the Bible so forcefully brings home to us: our wealth is not what we have, but what we are. Few times like these prove so true the words of the Lord Jesus Christ –

Take heed, and beware of covetousness:
For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God - (Luke 12:15,21).

These times measure men’s hearts. These times call for personal generosity, general charity of a sort we have not seen in many a year. In one interview, Mr. Gates admitted he was not yet “up-loaded into charity mode,” too busy weaving the Internet to worry about spreading his staggering wealth around. Since that interview, his “charity” work generally seems to be handing out technological “freebies” that hold out the prospect of enlarging the potential market as the needy move upwards.

But these days will again prove the words of Christ Jesus, left us by the Apostle Paul –

Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘ It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ - (Acts 20:35).

Paul knew the worth of those words, for Christ Jesus had proven them to him; Paul spent his life proving them to others. Here’s how he put it:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. – (Galatians 2:20).

The love of Christ constraineth us: because we thus judge, ...that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died, and rose again.- (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15).

Now that’s living! That’s what life is all about. To be rich toward God, to give rather than receive, as Christ lives in me, as I live in Christ, as the love of Christ constrains me to live to others , for Him!

The good news the Bible brings us, is news of a great exchange that takes place between sinful man and a holy God at the cross of Jesus Christ.

There I surrender my sin, and He gives me His righteousness; there I confess my guilt and He covers it with His Blood; there I admit my shame, and there He bestows His glory; there He takes my hell, and gives me His heaven. That great exchange is the point of this text – His rags are our riches.

Just think of it: have you made this great exchange? Do you know the grace Paul here presents?

I. There Are His Rags: “Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor”

Now, there is simply nothing romantic or quaint about poverty – no distance of time or place can lend enchantment to the view. Walk with a close friend or a relative through a major job loss, a bankruptcy, a foreclosure, an accident and disability: you will know!

Poverty is pain. And the pain sharpens the more we realize what was lost, what is lived, and what is left. Paul is really shaking us, rousing us with these words to grasp just how poor, painfully poor the Saviour became for sinners.

See what He lost: “though He was rich.” Christ was rich! As the eternal, only-begotten Son of God, He is rich above all we could ever imagine or dream.

He is rich in all things:

For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, all things were created by Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. God hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son … whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds . – (Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:1-2)

He is rich in honour:

Every creature which is in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them heard I saying, Blessing, and honour and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. - (Revelations 5:13).

He is rich in love:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: the same was in the beginning with God the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father…. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand. … The Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that He Himself doeth – (John 1:1-2,18, 3:35, 5:20).

To riches immeasurable, in every good thing, in honour and glory, in the boundless love of His Father, Christ Jesus had exclusive title and perfect right. Yet all this He laid aside, “though He was rich”, when to earth He came to seek and to save the lost.

See what He lived through: “yet for your sakes, He became poor”. To what poverty did the Lord Jesus stoop on this earth!

Where are His riches now?

Born of the Virgin Mary to the home of Joseph, a mere village carpenter; cradled in a wayside manger outside the inn; raised as a refugee in Egypt; trained as a tradesman in complete obscurity for thirty years in Nazareth: He had no place to lay His head as He preached, and taught, and healed. He borrowed the donkey that carried Him into Jerusalem. He borrowed the Upper Room to host His final Passover meal. He was shrouded and anointed for burial by His friends, and buried in another man’s new tomb.

Where is His honour now?

“He humbled Himself, and made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man.” Such weakness: an Embryo, a Babe lying in the manger, the Child Jesus, the Man of Sorrows. “With strong crying and tears” He prays “in an agony”. He endures the stripes, the thorns, the nails till in death He cries, “I thirst.”

He endured the “contradiction of sinners against Himself”. Of Him they said, “Behold a Friend of publicans and sinners, a glutton and a winebibber!” To Him they said, “Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” The highest court of His people anointed Him – with spittle. A Roman guard crowned Him –- in thorns. By wicked hands He was enthroned – upon the cross. And there He died, made a curse for us, made sin for us, hanging on the Tree.

Who cares for Him now?

“He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not." “His own received Him not.” In the hour His soul was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” Peter denies Him, the disciples forsake Him. His last farewell kiss from earth comes from the lips of Iscariot, Judas “who also betrayed Him.” In the noontide darkness of Golgotha, He cries, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Deserted by man, forsaken of God for us as He bore our sins in His body on the Tree, surely He could well say, “No man cared for My soul.”

See what He has left to show for it all: “for your sakes.” All that Christ has to show for all this anguish, all this sorrow, all this pain and death, and hell is – what? Can you imagine it? All He has is the likes of us!

“He saved others; Himself, He cannot save.” What others? Disciples like Peter – fickle, foolhardy Simon. Disciples like those who fled, even as for them He said, “If ye seek Me, then let these go.” Believers like the green converts of Corinth, Gentiles, pagans once enslaved with idols, still plagued with grossest vice, puffed up with pride, ignorant and wayward. Poor, pathetic, saved sinners – just like me.

Is not this staggering miracle grace? “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amazing, immeasurable, sovereign, glorious grace! All this was for me! All this is for every wretched, needy sinful man, woman, boy or girl whom the Holy Spirit draws to Him; who confess their sin and forsake it, confess this Christ by faith alone and follow Him.

II. Here Are Our Riches: “That ye through His poverty might be rich”

His rags brought our riches. His loss is our gain. That’s the great exchange!

So much that promises to enrich us, doesn’t. “All that glisters is not gold” sang Shakespeare, and you’ll find fool’s gold in places other than Frobisher Bay!

When Ed McMahon offers cheques and roses to housewives , it’s too good to be true – and it isn’t true. When the daily mail brings the breathless announcement you have just won the jackpot, you can smell it’s the bait on a hook!

But here are riches indeed: wealth you can never exhaust, never earn, never lack, never lose. Paul the Apostle spent his whole life everywhere “preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ”. He prayed that every believer in Jesus might see “the riches of his calling”. His confidence was this: “My God shall supply all your need from His riches in glory by Christ Jesus”.

And truly, “the blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow to it.” “In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace.” “God who is rich in mercy, according to His great love wherewith He loved us, hath quickened us together with Christ”. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

“My grace is sufficient for thee; My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” “All things are yours; and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

Well may we take up the song:
The cross He bore is life and health,
Though death and hell to Him:
His people’s hope, His people’s wealth,
Their everlasting theme.

“Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” – do you know it? You may receive now, as you repent of your sin, and receive this Prince and Saviour. You may sing, as do we:

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind –
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find:
O Lamb of God, I come!