As an introduction to today’s message, let’s begin with an entirely different mini-sermon. Gambling. Gambling (betting, wagering, lotteries) is one of the lesser condemned vices of our modern society. But it stands in opposition to some important Christian principles, and therefore it is sin. Despite what Christian gamblers might say, it is a fungus which grows on the rotten medium of covetousness. Hebrews 13:5 – “Let your conversation” – let your life – “be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have…” Because we already have something which gamblers can never win – “for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Gambling preys on others; it is a form of sanitized theft – profiting from the losses of someone else. But Galatians 6:10 says– “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do GOOD to all men.” By every honest measurement, betting is bad stewardship of the blessings God has given to us. And it leaves an ungodly testimony before the eyes of other Christians. To paraphrase Paul, “Wherefore, if gambling makes my brother to offend, I will not wager while the world standeth, let I make my brother to offend” – I Corinthians 8:13. It produces bad fruit in the gambler and is contrary to the fruit of the Spirit.
There is an epidemic of gambling in this country today that is eating out the heart of our society. It is advertised as a form of entertainment, and those who can’t think rationally or logically are buying into it. If gambling is entertainment, it is akin to the entertainment of Russian roulette or mumbly peg. It’s the entertainment of beating yourself with a stick. Gambling is advertised as a means of raising money for worthy causes. But if a cause needs that kind of money, then it really isn’t a “worthy” cause. And if it IS a worthy cause, then there must be a better way to fund it. Gambling used to be illegal, then partially illegal, then governmentally controlled and finally in some cases government owned. Now it has reached out into cyberspace where not even governments can get their cut. And that makes those governments furious. In 2001 it was estimated that American spent $3 billion on internet gambling. Four years later that figure had quadrupled to $12 billion and much of that money was going overseas. Today, according to statistics distributed by one pro-gambling group, $60 billion dollars is spend on internet gambling. But it is not just internet gambling which is taking its toll on America. The Annenberg Public Policy Center says that 50% of college kids gamble at cards monthly. And 2.9 million Americans between the ages of 14 and 22 play cards for money every week. Every week, millions of poor elderly people are bused to casinos to wile away their social security. The statistics I found bounce all over the map, but one site declared that 80% of American’s gamble and 60% of those have a serious problem – they are addicted. It might be at casinos – which are everywhere – or it might be government lotteries, the internet or in private games.
It is argued that the controlled and regulated betting industry contributes $137 to the American economy. But I fail to see how it makes any contribution when it takes it from the economy in the first place – it takes much more than it returns. One pro-gambling site declared that the industry has created nearly 730,000 jobs. But they are mostly minimum wage jobs, and if those 3/4 million people actually learned a trade and produced a useful product the American economy would be a 100 times better off. Twenty years ago a pawn shop was rare and only found in the bad side of town, now, along with title-loan shops, they are more common than banks. Pawn shops are the gambler’s bank. It is rumored that many are criminally owned or controlled. Is that an industry that a city needs? Gambling creates more need for law enforcement, jailers, divorce lawyers and sleep therapists. Gambling is a stupid waste of money. When will people figure out that when that billboard out on the freeway says that the Powerball Jackpot is $100 million that the fools who forced it that high have thrown away a billion dollars to do it? Gambling is an entertainment for the emotionally immature; it is the economic hope of the fool. It is a tax upon stupidity.
But is it wrong to want a few more dollars with which to be a blessing to others, or to give to the Lord’s work? Sometimes it is good to have very little in this world. But there may be nothing wrong with having much, if it comes from the Lord, and returns to bless Him. Job was a man who knew both extreme wealth and the loss of everything, and when the dust settled he was better off with the lessons learned from poverty than those which came from his wealth. Some other saints were well-to-do, and God didn’t judge them for their wealth – Abraham, David and Solomon. But in addition to earthly riches, those men possessed spiritual riches which outweighed the temporal. A good test of Christianity might be found in your answer to this question: Would you prefer earthly temporal wealth or the spiritual riches of eternity? If you had to choose between $1000 and hearing a visiting missionary or gospel preacher, which would it be?
II Corinthians 8:9 says, “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.” Notice those words: “that ye might be RICH” – “that YE might be rich.” This verse makes me smile, but it doesn’t come from the back end of the verse; it’s from the beginning. It’s the grace of God, and it’s the sacrifice that the Saviour made of His riches, which gives me joy. And yet to follow the logic to its conclusion: Christ gave up His riches that we might be made rich. Christ gave up His eternal glory that we might be glorified. Christ gave up His life that we might enjoy eternal life. Praise God!
I’d like to share a few thoughts with you this morning from this verse. “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.”
First, we see that we are EXPECTED to KNOW many things about our Lord Jesus Christ.
My wife, Judy and I have been married for nearly three quarters of our lives and over half a century. There have been very few days of our lives, when we have not spent several hours together. We are best friends; we know each other reasonably well. That knowledge has come over time with two things: amiable companionship and genuine love.
Companionship and love are also a part of the Christian’s relationship to the Saviour. Love breeds a longing for, an interest in, and an investigation of the one that we love. And when a long-time, professed Christian shows little understanding of the Lord, it’s indication that they don’t have a very good spiritual marriage. When they have “lived together” in a church relationship for a long time, and still that Christian doesn’t know the Saviour very well, the story becomes tragic. Paul, Christ, God the Father, angels and even the preacher expect you to know a great deal about Christ. “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.”
And what is the source and what are the means to this knowledge? I know my wife through the use of my five senses, and if there is a 6th or a 7th, then with that too. But those senses can’t be applied to the Lord Jesus today. How can we know Christ? How can we know about Christ? How can we know more about Him? How can we know anything about our Saviour? There is only one “sense” available to us – Faith. And “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” While faith is a gift of God, it is a gift given to those who want it. The Lord creates a desire in us for faith and then satisfies it. Faith is the gift of God, but it is given to those who are looking in the right place.
For example, how do we know that the Lord Jesus Christ was “rich, yet for our sakes He became poor?” Some information comes through the trustworthy witness of His disciples. They have told us many things about the One Who is our Saviour. And another part of our knowledge comes through the witness of the Spirit of God in our hearts. Part of our knowledge comes by way of experience.
How do we know that the Lord Jesus Christ was “rich, yet for our sakes He became poor?” The only real answer to our question is – the Word of God. First, if we wanted nothing else, this verse tells us so. Do you have any doubts that the Bible is true? You shouldn’t. There shouldn’t be the slightest hesitation to believe everything that the Bible says. From time to time you might need to modify your understanding of a Biblical statement, but of the statement itself there needs never be any doubt whatsoever. And where would we be without the Word of the Lord? We would be in the dark without a candle; up the creek without a paddle. Without the Bible we’d be like a space probe without a communication antenna. We’d be gliding away from the Son at an incredible speed. And we’d have no possible means of hearing anything of the Lord at all. Praise God that He has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Praise God for the gift of the Word of God. We praise Him for the preservation of His Word. It is perhaps the greatest physical gift that we have ever been given.
But WHAT is it we are EXPECTED to know?
And in this case, what more can we add to our knowledge of Christ from this verse? This verse reminds us of Christ’s PRE-EXISTENCE. Paul said that Jesus was at one time rich. But He was certainly never rich in this world; nor does it appear that his parents ever were. Yes, there were some expensive gifts given to the family shortly after Jesus’ birth, but I am reasonably sure that these were turned into cash and spent during their stay in Egypt. There was very little money in the carpentry business in Jesus’ day. So when was He rich? It had to have been before His condescension and coming to earth; before His incarnation in human flesh.
In order to know the Lord’s riches, we must know something about the Lord’s INCARNATION. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.” A Grandma and grandad were babysitting their only grandson. Grandad went store, and when he came home the toddler was in play-pen sobbing his heart out. As the little boy saw his grandad, he reach out his chubby little arms to be picked up. Grandad reached in and was ready to lift him up when Grandma came in and told he must not. The little fella had been behaving badly, and he needed to be punished. But Grandad was already committed. What could he do? The baby started crying in real earnestness. The solution? Grandad climbed into the pen with his grand-baby. “For God so loved world that he gave His only begotten Son.”
What do we know about the grace that is mentioned here? I see that it has been clearly distinguished as being the grace “of Christ” – not from God the Father. In other words, whatever good comes out of this “unmerited favor,” it comes from the heart of God the Son. That means it was willingly offered and willingly given. The sacrifice of those riches, whatever they were, came from the Lord’s own heart. And the sacrifice of Calvary came from the same place. Today, let’s not talk about covenants between the Father and the Son. Covenants can be fascinating, but they are also cold and business-like sometimes. This was a gift of the grace of the Lord Jesus Himself. “O, how I love Jesus, O, how I love Jesus, O, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.”
In what ways was Christ at one time rich? In answering that question maybe we should think of some of riches which He laid aside. We’re not thinking about the riches of Christ’s eternal deity. His deity was never, and could never, be laid down. But perhaps some of the prerogatives and privileges of deity are an explanation. For example, He could have demanded that every man He ever met bow down and worship Him. As the Creator and Sustainer of all things, that was Jesus’ right, but it was not His demand. If, as He said, the stones of the ground might have risen up to praise Him, it surprises us that the animal world didn’t do that, but again, He laid that prerogative aside. One preacher has said: “This verse is talking about Christ’s eternal abode, dominion, titles and attendance.” In other words – Heaven, and His absolute jurisdiction over all things. Christ Jesus gave up the constant ministry of His Angels. There were some aspects of His fellowship with the Father that He sorely missed while on earth. How had the Saviour once been rich? Well, as LORD of Lords, he owned the cattle on a thousand hills; the beasts of the forest and fields. But in taking up residence among us, He certainly didn’t enjoy the luxury of a cattle baron. He didn’t even have His own fox hole or bird’s nest in which to lay his head.
To what was Jesus referring as He prayed in John 17? “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” To what can we liken the glory that the Lord Jesus shared with God the Father? What was it when that glory was laid aside? Poverty? John 1 says, “In Him was Life and the life was the Light of the world.” I don’t pretend to understand all that those few words signify, but they speak to me of intimate animation and illumination which we don’t see in Christ’s incarnation alone. That light was hinted at on Mount Hermon in the transfiguration, but it wasn’t seen throughout His life. And the life was only hinted at in Lazarus’ resurrection. Yet, “All things created by him and for him; and he is before all things and by him all things consist.” God the Son had been the life-support system of all things. Is it correct to say that for 33 years, during His incarnation, the Son left that responsibility with Father? There is probably some theological weakness there, but it demands some thought. I’m sure that with more time and thought we could come up with quite a list of riches that Christ laid aside.
Basically, nearly everything that He enjoyed as riches in Glory He sacrificed while on earth. Glory on earth? Honor? Adoration? These came only in spurts and a little trickle now and then – compared to eternity past. The ministration of angels? On earth it came in pennies when once it had before been in gold dollars. Possessions? He had nothing but the seamless robe on his back. Philippians 2:5-8 – “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Rather than His rightful sovereignty over all creation, He became subject to others. The Bible specifically refers to His subjection to Mary and Joseph, which makes some sense. But then sometimes that subjection was to some most despicable of characters. And then he was subject unto death, even the death of the cross.
What is poverty? Usually people like ourselves make that reckoning through minuscule bank accounts and piles of bills. We think of it only as cent signs, when we’d rather see dollar signs. But can’t poverty come in other forms? Think of a mother bereaved of her two children because of a fire in her home. Didn’t the Son of God suffer that kind of poverty as He left the splendor of Heaven? Aren’t all the things that Job lost a picture of Christ’s condescension in coming to earth? Home, physical symbols of wealth like cattle, children, wife? Christ Jesus, knew what earthly poverty was.
And we know that Jesus endured His losses in order that we might be made rich.
Rich in what way? Without going into detail: Rich in just about every way that Christ became poor. This may be an inadequate story and probably completely fictitious: But according to the story a prince and heir to a throne found no suitable wife among the snobbish elite. He was so miserable and lonely; soon to be king; but with an empty palace. Down in the village there dwelt the most hateful and murderous republican anarchist in the nation. But he had a lovely, lovely daughter; whom the prince once saw and longed to marry. How could the prince possibly woo her who probably hated the throne just as her father did? He thought, “I could ask the king to issue a royal decree and force her to be my bride. But that couldn’t ever make her love me. I could visit her home in my finest apparel with gifts and privileges to offer all her family. But that might mean my murder. I could disguise myself in the garb of poverty and win her heart before revealing myself. But that would be dishonest and deceptive.” Finally he decided that none of those ideas would work at all. So he voluntarily abdicated the princely throne; he became a peasant; a laborer. And in his sacrifice he won his bride, and even won her Father. To make the story complete, we’d have to say that eventually they all enjoyed a return to the royal palace. “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.”
God expects you to know these things, and perhaps you’ve learned some of the details. But with what part of you have you learned them? These are things that can be intellectually acknowledged as taught in the Bible. These are things that can be accepted as historically accurate, in a cold academic way. But are they known with the passion and heart with which Paul was speaking in this verse?
In fact, are Christ’s riches and poverty the things that we really need to know? These may be important, but aren’t there things much, much more important than these? Beyond knowing things about the Lord, we need to know the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and we need to know the GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to know Christ as “OUR Lord Jesus Christ.” We need to know grace in the sense of experiencing it – feeling it – receiving it.
This verse points out the difference between “Christendom” and true Bible Christianity. Knowledge about grace, and the knowledge of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sakes is gained at the elementary school of Calvary – Golgotha – the Cross. There we learn about Jesus’ love. There we learn about the purpose and result of Jesus’ death. There we learn about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
While on the cross, Christ Jesus poured out His blood as the sacrifice that our sins demanded. There on the cross Jesus gave His life that sinners like us might have life. He emptied Himself of life that we might become rich in life. There His unmerited favour and mercy were bestowed on all who accept Him by faith. As sinners, we must kneel before the cross of Christ in repentance and faith. It is the only way to know or understand what this verse is talking about.
Do you understand? Is your faith in Christ Jesus and Him alone? Only as you have life will you have a mind to understand; only as you have eternal life can you understand eternal and spiritual things. Have you been born again?