June 28 2015 Sermon 3
2 Corinthians 8:1-9 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 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. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints– 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 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. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 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.
The poverty of God. Jesus Christ became poor for your sake. This is a strange concept to us. We don’t usually think of God as being poor. But here the Apostle tells us that out of love God became poor for you in order to give you his riches. God exchanged everything for your poverty, giving you all his riches and becoming poor in exchange himself.
Let us examine this text. Here St. Paul is writing to the believers in Corinth. The church there had begun to take an offering about a year ago to aid the believers in Jerusalem who were experiencing a severe famine and much persecution. Now Paul was stirring them up to continue this project unto its completion. He used the example of the church in Macedonia to motivate them. He told them of the believers in Macedonia who also had taken a collection for the suffering believers in Jerusalem. The Christians in Macedonia were also poor and suffering persecutions and afflictions. Nevertheless, in spite of their poverty, they were rich in generosity. In a severe test of affliction and in their extreme poverty they have overflowed in a wealth of generosity. They gave as much as they could, and in fact, they gave beyond their means. They even begged Paul to let them participate in this offering and gift of love by sending relief to the saints in Jerusalem.
Our translation says they begged for the favor of taking part in this relief effort. The word in the original language, in Greek, is the word for grace. What is grace? Grace is the undeserved love of God for us. It is a gift. They understood that the opportunity God gave them to help the poor was in reality a gift from God, a blessing. For in their giving, God would bless them richly. Therefore, by faith they gave to others out of their own poverty.
What is the poverty of God? That God made himself poor out of love for us. In his poverty God identifies with us. The truth is, we are mainly counted among the poor. Not many of us are rich, not may famous, not many powerful. As believers in today’s world, we are the humble, poor, and have to struggle to make ends meet. We are despised, mocked, looked down upon and ridiculed. We are marginalized by society. We are the poor of the earth. Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20). Jesus came into the world to become one of us. He became one of us in every respect, including sharing our poverty.
But he also become poor by sharing our sin. He became sin for us, even though he knew no sin, in order to make us righteous in him (II Cor 5:21). He absorbed all our sin into his own flesh in order to give us his righteousness in exchange (I Peter 2:24).
And since the wages of sin is death, he became poor by suffering and dying on a cross. In his poverty God lived all the pains, the suffering, the illness, the afflictions, and even the death that we live in.
However, even in his poverty, God is a God of love. In his poverty he is generous, like the faithful in Macedonia. God in his poverty gives us eternal riches. We heard in the gospel reading this morning of two miracles Jesus did. In the first he healed a woman who had been suffering from an issue of blood for 12 years. Twelve years she was a slave to illness brought on by the devil. For 12 years she suffered the poverty of an incurable illness going from doctor to doctor.
In the other miracle he raised a 12 year old girl from the dead. Death is the final and greatest enemy we face. Jesus became poor by taking on a human form and living in a fallen world and by dying on a cross all in order to take away our poverty, as he took away the poverty of this little girl’s illness and death. On his way to death he delivered this girl from her bondage to death. In the face of his own death, he delivered you and me from the poverty of death.
Therefore we must ask, How can we become more generous? Generous like the Christians in Macedonia? The short and simple answer is that we cannot. There is absolutely nothing you can do to become more generous and loving of your neighbor. You were born a sinner. Born a slave to sin and death. Dead to all that is good. Enemies of God. There is neither goodness or love in you, therefore there is nothing you can do to increase your goodness or love. After all, how can you increase something that isn’t there? How can some grow that isn’t there to begin with?
It is only by the Holy Spirit of God that Jesus sends to us and that came into you by means of your baptism that God gives you love and generosity. It is not your work, it is the work of the Spirit of God. And this can only happen because God became poor on your behalf.
In his poverty God became sin in order to suffer for your sins. He absorbed your sin into his body so that it could be crucified on the cross. He made himself poor with the poverty of going to hell and suffering the punishment for your sins. Jesus received the punishment you deserve. For each and every sin that you have ever committed and ever will commit in the future, Jesus was punished in your place. Your sins have been paid for and are now forgiven because God became poor and suffered the poverty of hell for you.
He became poor by subjecting himself to God’s law in order to obey it on your behalf. (p12). By becoming a human being and being made subject to the laws of God, he obeyed God’s law on your behalf. He fulfilled all of God’s laws perfectly and completely for you. It is done. The law has been fulfilled. There is nothing left for your to do for your salvation. Jesus did it all. In his poverty he poured out his generosity and paid for your sins on the cross. He fulfilled the law for you so that all the good that you have failed to do is also done and completed. By his poverty when Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” he had finished doing everything necessary for your salvation: he fulfilled all God’s requirements for you and he paid for all your sins forever.
By God’s poverty he has made you rich. Rich in forgiveness. Rich in love for your neighbor. Rich in eternal life in heaven. In your baptism, Jesus poured out all God’s riches upon you. He exchanged all his riches for your poverty; taking your poverty and given you his riches.
Therefore we have a poor God. A God who suffers. A God who died. A God who is at your side all the time. A God who entered into you in your baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. A God who made himself poor so that by his poverty you might be made rich in Christ. Amen.