One of the challenges at Christmas is to keep the story fresh. Every year, we hear the same story over again – shepherds, angels, wise men, Joseph, Mary, Jesus. It’s really the most unbelievable story. The tragedy is that the story can become so familiar that it loses its impact. That’s why, this year, we’ve been looking at the back story – at texts we don’t usually read at Christmas. Today we’re going to look at another unusual Christmas story. If you have a Bible with you, I invite you to open it to 2 Corinthians 8.
Those of you who have had young children, or are close to young kids, probably have experienced something that I have. One of the things I remember being praised for as a kid was generosity. Most kids I know are extremely generous at times – sometimes to an extreme. Over time, it seems that we lose that generosity.
Today’s Christmas story begins with a quality that we associate with Christmas – generosity. Yet the story begins long before Christmas had anything to do with gift-giving.
Here’s the situation. Paul spent a lot of time trying to help a need among believers in Jerusalem. The reason was because the church in Jerusalem was facing a severe need. They were poor; they needed help. A number of factors contributed to the problem. As believers, they were ostracized. Because they were Jewish, they had to pay two taxes (Jewish and Roman). In addition, their geographic area was experiencing food shortages in Palestine. To top it all off, the Jerusalem church was full of large number of believers and visiting Christians.
Around 54 AD, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to follow up with questions they had asked about the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. For whatever reason, the collection for the poor had been halted. Paul writes to encourage their generosity.
What can Paul do to encourage them to be generous? They weren’t rich themselves – how could he encourage them to be generous with others?
In the first 4 verses, and again in verse 8, Paul tries to motivate their generosity by giving the example of the Macedonian churches. Then, in verse 6-7, he mentions their own generous past. Then Paul plays the trump card of generosity. You can’t get any more generous than this:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV)
If you really want to be generous, Paul says, forget the example of other people. Think about the extreme generosity of Jesus Christ, the generous God. Paul’s talking about the birth of Jesus as a baby – his decision to become human.
Let’s unpack what Paul says, and then see what it could possibly mean for our lives.
“He was rich”
What does it mean that he was rich?
Jesus once prayed, “And now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began” (John 17:5). Even when he was on earth, he remembered what it was like before. He remembered his position, all that he had in heaven.
When you think about it, Jesus was incredibly rich. He’s eternal. He’s before all things. He made everything. There was no period in which he wasn’t God. In every category you can think of, he was rich.
Possessions – What do you get the God who already has everything? Jesus owns it all. The Grand Canyon; Yosemite Park; all the oceans; the most beautiful settings you’ve seen; the oceans, the galaxies – they’re all his. Psalm 50 says, “If I were hungry, I would not mention it to you, for all the world is mine and everything in it.”
Creative Ability – Even if Jesus had lacked, he could have spoken it into existence. Psalm 33:9 says, “For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command.” Hebrews 1:10 says of Jesus, “Lord, in the beginning you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” Colossians 1:15-17 says:
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation. Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see-kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together.
Not only did Jesus create everything, but he’s holding it all together. Creation would fly apart without his direct involvement, minute by minute.
Honor – There’s no question of his honor. The song we sing, Open the Eyes of My Heart, would be sung cautiously in heaven, because God’s glory was a fearsome thing. Nobody ever saw the glory of Jesus without being terrified. We can’t imagine how glorious he was and is in heaven. Listen to Revelation 5:11-14:
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
That’s why Jesus could talk about the glory he shared with his Father. Jesus remembered how rich he had been.
Christmas is about Jesus laying aside all of that for us. The Bible talks about a decision he made. Even though he was God, he didn’t hold on to his rights as God. Instead, he voluntarily gave up his privilege and his wealth for our sakes. “Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form” (Philippians 2:6-7). He became poor for our sakes.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV).
“He became poor”
Somebody’s said that we don’t know how this news was announced to the angels, but we can imagine how amazed they would have been. What does it mean that he become poor when he came to earth?
Body – John 1:14 says, “So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us.” Angels witnessed God’s Son become an embryo planted in the uterus of an impoverished, unmarried teenage girl. The Creator of the universe became 1 mm small – 0.04 of an inch. I can imagine an angel saying, “Where’d Jesus go? Where was the one all of heaven was just praising?” “He’s there – a tiny embryo in a teenage girl. He’s gone to earth.”
Jesus didn’t become just a human, but he became an infant. Hands which formed galaxies and set stars in place, hands which had spun the world on its axis, now waved around clumsily. The mouth that had spoken worlds into existence, now just babbling and cooing.
Mind – Luke 2:52 says, “So Jesus grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him.” This means that Jesus grew in his understanding. When he came to earth, he restricted his understanding, so there were things he had to learn. He had to learn how to speak. Mary probably told him, “Not again, Jesus! I told you to get to the toilet sooner.” Jesus grew in wisdom.
Relationships – When he was born, he was dependent on a man and a woman to care for him. He had parents who were human and flawed, even though he was the Son of God. Joseph and Mary probably fought over who was going to get up in the middle of the night to look after him. Joseph probably came home grumpy from work some days. This is the King of the universe, and yet he’s dependent on two teenage parents to look after him.
Hebrews 5:8 says, “So even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” Jesus learned obedience through his life and his death. How frustrating to have to submit to inferiors. Yet Jesus submitted to his parents. He learned obedience.
Jesus was so fully human that those who lived and worked with him for 30 years, even his brothers who grew up with him in his own household, did not realize that he was anything more than a very good human being. Even worse, he became subject to ridicule from people – the very people he had made.
Emotional Limitations – Jesus came up against his emotional limitations. John 12:27 says, “Now my soul is deeply troubled.” The Message paraphrase says, “Right now I am storm-tossed.” Hebrews 5:7 says, “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could deliver him out of death.”
Physical Limitations – Jesus experienced physical limitations. He got tired. He had to sit down to rest (John 4:6). He was so tired once that he even fell asleep during a storm. He was thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Matthew 4:2). When he fasted, angels had to come “minister to him” (Matthew 4:11). He couldn’t carry his own cross the whole way (Luke 23:26)
Death – Not only did Jesus humble himself by becoming human; he gave us his life for us. Amazing – “And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
It says something when
the King of the Universe enters the world not in a palace, but in an animal-filled cave
he who made the world assists his father in the craft of carpentry
he who made all the food went hungry, and relied on others to feed him, and who said to a Samaritan woman, “Please give me a drink.” (John 4:6)
The one who lived in glory in heaven said, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head.” (Matthew 8:20)
The one who was waited on by angels took a towel and washes his disciple’s feet
Isaiah 53:3-6 says:
He was despised and rejected-a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. (Isaiah 53)
Paul said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV).
He did this for whom? “For your sakes…” So that by his life, by his death, by his resurrection, we could be forgiven our sins and be raised to new life. He did it so that we could become his joint-heirs in receiving everything that he had – so we could become rich.
Here, in brief, is the Christmas story. Word gets around that the God of the universe, the creator of all things, is about to enter into the world, not even into a comfortable middle-class life, but into the depths of poverty and suffering. As God said, “It’s time,” the angels must have been saying, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Two applications today:
I like to think I’m generous. I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination. It’s easy to think I’m doing my part; I’m giving; I sponsor a World Vision child. But token generosity is not enough. Even radical generosity, by human standards, isn’t enough. If this is the example of generosity, how generous ought I to be? I have no right to live for myself – small tokens of generosity only.
Paul wrote this passage to encourage the Corinthians to give generously to those in need. Jesus is our model of generosity – in giving up our riches so that others can be rich. That’s a pretty high standard.
But here’s a second application: how we ought to praise Jesus for what he did. The generosity of God has more to say about him than about me. God’s generosity has more to say about his character than his worthiness.
The only fitting response: to praise him.
O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord
For He alone is worthy.
For He alone is worthy.
For He alone is worthy, Christ the Lord
We give Him all the glory.
We give Him all the glory.
We give Him all the glory, Christ the Lord.