He Who Was Rich Became Poor
By John Phillips
But the example of the saints of God, touching and compelling as it was, was eclipsed in Paul's mind, by the example of the Son of God (8:9). There is, for instance, His supernatural grace:
"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 Cor. 8:9).
What greater example of giving could we find than that?
We know He was rich, but we have no idea how rich He really was. We get some idea, however, from what John tells us of the Celestial City. In His country they pave their streets with gold and build their walls of jasper. They make their gates of pearl and stud foundation's rocks with gems. The great white throne of God is there, the crystal stream, the tree of life. Many crowns are placed upon His head in that celestial land. His ministers are flames of fire, comprised of countless angel hosts, beings of great beauty, intelligence, and power, who hang upon His words and rush to do His will. Enormous galaxies, ablaze with stars and pulsating with energy, hurtle through the vast voids of space at His command. They are all empires of His. Billions upon billions of worlds hold their treasure troves for Him. He was rich all right, but, still, we have not yet seen His riches and so we have no idea how rich He really was.
"The silver is mine," He could say, "the gold is mine! All the earth is mine! The cattle upon a thousand hills" are mine (Hag. 2:8; Exod. 19:5; Ps. 50:10)!
Solomon was rich. He had a great throne of ivory overlaid with gold. He made silver in Jerusalem to be as common as stones and all his drinking vessels were of gold. His annual income was 666 talents of gold. The wealth of the world flowed into his treasury. He had chariots and horses and ships and wives, as many as he pleased. He was rich. But our Lord Jesus Christ was richer far. When, at last, we see Him as He is, and see the land from whence He came, we shall exclaim with the Queen of Sheba: "Behold, the one half of the greatness of thy wisdom was not told me: for thou exceedest the fame that I heard" (2 Chron. 9:6).
Moreover, we know that He was poor. He was born, of all places, in a cattle shed. His next of kin, according to the flesh, were poor peasants able to afford, at the time of Mary's purification, only the poorest offering allowed by the Law (Luke 2:22-24). Mary's husband was a village carpenter and the Lord Jesus, Son of God though He was, was generally known as "Jesus of Nazareth" and was thus identified with a despised place in a despised province of a despised land. And they called Him "the carpenter's son." He was born in a borrowed stable. When He wanted to feed the hungry multitudes, He had to borrow a little lad's lunch. When He wanted to confound His critics, He had to borrow a penny. When He wanted to teach the great throngs that pressed around Him, He had to borrow Simon Peter's boat to prevent Himself being pressed into the lake. When He wanted to fulfill an ancient prophecy and ride in triumph into Jerusalem, He had to borrow an upper room. When He needed a burying place, He had to borrow a rich man's tomb. He even died upon another man's cross.
His own testimony should surely touch our hearts. He said: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20). John draws our attention to that very fact. After a day of controversy with His enemies, a day when the Sanhedrin even tried to arrest Him, John recalls that "every man went unto his own house. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives" (John 7:53; 8:1).
We know He was poor, but we do not know how poor he really became. To measure the depth of His poverty, we have to measure the sum total of the sin liability of every man, woman, boy, girl, and baby ever born or to be born upon the earth. For that was the debt, the total liability, which He assumed.
We get some idea of it from one of His own parables. He said: "the kingdom of heaven [is] likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made" (Matt. 18:23-25). Ten thousand talents. Solomon was accounted rich beyond words because he had an income of some six or seven hundred talents. This man owed a debt incalculable. The number 10,000 (a myriad) was the highest number in the numerical system of the day and a talent was the heaviest weight. The two together suggest a debt of enormous dimensions.
We are not only bankrupt, we are bankrupt on an enormous scale. Jesus assumed our debt. The Old Testament sacrifices were not able to remove sin. "For the law... can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect... But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year" (Heb. 10:1-3).
The great sacrifice, of course, was the annual sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement when the sins of the people were confessed over the head of a goat (Lev. 16:1-34). The very word "atonement" meant "to cover." Hence, on the Day of Atonement, there was an annual "cover-up" of sin. Sin was confessed and covered but it was not cleansed, in a permanent sense, nor canceled. That had to wait for Calvary.
For some years I worked in the loan department of a Canadian bank. Let us picture a situation which could have arisen. A man comes in to borrow some money in order to launch a business. He has no collateral so he brings with him a wealthy friend who agrees to endorse the note and guarantee its repayment. The kind of note used allows the interest to accumulate and for both interest and principal to come due in a year's time.
At the end of the year the debtor comes back to the bank. Yes, his business has been launched. Yes, he has made some money but he has plowed it back into the business. No, he doesn't have sufficient cash to repay his loan. On the contrary, he would like to carry interest and principal forward for another year. More, he would like to borrow an additional sum to enable him to increase his inventory and double his sales. The man's friend agrees to sign the new note so the old one is canceled and stapled to the back of the new one, which is made out for the old amount plus the new additional amount, plus the accumulated interest. This kind of thing goes on for several years with the accumulating debt getting bigger and bigger.
Each year there is "a remembrance" of the debt, an acknowledgment of the debt, and each year it is carried forward for another year in ever increasing amounts. That was what happened on the annual Day of Atonement. The sin debt was reviewed and carried forward for another year. The only reason that it was allowed to continue was because there was a Guarantor, with limitless assets, who had assumed responsibility for the debt.
We come back to the bank. The bank's head office, of course, would be keeping a sharp eye on this whole transaction. As year succeeded year, it would grow increasingly restive. It would write ever sharper letters to the branch manager. Finally, it would decide that this unsatisfactory arrangement must stop. It would call in the loan. The debtor's insolvency would be revealed. He would be exposed as bankrupt and his rich friend would be required to pay the total indebtedness in full.
That is what happened at Calvary. The total indebtedness of the whole human race became due. The Guarantor, our Lord Jesus Christ, took upon Himself the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2). The total amount was added up and charged to Him. So, as Paul says, "for your sakes He became poor." How poor? Our finite minds cannot reckon up the enormous sum total of a whole world's sin. We know He became poor, but we do not know how poor He really became.
Moreover, it was all "that ye through his poverty might be rich." That is our superlative gain (2 Cor. 8:9b). We know that we are rich, but we have no idea how rich we really are. He took our debt so that we might become heirs to His wealth. He took our sin so that we might take His righteousness. He endured Psalm 22 so that we might claim Psalm 23. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him," as Paul has already reminded the Corinthians in this very letter (5:21). We know we are rich. The book of Ephesians tells us that. It speaks of "the riches of his grace" (1:7). It tells us that the glorious Holy Spirit is "the earnest" of our inheritance, the guarantee of all that awaits us in the glory (1:14). It reminds us of "the riches of [his] glory" (1:18), and that God is "rich in mercy" (2:4). We are reminded elsewhere, in a passage of singular power, that "we are the children of God... and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16-17). Indeed, "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" (1 Cor. 2:9).