By Gregg Bing
What is grace? The typical definitions given include: “a gift we don’t deserve,” “unmerited favor,” “God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves,” etc. These are all true statements and valid definitions, but sometimes it helps us to look at examples from the Scriptures of what the word “grace” really means. One of the greatest examples we have is found in 2 Corinthians 8:9.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
The “grace” of our Lord Jesus Christ centers on the fact that, “He became poor” for our sakes. What does this verse mean when it speaks of “His poverty?”
He Became Poor
Our first thought might be of Jesus’ physical poverty as He lived here on earth. He was born in a small town in Judea called Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, Luke 2:4). His birth place was a lowly stable, where He was laid in a manger (a feeding trough for animals) (Luke 2:7). He was born to poor parents, Mary and Joseph, a man who was a simple carpenter (Mark 6:3). Their poverty was evident in the type of offering they brought when Jesus was presented to the temple at eight days old (Luke 2:24, Lev. 12:8). He was raised in Nazareth in Galilee, a small town with a poor reputation (John 1:46). He lived His life in material poverty, as it says in Matthew 8:20, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He had to borrow garments, ships, a boy’s lunch, a donkey, an upper room, even a tomb to be buried in.
Yet, this material poverty was only a part of the “poverty” the Lord Jesus Christ experienced for our sakes. The fact that Jesus lived a life of material poverty is not what made it possible for us to “become rich.”
He Became Flesh
When we speak of Jesus’ conception and birth, we use the term “incarnation.” This is not the term used for a normal conception and birth. Normally, a person’s conception and birth constitutes their initial existence. By “incarnation” we mean that an existing person takes on a body of flesh. We read of the Lord Jesus Christ that,
“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, …” (Heb. 2:14)
John described it this way, “And the Word became 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.” The “Word” refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has always existed “with God” and has always existed as “God” (John 1:1-2). This eternal person, God the Son, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” This, in itself, is another aspect of the poverty He experienced. This humiliation or humbling of our Lord is described in Philippians 2:5-8.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Though He existed in heaven in the form of God, the Lord Jesus Christ did not consider it “robbery,” that is something to be seized or held onto, to be “equal with God.” Just think of the riches and the glory of this position He had in heaven with His Father. The Psalmist describes it in this way, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). The Lord Jesus Christ was willing to “make Himself of no reputation.” This expression literally means that He “emptied Himself,” not of His deity or of the attributes of deity, but of the glorious form and position He had with the Father in heaven.
The Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself “the form of a bondservant,” “coming in the likeness of men.” He came in “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), yet “without (separate from) sin” (Heb. 4:15). He was “born of a virgin” (Isa. 7:14), thus He was not “in Adam” (1 Cor. 15:22) and He had no sin nature. He lived a perfect, sinless life on this earth. The Scriptures tell us: He “committed no sin” (1 Pet. 2:22); He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Consider this aspect of Christ’s poverty. The eternal God, God the Son, “became flesh.” C.S. Lewis, the famous English author, compared it to “us becoming a slug.” Such a step down from the glory and riches of heaven to become a Man and live on this earth is simply beyond our comprehension.
Yet, even this was not the full extent of Jesus’ poverty. We could never become rich just because the Lord Jesus Christ “became flesh” and lived on earth as a Man.
Why then? Why did the Lord Jesus “become flesh?” As we read further in Philippians 2:8, we find that He “became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus “became flesh” so that He could die; not just an ordinary death, but “the death of the cross.” What does this expression mean, “even the death of the cross?”
We will seek to answer this question next month as we look at the third aspect of Jesus’ poverty.