Date: November 13, 1930
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 Corinthians 8:9
WHAT is the most beautiful, the most wonderful the most magnificent thing in this world? Can it be sought and found in the entrancing splendor of nature, in the rugged grandeur of rock-bound, snow-capped mountains that etch their majestic peaks against the evening background of the flaming skies; or in the sylvan silence of cathedral-like forests, where stately sentinels of leafy green lift men’s gaze from earth to heaven? No; there is something infinitely more beautiful, more wonderful, more magnificent than all this; for the earth and all that is in it is but the footstool of One whose divine power has given us a far nobler and more exalted height of wondrous beauty and magnificence.
We ask again, then: Is this to be sought and found among men, in the exquisite forms of physical beauty, or in the deeper treasures of the inner life? Many there are who would answer, “Yes,” and point us to the charm of blemishless beauty or to the deep and powerful emotion of love, the love of husband and wife, the love of parents and children, the love of friendship, the love of patriotism, love in its purest and noblest human forms. But again comes the echo: There is something more beautiful, far more wonderful, inexpressibly more magnificent, than all this. We read in the Record of Truth of One who is “fairer than the children of men.” We hear of a greater love, that of laying down one’s life for one’s friends. And He who told us of this love Himself laid down His life, not only for His friends, but for His enemies, to reveal to us by that very self-sacrifice the unparalleled height of immeasurable magnificence, the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Unparalleled and immeasurable, I say, because the human intellect, even with its most advanced achievements, lacks every capacity to understand adequately the depth and the meaning of that love which the great apostle describes when he tells us: “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.”
THE MAGNIFICENT RICHES OF CHRIST.
Note how clearly these words point to the magnificent riches of Jesus Christ in these opening words, “though He was rich.” And oh, that it were possible to picture to you the limitless munificence of your Savior! The national wealth of these United States is estimated at about four hundred billion dollars. The wealth of all the nations of the whole earth and of all ages would aggregate staggering totals of inconceivable billions. But if we could take the sum total of all the wealth of which men have ever known and multiply it a thousandfold, all this would be a mere bagatelle compared with the depth of the riches over which our Lord, as the eternal God, held undisputed sway. He was rich, rich in the resources and wealth of the entire universe that is His; rich in the exercise of all power in heaven and in earth, in the control of the myriads of constellations beyond the searching gaze of the most penetrating telescope; rich in the direction of the shifting tides of the oceans, in the shaping of human affairs as they are molded into history. He was rich in the majestic adoration of the heavenly legions that encircle the throne of His divinity; rich in the glory and purity of His divine sinlessness; rich in truth, in wisdom, and in justice. But—endless praise to His holy name!—He was rich in love, in mercy, in grace, toward a corroding and decaying world that had spurned the guidance of God,—so rich that, as unfathomable as it may be to our human reason, He showed the depth of His divine compassion for human souls by the magnificence of that tremendous sacrifice of which our text continues to speak when it adds, “Yet for your sakes He became poor.”
THE MAGNIFICENT SACRIFICE OF CHRIST.
I sometimes wonder how many there are who can adequately measure the abject poverty of our Lord in the depths of His humiliation when He humbled Himself unto death, even the death of the cross. It is true, we speak of His holy cross with reverence and love. We mold it into symbols of gold and precious metals; we place it high upon the spires of our churches, above all the noise and grime of our earth-bound, daily existence; we have made the cross the greatest of all human symbols. Yet how little we sometimes comprehend the love of Him who so inexpressibly impoverished Himself and finally died upon the accursed tree!
And what a death it was! No matter under what circumstances the Grim Reaper may come, there is always a crushing pain and the sorrow of anguish which arises from grief-torn hearts when our loved ones are called home by God. Even if we surround them with all the comforts that money and medical science can offer, even if we give them every possible attention, sit by their death-beds to wipe their fevered brow and pray with all the fervor of which the human heart is capable, even then there is that numb pain, that depressing sorrow, that indescribable grief which always comes with death.
But how immeasurably more intense was our Savior’s crucifixion!—a mode of capital punishment so horrible that it was not recognized by the Church of the Old Testament, so degrading that, as a Latin author tells us, it was a punishment inflicted upon slaves, so painful that it has universally been considered one of the most excruciating modes of torture ever known.
But this does not explain even partially the fulness of the infinite grace of Christ and the appalling depths of His self-assumed poverty. There have been men who have suffered long and intensely and who have died for others, noble and heroic martyrs to the cause of their country. We think, for example of Arnold von Winkelried, who gathered the long spears of the Austrian phalanx and plunged them into the warm life-blood of his heart to make way for his Tyrolian fatherland. With the message of Armistice Day still lingering with us, we think of unnamed and unknown heroes who have suffered and bled and died in order to insure religious and political freedom to us and to our posterity. We think of the noblest examples of such heroic sacrifice; but when we compare all this with the self-sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, it dwindles into less than obscurity. For on the cross, deserted by God and by men, is One who in His marred and tortured body bears the crushing weight of all the sins that have ever been committed throughout the long annals of history. Here, in the poverty of Christ, is the greatest spectacle of love which men have ever beheld or ever will behold—“not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Here, with His divine arms outstretched as though He would embrace sinful humanity in its overwhelming totality, is God’s answer to the plea of mankind for the forgiveness of sins, for the power to counteract evil, for the ability to rise up over the enshrouding gloom of death. Here, in the abysmal poverty of Christ, is the magnificence of grace, pure, saving, sanctifying grace.
THE MAGNIFICENT BLESSING OF CHRIST.
Then think of the universality of grace that is embraced in these three words, “for your sakes.” We have become more internationally minded than any previous generation; yet in spite of all the activities of our various world congresses and leagues no human plan or arrangement has ever begun to make the approach to that universal appeal that comes with the Gospel-message of grace. We know that President Chiang Kai-shek recently followed the example of three million Chinese by embracing Christianity; but can you conceive of a President of the United States accepting Confucianism? We know that four million of Mother India’s children have accepted the Christ as their Savior; but the isolated Westerners who have adopted Buddhism or Brahmanism are only the abnormal exceptions. Is there any one in my audience from coast to coast tonight who can name a half dozen normal, healthy-minded Americans who believe in Mohammed’s Koran, with its background of Oriental passion and voluptuousness and its heaven of sensual attractions? But hundreds of thousands of Mohammedans have been brought to Christ. Why all this? Is it not because the message of the great humiliation of Christ “for your sakes” is the promise which holds out hope to every child of the human race regardless of racial, national, or geographical distinctions? The magnificence of the grace of Christ is seen just in this, that, whenever a man looks up to that cross and beholds those arms outstretched to receive him, it does not matter where that man comes from or what his education is, whether he is an illiterate or an intellectual leader; it does not matter what his social standing is, be it that of a criminal behind penitentiary bars or that of one who has ascended to the pinnacle of preeminence in the affairs of the world; it does not matter what his financial status is, whether he be one of the large army of the unemployed who live on from day to day in dread anticipation of the rigors of the coming winter, or whether he be one whose Midas touch has heaped up a fabulous reserve of golden treasures; it does not matter what a man’s color, or his culture, or his reputation, or his age, or his influence may be,—when he comes to that cross and acknowledges that Christ as his Savior, his Lord and his God, he finds in Him all that he needs to answer the pressing question of sin and salvation, of life and death.
No one is excluded from this all-embracing “for your sakes.” While extreme modern philosophy teaches the survival of the fittest and insists that the sick and the weak and the unproductive members of society be removed from the land of the living, here are the riches of Christ’s invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” While India says of its baby girls, “Drown them!” and China echoes, “Sell them!” Jesus places His benediction upon childhood and says, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.” While Africa repudiates its aged and infirm and calls out, “Drag them out into the jungle!” and our modern system answers, “Over the hills to the poorhouse!” the riches of God’s Word say, “And even to your old age I am He, and even to hoar hairs will I carry you.” In short, never has man known any program which so completely obliterates every mark of human distinction as Christ’s self-impoverization “for your sakes,” that is, for the redemption of the world, in its absolute entirety.
THE MAGNIFICENT MESSAGE TO YOU.
So tonight I invite you to come and to accept this magnificent promise of our text, “that ye through His poverty might be rich.” I appeal directly and especially to those who have come from Christian homes and who have become untrue to the trust of God-fearing parents; to those who may have been members of the Church of Jesus Christ, but who permitted either the cares or the joys of this life to crowd out the feeling of their duties and responsibilities toward God; to those who may regard themselves beyond the pale of grace, who may feel that because of particular, repeated, and grievous sins in their own lives the grace and mercy of God does not extend to them. To all such He, the unfailing Friend of sinners, has promised the inestimable riches which offer to the world today a happiness, a contentment, and a peace that passes all understanding. Have you been confronted by disillusionment and disappointment? Here in Christ’s riches is the hope of the hopeless, the rock which stands firm and steadfast amid the flow and ebb of man’s changing favors. Do you find yourself in the midst of inner struggles, in a surging conflict for which human resources grant no help? Here, in Christ’s riches, you have Him who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Does your heart ache under the crushing pain of recent bereavement and the hurt that lies too deep to be probed by a physician’s skill? Here, in Christ’s riches, is the balm that soothes your sorrow and the radiance that guides you through the lowering darkness to the beacon of happiness, to Him that “doeth all things well.” Are you anxiously striving to learn how to grow in sanctification, how to obtain the crown of life, how to gain the assurance of the blessed companionship with the Lord when life ends? Here is the goal of your search; for here is Christ, who reaches out to you tonight to bestow upon all who will receive it the most magnificent gift in the world, His never-failing, neverending grace.
Now, if there is some groping, questioning soul that interrupts, “How can I come?” “What does it cost?” “What must I do?”—what an unparalleled privilege is mine to be able to tell such souls tonight, not the opinion of human speculation, but the positive truth of God’s revelation to man: “We are justified FREELY, by His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, His Son”! Christianity is the only free religion on the face of the earth. It must be free because there is not enough money in the world to compensate the price that the Lord Jesus paid for salvation. I read the other day of a manuscript of a child’s story that was purchased for almost $150,000. Not long ago an automobile factory was sold for $146,000,000. Now, if men place such values upon the material things of life, what figures must be placed on the imperishable and everlasting grace of God? And yet, wonder of wonders, it is free! Not only need we pay nothing, but we need do nothing; for a lifetime of the most strenuous effort, intensify it as we may, could never accomplish the humanly impossible task of bringing men from earth to heaven.
Come, then, and take the vast resources of divine love that Christ holds out to you. Led on by rumors of fabulous wealth, men have strained every effort to uncover hidden treasures and to bring to light the unsealed riches of past ages. But here, in the time-defying, decay-challenging riches of the soul that Jesus offers through His abysmal poverty and limitless self-giving, your treasure of treasures is close at hand. Will you not come, then, tonight and take into grateful hearts the outpouring of this most magnificent gift that Heaven has given to men? Will you not through trusting, childlike, implicit faith appropriate this unsearchable wealth of spirit for the enriching of your soul? Come, I beseech you, from sin to grace, from darkness to light, from poverty to riches, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.