Jesus Is Wisdom (Sermon)
Every epic story has a hero. The story usually begins with a problem people are facing. They try to solve it themselves, but are powerless to do so. The early part of the story gives us glimpses of the hero, and we wait for him or her to show up and save the day. Everything builds to the moment where the hero arrives, and in an act of selfless bravery, he solves the problem and delivers the people.
That exactly how the Bible’s written. It’s a story about a hero who arrives to save the people. Every piece of the story is written to prepare us for the hero’s arrival. Jesus said all if it is about Him (Luke 24).
When we read the Bible, certain sections are obviously about Jesus. The Gospels tell the story of His ministry, and the epistles talk about the church’s relationship with Him. But when we back up to the Old Testament, it’s not always clear to see how it’s about Jesus, especially when it comes to the books called wisdom literature. Within wisdom literature, the book of Proverbs seems to be more about us than about Jesus.
Nowhere in Proverbs is Jesus’ name mentioned. Often when people teach from Proverbs, they don’t mention anything about Jesus or the cross or God’s work of redemption. Sermons from Proverbs are usually filled with good, moral advice and practical instruction. If we’re not careful, Proverbs can lead us to embrace moralism in place of the Gospel. We can read it and think, “If I live this way (moral, ethical, and upright), then God will bless me.” Our relationship with God moves from one founded on grace, to one based on our good works.
If we don’t understand how Proverbs connects to Jesus Christ, we’re in danger of reading Proverbs like the Pharisees did. Jesus warned them about how they read the Scriptures. They read them looking for life, but did so ignoring Him. We can read Proverbs looking for tips to help us live, but if we ignore how it points us to Jesus, then we fall into the trap of empty religion. We make life about our effort and our work, and fail to rest in the grace of God that comes only through the person of Jesus Christ.
The reason we tend to interpret Proverbs incorrectly, without any connection to Jesus, is because we think of wisdom as a way of life. We think wisdom is a hollow, follow-these-rules-at-all-cost checklist for living. But wisdom is not a manner of life. Wisdom is a person. I defined wisdom last week as, “learning to navigate God’s World in the way God intends.” How does God intend for us to navigate His world? We navigate God’s world by following Jesus. Wisdom isn’t a path, but a person.
This morning, I want to offer you four reasons to interpret wisdom as Jesus, and then suggest a couple ways it impacts your life.
(Proverbs 8:12-36 ESV) I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love me, and filling their treasuries. The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man. And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.
Personification of Wisdom
The writer of Proverbs goes to great lengths to personify Wisdom.
In verse 1, wisdom speaks.
In verse 12, wisdom dwells.
In verse 20, wisdom walks.
In verse 31, wisdom delights.
This could simply be a case of poetic imagery. Poets often personify inanimate objects. But notice what else he says about wisdom. In verse 22-31, wisdom is with God before creation, at creation, and is involved in creation. That sounds very similar to what John says when he introduces Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)
Alexander Maclaren makes a great observation: “One cannot but feel how in all this most striking disclosure of the depths of God, a deeper mystery is on the verge of revelation. There is here, as we have said, a personification, but there seems to be a Person shining through, or dimly discerned moving behind, the curtain” (Expositions of Holy Scripture).
When I was in high school, I helped with junior church. One of the things I helped with was puppets. One room in the basement of the church had a puppet stage, and a few of us teenagers would be behind it with our puppets and a script. We would pop our puppets up in front of the curtain, and act out this script. One of my favorite puppets to do was a mosquito called “Skeeter.” It was a very annoying puppet, and I did it well (too well in fact). The kids would see a puppet, but they would actually be seeing and hearing from me. The puppet was the visible part, but the hand that animated the puppet, and the voice that spoke belonged to me. I was the one behind the curtain. Jesus is the one behind the curtain. He gives voice to wisdom. He animates wisdom. He is wisdom.
When Adam and Eve were first seduced by folly’s cunning and walked down the path of death, God promised to send one who would die to save fools. Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate. He alone rescues us from the innate foolishness of our hearts. Apart from Jesus, we cannot navigate God’s world in the way God intends. Only Jesus can lead us down the road God has designed us to walk.
I want you to pay very close attention to three specific claims wisdom makes.
And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. (Proverbs 8:32 ESV)
For my mouth will utter truth. (Proverbs 8:7a ESV)
For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD. (Proverbs 8:35 ESV)
Wisdom is the way. Wisdom is the truth. Wisdom is the life. Does that sound familiar?
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)
The first of four reasons we should interpret wisdom as Jesus is due to the personification of wisdom. Wisdom is not a path to take but a person to follow, and that person is Jesus Christ.
Picture of the Messiah
The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: (Proverbs 1:1 ESV)
The opening words of Proverbs orient the book within the greater message of the Old Testament. From the early chapters of Genesis through the final words of Malachi, the Old Testament rings with anticipation for the coming Messiah. The messianic promise has numerous layers, but two of them come together perfectly in the book of Proverbs. The first is that the Messiah is the Son of David, and the second is that the Messiah will embody wisdom.
Who is David’s wisest son? Certainly Solomon was wise. But did Solomon perfectly embody the wisdom of God? No, he did not. His life ended in great folly. What about Solomon’s son or grandson? None of David’s sons or grandsons embodied the wisdom that would be seen as a mark of the Messiah. And we know wisdom is one of the identifying traits of the Messiah due to Isaiah’s prophecy. Listen to what Isaiah wrote about the coming Messiah.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:1-5 ESV)
So, the Messiah will be perfectly wise. He will not judge incorrectly. He will not act with limited knowledge. He will understand everything perfectly and act in perfect wisdom. As wise as Solomon was, his wisdom pales in comparison to the wisdom of the Messiah. The book of Proverbs shows us in vivid detail what a perfectly wise man would do. And by reminding us of the coming Son of David, it builds in us a desire for the ultimate Son of David who will reign forever in forever with perfect wisdom.
It’s interesting that after Luke tells about Jesus’ birth, revealing in detail He’s the promised Messiah, he then says this about Jesus.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52 ESV)
Jesus was marked by His wisdom. Jesus is the Son of David who never acted foolishly. Every day Jesus navigated God’s world in the way God intended. We can read the book of Proverbs, and see Jesus. He always acted like the book of Proverbs. Proverbs prophesied how Jesus would live.
The personification of wisdom points us to Jesus, and the picture of the Messiah does as well. The third reason we interpret wisdom as Jesus is due to the:
Teaching of Jesus
How did Jesus teach? He taught most often in parables and pithy statements. Parables are everyday stories which teach how to navigate God’s World in the way God intends. Pithy statements are very similar to Proverbs—short, memorable sayings full of wisdom.
In Jesus’ most famous sermon, we see a combination of parables and pithy statements filled with wisdom. He begins in Matthew 5 with the 9 beatitudes. Each one begins with “blessed” and is a couplet—one saying with two parts. They sound similar to the book of Proverbs and reveal how God wants us to live in His world. They flip traditional wisdom on its head, and put Godly wisdom in its place.
After the beatitudes come illustrations about salt and light. Then Jesus shows how following Him requires a perspective that’s foreign to our natural way of thinking. Throughout the sermon, Jesus consistently contrasts two ways of living—the way of wisdom and the way of folly.
The message of Proverbs echoes the message of the entire Bible. There are two ways to live—a wise way and a foolish way. In the Garden, Adam and Eve had two ways to live. One was to fear God and keep His commandments, and the other was to reject His wisdom in search of their own. They chose the second path and it led to death. When Israel stood in the wilderness on the verge of entering the Promised Land, Moses pointed at two mountains and said, “Each mountain represents a way to live—one is obedience and abundance, but the other is disobedience and disaster.”
In Jesus’ teaching, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, He identified two ways to live.
He talked about two paths—one that seems foolish to the world (it’s narrow and steep), but is truly wise, and the other that seems wise (it’s broad and flat) but leads to death.
He described two gates—one that is large and inviting, the world flocks to it and it leads to destruction, and the other is narrow and unpopular but leads to Him.
He talked about two foundations. The wise man builds his house on the foundation of Jesus’s words, and the foolish man builds his foundation on the wisdom of men. When the storms of life come, only one house remains.
Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament was the live version of the book of Proverbs. When Jesus talks about wisdom, He specifically points to His own teaching and His own words. Wisdom comes from listening to and obeying what Jesus taught.
New Testament Identification
The New Testament writers saw the man behind the curtain and want us to see Him as well. When the apostle Paul prayed for the church in Colossians, he prayed they would understand “the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3 ESV). All the treasures of wisdom are hidden in Jesus. The only way to live as God intends is to listen to Jesus. The path of wisdom is not a solitary journey, but a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ. You will never need wisdom He is unable to provide. You will never exhaust His wisdom. You will never receive bad advice. Every ounce of wisdom in the universe can be found in Jesus.
In his letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul made a contrast between human and divine wisdom. Again, he’s showing us two ways to live.
(1 Corinthians 1:26–30 ESV) For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…
One way to live is marked by human wisdom, human strength, human success, human power, and human authority. Because we are sinners, we innately desire a life of self-rule and self-sufficiency. We want to be considered wise. We believe our wisdom would lead to strength and nobility. We want to be the best and we want others to see it. But that way is vanity. That wisdom leads to nothing. Human wisdom, human cunning, and human goodness do not lead a person to God. They do not lead a person into God’s favor. The way of human wisdom is not the way to God.
There is another path. It’s the path of divine wisdom. This path is not a series of steps. It’s a person. We come to Jesus Christ, and He becomes our wisdom. Jesus Christ becomes our righteousness. Not our work, not our effort, not our wisdom, but Jesus Christ alone. We can gain the whole world, but if we don’t have Jesus, we have nothing. We can be wise, powerful, intelligent, and successful, but apart from Jesus all of it is meaningless. Our only recourse is to see our wisdom as bankrupt and seek divine wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ. There are two ways to live. One brings folly and death. The other brings wisdom and life.
I want you to see and understand this because it’s incredibly liberating. If Jesus is our wisdom, we don’t need to be something more or get something more. We don’t need to be something more—wiser, smarter, or better. We don’t need to get something more—riches, success, or popularity. Jesus is enough! Without Jesus, life is vanity. But with Jesus, life is meaningful! He is all that matters. He is enough. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote:
“I count all things—success, wisdom, knowledge, esteem—I count all things but dung for the sake of knowing Christ and being found in Him” (Philippians 3:8).
When you really internalize this truth, it’s incredibly liberating. Here’s why. When we get that Jesus is all these things for us, it frees us to stop seeking them for ourselves. We can exit the rat race. We can dismount the hamster wheel. I don’t need to seek money, or power, or wisdom on my own. Jesus is all of these things for me. Do you see how this reorients our lives? He is my treasure, my strength and my wisdom. He is the only thing I need to seek in this life. If I get Jesus, I get wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. What else do I need?
I don’t need to constantly seek for the thing that will make my life matter. I’ve found it. Gaining Jesus, frees me to love, serve, laugh, weep, and work because the pressure’s off. I’ve found the meaning of life. Pursuing earthly things is frivolous and empty, but knowing Jesus Christ—true Wisdom— is all that matters. In Christ (Colossians 2:3) “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In Christ I can know who I am, why I’m here, and where I’m going. Because of who Jesus is, I can sing, “Take all this world, but give me Jesus.”
Let’s end with a couple of ways that Christ as your wisdom brings you freedom.
Because Christ is your wisdom, you’re free to make choices considered foolish by society
If you want to be viewed as wise, you’ll constantly feel pressure to make decisions others consider rational and logical. What you think others think about your decision will impact your decision-making. You’ll be scared to make bold choices to follow Jesus because others may think you’re a fool.
But if you’re convinced Jesus Christ is your wisdom, then you’ll be free to make choices others might mock. Your wisdom is not regulated by their approval. Your wisdom is found in Christ, so let the world think you’re a fool. If you’re following Christ, who cares?
You can turn down the promotion because it requires too much of a time commitment, and you know work won’t satisfy.
You’re free to give up the career to raise a family, because you know your completeness is found in Christ, not your occupation.
You can spend your vacation time on a missions trip, investing in something that lasts longer than pleasure.
You can forgive the one who wronged you because their approval doesn’t define who you are.
If you understand Jesus is your wisdom, you’re free to make tough, unpopular choices because people’s opinion of you—whether they think you’re wise or a fool—is irrelevant. Our world calls right wrong and wrong right. It’s becoming less and less acceptable to embrace the clear teaching of God’s Word. If you’re afraid of what people might say or think, there’s no way you’ll affirm what God says. Eventually you’ll give in to the popular viewpoint.
Let me give you an example. Why don’t we have female pastors at Calvary? People would say we’re foolish, old-fashioned, and out of touch. If we were concerned with people’s opinion, we would have female pastors. But the Bible teaches differently. Now we could come up with a creative way to deny what the Bible teaches, and if we did, people would applaud our wisdom. But we’re not after applause or approval.
We know we don’t know what’s best, and we’re convinced God knows what’s best. We know our wisdom is bankrupt, and we trust Jesus Christ. Therefore, since God says women should not serve as pastors, we trust He knows what’s best. And we choose the way of divine wisdom, not the way of human approval. It doesn’t matter how much people may criticize or mock us, we hold to the truth because our wisdom comes from Jesus Christ.
Because Christ is your wisdom, you’re free to be weak and foolish
If everything rides on your shoulders, then you can’t admit weakness. If everything depends on your decisions, then you can’t admit foolishness. But if you realize that your foolishness is swallowed up in Christ’s wisdom, and your weakness in His strength, and your poverty in His riches, and your sin in His mercy, then you’re free to be exactly what you are—a weak, foolish sinner who contributes nothing to his own salvation but clings to the One who has done it all.
The apostle Paul said that in his weakness, the strength of Jesus Christ was displayed. Christian, it’s okay to admit your weakness and your foolishness because nothing depends on your strength and your wisdom.
Too many people play a lifelong game of charades—always acting like something they’re not. Acting strong when they’re weak. Acting put-together when they’re falling apart. Acting tough when they’re broken. Acting holy when they’re failing. Jesus frees us from charades. We can stop acting and start being honest. That’s incredibly encouraging to me. What doesn’t matter is:
How wise you are.
How powerful you are.
How noble you are.
All that matters is being found in Jesus Christ. He is your wisdom, your strength, and your righteousness.
To follow Jesus Christ as God’s wisdom means you must acknowledge your own inadequacy. You must come to the realization you are a fool, who apart from Christ will drown in an ocean of folly. Jesus always acts wisely. Following Him is always the wise decision. But it takes humility to admit that. It takes humility to say, “I don’t know what to do. Jesus, help me.” Arrogance will prevent you from admitting you don’t know how to fix your relationship. Pride will stop you from conceding that it’s outside of your control.
Confidence in your own wisdom will keep you from Jesus. Jesus told the story of two men who went to the temple to pray. One was confident in his own wisdom. He thought he had it all together. The other was broken and foolish and admitted it. His prayer was only 7 words long, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” Jesus told the story, then asked: “Who left justified?” Which of the two left right with God? Which of the two found mercy and healing in Jesus Christ? Because Christ is your wisdom, you’re free to be weak and foolish.
In 1969, in a science lab in New Jersey, Canadian physicist Willard Boyle and his colleagues invented the concept of an electronic eye, the science behind digital cameras. Their technology revolutionized photography, as light could now be captured electronically instead of on film.
A few years after the invention of this technology, Boyle walked into a store to purchase a new digital camera based on his invention. During the visit, the salesman tried to explain the intricacies of the digital camera, but stopped, feeling it was too complicated for his customer to understand. According to one long-time friend, Boyle was normally a humble man, but on this occasion he was taken aback by the salesman's arrogance and disrespect. So Boyle bluntly replied: "No need to explain. I invented it."[i]
We go through life like that salesmen, pretending we know better than the Inventor. We ignore the Creator’s wisdom and act as if we know best. In our arrogance, we can even pretend that God’s the one who doesn’t know what He’s doing. Friend, you are a fool if you place your hope in your own wisdom. You are a fool if you place your hope in another person. But you are no fool to place your hope in Jesus Christ, the very wisdom of God.
Where’s your hope? Where’s your confidence? Do you trust your own wisdom to guide you? Or do you admit your foolishness and ask Jesus to guide you?
This sermon was originally preached at Calvary Baptist Church in 2015.
[i] Allison Lawlor, "Master of Light invents a photo revolution," Globe and Mail (5-21-11)