Monday, January 06, 2014

Sermon on 1 Kings 3:4-15 for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, "Christ, the Wisdom of God"

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today we come to the end of the Christmas season, and tomorrow January 6, officially begins the season of Epiphany, which focuses on Christ revealing Himself. Today’s reading are linked by the theme of wisdom. In the Old Testament we see King Solomon, the 3rd king of Israel, and son of the great King David, having a vision from God and asking for wisdom. Then in our Gospel reading, we see the 12 year old child Jesus going to the Temple in Jerusalem, and “increasing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Like any other child, Jesus grew in knowledge of the Lord, studied the scriptures, and sat listening to the rabbis, asking them questions.
Yet in a marvelous mystery, the Scriptures also reveal Jesus to be the eternal, all-knowing, Wisdom of God. In fact, while Advent is still fresh in our memories, we might recall the first of the “O Antiphons” which prays to Christ: O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. Today we’ll follow the theme of wisdom from Solomon through to Christ, who and is named Wisdom and proceeds from the mouth of God, ordering all things.
Typically we think of wisdom abstract quality, as in a wise person having uncommonly good sense. Or that they have a lot of knowledge and are wise to apply it to difficult challenges. So perhaps an element of problem-solving, of knowledge, and good decision-making make up what we think of as “wisdom.” The book of Proverbs, written by King Solomon seems to also point to this practical, daily life wisdom. But also, if we pay attention it also points us beyond to a greater Wisdom, not as abstract thoughts and reasoning, but Wisdom personified in Proverbs 8. Not until the New Testament do we discover who this Wisdom of God is. 1 Corinthians 1:30 tells us that “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us the wisdom of God.”
But our story begins with a young man, King Solomon, who had been established as king after his father King David died. Still very early in his reign, he goes to make sacrifices to God and has a vision of God at night. God says to Solomon, “Ask what shall I give you.” Such an offer seems too good to be true to us, but it never says God obligated Himself to do whatever Solomon asked. God watched how Solomon would answer, for God indeed intended to bless Solomon. Solomon’s answer begins, not by launching into a greedy request, but first by praising God for His steadfast, unchanging, faithful love to David, his father. This also models how we ought to pray, acknowledging God’s goodness and praising Him for what He has done. Not as if we can “butter up” God to hear our requests, but so that we don’t forget who He is and who we are, and what He has done for us.
Solomon’s next words are filled with recognition that God had a faithful and loving relationship to David his servant, now to Solomon as the servant of the Lord, and also to the people of Israel as God’s own people, His chosen. Solomon was king of Israel, yet he knew both he and his father were just servants of the Lord. They answered to Him. And neither were the people they ruled their own people, as though they had some ownership or right to rule—but these were God’s people. These humble admissions show that Solomon already had some wisdom, and knew that God is One who, in the future words of the Virgin Mary, “casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52).
And while we summarize Solomon’s request as a prayer for wisdom, the word “wisdom” itself never even comes off his lips, but God is the first to use this word. When Solomon finally gets to his request, he says, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” Solomon, in awe of the responsibility that was placed on him, and also feeling like a little child who’s not up to the task given him, asks for understanding and discernment so that he can rightly govern the people. The words “understanding mind” can be even more literally translated as a “hearing heart” or “obedient mind”. Sounds strange because we don’t usually think of listening with our heart, but rather with our ears. But “hearing” is crucial to wisdom or understanding, as Solomon himself would later write: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1–2, ESV) Better to listen than to speak, and to remember our place before God, as we are but His creature. By contrast, to close our ears to God’s Word is foolishness, and leads to bad decisions and bad living.
The whole book of Proverbs is filled with this contrast, that the foolish refuse to listen to rebuke or instruction, but the wise loves reproof and seeks understanding. The rest of Scripture is filled with rebukes for those who will not listen or are “dull of hearing.” Key to wisdom is realizing that you don’t know it all, and having a heart that is open to hear God’s Word and obey. That word in Solomon’s prayer, binds up together the ideas of hearing, obedience, and understanding. These make for wisdom, just as the words of the O Antiphon pray that God would come and teach us the way of prudence. Prudence is simply wise and reasonable living; the opposite of the way of foolishness, which ignores God’s wisdom and pursues destruction. So we too, to be wise, must have a hearing, an obedient heart, that listens to God’s Word and constantly seeks to grow in wisdom and the knowledge of God. And a “hearing heart” is also necessary to fully understand a situation, hearing all sides of the story and coming to a wise judgment, as Solomon later became famous for.
Secondly, Solomon asked for discernment, to discern between good and evil. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells us that discernment is a mark of maturity—in other words it’s learned through experience, as ch. 5:14 says, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” To know the difference between good and evil, we again turn to God in His Word, and see how He “mightily orders all things” according to His wisdom. If instead, we are lazy, and take our lessons in what we think is good and evil from society—from TV, movies, internet, and all the other forms of mass media and influence—then our understanding of good and evil will be warped. If we listen to the world, and not to God’s wisdom, we won’t be able to correctly tell the difference between good and evil. And this “maturing” in God’s Word is not instantaneous, but comes from a lifelong walk in the Way and in the knowledge of the Lord.
God was pleased with Solomon’s request, seeing that it wasn’t greedy or self-serving, but to make Solomon a better ruler for the sake of God’s people. Would it surprise you then, to know that God actually not only invites us to pray that same prayer for wisdom, but that He also promises that if we ask, He will grant wisdom to us too? James 1:5 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5, ESV) While Solomon received wisdom in a degree unique in all the world, so that there would be none like him before or after, God is also eager to bestow wisdom on us.
But as we said before, wisdom in the Scriptures is so much more than having a good head on your shoulders and knowing the right thing to do in a tough situation. All true wisdom, all the good ordering and design of God’s creation, by which things operate, point toward and are fulfilled in Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God. When Jesus came teaching 900 or so years after Solomon, and the crowds were amazed, saying, “where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” (Matt. 13:54), they recognized His wisdom, but they took offense at Him and would not listen. They lacked a hearing, obedient heart, and so were closed to true Wisdom. Jesus also rebuked the crowds for having the signs and miracles He performed right in front of them, but not listening to Him. Then He compares this to the time of Solomon, when the Queen of Sheba came from a distant land to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and Jesus says, “behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). Jesus and Jesus alone is the Wisdom of God that surpasses even the wisdom of Solomon! And God grant us a hearing heart to hear and believe Jesus’ words.
Because Scripture also teaches that God’s wisdom exposes all the human wisdom of the world as folly, as child’s play. And it does this through what seems to all the world as the greatest foolishness—the cross of Jesus’ Christ. Nothing about the cross seems noble, great, or wise to the world. But God in His wisdom is pleased to save all who believe through the preaching of Christ crucified. Jesus on the cross is the Wisdom of God that saves the world. He also is the humble Servant-King who is greater than His ancestors David and Solomon. It’s a spiritual truth that a natural person can’t accept or understand, but Christ Jesus becomes not only the wisdom of God, but our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. In other words, Christ on the cross is everything we need to be saved. This is the wisdom of God that empties us of any reason to boast in ourselves, our intelligence, our works, our goodness, our talents or anything else. It’s the wisdom of God that brings us humbly back to our knees—as little children unable to go out or go in, but who hear, who learn, and receive from the mouth and hand of our good and gracious God. Christ crucified is the wisdom of God that purges us of our sinful foolishness and hardness of hearing, and all our accompanying sins, and puts us back in the humble estate of receiving every good thing from the hand of God. And into our empty hands and our hearing hearts, God pours such a richness of blessing as to surpass all the wealth of Solomon. For in Christ we have all the fullness of God, His forgiveness, His life, and His wisdom for each new day. O Wisdom…come and teach us! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      King Solomon’s famous vision of God and his prayer for wisdom begins with God telling Solomon, “Ask what I shall give you.” Does God obligate Himself to do whatever Solomon would ask? Does God ever obligate Himself to do whatever we ask in prayer?
2.      How does Solomon begin his response to God? What does he mean when he recounts the “steadfast love” of God? What words does Solomon use that show relationships between God and David, God and Solomon, and God and His people?
3.      How does Solomon humble himself? Why is this a proper posture before God, at all times, but especially in prayer? Luke 1:46-55; Mark 10:42-45
4.      When at last in v. 9 Solomon comes to his request, is it something self-serving, or for the good of others? Why is this the proper mind of the Christian? Philippians 2:1-11. What does “discernment” mean? 1 Kings 3:9-12; Psalm 19:12; Proverbs 14:8; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 5:14.
5.      The phrase in v. 9, “an understanding mind” can also be translated more literally as a “hearing heart/mind”. Why is hearing key to obtaining wisdom from God? Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Proverbs 4:10; 22:17; Ecclesiastes 5:1-2; James 1:19.
6.      How do we know that God also wants to grant us wisdom if we ask? James 1:5.

7.      Why does all true Wisdom point us to Christ? Proverbs 9:10 tells us where the beginning of wisdom is. How does the New Testament identify Jesus as not only having great wisdom, but being Wisdom personified, as in Proverbs 8? Matthew 11:19; 12:42; 13:54; Luke 11:49; 1 Corinthians 1:30. Why is the greatest wisdom to know and believe in Jesus Christ crucified? 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

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