Monday, November 20, 2017

Sermon on Proverbs 8:11-22, for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, "The Wisdom of God"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we are going to dive into probably the most interesting chapter in the whole book of Proverbs, both in this sermon and also in the Bible study hour. You’ve heard that Jesus teaches that all of the Bible points to Him (John 5, Luke 24). But what that means or how certain books point to Jesus is not always so easy to figure out. Proverbs appears at first to be a long list of mostly disconnected wisdom sayings. As we’re learning in our Bible study on Proverbs, that’s a major over-simplification. But you’ll have to join us for study to see why! But Proverbs 8 is so important, because early Christians immediately recognized that it was pointing to Jesus. The connection comes out rather clearly when you’ve read the whole New Testament carefully. An extensive web of Bible verses join the idea of Wisdom to Christ—including things Jesus Himself said.
The connection from Wisdom personified in Proverbs 8, to Jesus Christ being that very Wisdom of God, might not have jumped out at the original readers, before Christ came, but as they say, “hindsight is 20/20.” New Testament has dozens of arrows pointing back to show us clearly that Christ is the Wisdom of God, this master craftsman described in Proverbs 8, who is with God and works with God in creation. Jesus refers to Himself as wisdom on several occasions. In one place He recalls how the Queen of Sheba traveled great distances to hear the wisdom of Solomon (who wrote Proverbs), and He says now something greater than Solomon is here (Matt. 12:42). He also spoke of the “Wisdom of God” as the person who sends God’s prophets and apostles (Luke 11:49). And St. Paul writes at length in 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 about wisdom and foolishness, and at least twice He calls Jesus the “Wisdom of God.”
Read in this light, Proverbs as a whole, and chapter 8 in particular, open up in a whole new light. Wisdom is more than just an assembly of abstract, wise sayings, but all of God’s goodness and knowledge and instruction wrapped up into the very person of His Son Jesus. Without this spiritual knowledge of Jesus, there is a sort of dim or even blind grasping towards God and towards wisdom, that is possible. Wisdom, in that lesser sense, includes general knowledge of right living, good choices, wise decisions, thoughtful problem solving, and living daily life with justice and virtue. These are all small “w” examples of wisdom. Even apart from Jesus, some people discover that this is the way God has ordered life in the world, and if we act by wisdom, we will often see the blessing and reward of it. Luther commented that unbelievers have reason and wisdom and use their willpower to achieve an honorable and decent life—even sometimes allowing their evil desires be controlled by civil laws (Siegbert Becker, The Foolishness of God, p. 58). This much—the basics of good government and a relatively peaceful life, are possible for all humans, regardless of their belief in God—provided that they order their lives by wisdom. God has woven wisdom into the fabric of life, which is apparent in the book of Proverbs—and people can more or less discover most of these truths through experience and observation, with some effort. But none of that leads to salvation, or the big “W” of Wisdom.
This is why Proverbs 8 explains that good and just government is a product of wisdom and wise kings, princes, and rulers. It’s why riches and honor are also given to the wise. Good choices in life; good decisions—more often than not—will lead to good outcomes for us. Early in chapter 8, Wisdom calls out an invitation for all of the children of man to learn from her instruction. All are invited to hear and benefit from God’s wisdom. Anyone who desires it, will not be turned away—but those who despise God’s wisdom foolishly injure themselves. Most people read Proverbs for this small “w”, earthly, practical wisdom—which is certainly there. But Proverbs 8, and the New Testament, point us to a higher, nobler gift that Wisdom has to give. The hymn “One Thing’s Needful” sums it up well: “Wisdom’s highest, noblest treasure, Jesus, is revealed in You. Let me find in You my pleasure and my wayward will subdue. Humility there and simplicity reigning, in paths of true wisdom my steps ever training. If I learn from Jesus this knowledge divine, the blessing of heavenly wisdom is mine.” The highest noblest treasure of Wisdom is Jesus Christ Himself. He is Wisdom with the big “W”.
When Proverbs 8 says that wisdom is better than jewels, or that wisdom gives enduring wealth and righteousness, we are reminded that Jesus taught us not to store up treasures on earth, but treasures in heaven, that cannot be destroyed. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He is Wisdom—better than gold or jewels—our lasting wealth and righteousness. When Proverbs 8 says that wisdom walks in the way of righteousness and in the paths of justice, we remember how Jesus says He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that He brought justice to victory, by His cross and empty tomb. When Proverbs 8 reminds us that wisdom gives an inheritance to those who love wisdom, and fills their treasuries, we are reminded from the New Testament how inheritance is completely a “grace word”—describing the salvation gifts that God generously and freely pours out on us through Jesus Christ. Not something we deserve or earn, but Jesus’ graciously wills the treasures of salvation to us, through His last will and testament, sealed by His death. And when Proverbs 8 says of Wisdom, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old,” it’s pointing to the Wisdom of God being intimately involved in the very act of creation, just like we hear in the opening verses of the Gospel of John: “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).
So while some may pursue small ‘w’ wisdom on an earthly level, to understand how to navigate life better, how to avoid the pitfalls of life and handle difficult situations—Proverbs 8 takes  us far deeper in pursuit of big “W” Wisdom, that leads directly to Jesus Christ. It points us to the Wisdom of God that is in Christ Jesus—“who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). In other words, the whole spiritual life is wrapped up in Him. He is the final destination of a true pursuit of Wisdom. He is “Wisdom’s highest, noblest treasure.”
And here we come to a place where earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom diverge and depart. Paul knew that the Greeks loved and pursued wisdom. The word “philosophy” means “loves wisdom” in Greek. But in the same chapter where Paul calls Jesus the Wisdom of God, he also says that the cross of Jesus Christ is foolishness to the Greeks. It seems absolute folly to the unbelieving world, that the innocent Son of God should die a lowly and despised death on the cross, a criminal’s death, and that this cross should be the power of God for the salvation of the world. Reason can’t comprehend it. It defies human wisdom. But God was pleased to humble men’s wisdom in just this way, through the cross of Jesus Christ. Because God wanted to empty all human power from the equation of salvation, so that everything depends entirely on Him. This was God’s wisdom, so that all the credit should go to Him, and that we would not find any reason to boast in ourselves. So not only is Jesus “Wisdom’s, highest, noblest treasure”—but the wisdom of God’s ways at His cross put the world’s wisdom to foolishness.
We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to connections between Proverbs 8 and Jesus, and the whole New Testament, but another really cool connection actually comes from within the Old Testament itself. In Proverbs 8, there are six related qualities, attributes, or facets that are described: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might, Knowledge, and Fear of the Lord. Fascinating, that these same 6 qualities are named in Isaiah 11:1-2—the prophecy of Jesus as the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” who has the Spirit of the Lord resting upon Him: “The Spirit of Wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” The same facets of the diamond of wisdom are the identical facets of the Spirit of the Lord, that rests upon the promised Messiah, Jesus! I know it can be dizzying following all the lines and traces, but I hope you grasp how significant this passage is, and see just a few of the intersecting spider web-like connections that crisscross this reading.
God grant us His Spirit of understanding to see how His world is woven together by wisdom, and not just an impersonal force or random head knowledge, but Wisdom’s highest, noblest treasure is Jesus, who trains our footsteps to walk in self-control, humility, and simplicity. God grants us His Spirit of understanding to see the awesome Wisdom of God that is woven so beautifully into all creation—from the unspeakable grandeur of the widest expanses of the stars and universe, down to the mind-boggling marvel and microscopic world of the cell, and life at the miniature level. Everywhere across the earth are scattered God’s fingerprints, the signs of His Wisdom, even when we also recognize how badly the creation is groaning and suffering under the weight of sin and death.
When we see God’s creation with the delight of Wisdom, we can understand why Proverbs 8 talks about God working with delight in Wisdom, His master workman—God delighting in the work of His Son Jesus. God rejoices in Jesus, the Wisdom of God, and He rejoices in the work of His hands—this creation, and most especially the children of man—us! From God’s delight in us—from His love for us—we understand why God in His Wisdom, came into the disordered and broken world, a work of art tattered and vandalized by the malicious and the foolish alike. And He delighted to enter the “mess” and begin to reorder, reorganize, to repair and to heal. And He sent Jesus, His master workman, His Wisdom, to do this—to retrieve and restore us and all of creation to Himself. It took a plan reaching far beyond the wisdom and insight of men to resolve this problem of sin in the world, but God in His eternal Wisdom knew just what was best. He did not spare Himself the great and enormous cost of that plan, but willingly paid the price on the cross, so that we could be forever His. And the joy of our redemption propelled Him forward even through the horrors of the cross. And till that day He comes to take us home, He is ever sending out and working in and restoring all throughout His creation, the lives of the broken, the hearts of the wayward and foolish, the minds of the simple. Still today the Wisdom of God calls to all the children of man—come, receive my highest, noblest treasure! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      In Proverbs 8:12, the poem about Wisdom shifts to Wisdom speaking in the first person “I”, as a personal being. How does this agree with the NT understanding of who is the “Wisdom of God”? 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30; Luke 11:49.
2.      Read Isaiah 11:1-2 carefully. List the seven attributes of the Spirit in verse 2. Find them in Proverbs 8:12-14. Who is it that both passages are describing?
3.      What things does wisdom despise? Why must we also despise these things? Romans 12:9. What other things do those who love wisdom also love, and find as a result of loving wisdom? Proverbs 8:13-21. How are these treasures both earthly and present but even more heavenly and eternal? Matthew 6:19-21.
4.      What flows from those who practice wisdom in government? Proverbs 8:15-16. Who establishes government? Romans 13:1-4; but see also Isaiah 11:3-5 and 9:6-7. How is Christ’s rule still greater, but reflects some of the same positive qualities?

5.      Proverbs 8:22 was the center of a controversy in the early church, over the eternity of Christ and His shared divinity with the Father, based on an imprecise Greek translation of this verse. Nevertheless, the orthodox teachers of the faith correctly understood this verse within the total unity of the Scriptures, and rightly affirmed Jesus is eternally God, and as Prov. 8:22 describes, was co-creator with God of all things. How do John 1:1, 18; Colossians 1:15; 2:2-3; and Ephesians 3:8-10 all echo and confirm this truth? 

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