Wisdom Incarnate

Text: Ephesians 1:3-10
Date: Christmas II + 1/5/14

“Wisdom, attend!” So announces the deacon in the Greek Orthodox liturgy as he displays the book of the Gospels. It is one thing to know about God, to know about Christ, to know about the Bible and quite another thing to understand it all. In fact spiritual understanding, enlightenment, wisdom is a working and gift of God’s grace in those who belong to Him.

Today, on the twelfth day of Christmas, we heard about the wisdom, understanding and discernment of King Solomon, the son of David, given him as a gift of God in answer to his prayer. Today we also were given a brief glimpse of another Son of David, shall we say THE Son of David, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as a young twelve-year-old boy. St. Luke concludes his telling of the presentation of the forty-day-old infant Son of Mary in the temple and, at the same time, begins this narration of the incident of his youthful appearance before the teachers or doctors of the temple with the sentence, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”

Tomorrow is the Epiphany of the Lord wherein we hear of “wise men from the east” who came to search for the newborn king of the Jews. This wisdom, however, is of a different sort. The Greek word is “magoi” or Magi whereas Solomon and Jesus are said to have “Sophia.” So what is this wisdom and who is it that possesses it?

The Apostle Paul in his majestic opening chapter of his letter to the Ephesians explains this wisdom saying in verse eight that God has given redemption through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” or understanding, “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.”

There is human wisdom. It is generally defined as the product of experience, knowledge and good judgment, a disposition to find the truth coupled with an ability to act rightly. But the wisdom of Solomon, Jesus and Paul is something more. Solomon asked God for “an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9), which he immediately displayed in his judgment about the true mother of a disputed infant. Solomon has been credited with writing Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Song of Songs in the Old Testament.

The wisdom with which the child Jesus grew, became strong and was filled He demonstrated in His words of defense to His mother, saying, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph did not immediately understand His words. But here, already, is the spiritual knowledge and self-understanding of His identity as the incarnate Son of God who came to earth for a purpose. Here he says, “I must be in my Father’s house,” or about the business, mission and purpose of the Father.

That’s where the Apostle’s words fill out the whole picture of the wisdom of Christ, the wisdom of God.     The wisdom of God is the understanding of His desire and action for the salvation of His creation, salvation from sin, death and damnation, salvation to a holy and blameless life now and an eternal life in heaven.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” Wisdom understands and believes that a person’s salvation is, first and foremost, God’s choice. The phrase “before the foundation of the world” acknowledges the divine attribute of omniscience, that is, God knew that he would be creating you and every human being, and He knew that His Word would instill faith in your heart, faith in the Savior whom He would send.

Fallen, spiritual blindness and ignorance does not understand, even objects to the plan of redemption which is only through the blood of the crucified Son of God, the forgiveness of sins. The plan and purpose of God is opposite the plan and purpose of fallen mankind who have, from the beginning of the world, attempted to find help and salvation as a result somehow of our own good works. How does St. Paul say it elsewhere?

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor 1:18-25)

This is the wisdom that our Lord Jesus had from beginning to end, or should I say, from beginning to completion of His faithful execution of God’s glorious plan of salvation for the whole world.

Paul says the entire plan is the result of the love and grace of God, which cannot be perceived or understood apart from wisdom. For this reason he writes that God lavished His grace on us “in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.” This wisdom and insight God bestows on the believer through the Gospel. More than mere knowledge and greater than human intelligence of advanced academic degrees, wisdom is the penetrating insight into the divine realities. The wisdom God gives you is the penetrating insight into the divine realties, what he calls “the mystery of his will,” that is the gospel.

This “mystery” is not some secret thing but is revealed in the gospel. It is to believe the good news of our salvation despite all the unanswered questions of why God chose not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved, restored, renewed, re-enlivened.

So there Jesus stood as a youth in the temple. The teachers who “were amazed at his understanding and his answers” didn’t know (how could they know?) the mystery that this child was actually the owner and Lord of the temple. Nevertheless, in order that all things should be fulfilled, he went down with Mary and Joseph and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And, once more St. Luke says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

May God continue to give you the gift of wisdom, the spiritual understanding of the gospel revealed by the Holy Spirit as you continue to read, hear, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God.