It’s amazing where we learn life lessons from. I learned a valuable lesson recently while on a three-day hike with some fathers and sons from our church. At one point, early in the hike, we were due to cross what was supposed to be a fairly mild stream. As it turned out, the unusually large amount of rain that fell in the area on the weeks leading up to the hike turned the mild stream into something of a raging torrent.
We realised the need to span a rope across the river in order to avoid the youngest boys with us getting swept away. (Imagine trying to explain that to mothers waiting at home at the end of the trip!) But the lesson that we all needed to learn (and it took me personally more than one such crossing to learn it) was that you cannot focus on the water if you intend to cross safely. Your weight while crossing does not, of course, rest on the water, but on the rocks below the surface, and so your focus must be on the submerged rocks rather than on the raging water. Toward the end of the hike, river crossings were handled far more confidently than that first one, because by then we had all learned the necessary lesson.
The issue of being thrown off balance is very pertinent to this particular time of the year. This is a busy time for most families as a good deal of preparation goes into the events of the Christmas holiday. There is a reason that it is called the “silly season.” Most of us are very much out of routine. Work, school and even church activities often enter a time of recess. Things become a little less stressful.
And yet, even while we look forward to the rest that the December holidays often afford, it is also true that this time of year can be somewhat chaotic. It can be destructive in many ways—not least of which is spiritually. We tend to lack discipline and direction, and it is often difficult not to be thrown off balance by the speed and thrust of events in terms of leisure and indulgence. It is perhaps not too much to suggest that December, in many ways, can be more of a torrent than we sometimes expect. At such a time, the Christian ought to behave with great wisdom.
In our previous consideration of Luke’s Gospel, we studied Luke’s assessment of the Lord Jesus: that He was a man who “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” Luke 2:52). In this particular study, I want to revisit this verse and consider, very briefly, what we learn from the fact that Jesus “increased in wisdom.”
At this time of year, children are accustomed to receiving report cards. They have spent the year in school being assessed on what they have learned, and December is the time in which they receive their report and are informed whether or not they will advance to the next grade. Luke 2:52 serves as something of a report card of the life of Jesus Christ. The assessment, simply put, is that Jesus “increased.” And one of the areas in which He “increased” was that of wisdom.
As noted previously, there is tremendous mystery here. How could Jesus Christ, the very epitome of wisdom, “increase in wisdom”? How could He “increase” in favour with God? But that is the Spirit’s divine assessment of our Lord, and we must therefore consider the text very carefully to see what we can learn from it, and how we ourselves can increase in wisdom.
The Drought of Wisdom
As we have observed, and as we can no doubt all testify, it is all too easy to lose our sense of balance and productivity as we approach the end of the year. This happens when we lack wisdom. Sadly, as we look around us at the silliness of the season, it is clear that there is a great drought of biblical wisdom in the culture in which we live.
The best way for us to avoid this is by striving hard to be impressed with the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. We must do all we can to do so. We need to stretch our minds and get past all the cultural accoutrements that bombard us in order to be satisfied with the glory and the excellence of Christ.
This will require a great deal of prayer. We must pray for the ability to be impressed and to fall in love with Him afresh, and to feel a keen sense of devotion for His person and work. If we do not pray in this way, and are not genuinely impressed with Him, we will have little hope of maintaining balance in a time like this.
You will remember that our text comes in the context of twelve-year-old Jesus being lost at the temple in Jerusalem. When His parents located Him, He travelled back with them to Nazareth “and was subject to them” (v. 51). All the while, He “increased in wisdom.”
It is necessary for us to desire the same. Part of the wonder of the gospel is that, by the power of the Spirit, Christ is formed in every one of His children. If it was said of Jesus that He “increased in wisdom,” then it ought to be the fervent desire of every Christian to likewise grow in wisdom and to be making progress in this regard.
The Definition of Wisdom
What exactly is wisdom? How ought it to be defined? How do we recognise it?
It would seem that wisdom involves human skill. Wisdom presupposes the ability to do something. Part of Jesus growth in wisdom was His growth in ability to do things. In New Testament times, sons ordinarily assumed the occupation of their fathers, and so we can safely assume that Jesus was raised as a carpenter apprentice to His earthly father, Joseph. As He grew, He increased in His ability to work with wood and tools.
But wisdom involves more than that. Not only did Jesus have the ability to work with wood and with tools, but He also had savvy. He was streetwise. He had the ability to connect dots in a meaningful way. Wisdom involves a degree of sagacity, knowledge, understanding, insight and intuition.
Wisdom, then, is a full-orbed concept. When you encourage your children to be wise, do you understand what you are asking them to do? When you pray for wisdom, do you understand what it is you are praying for? When you think of wisdom, you must think of it in a full-orbed way.
The Display of Wisdom
Wisdom is an important subject both in the New Testament and the Old Testament. As you study the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon—and then consider the life of Jesus, you get the distinct impression that the Lord Jesus came to earth as the very personification of wisdom. He was the living embodiment of everything that the Old Testament said about wisdom.
Listen to how Solomon personified the concept of wisdom in Proverbs 8:
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 honour 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.
Note the many aspects involved with wisdom in this passage: prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, insight, etc. Wisdom, according to Solomon, is something to be admired, and again we see that in the life of our Lord. Those with whom He conversed in the temple “were astonished at His understanding and answers” (v. 47). Later in His ministry, many were astonished at His preaching and His miracles. He impressed those who met Him. Jesus, speaking of Himself, said, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). He knew why He had been sent, and He stated quite plainly that He was “greater than Solomon.”
In Revelation 5, the four living creatures and the 24 elders are joined by a myriad of angelic voices singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). He can handle wisdom. It is fitting. It looks good on Him, just as praise looks good on believers.
Paul adds his voice to the mix when he speaks of Christ as the mystery of God “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). We can multiply words, but pause for a moment then next time you wonder what is so special and unique about the Lord Jesus, and think, among other things, of the fact that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are “hidden” in Christ. If you are not connected by faith to Jesus Christ, whatever you know and whatever you have learned has not even begun to scratch the surface of wisdom. On the other hand, those who are connected to Christ do not need a PhD or a doctorate to be considered wise. God can give you, in your relationship to Christ, insight, savvy, sagacity and the ability to cope with life in the way that no one can formally learn. “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).
Consider the following excerpt from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which heralds Jesus Christ as the very wisdom and power of God:
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.
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, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
How glorious to know that Christians can boast in the wisdom of Christ. How glorious that Christians, who relate by faith to Christ, can anticipate the wisdom that He exemplified, which He also dispenses.
Wherein did Christ’s wisdom lie? Did it not lie in His obedience to the commandments? Did He not walk perfectly the path of wisdom and uprightness prescribed by His Father? He was obedient to God’s commandments and thereby fulfilled the law on our behalf.
Did His wisdom not lie in His prudence and His discernment? He constantly made the right choice between folly and wisdom.
Did His wisdom not lie in His humility, as He submitted Himself to His Father’s plan? “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). That kind of submission was a demonstration of wisdom, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We are familiar with that concept from Proverbs, but let us understand that it was personified in Christ. He displayed reverence and respect for His Father, and a wholehearted commitment to the agenda of glory. That is how He lived a life of wisdom.
And so Christ was for us what we needed to be. He lived the life that we could not. And He then died the death that paid for our sins. Do you appreciate Christ for the wisdom He displays in His intercessory ministry? Are you not thankful for His wisdom as He intercedes for you on the right hand of the Father? Is it not lovely to know that He intercedes according to wisdom, and that He gives such wisdom freely to those who ask for it?
In our text in Luke, we can see that part of the wisdom of Christ was that, before He was a teacher, He was first a student. Therein lies wisdom itself. It is so easy to think too much of ourselves. It’s so easy to be difficult to teach. But Jesus was willing to be taught, and then He became a teacher. Even at the young age of twelve we see that He had wisdom in these things, so that the old men in His presence marvelled at Him.
If we had the time, we could consider Christ’s pleasure, and His pain, and His purpose in all that He learned. Again, there is great mystery in the incarnation. At times, Jesus knew things that you would not expect Him to know as a man. On several occasions, He knew the thoughts and motives of people with whom He was conversing. And yet at other times He was informed of things He would otherwise not have known. He was informed, for example, that Lazarus was ill, and later He had to ask where they had laid the body. There is a mysterious interplay between the two natures. On the one hand, He was blessed with divine wisdom; on the other, He asked for information when He needed it.
How did He manage all of this? Clearly, prayer and the role of the Spirit were very much realities in the earthly life of the Lord Jesus. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus “increased in wisdom.”
What do you think it must have been like for Jesus, in all His wisdom, to sit under poor teachers? I would think that it must have been a frustration second to none. Knowing all that He knew, and having grown in all the ways He had grown, imagine Him receiving substandard teaching from mere men, parading as teachers but ignorant of the real intent of God’s law.
Learning requires effort and discipline, and Jesus was such that He displayed this discipline in learning all that He had to learn. He learned the Scriptures and was able to apply them to everyday life. That is why He lived a righteous life. Aren’t you thankful that He increased in wisdom?
The Demands of Wisdom
As we consider the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus, we see several things that are demanded of those who seek wisdom.
For example, Jesus displayed a deliberate pursuit of wisdom. He did not live carelessly, entirely ambivalent as to whether or not He would live wisely. He was willing to go through the pleasure and the pain necessary in order to learn wisdom. He did not “increase” in wisdom without the necessary effort.
The book of Proverbs encourages us likewise to seek wisdom, to find it and to hold onto it without letting go. Will you pursue wisdom? You must understand it, pray about it and patiently seek it. It is a gift, but it calls for deliberate effort. You can’t have wisdom without long obedience in the same direction. You cannot have an old head on young shoulders, but you can have a young head on old shoulders. Wisdom requires time, but it does not come automatically without effort. You can grow in age and yet remain very superficial in your understanding of how life really works. Make it your aim through patience and through earnest pursuit to attain wisdom as you emulate the Lord Jesus Christ, who “increased in wisdom.”
Will you consider these things and then apply what you learn? It is easy to hear these concepts, but unless you grab hold of them and discipline yourself to process them, you will not grow in wisdom.
As you grow in wisdom, perhaps you will come to the conclusion of the psalmist, who wrote, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15). If you cannot look at Jesus Christ in His wisdom and consider the great, mysterious interplay between His divine and human natures, if you cannot consider His struggles on earth and appreciate all that He achieved in the life that He lived, how will you ever be satisfied with His likeness being produced in you, as indeed it is being done by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let me then appeal to you, as you seek to appreciate the Lord Jesus Christ, who increased in wisdom, and as you seek to emulate Him, take the time to look through the raging torrent of this period to the solid rock of the historical Jesus, who came to earth and displayed such wisdom in His life. His Father was delighted with Him, and we ought likewise to be delighted in Him. His Father was so delighted that He raised Him from the dead, and if Christ’s merit should be ours—which it is by faith—will the Father not raise us by the same power? Will we not be accepted even as Christ was accepted? He is our elder Brother, and we can therefore revel in the love of the Father even as He did.
May this glorious Christ, who “increased in wisdom,” be our delight this Christmastime.