Second Sunday after Christmas [a] January 5, 2020
1 Kings 3:4-15
4 And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 [Solomon said,] 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?” 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” 15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.
In the Name of Jesus.
To increase in wisdom, a noble pursuit for the new year.
When we think of wisdom, who do we think of? Maybe Plato—he taught wisdom to Athens.
Plato taught wisdom as the state of the soul when it passes into the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness … the soul, said Plato, is the very likeness of the divine, and uniform, and unchangeable—Plato calls this state of the soul, wisdom.
What did Plato actually mean when we think of our real flesh and blood lives, of grinding out a living, or the tensions we have at home, or the problems at work each day?
What does Plato’s teaching of the soul turning in on itself to the region of purity, and eternity, and all that other nonsense, actually mean when we are mad at our neighbor?
By Plato’s wisdom, we are led to largely discount or deny all the grit and grime and flesh and blood of the actual world we live in, and to try to reach some abstract, uniform purity by trying to make ourselves more spiritual.
It’s a beautiful way to live if you can pull it off. But it’s not real world and no one can pull it off in real flesh and blood lives. And we are flesh and blood.
Some 350 years after Plato was teaching this wisdom to Athens, some 3,000 miles away down in Jerusalem a twelve-year-old boy sat at the Temple.
After his family had gone through much travail in looking for him, they located him sitting among the teachers. They gathered him up and took him back home to Nazareth. Luke 2:51:
And [Jesus] went down with [his parents] and came to Nazareth and was subject to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
What does it mean that Jesus increased in wisdom? It doesn’t mean he was doing the Plato job.
First, it means that he is true flesh and blood human. It means he is like us. He grows; he matures—he increases. He is at one point an infant, unable to walk, at another, a teenager, and at another point, a full-grown man. He is at one point a two-year child spilling half his vegetables on the floor, at another point a full-grown man able to taste which wines are suitable for a wedding feast. He is like us. And he increases in wisdom as he matures.
But, second, that Jesus increased in wisdom means, he is receiving gifts from his Father.
Because, if we want to know what wisdom is, we don’t turn to Plato. He teaches that wisdom is to be turning into yourself and to be more spiritual; he teaches you how to make everything uniform and pure. But not how to live as a true man in this flesh and blood world.
The teacher of wisdom is Solomon. Solomon, seeking wisdom, prayed:
[Lord,] Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil.
[1 Kings 3:9]
That’s the translation we have in front of us. But in the Hebrew, Solomon said, not “give your servant and understanding mind,” but simply,
Give your servant a hearing heart … that I may discern between good and evil.
From Solomon we learn wisdom. It is not the mastering of a field of study. It is not a mind trained in mechanisms to make good decisions. Wisdom is a hearing heart, says Solomon.
What is this hearing heart?
Jesus increased in wisdom, Luke tells us. That is, Jesus increased in a hearing heart. To Jesus, wisdom is being given words. By words, the Father gives gifts. John 14:24:
[Jesus said,] “he who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.”
Jesus hears words from his Father, and receives them as gift. Then Jesus speaks those words to us, giving us gifts from his Father. So that Peter is able to say to Jesus,
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The Father gives gifts by speaking words. These words give a hearing heart. The hearing heart—this is the heart of faith—receive the words spoken by the Father to the Son, and spoken by the Son to the sinner, and by those words, the sinner’s heart is cleansed and given faith.
So Jesus, living in this flesh and blood world, did not increase in wisdom in any way Plato would have wanted to teach him, but by a heart of faith hearing words.
Jesus receives words as gifts. Luke 2:46:
After three days [his parents] found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
By asking questions, by listening, Jesus heard words from the teachers in the Temple.
Later, Jesus would be asking questions of the woman at the well. By those questions Jesus was able to hear her doubts and troubles, even her sin. From her words, he knew what she was empty of, and he knew what words he would give her to cleanse her and bestow salvation.
Jesus wants to hear our words.
In hearing our words, he discerns between evil and good. That is, he makes the distinction between what is our sin, what is troubling us, what is dragging us into despair—that is the discerning of evil, and then he lets us discern life, by giving to us the words by which we are cleansed of sin, are rescued from our despair, and are brought into the full hope and faith of life.
Solomon prayed for a hearing heart. He was the great teacher of wisdom.
Jesus, the One whom Solomon was proclaiming, the One who was to come after Solomon and be the greater Solomon—Jesus shows us the hearing heart. It may be translated into our modern Bibles with the English word “understanding,” but in the Hebrew, it is simply “a hearing heart”.
Jesus heard words from his Father, and received them as gifts. Jesus speaks words to us—he is giving to us the gifts his Father gave to him.
When we pray for wisdom, we are praying for a heart to hear the Gospel. We are praying that we may not turn into ourselves for deliverance from sin, but that we hear the words spoken to us as gifts from the Son who himself receives gifts from his Father.
We hear those words. That’s what it means to be given a heart of faith—to receive words from the Father as nothing but gift.
Hearing the words spoken to us by the Son, we discern between evil and good.
The evil we discern, that’s our sin we know by the Law, our attempt to make ourselves more spiritual, our effort to justify ourselves.
Then we discern the good. The good is word of life spoken by the Father through the Son. The good is the word of forgiveness, the decree that you are justified by the blood, the pronouncement from the mouth of Jesus that you are clean.
This is the Gospel. To receive this Gospel with a hearing heart, this is wisdom.
In the Name of Jesus.