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Wisdom and Short Cuts

Dec 24, 2023


Pastor Peder Kling


Sermon Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)

Have you ever taken a shortcut in life? How do “shortcuts” usually turn out? Back in the days of atlases and maps, when I was growing up and joining my parents on family vacations, my dad would often take shortcuts. We’d be cruising down some main interstate, and he’d get this smirk on his face. The blinker turns on, he taps the breaks to exit, all followed by my mother’s groaning in the passenger seat, “oh, honey, not again.” 


Why? Aren’t short-cuts good? Don’t they save us time, every time? Don’t they save us hard work? That’s what they’re supposed to do, right, otherwise we wouldn’t try them. But of course, “oh, honey, not again.” Why that response? 


It’s always a gamble, and it rarely works out. Shortcuts rarely work out to our favor, don’t they? 


The Christmas season is a season to recognize the folly of shortcuts, and understand that God’s wisdom has a way of cutting through our shortcuts. In our folly, we’re always trying to take shortcuts, and the Bible is full of people trying to take shortcuts (as we’ll see in a moment). 


What about God, though? God usually does the exact opposite of a shortcut. Instead of making something easier or make something take a shorter length of time, what does God often do? He makes it harder. He makes things take longer. He uses the weak instead of the strong. He takes years instead of minutes—and folks, that’s his wisdom. That’s how he does things, wisely so. We know it all too well, even personally, don’t we? What do we often say when things are hard, or taking a long time? “God’s timing is always right. He knows, he’s wise, trust him.” When things are hard, that’s when we’ll especially know that God is involved, because likes to make things long and hard—or to say it positively, he’s more patient and more powerful than we are. It’s his wisdom, according to his purposes. 


Christmas time teaches us the same, you know. Christmas time teaches us about God’s wisdom, as we consider Jesus’s long-awaited coming and incarnation. When Jesus came, he revealed God’s wisdom over against our folly. In fact, what does verse 30 tell us? The language, there, is stronger than simply “he revealed” God’s wisdom. What does verse 30 say?


because of him [God and his ultimate plan and his perfect wisdom] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God… 


Do you hear that? Jesus “became to us wisdom from God…”. What does that mean, folks? Have you ever thought about what it means for Jesus to have become “to us wisdom from God”? He became to us God’s wisdom. We should hear Christmas bells—or better, we should hear “the incarnation” ringing through that phrase, folks.


I want to tease that all out with you this morning. Usually, I do something more “expository” on Sunday morning—where we would ordinarily walk through a passage together, verse by verse. This morning might feel a little bit more topical, as we consider God’s wisdom to us in Jesus, perhaps even as it might expose our folly—and yes, our tendency to gravitate toward shortcuts. 


Defining “Wisdom”

Let’s start with throwing up some definitions. To know what it means for Jesus to have “become to us wisdom”, we might want to know what wisdom is, biblically speaking. 


What does it mean to “have wisdom”, and how is that different from having “knowledge”? I think most people understand that it’s a higher compliment to say “that person is wise”, rather than to say “that person is smart”. Book smarts will only take you so far. Street smarts (or yes, wisdom) will take you places. That’s just true.


Wisdom, folks, is knowledge applied. It’s knowing how to take knowledge and apply it for productive and righteous use. That’s good and godly wisdom. You can know everything there is to know in all the universe—but if you don’t have wisdom, then you’re “puffed up”, as Paul says. You’re a fool if you have no knowledge and therefore no wisdom. You’re double the fool if you have knowledge, but no wisdom. Wisdom requires initiative, care, love—something deep within you that will take your knowledge and actually apply it into the world to love God and love your neighbor. There’s a whole book in our Bibles that explains a lot of this—the book of Proverbs.


Here's another way to think of wisdom, as we see the word “wisdom” used throughout the Old Testament. We often find “wisdom” applied to different crafts or skills or tasks. So, a tailor in the Bible applies his wisdom to tailoring (Exodus 28:3). A sailor applies his wisdom to navigating (Psalm 107:23–30). In fact, sometimes the Lord inspires this kind of wisdom in the Bible. Do you remember what God gave Bezalel, the man who built the tabernacle? We read in Exodus 31:3, when God tells Moses “I have filled whim with the Spirit of God, with ability [the Hebrew word there is hokema, which is the standard word for wisdom] and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs” so that he might build the tabernacle with perfect wisdom. 


So, “wisdom” is knowledge applied for building, loving, helping, serving, even in specific trades or skills, all according to God’s righteousness and purposes. A tailor applies his wisdom to his art of textiles. A sailor applies his wisdom to his art of seafaring. A builder applies his wisdom to his art of construction. The examples go on and on, folks.


Although of course, who else might we say must exercise wisdom to fulfill their duties? Who do we often pray for, that they’d have wisdom in their responsibilities? Rulers, kings, presidents. Their job literally is wisdom—to take information briefings from various people and to then know how to respond for the prosperity of his kingdom. That’s the job of a king. It’s his providence—his call to wisdom. He is called to understand God’s purposes, God’s word and righteousness, and wisely apply it to his art of governance so that he might see a prosperous kingdom under him. 


Folks, what of God? What can we say about God’s wisdom? He doesn’t simply know all things, intellectually. He made all things, and he made all things for his wise purposes and plan. Remember Proverbs 8? It’s a Proverb that describes wisdom as the tool God used to craft the world. In his wisdom, as the chief architect, God made the world. Then yes, in his wisdom, as the chief architect, God is recreating the world as he’s dealing with sin and the curse as he wisely works redemption through Jesus. Through Jesus the world was made, and through Jesus the world is being made new again even as Jesus “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (as our passage says in 1 Corinthians). God’s wisdom created and is recreating the world through Jesus—and yes, we could also speak of this in reference to him as our king. According to his wisdom, as every king should, God governs us—and as it turns out, he intends even to govern us through Jesus. 


So, that’s how we might define wisdom in the Bible, even as it applies to God and his creating us, and governing us through Jesus. That’s a bit of a conceptual way to look at it. 


“Jesus Christ” and “God’s Wisdom”

Now, the next question. How is it that Jesus Christ “became God’s wisdom to us”, as our passage in 1 Corinthians 1:30 says? To know that, folks, I suppose we need to consider the history that God so wisely crafted. That’s how we might come to undertand someone’s wisdom. A wise king is known by those who are enjoying his wisdom, as he establishes a prosperous kingdom. Or, you might say it this way. Hearing about a Rembrandt painting is very different from seeing a Rembrandt painting and studying it. Hearing about a glorious temple built by Bezalel is different than seeing and walking through a glorious temple. 


The same is true when we want to understand God’s wisdom in Christ Jesus “who became to us God’s wisdom”. If we’re to truly understand the glory of that, we’d better understand the story as we’ve received it in the Bible. The whole Old Testament, folks, is brimming with God’s awesome wisdom in Jesus Christ, that we’d do well to consider.


Wisdom in the Garden

Just start in the garden. Walk the garden with me, just for a moment, to see consider how God set this whole thing up. Adam and Eve are in the garden, and God has given them everything they needed—only forbidding them from one thing. He forbade them from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What did they do? They ate from it.


In his wisdom, what does God do next? He judges the sin as a just God should—he pronounces the curse and brings death into the world. That’s his wisdom, according to his righteousness and justice.


But also in his wisdom—in his wisdom in Jesus Christ—what does God do even in the garden that day as he’s pronouncing the curse? 


When I teach Bible lessons to the folks going through detox and recovery at a rehab facility here in town, I explain this to them often because it’s so relatable. There’s so much encouragement, and so much relatability in all this, folks. 


Do you realize that as God is pronouncing the curse upon the serpent, God pronounces a promise for salvation through a coming Messiah to Adam and Eve? This is what God pronounced to the serpent, a word which I fully believe Adam and Eve heard that day—


I will put enmity [or war, or strife] between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.”


Do you hear that judgement upon the serpent? “Serpent, you’re going to be consigned to war with the offspring of the woman—and there will be a day when he [that is, in the Hebrew, a single male offspring] will bruise [or crush] your head, and you’ll only nip at his heel.” That’s a small, glimmering promise—the first reference we have to the coming Messiah.


Just imagine it, folks. God is revealing that, even before he pronounces his curses upon the woman and the man in the next few verses. The mercy, the resolve for salvation, the wisdom of God in Jesus Christ. It’s unthinkable, folks. Adam and Eve had every reason to believe they’d be done for in that very moment. Not so when God’s wisdom in Christ Jesus is calling the shots. “An offspring of the woman ‘shall bruise your head’, serpent, and so destroy you.” That promise, given in God’s wisdom, concerning a coming Messiah, is the only thing holding up the universe at that moment.


Now, this is where I tell my rehab Bible study folks, “if you hear that promise, that one of your offspring is going to help you get out of this mess, what are you going to start doing?”. You’re going to start having kids and try to get yourself out of that mess.


So, that’s where Genesis 4 verse 1 comes in, virtually in the very next paragraph of the story. “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.’” Do you hear the plea to hope, there? Adam and Eve had a child, and they named that child in reference to that promise they heard in the garden. They named the child “Cain” which means, basically, “I have gotten”. Adam and Eve think they’ve done it. “Ah, I got ourselves a man and we’ll be good, right? Cain will crush the head of the serpent, and somehow in God’s wisdom we’ll be on the path to salvation.” 


Is that how it worked out? Folks, God’s wisdom is more manifold and wise than that. There was a problem—a shortcut that God had to work out—if you will. Adam and Eve named their son Cain saying “I have gotten a man”—hear the emphasis, there? “I did it, I got myself that man” is the emphasis in the name “Cain”. That’s how they view this child. Hence, our first shortcut. This is our first example of humanity thinking that they can get themselves out of our mess of sin and the curse. What became of Cain? Was he the serpent-crusher? He was more like a serpent, killing his brother Abel. He was the first murderer, doing the bidding of Satan rather than God. “I have gotten myself a man…”, so they name him Cain.


Cain could have been the child, you know. God could have chosen to make Cain that guy—the Messiah, the savior. Why didn’t he? Folks—in his wisdom, God was making a very clear statement. “Adam and Eve, you don’t get *yourself *anything, especially salvation.” So, God humbles them. Imagine having child after child, and realizing that you have no power over what kind of child you are producing. You have no power over God’s promise, over your salvation. You can keep having children, but they continually prove to not be the serpent crusher that God promised.


What do you do? I suppose in the end, you have to humble yourself and give it all over to God. “He said he’d provide the child, he will. He must.” At the end of Genesis 4, we see a very different Adam and Eve—a humbled Adam and Eve. Genesis 4:25 tells us, after Cain’s children increased in evil, “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said [per the meaning of the name “Seth”] ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’” Do you hear the humility, there? “God has appointed… he must appoint and he must make this happen”. 


God’s Wisdom and Our (Many) Shortcuts

Folks, Adam and Eve’s shortcut was nothing less than trying to take God’s promises and purposes into their own hands. “I have gotten a man”, so “I will name him Cain”. “I got this, I really do.” That is the tall-tale shortcut in life, folks—taking things into our own hands, rather than hand it over to God. 


Just take a step back. Why would we want to take things into our own hands? We think it’s a shortcut. We think we can do it quicker, or better. We think there’s more security as we take more control—but folks, it’s a lie. It’s a shortcut that gets us into all kinds of messes. 


There are no shortcuts around trusting in God, folks, especially considering the sin and misery that we are held captive to. There are no shortcuts to repentance and faith—to resigning yourself to God’s ways and purposes and his promises, acknowledging his ways are better and his power is certain. That’s ultimately what he’s after, isn’t it? That’s exactly what he’s after. Yet we struggle, we take short cuts, we take things into our own hands and we stop praying because we think we have it under control. 


Or sometimes, we doubt that God has it under control. You know, sometimes he takes the long and hard route—even the impossible route in fulfilling his promises. It’s like he’s trying to teach us something about his power and our folly. 


Just ask old Abraham, right? There’s another story of God’s wisdom and our shortcuts. God promised that the offspring which he promised Adam and Eve would come through his line. 


So, what does God do? He shuts up his wife’s womb. That’s God’s wisdom, folks. It’s his wisdom in Christ. If the Christ and his salvation is ever to come, he’s going to come through God’s power and not ours. But we struggle to wait and trust. Remember Abraham? He gets older, he and his wife grow impatient, and so they conceive of a plan. They have Abraham sleep with their maidservant, to have a child with her. That’s man’s wisdom. 


God’s wisdom? “Keep her womb shut until she’s 100 years old—until it’s inconceivable for her to have a child.” That, folks, was Abraham’s “Seth” moment. “The Lord has appointed me an offspring”—Abraham certainly didn’t do it. This is God’s power, God’s salvation, God’s Messiah. It’s like God is trying to prove that the Messiah must come from him through humanly impossible means—like even, maybe, one day, through a virgin.


So Isaac is born, and Jacob, and Joseph—and we could read their stories and see other examples of God’s wisdom and man’s shortcuts. In the end, it’s quite clear the Messiah’s arrival would be a work of God’s powerful wisdom—and not just his wisdom to bring the Messiah, but to bring the Messiah through impossible and extraordinary means. 


Oh, and scandalous means. There was trickery, and prostitutes, disputes over rightful inheritances, and so many other scandalous pieces to the story which God used in his wisdom to bring forth the Messiah. 


There was also this nation of nobodies—a group of slaves—which God chose to bring forth his Messiah. Remember that? Remember God’s mighty deliverance, and God’s call for Israel to go take the promised land? The promise was held out, the means to attain the promise was humanly impossible. Attaining the promised land would only come through God’s power, through Israel humbling themselves and trusting.


But again, shortcuts. Even after God did all that for Israel, and promised them the promised land, what did Israel do? They complained and wanted to go back to Egypt. “It was easier, you know, being slaves in Egypt.” Oh, if only they knew—or rather, believed—the glories ahead of them. It was another shortcut—another way around God’s hardships, and it’d direct them away from the promised land and back into Egypt. That’s usually where our shortcuts take us, folks.


The whole Bible is about God’s wisdom to bring Jesus Christ to us through adversity and trials and unexpected means which are completely contrary to human wisdom. He cuts through our shortcuts. He strengthens the weak and gives faith to the sinner, and according to his power he always makes it happen. To quote our passage in 1 Corinthians 1, verse 27 reminds us well, 


God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.


That’s the advent story. That’s the Christmas story, the incarnate God coming through humility, and through impossible means. It’s God’s wisdom—how he crafts and upholds and governs the world even from sin and curse to life and redemption. 


Again, our passage in 1 Corinthians 1:30—


because of him [God and his ultimate plan and his perfect wisdom] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God… 


It’s such a mercy that he did, folks. I think we would have had it another way. I think if it was up to us, we’d had created some kind of a shortcut around God’s purposes, just like Adam and Eve and Abraham and so many others in the Bible. We certainly would not have chosen the thousands of years between Adam and Eve and the Messiah’s coming—thousands of years of hardship and struggle. That was God’s idea, his wisdom, his glory through the impossible.


So, we defined our terms—what wisdom is in the Bible and how it relates to God’s wisdom in Christ. Then, we tasted a little bit of the story of God’s wisdom in upholding the world and his people through the promised Messiah. He’s wisely showing the world that the Messiah comes through God’s wisdom and power, and not our own. He’s wise and powerful, we’re weak and foolish. He goes the long route unto his glory, we take shortcuts unto our shame. 


Jesus Christ has “became to us wisdom from God.”  It’s the story of the world—of advent, and especially Christmas in Christ’s incarnation, when he finally came in the flesh.


Jesus’s Wisdom To Us, Today 

Now, let’s wrap this up by considering what else Paul says in our sermon’s passage, there in 1 Corinthians 1:30. I think it unveils a little bit more of God’s wisdom in Christ, and perhaps even one more shortcut we might want to take around the Christ.


Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30–31, “because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”


Paul, here, has something a bit more particular in mind—more concentrated and particular than what I’ve already said. Jesus, this verse says, “became to us wisdom from God”—and I think we’re supposed to hear namely, or especially “his righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from sin and the curse. I think those three blessings of righteousness, sanctification, and redemption are unpacking the blessings we get when Jesus becomes to us God’s wisdom.


What are we to think of those blessings? They were all promised through the Messiah in the Old Testament, you know. God promised throughout the Old Testament that the coming savior would come in righteousness and redemption. We saw a taste of that in Isaiah 9 and 28, which we read earlier. Jesus would be a righteous king, who would redeem his people from all kinds of wickedness. Isaiah 11 is another place where the Messiah is described as a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and “righteousness shall be the belt of his waist”. 


So, the Jews would see these promises and think, “oh good, a wise king will come and he will judge and govern righteously for the redemption and blessing of Israel”. 


Folks, he does do that for us. He is king of kings and Lord of Lords, and he will return with his kingdom of peace forever, such that the lion will lie down with the lamb and there will be no more curse or injustice ever to be seen again. That’s coming. In Revelation, the end of our Bibles, as we see an angelic and heavenly worship service bowing down to Jesus, we read of the multitudes saying 


“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”


That’s where all God’s wisdom and power in Jesus Christ is headed, and it’s our eternal hope.


However, how do we *get* there? Are you worthy to stand before God’s holiness? How can we be so sure that we won’t, like Adam or Abraham or David or so many others take a shortcut, and not trust God or not walk in his ways as he calls us to? “There is none righteous, no not one”, the Bible tells us. “All have fallen short of the glory of God”—we’re born in Adam, born under sin, objects of God’s wrath rather than his blessing. 


How do we get to the Messiah’s holy and glorious kingdom of righteousness?


That’s what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 31. Jesus isn’t simply the object of God’s wisdom, as God directs all of history with Jesus Christ in mind. He didn’t become to us God’s wisdom merely in that sense. Paul says—


because of [God’s purposes and wisdom] you are in Christ Jesus… 


That’s an identity statement. You are not “in Adam”, in his family of curse. Rather, Paul says, because of God’s wisdom and purposes, you are “in Christ Jesus”, you who repent and believe upon him. Before God, by faith, Paul is saying “you are identified with Jesus—in his righteousness, in his wisdom, in his sanctification, in his redemption from the curse and sin”, and folks, there’s no hope for us outside of it. 


There is no hope outside of acknowledging that Jesus had to become a man—he had to identify with us so that we could identify with him. He had to live a human life of righteousness before God, so that a new humanity “in Jesus” rather than “in Adam” would be acceptable before God. And as we’re “in Christ”, wearing his righteousness, we are therein sanctified—set apart and made holy—and we are redeemed. “In Christ”, through his incarnation and his death on the cross and his resurrection, he has crushed the head of the serpent. The devil can no longer hold you as guilty before God, he can no longer hold “death” as a weapon over you, because you belong to Jesus. You’re in Jesus—in his righteousness, in his eternal life, in his peace and joy and protection. And yes, it all started with the impossible story of a virgin birth in Bethlehem, to a baby in a manger who came to identify with his people and so save them.


Is that sufficient for you, this Christmas season? Is it sufficient for you to acknowledge that God had to do that, and if he didn’t, you and I would be in utter misery? That’s the elephant in the room, every Christmas season, folks. We were in such misery under sin and the curse, that our only hope is for God to work a miracle which the world regards as utter foolishness. “You mean to say that all of humanity is so ruined and sinful and unable to please God that the only answer is if God becomes a human in order to make a new human race—a new people of faith united to him—acceptable before him?” Yes, that’s what Christmas is saying. 


And you know something, most people don’t want to even think about that around Christmas time. It means we have to face that awful, humiliating feeling of knowing that we, in and of ourselves, are not enough.


This is the point I bring up in when I study this with the folks in the Bible Study, and they get it. Folks struggling with drug and alcohol addictions get it. Nobody likes coming to terms with just how powerless they are. We are powerless over our guilt before God. We are powerless over our sin, and the curse, and death, and even when or how God might make good on his promises. It’s all in his hands, and all we can do is repent from our sin and trust in his promises, his wisdom, his Christ. It’s a lesson the women of old had to learn as God closed their wombs (Sarah and Abraham). It’s a lesson we learn every day as God calls us to wait upon him for forgiveness and strength and life. 


So folks, don’t take a shortcut this Christmas. See the glory Jesus’s arrival and incarnation by acknowledging that God did it all, according to his wisdom, because we couldn’t do it on our own. We were in an impossible situation of sin and curse, and God—in his wisdom—got us out of it. And yes, he got us out of it through a whole host of stories which themselves are impossible by human standards. 

27 God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

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