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Wisdom From the Past For Our Future

If information alone could make us wise, this would be by far the wisest generation planet earth has ever seen. It is not.

  • Last year alone, there were 40 times more bytes of data on the Internet than there are stars in the observable universe. If information alone could change us and make us better, this would be the healthiest and best generation history has ever seen. It is not.
  • A hundred years—one full century—is made up of 876,000 hours. Catch this: online streaming watched during just the first three months of the pandemic totaled almost 7 ½ billion hours, the equivalent of about 8,500 centuries of content. 8,500 centuries of content consumed in just three months—and it hasn’t left us any wiser.
  • Or this: all of the words ever spoken by all of humanity since the dawn of time is estimated to total five exabytes of data. Just three years from now, it’s estimated that amount of data will be created every 15 minutes. That explosion of words is neither making us better people or making the world a better place.
  • We have untold amounts of information at our fingertips. But it isn’t making us wise.

For this final Sunday of the year coming to a close, then, it’s a good time to chew on how we can make the new year one marked by growing in wisdom. I want to take you to a New Testament passage that is traditionally read on the first Sunday following Christmas, and then from it consider what it will take for you and me to be different from society around us in the year ahead—specifically, what it takes to grow in wisdom, redeeming the days rather than wasting them.

If you have a Bible or Bible app, open it please to Luke chapter two. We’re going to pick it up with verse 39. Already in chapter two, Luke has described the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Angels have appeared to shepherds announcing Messiah’s birth as good news that will bring great joy to all people. Joseph and Mary give their newborn the name Jesus, as the angel Gabriel had instructed, and then 40 days after Jesus’ birth they present him in the Temple in accordance with Jewish ceremonial law. There in the Temple, the Holy Spirit sends two witnesses—old Simeon and Anna—who testify that this child is the Savior and Redeemer they have long awaited. And then we read this, Luke 2:39-52:

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2:39-52

As Jesus grew, Luke says at the beginning of this passage, he was filled with wisdom. And then as Luke concludes this passage, he again points out that as Jesus grew physically, he grew in wisdom. The bookends for this passage, then, are unmistakably growing in wisdom. The question, then, is what does it take to grow in wisdom? How can you grow in wisdom in the year ahead? What’s the environment in which wisdom grows? What are the things that hinder growing in wisdom, as it so evidently the case when you look at the explosion of information but without much growth globally in wisdom? What wisdom from the past in this passage can position you well for growing in wisdom moving ahead? Let’s see.

And let’s start with encouraging growth in knowledge. We have members here who have earned Master’s degrees. We have members who have risen to expert levels within their profession. I have a nephew in his first year at Princeton working toward a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. His Dad is a math whiz who has no idea how to explain the complexity of what his son is already digging into in just his first year of grad school. Amazing.

Globally we have experts who have worked night and day to develop vaccines that are so dramatically saving the lives of those who get them. So we honor those who pursue lifelong growing in knowledge.

Luke zeroes in on the spiritual equivalent, which is growing in wisdom. Growing in wisdom is one of the most important life aims urged of us in God’s Word. Proverbs, for example, is all about. Proverbs 16:16, for example, urges, “Get wisdom—it’s worth more than money; choose insight over income every time.”

Wisdom is applying knowledge to any specific situation, specifically doing what is right. Regardless of what is easy or popular, wisdom is doing what’s right. That’s what we do well to grow in as we look toward a new year: apply God’s truth to every situation, doing what is right in God’s sight.

Luke’s account of Jesus here shows how genuine wisdom grows in community, wisdom grows through obedience, and wisdom grows by being challenged. Let’s take them one at a time as we keep an eye on the year ahead and the call in 2022 to grow in wisdom.

First, Luke shows in the example of Jesus…

  1. Godly wisdom grows best in community more than isolation.

Jesus didn’t grow in wisdom all on his own, in isolation or in the wilderness. Jesus grew in wisdom in the communities that he was a part of—his family, his town, his local synagogue, and the larger faith community in his regular family visits to the Temple in Jerusalem.

If you’re going to grow in wisdom in the year ahead, you need to stay connected to faith groups like this that will challenge you. Luke points out that every year, Jesus’ parents would bring him from Nazareth to Jerusalem. That’s 80-something miles on foot—inconvenient but a wise commitment. Why did they do it? Because wisdom told them that devotion to God and devotion to his people were worth it—because wisdom grows best in community more than in isolation.

Jesus grew in wisdom because he grew up in a family that was faithful to God and going through life in community with his people. Jesus was part of weekly Sabbath worship in the local synagogue, and he was part of the annual visit to Jerusalem for Passover—where they found him in community with Bible teachers, asking questions and growing in wisdom.

Jesus models here the fundamental definition of what a disciple is: a learner. If you’re not teachable, you’re not wise, you’re a fool. Bottom line. Reality check. It’s only in community, asking questions and wanting to learn, that wisdom grows. We always want to be that kind of church, a community where you can ask any question and receive an honest exchange as we seek to apply God’s timeless Word to our time. For anyone to grow in wisdom, and to grow in wisdom in the year ahead, we need each other. Isolation does no one any favors when it comes to growing spiritually.

One of the most fascinating studies on the benefits of community comes from Daniel Coyle’s book “The Culture Code.” He describes a study that compared a group of elite university students against a group of kindergartners.

Groups of four were told to build a structure using 20 pieces of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and a single marshmallow. The only rule was that the marshmallow had to end up on top. With only those basic instructions, the two groups were left to their task and simply observed. Here’s a picture of what kids came up with.

Here’s what happened: university business students began by diagnosing the task, then formulated a solution, followed by assigning roles.

The kindergarteners, by contrast, got right to work, trying, failing, and trying again. In dozens of trials, the kindergartners built structures that averaged 26 inches tall, while the university business school students built structures that averaged less than 10 inches.

What was the difference? It all came down to the difference in interaction between the two groups. The kindergartners succeeded not because they were smarter, but because they worked together in a smarter way. Working together, they came up with solutions that were better than any of them could accomplish individually.

Source: Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code (Bantam, 2018), pp. xv-xvii.

There’s a great picture of how wisdom grows—not in isolation, but in community. We are better together, and all the more so when it comes to growing in spiritual wisdom. I commend you for continuing in fellowship as we returned to in-person worship, seeking to grow in wisdom in community with one another. There’s wisdom in that. And that’s the first thing we see in how Jesus grew in wisdom: he did so through being in community with God’s people.

Second, Luke shows in the example of Jesus that…

  1. Godly wisdom grows in obedience more than independence.

When Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus in the temple, they ask him, “Why have you treated us like this?” In essence saying, we’ve been worried sick. Look at his answer, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

It’s not that Jesus was independent of Joseph and Mary. It’s that his ultimate loyalty was in obedience to God. Joseph I imagine understood right away. He knew he wasn’t Jesus’ father. Jesus had a higher loyalty—as was appropriate. Somehow, Jesus discerned that that Passover, at the edge of becoming a man in Jewish culture, he needed to be there in the Temple courts, learning and asking questions. He knew that his wisdom would grow as he obeyed God’s promptings.

The end of Hebrews chapter 5 talks about this, telling some believers “Though by this time, you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:12) It’s saying that, as with a growing child, solid food is for those who have learned how to handle baby food first. Growth in wisdom comes to those who first put into practice what they have been taught.

A YMCA is the perfect illustration of what Hebrews is trying to get across. Those who come here early next month will have all kinds of hopes for losing weight, gaining muscle, and more. But merely paying a membership fee won’t gain any of that. Just as growth in physical fitness comes to those who apply what the trainers demonstrate, so growth in wisdom comes only to those who apply what you’re learning from our heavenly Trainer. That’s how spiritual muscles grow. It’s how you grow up spiritually—by staying in godly community, and by walking in obedience to what the Lord shows you.

So I have to ask: what do you already know that you need to apply in order to grow in wisdom? If there’s an area of disobedience where you’re stuck, who can you trust to open up with for accountability? What will you do to make progress and grow in wisdom?

And if there’s any question about Jesus’ tone toward Joseph and Mary, Luke resolves it for us in verse 51: “Then [Jesus] went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” Jesus was obedient to both his earthly father and his Father in heaven. Growing in wisdom comes from practicing appropriate obedience to those in places and positions of authority over and responsibility for you, beginning with our parents as children and then extending into school and the workplace.

Consider this anonymous confession from someone in the Chicago area. They write of a winter that brought heavy snowfall, and at one point the snow had piled up over a foot deep on the roof of their two-story home. Then they had a thaw.

One evening when he returned home from work, he noticed a thick sheet of ice and snow hanging over the edge of the roof like a glacier hanging over a cliff. Their driveway runs right alongside the house, and one of their cars was parked directly underneath that overhanging heavy sheet of ice.

He thought to himself, when that ice falls, it may land on our car. Even so, he did…nothing.

The next morning when he went out to leave for work, he looked up and noticed that the heavy sheet of ice was still in place.

That night when he came home from work after another warm day, the glacier was still in place. He thought to himself, just to be safe, I should at least pull my car as far as possible to the left side of the driveway. But he was tired and cold and hungry, so he decided to go in for dinner. Maybe he would move the car later that night. He mentioned the overhanging glacier to his wife, but did…nothing. The night went on, and he went to bed.

The next morning when he went out to the car to leave for work, he looked up and noticed that the glacier was still hanging over the edge of the roof. He don’t have time to mess with the cars, he thought. Moving the cars would take more than five minutes, and he would be late for work. So he drove away hoping that for one more day nothing would happen.

His wife, however, had not forgotten about the glacier. When she went outside, she saw the glacier hanging two stories above their car and decided to move it. First she decided to go in the house and take care of food cooking on the stove, and then she would come back out and move the car. Minutes later as she stood working in the kitchen, she heard a crash and ran outside. The glacier had fallen, landing directly on their car. The front windshield had taken a direct hit and was shattered. Their out-of-pocket cost for a new windshield was $250.

Delayed obedience…is disobedience. That was their painful lesson. Delayed obedience…is disobedience. Growing in wisdom requires obeying what we already know, putting into practice what we’ve heard from God’s Word.

Godly wisdom grows best in community more than isolation.

Godly wisdom grows in obedience more than independence.

And third, Luke shows in the example of Jesus that…

  1. Godly wisdom grows in times of challenge more than in times of ease.

Every successful athlete tells us the same when it comes to physical fitness: growth comes through training and being pushed and tested beyond where you are at any given point. It’s the same when it comes to growing in wisdom. There are no easy short-cuts. Wisdom comes to those who persevere in tough times, learning through them what you can’t learn any other way.

This is what Hebrews chapter 11 is filled with—heroes of faith who grew in wisdom through the hard times rather than avoiding them. The hard times are what made them strong in faith and wisdom.

We were setting up one recent Saturday night when the YMCA swim team was having their Christmas party. There’s a team that started out inexperienced and not all that good. But a team of dedicated learners and dedicated coaches brought them to great levels of success. There were no shortcuts, just pushing on through meet after meet. It’s how any team grows—through the tests and trials, not by taking it as easy as possible. So it is with growing in wisdom.

Joseph and Mary are the ones who go through the hardship in this account. They’re understandably stressed at losing track of their preteen. But the takeaway for them is that through that test, they were learning again who Jesus really is—not ultimately just their 12-year-old boy, but God the Father’s Son, their Savior, who came to do the will of his Father. They needed to grow in that wisdom.

Someone has pointed out that to give your life for Christ appears glorious, to make great statements about how much you love the Lord and want to make a difference. Then he gave a parable. He said, “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table: ‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’”

But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. And then the Lord has you go through life paying out 25 cents here and 50 cents there:

  • Listen to a coworker’s troubles with patience instead of telling them to get back to work: 25 cents;
  • Go the extra mile in helping out at home instead of complaining about how much you do already: 50 cents;
  • Serve in church when you feel like it and when it’s just that somebody has to do it: 75 cents;
  • Overlook the offense when someone gets snippy at you, especially if it’s someone close to you: 50 cents;
  • And so on. You’ve still got a big bankroll God entrusted to you. How you spend it will ultimately show your wisdom—or foolishness. It’s just that it’s going to be spent—or rather invested—25 cents at a time.

That’s how you grow in wisdom, friend: through the challenges, not through the easy times. It’s just the way it works. There’s no getting around it. And it’s worth it. Because it’s the way of Jesus. It’s the path he took. It’s the path the apostles took. It’s the road every wise Christian has walked. Because it’s the way to grow in wisdom.

Adapted from Darryl Bell, Maple Grove, Minnesota. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 4.

God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will is not to shield you from every problem. His good will is to grow you through it all, including the problems, that we might become wise. You see this in every Christian who becomes known for their wisdom: they got it by persevering through the hard stuff. They didn’t quit. They put God’s Word to the test personally.

When Joseph and Mary lost track of 12-year-old Jesus and got stressed, it was a seventh-grade problem for them, that was meant to get them ready for the graduate school challenge that lay ahead.

In his teaching on this passage, Jeremy McKeen explains: Mary and Joseph came with Jesus to the feast of Passover. The feast celebrated God’s delivering his people from their enemies through the blood of the Lamb, but they leave the feast without Jesus and they’re worried sick. What if something was to happen to him?

Three days later, they find him alive and well, only to learn more and more who he really is. What they can’t see from where they stand is that Jesus is preparing them for the graduate school problem, on the day when he will prove to be the Passover lamb, his blood causing God’s wrath to pass over…us, to pass over all who will believe in him.

Mary and Jesus’ disciples would leave that Passover without Jesus and think that he was lost forever. But three days later, they would find him alive and well again! And when they did, they would grow in wisdom far more—discovering that when it doesn’t seem like Jesus is in control, he actually still is, and that nothing—not even death itself—can thwart his good plan for us, his plan to save those who trust him.

If information alone could make us wise, this would be by far the wisest generation planet earth has ever seen. It is not. What we need most…is to be a people who grow in wisdom.

  • It comes to those who stay in community with others who are seeking to be wise.
  • Wisdom comes to those who practice godly obedience more than independence.
  • And wisdom comes to those who persevere through challenges rather than choose a life of ease.

In the year ahead, may you become a person who more and more grows in wisdom, becoming more like Jesus one wise decision at a time, one compassionate choice at a time, one sacrifice at a time, one act of obedience at a time…25 cents at a time.