The Lord Jesus possessed great powers of insight and I am constantly arrested by his amazing wisdom. The wisdom he displayed was far beyond normal common sense, and sagacity and I can only equate it to the Gift of Wisdom of which Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14.
The dictionary definition of wisdom is a combination of good judgement, knowledge, and experience, but Jesus’ wisdom goes deeper than this.
The biblical references to wisdom take it into the realm of life application where wise people are described as those who apply God’s revealed viewpoint to daily life. Jesus displayed this, but so much more.
Perhaps a better definition of the wisdom Jesus possessed is ‘supernatural insight applied perfectly to life situations’. The best way I can illustrate this and explain why his wisdom amazes me so is to give a couple of examples.
Matthew 22:15-22 records the story of how some Pharisees tried to trap Jesus. They came to him, and after flattering him, they asked, “What is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” They figured that if Jesus answered that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, then they could accuse him of being a lackey to Rome and a traitor to the Jewish people. If he said that it was not right for a Jew to pay taxes to Rome, then they could turn him in to the authorities as an insurrectionist. They thought that they had him between a Roman rock and a Jewish hard place.
Jesus did not answer directly, but instead, asked them to show him the coin that was used to pay the Roman tax. They produced a Denarius, a coin that bore the head of Caesar on one side. Then he addressed them with the words: “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?“, “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
The first part of his instruction is easy to understand. The coin was minted by Caesar as a means of paying tax and it bore his image and inscription of ownership. So, to give a Denarius to Rome as payment of tax was simply giving back to Caesar what was already his. In another sense, it was legitimately due to him because Rome provided law and order, military protection, and so on.
The second part of the statement is harder to understand without the benefit of a little biblical context. The basis of what Jesus said concerning giving to God what was his, is found in Genesis 1:26. This verse reads, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So, humankind bears the image of God, not the image of Caesar and all people belong to God and not to the Rome Emperor. So, an amplification of what Jesus said would be, “Give your tax money to Caesar, but give yourselves to God”.
The account in Matthew’s Gospel concludes with the words, ‘When they heard this, they were amazed’. We should be amazed too because Jesus’ response was sublime and irrefutable.
However, when I dig deeper into this passage of scripture I become even more amazed by the Lord’s overall handling of the situation.
Consider the following: Jesus knew from the very start what the Pharisees were trying to do and he let them know this by saying, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” Having called them out, he refused to enter into a debate with them on the validity of the tax, citizen obligations, Jewish religious law, and so on. Then, in his short response, he incorporated another layer of meaning. You see, the Jewish Temple Tax was paid using the Sacred Schekel and this coin bore no human image of inscription of ownership. So, a second meaning of what Jesus said could be, “Pay your taxes to Caesar with the Denarius but pay your Temple Tax with the Sacred Shekel”. The Pharisees would not have been able to find fault with this ruling.
No wonder Jesus’ accusers were astounded by his wisdom and could only walk away. Amazing!
To Stone or Not to Stone
The second example of Jesus’ amazing wisdom also involves a situation where the Pharisees were once again trying to trap him. They brought to him a woman caught in the act of adultery with the idea of testing his adherence to the Law of Moses that commanded that an adulterous woman be stoned to death.
John 8:1-11 records the story and starts with the Pharisees’ words to Jesus: “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, to have a basis for accusing him.
As in the previous case, Jesus did not respond immediately, but instead, he bent down and wrote something in the dust with his finger. The Pharisees kept on throwing questions at him and he then responded with the words, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. Then he continued to write in the dust.
No one knows for sure just what Jesus wrote, but it must have been appropriate to the matter at hand, it must have been short and easy to read, and it must have resonated with his adversaries. Now consider this:
- Leviticus 20:10 instructs that the man and the woman involved in adultery must be stoned. But where was the man? They caught the two in the very act of adultery yet they did not present the man to Jesus for judgement. Why? Perhaps they had set the whole thing up with the man’s help and were willing to sacrifice her, but not him, for the sake of their wicked scheme. No matter their motive, they were themselves in violation of the Law of Moses.
- Secondly, Roman Law only allowed for the execution of a woman caught in adultery if the involved man was also executed. Strike two – the Pharisees were also violating Roman Law and could be severely punished for this.
So then, given all this, what might Jesus have been writing in the dust with his finger? Whatever it was, it had the power to convict, not the woman, but her accusers. It must also have been something they readily recognised and knew that it applied to them.
My educated guess is that perhaps Jesus wrote the three Hebrew letters that formed the word ‘Tekel’. This word meant ‘weighed’ and featured in a well know and dramatic story from Israel’s history. The story is told in the book of Daniel Chapter Five where the finger of God wrote on the wall of King Belshazzar’s palace banqueting hall. The Prophet Daniel was summoned to tell the king what the words meant and he interpreted the word ‘tekel’ to mean “you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting”.
Now here, before another group of men, God in human flesh wrote in the dust with his finger what he had written some 500 years earlier. Surely, the Pharisees would have been aware of the historical significance, and they could not have failed to grasp its application to themselves.
When I first realised that this was most probably the fuller meaning of what John recorded, I was overwhelmed with wonder at the amazing wisdom of the Lord Jesus! He turned both the Law of Moses and the Law of Rome around to point directly at his accusers. He did this with both his spoken words and a written word they immediately recognised and understood. As realisation dawned in their minds Jesus challenged any one of them who was without sin to cast the first rock at the woman. What amazing wisdom!
A Personal Application
I have experienced what Paul described as the spiritual gift of ‘a Word of Wisdom’ many times in my Christian life.
Most often they come when I am in a counselling situation and listening to someone’s life problems that are humanly impossible to solve. However, rather than one of these occasions, I want to recount a series of events that demonstrate the inadequacy of my human wisdom when compared to the sublime wisdom of God.
In the early days of Lonehill Village Church, the community I pastored, a man came to me and asked for advice. He had committed adultery many years before and now was convicted that he should confess this to his wife. Drawing on my worldly wisdom, I advised against this – why cause his wife pain over something long gone and why risk damaging their marriage? He thanked me profusely, and went off… and did just the opposite to what I had advised. His wife had a mini-meltdown, but the next day came to him to say that his confession had released her to confess to him her own past indiscretions.
From then on their relationship became deeper and more loving and a few months later they came to ask me to baptise them together as a sacrament of a new beginning. I explained the biblical significance of water baptism but agreed to administer it to the husband because he had not previously made this witness-in-water to his New Birth. She was a little distressed because she wanted to be part of it and so I silently asked the Holy Spirit for a Word of Wisdom. A solution immediately came to mind and I suggested that she stand at the edge of the pool and reach out her hand to pray for her husband as he came up out of the waters of baptism.
So, that is what happened, but as I raised her husband up out of the water, I looked over and saw her collapsing in a pile on the concrete poolside. She explained to me afterwards that as she stretched out her hand towards her husband, the Holy Spirit had poured out his blessing on her. She had not been able to stand under the ‘weight’ of this experience and had collapsed. So, as I baptised the husband in water the Holy Spirit had simultaneously baptised the wife with ‘power from on high’.
Not many months later, the husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died shortly after that. During that period they were able to live in rich guilt-free companionship with one another and when the time came to say goodbye the wife was able to draw on God’s spiritual anointing to be strong yet compassionate. God is good!
The wisdom of the Lord Jesus is truly amazing.
I lacked wisdom, but he gave that conscience-stricken husband real wisdom from above. Because of that the couple had been freed from their sense of guilt and shame and had been able to live in harmony during the months leading up to his death. As part of the process, God had given me a Gift of Wisdom facilitating a life-imparting double baptism. I can only say again, the wisdom of Jesus is amazing!
His Wisdom In And Through The Church
My understanding of the wisdom that God gives those who ask, is as Lawrence Richards puts it, ‘the divine perspective available to and applied by believers to the issues of their lives’. However, in using the word to describe a gift of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8) Paul extends the range of wisdom beyond a believer’s own life to the lives of others. Counsellors give gifts of wisdom to those who come to them, not just in what they say from the basis of their learning and experience, but more particularly when they cry out to and receive from the Holy Spirit his wisdom. Preachers impart divine wisdom when they speak out applications of biblical truth as the Spirit leads them.
Divine wisdom can be imparted to Christians and non-Christians alike and can be dispensed in a church service or any secular setting. Whatever the context and the place, the response should always be amazement and a sense of the presence of the one ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’; the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:3).