Last month we saw that wisdom from God is to be found in the Scriptures. We now move on to the further conclusion that wisdom is found, specifically, in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the Scriptures represent themselves as the source of wisdom, so they describe the gospel as the embodiment of wisdom.
In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified. She is pictured standing in high places and calling out to men as they pass by, or as they congregate. ‘Does not wisdom cry out and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on top of the high hill beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gate, at the entry to the city, at the entrance of the doors, “To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men”‘ (Proverbs 8:1-4).
What is it that is so proclaimed and preached? It is surely the gospel, a message attested from one end of the Bible to the other. There are many things in Scripture; wise words, accounts of history, great poetry, amazing prophecies, and much more. But if that exhausts our view of Scripture, we are missing the essential thing. Scripture is first and foremost the vehicle of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and everything it contains subtends that purpose.
Speaking of the Old Testament, Jesus could say to the Pharisees: ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life’. So far the Pharisees would have agreed. But then, to their consternation, he adds: ‘These [Scriptures] are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39).
The Pharisees had missed the essence of the Scriptures. They were busy searching them, reading them, studying them, memorising them, and repeating them. But their natural, sin-darkened minds could not see that these Scriptures testified of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 Paul describes his preaching of the gospel. ‘I came to you … not … with excellence of speech or of [human] wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. … And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God’.
He is talking about the gospel. Paul went around visiting cities like Corinth, and when he came to a new city he would preach the gospel. That gospel, he asserts, owes nothing to human wisdom. However, he continues: ‘we speak wisdom among those who are mature … the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory’ (vv. 6-7). The mystery of which he speaks, the hidden wisdom of God, is nothing other than the gospel of Christ.
The mystery unveiled
In Ephesians (3:3,9) Paul again uses the word ‘mystery’ to describe his gospel, indicating that it was something which has to be revealed. That is the essence of a secret, a mystery. You read a mystery novel or see a mystery play and you are waiting for the denouement, for the moment when all is revealed. The mystery is unveiled, the secret is uncovered.
In the same way, the gospel is a secret, it is God’s hidden wisdom, until it is revealed. From whom is it hidden? From the minds of natural men and women, Paul replies. ‘If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those that are perishing, whose minds the god of this age [Satan] has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them’ (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Men and women are blind to the gospel. They cannot understand it, for it is foolishness to them. But that which is a mystery to the minds of unregenerate men and women can be revealed to them by the Holy Spirit.
When Paul calls the gospel a ‘mystery’, he doesn’t mean that it remains a mystery! He means it is in process of being revealed as it is preached and taught.
An eternal gospel
‘We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery’. In preaching the gospel, says Paul, we are unveiling ‘the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory’ (1 Corinthians 2:7). Therefore, it is in the gospel that we find the wisdom of God; not just in the Scriptures generally, but specifically in the gospel to which the Scriptures testify.
What does this tell us about the nature of the gospel? We have already seen that it is something concealed, and even foolish, to the natural man. The second thing we are told is that this hidden wisdom was ‘ordained’ by God ‘before the ages’. That is reminiscent of Proverbs 8 where wisdom declares, ‘before the world was I was brought forth, before the hills were established and the foundations of the earth were laid, I was there with God’.
This gospel is an eternal gospel. There are many people who think that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was something God thought up when things went wrong in the Garden of Eden.
Some go even further and think the gospel is something God introduced because Christ was crucified instead of being able to establish his kingdom here upon earth. The gospel is God’s ‘plan B’, they say, because ‘plan A’ failed.
Not at all, for the gospel is an everlasting gospel. That is what it is called in the book of Revelation. The gospel was wisdom that God established or ordained before the ages.
What happened back there ‘before the ages’? Before there was any creation, any human race, any Garden of Eden, or any sin? What was it that took place in eternity past?
The answer is that God loved and chose. He chose a great multitude that no man can number out of every tongue, tribe, race and kindred. He set his love upon them and chose them out of a human race he had yet to create. Not for anything that they would do, not for anything good or special in them. He chose them in free grace and mercy.
He knew they would sin. He knew Adam would fall. He knew the human race would sink into corruption and rebellion against himself. In spite of all that, and before he created man, he ordained this gospel and he gave to his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, a great multitude to be his flock, his people and his bride. This is the meaning of ‘election’.
The Lord Jesus rejoices in this election. In the prayer he prayed before his crucifixion (John 17) he refers again and again to his followers as ‘those that you have given me’. The Father had given them to him before the foundation of the world.
The purpose of the gospel
In Ephesians 1:4-5, Paul rejoices in the glorious fact that God ‘chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons’. It is the essence of the gospel that God ordained this ‘wisdom’ before the ages, before the world was.
What, then, is the purpose of preaching the gospel? It can only be to gather in those whom the Father gave to the Lord Jesus, those ‘sheep’ that he gave to Christ before the world began (John 10:29).
It is God’s purpose to gather them up and to bring them in. To harvest them into his church, so that when human history has run its course, ‘in the dispensation of the fulness of times’ he will ‘gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth’ (Ephesians 1:10).
At that time, he will present to himself a holy church. He will present it to himself as his bride, without spot, without wrinkle, without blemish, without any defilement whatsoever (Ephesians 5:25-27). Having been brought out of their sin, sanctified, forgiven, and covered by the blood he shed on Calvary’s cross, they will be set apart for his glory, eternally united with Christ in heaven.