The Gospel Beginning in Proverbs
We can summarize the good news of salvation in four words: God, Man, Christ, Response. God is holy and Creator of all (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:11). Man is sinful and deserving of God’s judgment (Rom 6:23a). God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Savior for sinners by dying in their place (Rom 5:8; 1 Pet 1:3). So how will you respond to this good news (John 3:36)?
The Old Testament foreshadows the good news that Jesus would reveal to his disciples: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Old Testament writers dimly understood God’s plan of salvation which would be more fully revealed with the coming of Christ (Heb 1:1-2). Still, we find in Proverbs shadows of the gospel describing the nature of God and man, the redemption of the coming Messiah, and the response to these truths that every person must make. Even before the coming of Christ, these basic truths are embedded in the Proverbs: God is the omniscient (15:3), sovereign (16:9), holy (17:15) Creator of all (3:19; 22:2). Man is sinful (20:9) and foolish (22:15), blinded by iniquity (12:15a), and unable to save himself by works (21:3, 27). He is deserving of punishment (19:29), yet spared by God’s mercy (28:13). Christ’s preparation can also be found in the wisdom of Proverbs, for wisdom begins and ends in Christ, who was present at creation and will be worshipped forever. Christ was the only all-wise person to walk this earth (Luke 2:40-47) and the Mighty One greater than Solomon (Matt 12:42). He alone spoke words of wisdom with divine authority (Matt 7:24-29) and became to us the Wisdom from God for the sake of righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:22-24, 30; see Col 2:3).
The gospel begins with the attributes of God and his marvelous works. He is, first of all, worshiped as the all-wise Creator of the universe: “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” (3:19). So also, “the rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the maker of them all” (22:2). Second, God is omniscient and omnipresent. He knows all things because he can see all things at once: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (15:3). Since God sees all and is perfectly just, he will reward the good and judge the wicked. No man can fool the Lord.
God also sovereignly controls the daily events of life: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (16:9). Man may have thoughts, emotions, and behavior (4:23), yet he makes all his decisions within God’s sovereign will. Not even the tiniest circumstance falls outside the realm of God’s command (16:33). Therefore, God is worthy of worship as the sovereign creator: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). He desires that man be holy like he is holy (Lev 19:2) and declares that “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (Prov 17:15). God displays his holy character by hating the unholy and unjust. He judges mankind by his holy standard and knows by his watchful eye when we fall short (Rom 3:23).
Thankfully though, God is also gracious and merciful: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov 28:13). We must choose between these two paths: God promises judgment for the one who hides his sin (1 John 1:6, 8, 10), yet mercy for the one who confesses and turns from sin (vv. 5, 7, 9). When sharing the gospel, we present this choice as well: Will you conceal your sin and perish or confess your sin and receive God’s merciful forgiveness?
The second gospel truth addresses man’s nature and his relationship to God. In contrast to a holy God, man is sinful: “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Prov 20:9). The answer, of course, is no one. “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Rom 3:10-12; see Ps 14:1-3). Not only that, but man is also foolish: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Prov 22:15). Man is foolish at heart from birth (see Ps 51:5). Therefore, one need not teach folly to a child, but rather must teach them to avoid folly through godly instruction and discipline. Even worse, however, man is spiritually blinded to his sin (see Job 5:14) and cannot even see it: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Prov 12:15a). In blindness, many do not readily respond to the good news proclaimed. Although Christ offers abundant life (John 10:10b) and life everlasting (3:16), they refuse to step into the light of truth: “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7b).
Man is not only blinded to his sin and folly, but he also cannot save himself by good works. For example, he may try to earn salvation by giving to charity, adhering to religious tenets, living a respectable life, or exhibiting honorable behavior. However, “to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. . . The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent” (21:3, 27). God loves an obedient heart more than external behavior and desires righteousness more than empty sacrifice (e.g., 1 Sam 15:22). As Paul reiterates in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The gospel reminds us that sinful man deserves punishment, “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23a). The gospel declares this bad news for the wicked: “Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and beating for the backs of fools” (Prov 19:29; see Heb 9:27). Yet thankfully, Christ took the penalty for sin upon himself. As Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5). So man was a foolish sinner, blinded and unable to save himself by works. He was deserving of punishment until Christ came to die on his behalf.
The good news centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Who is Christ, and what has he done to bring man to God? Isaiah 11:1-2 prophesies of the Messiah who will embody the wisdom of God: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit to know perfectly and fear the Lord (Prov 1:7a). The New Testament later claims that “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3), so we must seek wisdom in Christ-like we search for buried treasure (Prov 2:1-4). Paul also declares, “And because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor 1:30-31). God demonstrates no greater wisdom than in the salvation of his saints. Yet how could he declare sinful man to be righteous and sanctify those who were blindly groping in the darkness? How could he redeem those who were once enslaved to folly? Only by his perfect wisdom could he satisfy his holy wrath while also rescuing death-deserving sinners. Only at the cross did mercy and judgment flow mingled down.
The cross reminds believers that only sinners can be made into saints, for we must recognize our sin to know our need for salvation. According to Proverbs 14:9, “Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance.” “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7b) because we are blinded to our own sin and folly. We do not see our need for a Savior because we do not see our own sin. And we do not see our own sin unless we see the God who is holy. As Paul affirms, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). Those who deny sin are flabbergasted that any man would die an excruciating death for others. Thus, only those who have received the blessing of salvation can proclaim their joy in the gospel’s power (Rom 1:16): “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil” (Prov 16:6). Only those who turn to God can be forgiven, and only those who admit their sin can be made righteous. The steadfast love and faithfulness of God (Exod 34:6-7) forms the basis of our atonement and the reason we fear the Lord: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God sacrificed his beloved Son that we might have eternal life. This is great love that a man “lay down his life for his friends” (15:13).
In Christ, we learn that righteousness is better than riches because it leads us to eternal life: “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Prov 11:4). So when sharing the gospel, we might ask our friend: “If you should die today and stand before the Lord, what would you say if he asked why he should let you into heaven?” The saving answer is neither riches, nor religion, nor even good works, but only the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. For when God looks upon his children, he does not see our sin but rather the sinless life of his perfect Son: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). God placed the sin of all mankind upon his sinless Son, imputing all his righteousness to us. First, he looked at Jesus on the cross and saw the payment for our sin, then he looked at us and saw the righteous life that Jesus lived. This is the great exchange (Rom 5:12-21).
We are amazed by 1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” Christ’s death made reconciliation between God and us. He brought us once more into relationship with the Father. But that’s not all! He then rose again from the dead after three days in the tomb, declaring victory over sin and death. As Peter exults in praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). Our living hope is based on the resurrection victory of Christ. Our new regenerated life is based on his resurrection to life. How can we do anything but praise his name!
One final question concludes the gospel message: How will you respond to the truth you have heard? A loving Father has sent his Son to be your Savior. Will you choose to remain in sin or to follow him as Lord? An obedient response requires much humility, for the prideful person will not enter the kingdom of God. As Solomon exhorts, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Prov 3:7). Do not think you can earn your salvation or circumvent the gospel. The only way to God is reverent obedience that leads to repentance.
Second, we must respond with vigilance. According to Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Everything we think, say, and do in life arises from the heart. We must therefore guard our hearts. For the gospel not only brings us to salvation but also keeps us walking in the faith. This gospel-centered life is the epitome of worship (1:7a) and will result in life everlasting (14:27).
The gospel presents a choice to everyone who hears: “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (4:18-19). Likewise, Jesus would declare in John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Therefore, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9; see v. 13). How will you respond to the gospel today?
 Both these verses contain a figure of speech called merism, in which two extremes are stated to include everything in between. God created both heavens and earth (3:19), therefore he created the entire universe. He created both rich and poor (22:2), therefore he created all mankind.