Humbled and Exalted

Text: Luke 14:1-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

My brother got married yesterday. It was a wonderful day full of celebrating with friends and family. The service was very nice, I was the best man and Hannah was the flower girl, we had a lovely time getting some pictures taken and, of course, in the evening there was a reception. The timing of this works out well because in our Gospel reading this morning Jesus talks about a wedding feast. Jesus is at a Pharisees home for supper and, after observing how all of the guests anxiously struggled for the best seats at meal time, Jesus told a little parable. He said, “When you are invited to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the place of honor lest someone more distinguished than you be invited. Then he who invited you both will come and say to you ‘Give your place to this person’ and then you will begin, with shame, to take the lowest place.”

Now, I wouldn’t call my brother’s wedding reception a feast (it was very nice, but not what I would consider a feast), but this is the same kind of thing that Jesus is talking about. When we set up tables at the reception hall on Saturday there were discussions about who should sit where and who should be close to the head table and who should be in the back corner. These kinds of things are always a consideration at weddings. At first, Jesus just seems to be offering some etiquette advice for an event like this: don’t be so presumptuous as to think that you ought to sit in the most honorable position because you might get asked to move and that would be very embarrassing. Seems like good advice; that would be very embarrassing. But as I think about what Jesus is saying here one thing always sticks out to me. Who would do the kind of thing Jesus is describing? Who would presume to sit in the place of honor when the don’t deserve it?  I can hardly even imagine someone deciding to sit in a seat reserved at something like this for a guest of honor. This certainly wasn’t an issue at my brother’s wedding. No one presumed that they ought to sit at the head table with the wedding party when they didn’t really belong there.

No one, or pretty much no one, would be that full of themselves, that arrogant, to think that a seat like that belonged to them when it really didn’t. But Jesus isn’t really talking about how to behave properly at a wedding banquet, that is just an example for the sake of the parable, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God.

In the Kingdom of God “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted,” Jesus says.  

This meal that Jesus is attending at the Pharisees house is not just for anyone. The door is open so that anyone can come in (that is what the rules of hospitality dictated in those days), but not just anybody is getting a seat at that table. It is by invitation only. This is a place for the high and lofty. Jesus is there in the midst of this high and lofty gathering to show them that the kingdom of God is not a place for the high and lofty. The Kingdom of God is a place for the lowly and broken, for the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and everyone else who has nothing to offer. The kingdom of God is for sinners.

Before the meal begins at the Pharisees home, at the beginning of our gospel reading, a man with dropsy wanders into this feast. Dropsy is a nasty disease. We don’t call it dropsy and more, we call it edema. It is a disease that causes swelling and disfigurement as the body retains excessive amounts of fluid. It can be an excruciatingly painful diseases physically and because it disfigured one’s outward appearance it carried social consequences as well. This guy with dropsy certainly wasn’t invited to supper. The other people gathered there probably weren’t thrilled to see him. But Jesus goes right to this man and heals him. Even though it is the Sabbath when nobody was supposed to be working, even though it might not be the right thing today according to the rules of etiquette at a feast like this, Jesus’s eyes of compassion see this man in his need and Jesus responds with healing. This is the difference between the Kingdom of God and this world we live in. The Kingdom of God is for people like that man with dropsy. In his humble need he sought Jesus and Jesus exalted him.

This concept of the humble being exalted and the exalted being humbled seems simple enough, but we have such a hard time understanding it because our sinful hearts don’t understand humility at all. We twist something like this around and make humility some kind of hoop that we need to jump through to make Jesus happy, but humility is not a good work that we do it is a recognition of who we are and what we need.

In His own life, death, and resurrection Jesus shows us what humility is all about. St. Paul traces this out for us in Philippians 2 where he writes: “Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” Jesus, the Son of God through whom the world was made, did not cling to His place at the right hand of God but emptied Himself and was born into our human flesh. He came into our sinful, disease ridden, mortal, dying human flesh and died the death of a criminal for our sake. He humbled Himself beyond anything we could ever even imagine in order to save us from our own lack of humility. But in His death and in His rising from the dead, God the Father has exalted Him and crowned Him with glory and given Him the name that is above every name. And so, when Jesus says in our text today that the humble will be exalted He is really calling us to imitate Him as He humbles Himself and pours out Himself for us.

Our epistle reading from Hebrews 13 picks up on this too. There it says, “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify people through His own blood. Therefore, let us go with Him outside the camp and bear the reproach that He endured.” In those days cities had walls. Inside the walls is where you kept the things you valued. Outside the walls and gates was the place to dispose of the things you did not want. Jesus was rejected suffered outside the city of Jerusalem, in an area where people dumped their garbage, the things that they did not want. Jesus was rejected, sent away, cast out, and the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to go outside the camp, outside the gate with Jesus a bare the same reproach and shame that he bore. Let us humble ourselves, in other words, as Jesus humbled Himself so that with Jesus we might be exalted because we seek the city, the world that is to come, not glory in this world.

This humility that Jesus is talking about is a complete and total break from the way the world works. It rejoices in weakness, in helplessness, and even in suffering. It is Christian humility that looks at Christ and His humility and understands how much we need what He has done for us. It is humility that puts ourselves in the place of that man who had dropsy so that we understand that we have no right to stand in the presence of Jesus because of the multitude of our sin but we come anyway because we know by faith that He is the one thing that we need to be made well.

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. When we think that we are something and that we are better or more Christian than someone else; when we think that we have everything together and don’t need help from anyone we need to hear these words from Jesus: those who exalt themselves will be humbled. But when we think that we are nothing, when we feel the weight of our sin and its shame, when there is nothing left for us to do but simply beg then we need to hear these words: those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Jesus will raise you up. He will call your dead body to come up from the grave, your humble resting place, and you will be exalted. Death is the ultimate humility, the one event in life that truly shows us that we are not able to save ourselves. We cannot stop ourselves from dying. But Jesus raises us from our humble resting places and will give us new life. In Him and through Him we will be exalted. Amen.

Urgency

Text: Luke 13:22-30

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

We just got back from our holiday last weekend and while it is very nice to be home it was also very nice to be away for a little while. One of the nicest things about the holiday  we took (a three week holiday) is that that there was no rush. In fact, we often had to remind ourselves while we were driving that there is no reason to rush. We have nowhere that we have to be. It was nice to slow things down a bit; a nice relaxed pace rather than the rushing around or regular everyday life. The world we live in doesn’t take much time for relaxing like that. Everything is urgent. In our lives we usually rush around from one thing to the next making everything into an emergency, even if those things are not nearly as urgent as we make them out to be. It was nice to have three weeks where that kind of thing didn’t matter. There was nowhere to be, nothing we had to do, and there really was no urgency.

As I sat in my office Monday morning thinking about what I would preach about this morning the idea of relaxing kept coming to mind. But then I got to today’s gospel reading where Jesus does not tell us to relax more. In fact, Jesus encourages us to be more urgent about our Christian faith. Jesus wants us to be urgent. Specifically, He wants us to be urgent about our faith, not all the other stuff. There are so many thing that we worry about, so many things that we turn into an urgent crisis that needs to be dealt with right away, but we rarely think about our faith in Jesus as something that is urgent. When is the last time that you felt a sense of urgency about going to church on a Sunday morning? We might feel urgency if there is something we need to do at church, but we rarely feel urgency about just going to church on a regular Sunday morning. When was the last time you felt a sense of urgency about reading the Bible? About praying? We rarely feel urgency about our faith, but Jesus is encouraging us to see how urgent the situation really is.

Listen to some of these words that Jesus spoke in our Gospel reading today: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When the master of the house has risen and shut the door and YOU begin to stand outside the door and knock saying ‘Lord, open to us!’ then He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from depart from me.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all of the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.”

These words call for urgency. There will be a time when the door is shut and it is too late to enter into the kingdom. Jesus wants us to imagine what that would be like, the miserable, disastrous results of lingering too long, of waiting too long. Left outside looking in on the great feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which will have no end. Seeing Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the other prophets from the Old Testament there in the kingdom while we are stuck outside. There is a need for urgency in our lives as Christians.

So strive, Jesus says, to enter through the narrow door. The word Jesus uses here “strive” means to struggle or even agonize over something. It is a word that was used back then to talk about an athletic contest or something like that; like the kind of wrestling you would see in the Olympics. Struggle to enter through the narrow door with every ounce of your being. Jesus does not say that you need to struggle to open the door and get in, the door is already open. But He is saying that our lives as Christians should be a struggle with some urgency to it. Our Epistle reading today from the book of Hebrews says the same thing: “Strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Strive, the writer to the Hebrews says, to live a Godly, Christian life. Strive to be at peace. Strive to be holy. Strive to enter through the narrow door.

Jesus is also telling us in our Gospel reading that a casual association with Him, having an “arm’s length” kind of faith that observes Jesus from a distance, is not good enough. He talks about people who are left outside when the door is shut and they all say, “But we ate and drank in your presence, you taught in our streets, we hung out around you!” And Jesus responds to them by saying, “I do not know where you come from, and depart from me.” It is not sufficient to sit on the sidelines and watch Jesus from a distance. Instead, Jesus wants us to understand the urgency of our own situation, how bad our sinful disease really is, and get right into the struggle ourselves.

Being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, means struggling; struggling with sin. It is a struggle with ourselves, with our own sin, with the sinful world around us, and with the devil who would lead us into more and more sin. This struggle has another name, it is called repentance. Repentance is a struggle in which are confronted with our own sinfulness, the guilt and the shame, we confess our sin, we receive forgiveness freely believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus which pays for the sin of the world, and daily put our old sinful ways behind us as we rise to live as the new person God has created to be in our baptism. And as long as we live in this world the struggle will go on. The entire life of a Christian is a constant life of repentance because sin will always be there. We are always caught up in this repentance struggle. It is a constant. Being a Christian means being caught up in this struggle all the time.

All this urgency and struggling that Jesus is talking about here does not sound very encouraging or appealing. We’ve all got enough struggles in our lives already that one more perhaps seems like just too much. I bet you didn’t come here hoping that Jesus would be telling us to struggle more in our daily lives. Jesus’ words here seem kind of daunting and worrisome. Maybe even a little overwhelming. How do we even know if we are striving and struggling enough? Are we urgent enough about what we believe? How do we know if we will make it through that narrow door?

The narrow door is the key to everything that Jesus is saying here. The narrow door is Jesus. Jesus says that He is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Jesus is the door to the Kingdom, He is the way to the Father, He is our life that goes beyond life in this world into eternity. Jesus is the narrow door.

The door is narrow because Jesus is the only way into the Kingdom. There is no secret entrance, no backdoors, and no cracks in the wall where you can sneak through. There is one way in and it is through Jesus. The door is certainly narrow. But, at the same time, that narrow door is wide open. It is wide open for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ, it is wide open for you and me because Jesus Himself struggle and strived and agonized to get us into His Kingdom. Our Epistle reading today says “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” You haven’t struggled with sin to the point of shedding blood, but Jesus did. He struggled and agonized over your sins and mine on the cross. He bore our sins, the sins that plague us every day of our live and ought to exclude us from this wonderful Kingdom, the same sins we struggle and agonize over, in His body on the cross and there He paid the price for all of them that we could never pay. On the cross He won the victory over our sins and over the sins of the entire world and His open, empty tomb shows us that the door to heaven is open for us and for everyone.

At the end of our text today Jesus says that “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the Kingdom of God.” People from every corner of this earth, from every tribe, nation, language, and culture will be there rejoicing in that kingdom forever. The door is narrow, but many people will enter through it. The door is narrow, but it is wide open for you.

Jesus encourages us to struggle, to be urgent about our faith, and make living our faith through repentance a priority. He begs us to get off the sidelines and come right down into the struggle with Him because life as Christian is not a holiday. But Jesus is not saying it is all up to us. In fact, none of it is up to us. Jesus went to the cross for you. He opened the narrow door for you. He forgives us all of your sins. He created new hearts in you that struggle with the sin that is always going to remain in us. And He will come again to take us to be with Him in His Kingdom. So strive, like Jesus says, to enter into the Kingdom, but above all trust in Him, the narrow door, who takes us into the kingdom of God.