Heavenly Humility

Text: Luke 14:1-11

This week we find ourselves back in St. Luke’s Gospel, with Jesus continuing His journey to Jerusalem, to suffer and die for us. Our text finds our Lord reclining at table in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. As Jesus traveled spreading the Good News, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins, it was His practice to preach also in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Often, someone who heard Him would invite Him over for dinner. Earlier in the Gospel, it was Levi the tax collector. A couple times it was a Pharisee. And now, this time, a ruler of the Pharisees. At first, the Pharisees invited Jesus to see if He was the real deal. But, now, the text says, they were watching Him closely so that they might have something to accuse Him over.

When we heard this text last year, we learned that Jesus used this occasion to again teach the true meaning of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not about ceasing from all work, but rather that we set aside time each week to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts, so that we might then share that love with those around us. Jesus showed this by healing the man of his affliction. He demonstrated what He had taught elsewhere, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and, as St. Paul says, “The whole Law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[1]

We turn now to what happened next. As our Lord looked around, He noticed how those who were invited would seat themselves in places of honor – each of them jockeying for the most prestigious seats. Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought not to choose places of honor for themselves, but rather live in humility. He summed up the teaching with this key passage, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”[2] Today, we confess that as our Lord humbled Himself, we also are called to humble ourselves before God and live out that humility in love toward others.

I.

On a first reading of this passage, it’s easy to breeze through and move on. We get that it’s about humility. We get that the guests were wrong to deliberate and choose for themselves the places of honor. The same point was brought up in both of the other texts today, as well. Something we said a few weeks back on Mission Sunday was that all of Scripture is about Jesus. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus went through all the Law, the Prophets, and Psalms and explained that they were about Him. So, I’d like us to consider first how this passage is about Jesus.

You might think that’s silly, since Jesus is the one telling the parable. But, think about it this way: Is Jesus not the image of humility? Is not His whole life one big exercise in humility? In fact, that’s what we call the period from His conception by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary up to His death on the cross – the Humiliation. For, He, being very God of very God, did not rest Himself on His eternal glory, but instead set aside that glory to take on human flesh. It had been the Father’s plan from before the foundation of the world that the Son should be sacrificed as payment for sin. Jesus, Himself being full-God, still did not disobey the Father but humbly submitted to His will. Remember Jesus’ words in the Garden, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”[3]

At any point along the way, Jesus could’ve demanded the homage of the people. He could’ve decked Himself in gold and glory – but He didn’t. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. Isaiah prophesied, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” Neither did Jesus have a permanent earthly home, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”[4] After the miraculous feeding, when people wanted to make Him king by force, Jesus withdrew and would not allow it. Jesus humbled Himself perfectly, even to death on a cross. “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”[5]

The point of His humiliation was so that He might accomplish the work of salvation for us. Because of the Fall and by our own sinful nature, we are unable to save ourselves. We are incapable of contributing a single thought, word, or deed, to our own salvation. Instead, Jesus did it all. And, He gives His salvation as a gift through faith. He gives salvation to those who humbly confess their sins and look to Him for forgiveness. So that we might confess our sins, He gives us His Law and pastors to preach that Law, so that we might recognize from the Commandments how we have sinned and humbly repent. Through pastors, He also preaches the Gospel, where we learn that though our sins are like scarlet, in His blood we are made white as snow. So that we might this mindset, that we stand as beggars before God, Jesus reminds us, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Remember the tax collector and the Pharisee.

II.

We’ve learned now how this text first applies to Jesus. Jesus is the prime example of humility. He set aside His glory for a time to become the ultimate servant, even unto death. Then, He who humbled Himself was exalted by God the Father when He was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the majesty on high. Now, how does this passage concern us? As we’ve discussed already, the goal of this text is that we would learn from it to be humble. First, we are to be humble before God. It’s not because of how good we all are that we gather on Sunday mornings, but because of how sinful we all are. We have all sinned, and do sin continually. Yet, by the Holy Spirit we have been brought to confess our sins and receive forgiveness. Even this very morning. When we see the punishment Christ endured, we know from Scripture that that punishment was the earned reward for our unrighteousness. Therefore, we always pray that God continue to create clean hearts within us.

Second, humility before God is lived out in humility toward others. That was the malfunction of the Pharisees that prompted this teaching from Jesus. The Greek says that they were all choosing for themselves the places of honor. Each person was considering himself in relation to the others, and reaching the conclusion that they were the best, most honorable person in the room and that the others should give place to them. Such happens among us also in our thoughts and our words, when we, too, look around and consider ourselves as of higher standing than everyone else. We forget St. Paul’s words that there is one body and one Spirit, and we were all called to one and the same hope in Christ.

The readings this week direct our minds to the mind of Christ. He didn’t consider His position as God and disregard our lowliness. Instead, He set aside His glory and honor to suffer and die in our place, for our salvation. Though we deserve nothing but wrath and punishment, our sins are forgiven by God’s grace. Therefore, we are called to be humble before God. May our Lord Christ, by the Holy Spirit, grant us always a contrite and willing spirit, that we, too, would consider less of ourselves and more of our neighbors. May the mercy we’ve received also be lived out in humility and love for our neighbor.


[1] Mark 2 and Galatians 5.

[2] Lk. 14:11.

[3] Lk. 22:42.

[4] Is. 53:2 and Matt. 8:20.

[5] Phil. 2:9.

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