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.

This Mind Among Yourselves

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.”[1] With these words St. Paul encouraged the Philippian congregation in their life together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The young congregation was buckling under pressure. They faced pressure from outside, from the surrounding Roman culture that constantly challenged and belittled their faith. And they faced conflict within the congregation. The outside pressure from the surrounding culture started to tear away at the bond of love that existed between the beloved of Christ. They were thinking more highly of themselves than each other and less of those who lived and worked around them. Under pressure, the allure of false teaching became harder to resist, and some were resorting to legalism to get them out of their mess.

St. Paul’s pastoral eye cut right to the chase; under pressure from the world and each other, the congregation lost sight of its Master, Jesus. He did not pride Himself on being God. He truly could demand the loyalty and servitude of all Creation, yet He didn’t. He humbled Himself by voluntarily refraining from His power and majesty and taking upon Himself our human flesh. He became subject to the Law and was obedient even unto death on a cross. In the Torah it says that those who are hung on a tree are cursed by God. Christ took that curse upon Himself. Jesus Christ humbled Himself so that He might redeem us from our sins and so that we might live in love toward one another.

I.

The Philippian congregation was, perhaps like us, a smaller congregation. It was founded when St. Paul, Silas, and Timothy visited the Roman colony during the Second Missionary Journey, about 49-51 A.D. Philippi was not the biggest city in the district, but it was prestigious. The citizens of Philippi were afforded all the same rights and privileges as if they were living in Rome herself. This was reflected in the culture. It was very cosmopolitan. As a society, infidelity in marriage was to be expected and pagan worship was the norm. As result, the congregation faced challenges in its call to be faithful to God’s Word. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned after they had cast a fortune-telling demon out of a slave girl. The demon was making the her owners money, you see. Even with this conflict, the Philippians were known to be a generous congregation. They, largely, funded the mission work among the Corinthians by giving over and above what could’ve been expected of them.

Their generosity flowed out of the love they had received from Christ, but it didn’t divert the pressure they were under. As we said, Philippi was a Roman colony. Things there were as you would expect – not friendly to the Christian faith. So, when the members of the congregation didn’t go to the pagan temples and were faithful to their spouses, the surrounding culture did not appreciate that and, in fact, was hostile to them. Within the congregation, that external pressure was certainly felt. We experience the same. We know what it’s like to have our society largely disagree with our confession of faith. We know that pressure, so we should recognize what happened with the Philippians. They started arguing. Rivalry and jealousy were very present. Things were done not in service of the Gospel, but of oneself. In general, everyone was exalting their position by putting down their brother in Christ. Some in the congregation also turned to false doctrine, hoping that a teaching that was more in line with the culture would save them. It wouldn’t.

II.

St. Paul knew what would, though. The Philippians were near and dear to Paul’s heart, and so it was with all affection that he directed them to who would save them: Jesus. St. Paul wrote,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, 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.[2]

St. Paul turned them to Christ. In Philippians 1, Paul told the congregation that they shouldn’t be surprised at the conflict they faced from outside the church. It had been granted them to suffer with Christ, as it has been to all Christians, and we should rejoice at that. For, as Christ promised the Apostles, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. But that doesn’t mean that internal struggles and fights won’t tear a congregation apart. So, he turned them to Christ. Jesus Christ, from the very beginning was in every way fully God of fully God. By Him and through Him all things were made. He alone is truly Lord of all creation and by right could demand that all things bend to His will. (That day will come.)

But, rather than rest on His laurels and pride Himself on the fact that all things must obey Him, He humbled Himself. St. Paul says that He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. This means that Jesus Christ willingly, for a time, refrained from using His eternal power, glory, and authority, and He took on our human flesh. He who deserves above all things to be served, came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. He became obedient to the Law, perfectly submitting Himself to God and neighbor. He committed no sin and spoke no deceit. Yet, He was numbered with the transgressors. He poured out His soul unto death, even death on a cross. Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”[3] Christ willingly took that curse upon Himself, which we also confess this Palm Sunday.

III.

Why did Christ do this? Why did He humble Himself – stepping down from His throne, veiling His glory, becoming flesh and blood, and dying on the cross? He did it as the prime demonstration of God’s love for us, and to redeem us from our sins. Apart from Christ’s death, we were lost in sin and death. We had nothing to look forward to, save the eternal separation from God that starts at death. Christ suffered and died to save us from that. St. Paul says that in Baptism we were united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Through Baptism, our sinful nature drowned and died with Christ, and we were raised again to new life with Him. This new life is what Paul means when he says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ humbled Himself, obeyed the Law, and still died in our place to save us from our sins and has enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in love. Though we, by nature, are prone to fighting and insults, to lies and arrogance, to distrust and disunity, that has all been put away through the death of Christ and our Baptism into it. As we’ll hear next week, through Christ’s resurrection the old leaven of malice and evil is put away and we celebrate with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. These things St. Paul called to the minds of the Philippian congregation. Their fearful infighting was not right. Christ died to forgive them those sins – and they are forgiven – and they are enabled through Him to live in love. They are to look to Jesus Christ for both the example and the strength to live in love.

Were the Philippians, after Paul’s letter, perfect at this? Probably not. Still, Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John wrote this to them some fifty years later, “I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love…and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now.” St. Paul’s confidence in the congregation and his encouragement for all Christians is found in the opening of this letter, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.[4] May Christ our Lord grant us the same grace as the Philippians, that we may give thanks for all His benefits and live in love – especially in the coming Easter season.


[1] Philippians 2:4-7, English Standard Version.

[2] Phil. 2:5-8.

[3] Gal. 3:13.

[4] Phil. 1:6.

“Love Bears All Things,” Luke 18:31-43

Text: Luke 18:31-43

“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind…[it] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

Since ancient times this epistle reading has been paired with our Gospel reading from Luke 18. Already from St. Augustine, who died in 430, we have sermons combining these texts, demonstrating the depth of Christ’s love for us. In the Gospel, Christ demonstrates a love beyond comprehension, that defies understanding – a love that endures all things.

These past weeks leading up to our Lord’s Lent, we’ve been looking at grace and salvation from a few different angles. First, we had the parable of the Vineyard, where all the workers received the same wage. Second, last week we heard the parable of the Sower. In it Christ sows His Word like a seed. Where it takes root, it bears fruit a hundredfold – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This week, as Jesus nears the final week of His earthly life, He again teaches what will soon happen to Him. He will be betrayed, mocked, humiliated, spit upon, flogged, and killed – all to accomplish what was written in the prophets concerning our salvation. But, as we read, the Disciples didn’t understand. This is our focus this week.

The grace of our Lord is given freely to all who believe in Him. It comes through the preaching of the Word. And, this week, we confess that – apart from the Holy Spirit – our minds cannot understand or believe it. Despite our sinful flesh, Jesus willingly went to endure suffering, so that all that was written concerning our salvation might be accomplished.

I.   

Our text this week comes from Luke 18. Here we find Jesus nearing His final ascent to Jerusalem. It’s been a long journey. He began this journey in Luke 9, where it says, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This whole time He’s been preaching and teaching and healing and raising the dead, but with this end in sight – He is going to Jerusalem to die and rise. This is what Scripture has always been about, and it’s where the forgiveness of sins comes from. And, this is exactly what Jesus preaches in the text.

St. Luke writes, “Taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’” If you look at this text in the Bible, you’ll find that this is now the third time that Jesus has predicted His death. Each time He’s mentioned that He’s going to die, and before that be betrayed. This time, though, He opens it up and teaches just what is going to happen to Him before He dies. Again, He’ll be handed over. But, also, He’ll be mocked and treated shamefully. He’ll be spit upon. He’ll be flogged. And then, then they’ll kill Him.

I was reading in a book not too long ago about the concept of crucifixion. Crucifixion was a barbaric practice – quite painful – but also, humiliating. It was meant to be a humiliating death. That’s why people were crucified in public places with signs above their heads. It’s also why it was against the law to crucify Roman citizens. But, what I learned is this: In every picture I’ve ever seen of Jesus on the cross, He had has some sort of cloth on Him. You know, covering His private parts. However, considering that crucifixion was purposefully humiliating, and that Scripture tells us that they gambled for His clothing, it’s most likely that Jesus was crucified totally naked.

I bring this up because Jesus knew this full-well. He knew entirely what would happen to Him, indeed, what must happen to Him. He knew how shamefully He would be treated, and He did it anyway. All so that Scripture would be fulfilled and we be saved. Jesus died exposed so that our sins might be covered. Jesus didn’t just allow this to happen to Him, but He willingly did it for us. Luther wrote on this passage, “Whoever looks at His suffering without seeing His will and heart in them must be terrified at it rather than rejoice in it. But if we see His heart and will in [His suffering], this produces true comfort, confidence, and joy in Christ.” “Love is patient and kind…love bears all things…endures all things.”

II.   

Here we have our Lord pouring out His heart, telling how much He loves us and what He is willing to endure, so that we might be reconciled to God. But, how is it received by those nearest to Him? “But they,” the twelve, “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Jesus demonstrated the depth of His great love for us, the vastness of His mercy and grace, while the disciples showed the Holy Spirit to be right when He caused St. Paul to write, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law.”

It still had not set in for the disciples that Jesus’ suffering is absolutely necessary for our salvation. Without it we cannot be saved, and apart from faith in Christ’s suffering there is no salvation. Even though, in this same chapter, Jesus welcomed the little children, called the rich young ruler to follow Him, and healed the blind beggar, they still didn’t quite get it. Neither do we. 

By that, I mean that we are all by nature Pharisees. We all by nature try to center our salvation on something inside of us, something we do. Whether it’s feeling that we are saved because we go to church, or because we consider ourselves good people, or because we do some good things – our sinful nature doesn’t understand that relying on those things is like going up to the cross and pulling Jesus down. Our sinful nature rather not look at the cross.

But look to the cross, we must. We must look to our dear Jesus, naked and dying on the cross, because that is where salvation comes from. All of Scripture leads us there. It is there that we see how much, how deeply, how seriously God loves us. Though it is hard, no, impossible, for our sinful flesh to understand, Jesus’ suffering is the prime demonstration of His love for us. By His suffering He accomplished what was written in the prophets and secured our salvation.

III.  

St. Paul did write that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Then he wrote, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” Thanks be to God for the great gifts that He bestowed on us in our Baptism. We were all by nature Pharisees and children of wrath. We were unable to see in our Lord’s sufferings the fulfillment of Scripture and our salvation. We were mired in sin. But now, all of that has been washed away. Instead of leaving Adam and Eve naked, God clothed them in flesh. Instead of exposing our secret and shameful sins, Jesus has covered them up by His suffering in our place. By our Baptism, the Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe and eyes to see in our Lord’s blessed wounds the fulfillment of the Scripture and the source of our salvation.

As our Lord continued His journey toward Jerusalem to suffer and die for us, He was met on the road by a blind beggar. He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus stopped, spoke, and the man’s sight was restored. Immediately, he began praising God. Thanks be to God for the great love with which He has loved us. Jesus Christ suffered humiliation on the cross so that Scripture might be fulfilled and we be saved. In Baptism He opened our eyes to see and believe the same.