Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 14:1-11 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. 5 Then he asked them, "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" 6 And they had nothing to say. 7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Dear honored guests at the Lord’s banquet,
The past week or so, I have been watching from a distance, with growing horror, as a man widely lauded as being a good man and well qualified for the position to which he is nominated, is put on trial for something that may or may not have happened over thirty years ago. Now, I obviously have no way to judge the validity of the accusations, the sincerity of the accuser, nor the integrity of the accused, but I find this whole exercise to be a vivid display of the pompous self-righteousness of the natural man. So many people on both sides of the political spectrum, and even more so among media elites, have pre-emptively judged the individuals involved as if only those two people could be guilty of serious offenses. Rather than honoring the man nominated for the highest court, the whole nation waits and watches with serious intent to see what the outcome will be.
Now, I don’t know what to tell you concerning the outcome of the hearings in Washington, but our focus this morning should really be on a trial that took place almost two thousand years ago. It wasn’t called a trial, of course. Instead, Jesus was invited to dine at a Sabbath day dinner at the house of a prominent Pharisee. Most likely, that invitation was extended under the pretense of honoring our Lord, but it was immediately apparent to Jesus that He had been invited there to be put under the scrutiny of those who considered themselves His superior. By contrast, Jesus’ response shows us that we must Give place to the Lord of the heavenly banquet.
As Jesus entered the dining room of His host, the seating arrangement immediately showed the intent of that Pharisee. A man suffering from dropsy was seated directly in front of our Lord, and because the others attending this meal were so intently watching Jesus’ actions, there is no way this was a random seating. Jesus saw through their deceptions, of course, and He asked them a simple question, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" But, no one answered a word.
Jesus had caught them in a trap of their own making. The Pharisees were meticulous about obeying law, but only so far as it was convenient for them. Of course, this is not particularly different than anyone else. We might all well admit, that we are most diligent about obeying the various laws when it works best for ourselves, or when law enforcement is present and watching our moves. But, the Pharisees had set up this test, not because they were concerned for the man suffering from dropsy, nor because they were eager to see Jesus do a miracle. Rather, they wanted to accuse Jesus of doing some unlawful work on the Sabbath. Jesus’ question stymied them.
“They remained silent. So taking hold of the man, He healed him and sent him away.” Before any accusations could be made against Him, Jesus asked His judges another question: "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" And they had nothing to say. What could they say? They were caught in their own web. Instead of honoring the Lord of Creation, they had tried to trap Him. Those pompous, self-righteous sinners were confronted by the truth that when it suited their materialism, they would gladly set aside their self-made rules so that they could protect their own interests. Yet, at the same time, they were more than willing to use those rules against the Son whom God had sent to save all people.
Thus, we must be clear, it is willful arrogance that causes men to judge the Lord of heaven and earth. It is willful arrogance that causes people to hold others to a higher standard than they are willing to use against themselves, and it is only willful arrogance that keeps anyone from throwing himself before the Lord in complete and sincere repentance for our many sins.
Our sermon text teaches humility. When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Most of the people at the dinner that day put themselves above Jesus. They wanted the best seats by which to judge His actions. Rather than honoring the Son of God, they honored themselves. At the same time, none of us should feel too boastful. How often could we be found guilty of judging our God? How often do we question God’s actions or His providence? Even more so, how often might we be found secretly thinking ourselves somehow worthy of His honor?
We come before the Lord in worship, but how do we come? Are we thinking that we earn merit by being here? Do we assume that we are better than others by how we live? You and I have been invited to the marriage feast of the Son of God, but how do we enter His presence? Do we enter God’s house in humble repentance, or do we enter hoping to nab a place of honor?
Dear friends, I am not trying to knock you down a peg or two. Please understand that every person on earth needs to see what Jesus was doing at that dinner. The One who created the world and everything in it was there at that banquet showing His incredible power to heal, and furthermore, His incredible concern for the hurting sinner. Yet, no one there honored His presence, so Jesus warned that that type of arrogance is dangerous for the soul.
Our natural man wants to hold himself up as good and righteous, even though the truth is much different. We naturally want to be honored for even the most minimal good things we do. We don’t want to be confronted with our faults and sins against the Creator. Natural man is unwilling to accept God’s just judgment over us, but rather, expects that God should cower to our demands. However, natural man is destined to destruction for his rebellion against God.
Dear friends, I know it sounds like I am implying that we might not always have the sincerest humility and the greatest devotion before our Lord. What’s even worse though, is that we all know those implications are true. Looking at ourselves in honest humility, we can only judge that we have no right even to enter the banquet feast of heaven, yet God invites us in.
Thanks be to God, we are not left alone to face the judgment of the Creator of all. Because we are all sinners who deserve only eternal punishment and death, and because we couldn’t do anything to rectify our sad condition, Jesus came into the world to win our place at His wedding banquet. For you and me, the Son of the Almighty humbled Himself to live as a Man. Instead of entering our world demanding His rightful due, Jesus came as the Servant of all, and as the Scapegoat for the world.
This morning, Jesus teaches us that when we enter His banquet feast, we should come not boasting of ourselves or judging His handiwork. Rather, we should come to the marriage of the Lamb in humility, not overestimating our worth, but seeking only the lowest places in the house, humbling confessing our lack of merit, but also remembering the plea of the psalmist, “If You, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” At the same time, we remember also his words of comfort, “But with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared.” (Psalm 130:3-4)
Dear friends, the most important thing we can remember is that Jesus died to save sinners of whom we each like St. Paul can say, “I am the worst.” Therefore, Jesus died for you and me. Living in perfect humility in our place, Jesus took all our arrogant boastfulness upon Himself and carried those sins to the cross so that there can be no condemnation of any of us at the marriage feast of God’s Son. Since our baptisms, and the faith we were given in those waters, when the Father in heaven looks at us, today and forevermore, He sees only the perfect righteousness of His beloved Son covering us and the sanctified things we now do by the power of the Spirit to serve and honor our Savior.
So how do we Give place to the Lord of the heavenly banquet? We do so when we give our rapt attention to His every word, when we share His healing touch with those we meet, when we bow in humble confession that we have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed, but at the same time trust that all of our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. You see, the merit we need to move up in Jesus’ house doesn’t come from our lives, but from the life Jesus lived for us.
Because of Jesus, when our Father in heaven comes to you and me at the feast, He will see only that the blood of His Son has washed us clean and made us worthy guests, and seeing the righteousness of His Son on you, it is then that “He will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Today, and every day, Give place to the Lord of the heavenly banquet. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.