Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

September 3, 2017

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Luke 14:11

Dear Friends in Christ,

How ironic! When Jesus was invited to a Sabbath meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee he was being closely watched. There were people there who were just hoping that Jesus would do or say something that they would consider a violation of the Sabbath law. They wanted to be able to exalt themselves above Jesus. They wanted to be able to say, “Sure he does miracles and attracts large crowds, but I keep the Sabbath and he doesn’t.”

The ironic thing was that the one they were watching was also watching them. He already knew what was in their hearts and minds. And when he saw how they scrambled for places of honor at the table, like groupies trying to get close to a rock star, he knew why and he called them on it. He didn’t yell and scream and threaten them with hell, but he called them on it much as Nathan did when he confronted King David with his sin. Jesus told them a parable by which he taught them the eternal principle “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This principle goes all the way back to the beginning. Satan tried to exalt himself. He wanted to be God. But his rebellion failed and he was humbled, cast out of heaven forever.

Satan used this principle on Adam and Eve. When his first attempts to get Eve to eat the forbidden fruit failed, he told her that eating the fruit would enable her to be like God. She could exalt herself if only she would eat the forbidden fruit. But she soon found out what happens when you try to exalt yourself. She and Adam, who also ate of the fruit, were humbled. Filled with shame they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. They even tried to hide from God and God banned them from the garden and the tree of life. The tried to exalt themselves and they were humbled.

Ever since, our sinful nature has tried to exalt itself. It wants to be number one and to be able to look down on everyone else. The world around us still proclaims Satan’s lie that God is not good and that we have to do something to exalt ourselves. People want their 15 minutes of fame, and hopefully along with it, a big chunk of change, even if it means making fools of themselves along the way. It helps explain why so-called reality shows, and things like America’s Got Talent, are so popular. We see evidence of our sinful nature’s desire to exalt itself even in children. You probably did this when you were little. You called out for everyone to hear, “Look at me, look at what I can do!” Our sinful nature wants to exalt itself and the world strongly encourages us. Humility is often considered a weakness.

But these are only symptoms of an even greater problem. It’s not just that we want to be noticed, or be the best, or be able to look down on others. The bottom line is that we exalt ourselves above God. Now you might be thinking, “No way. I know better than that! I would never exalt myself above God. We are good Lutherans, we always take the lowest seat (there no one in the front pews).” But we exalt ourselves over God every time we sin. When we sin we are really saying to God, “God, I know better than you do. My way is better than your way. My fun, my comfort, my pleasure comes ahead of you and what you say in your word.” Every time we sin we are exalting ourselves over God, just as Adam and Eve did in the garden.

Jesus graciously warns those who were scrambling for the best seats and he warns us that anyone who exalts himself will be humbled. God will see to it that sooner or later, in one way or another, we are brought to realize that we are not God, he is. We are not in control, he is. He wanted these people who were trying to exalt themselves over him and each other to see that they were in great danger, for if we are not humbled in this life we will all be humbled when we have to stand before him on the last day when every knee will bow before him.

It’s interesting that God used this eternal principle, whoever exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted, as the means of our salvation.

Jesus was exalted. He is the one and only Son of God, equal with the Father from eternity. He was living in unapproachable light in the glory of heaven. But he chose to humble himself. There was no reason for him to do this. There was no one forcing him to do it. There was nothing for him to gain by doing it, he already had everything he could ever possibly need or want. No one could ever repay him for what he would do by humbling himself. But he chose to do it anyway. He chose to leave the glories of heaven and become one of us. He chose to live in a humble way here on earth. He chose not to use his power as God to exalt himself, to gain fame or fortune. He didn’t seek to be served, but to serve. And having lived a perfect life of humility, he humbled himself even more. He subjected himself to death, and not just any death, the humiliating death by execution on a cross.

But the outward shame of being executed like a criminal and mocked by all who passed by wasn’t the extent of his humiliation. God laid on him the iniquity of us all. God made him guilty of the most shameful, nasty, horrible crimes ever committed; God made him guilty of your sins and mine and punished him in our place.

Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on the cross. But God exalted him. God raised him from the dead on the third day and has seated him at his right hand declaring him to be prince and Savior. Everything has been put under his feet. The one who humbled himself perfectly has been exalted.

As Jesus watched those who were watching him; as he saw in their hearts the desire to condemn him so that they could exalt themselves; as he saw in their scrambling for the most honored seats evidence that pride and greed had replaced God in their hearts, he tried to warn them. He tried to help them see that they were exalting themselves over God and that unless they would humbly admit and confess their sin, they would be humbled before God in the judgment. He tried to call them to repentance. Luke doesn’t tell us their response, but hopefully they got the point and did come to repentance and faith.

Jesus wants us to be mindful of this eternal principle that he repeats a number of times in the gospels. He wants us to look in the mirror of God’s law every day. If we do take time every day to examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s law we will see that we have tried to exalt ourselves. Maybe we haven’t scrambled to get the most important seats at a wedding, but we have, at times, failed to listen to God’s word because we thought we knew better than God. We have at times whined that we deserve better than what we are getting in life. We have at times sought to exalt ourselves by seeking fame or fortune instead of humbly serving our Lord. We have exalted ourselves, even when doing good and serving others, by thinking that now they, or someone, owes us something for the good we did. When we look in the mirror of God’s law we see clearly that we deserve to be humbled, to be cast out from God’s presence for ever. Look into the mirror of God’s law and be humbled. Confess your sins and the fact that the only thing you deserve, even for the good you try to do, is God’s eternal wrath and punishment.

When you have been humbled by God’s law, then let him exalt you. Listen to what he says to you in your baptism. “In your baptism I united you with Jesus in his death (his humiliation) and I have also united you with Jesus in his resurrection (his exaltation). In Jesus your sins have been punished. You are cleansed. Your shame has been covered. United with Jesus you are exalted. You are heirs with Jesus of eternal life.”

Satan and the world says, “exalt yourself.” Our sinful nature chimes in “get your 15 minutes of fame; watch what others are doing so that you can put them down and exalt yourself; do whatever it takes to get to the top. Hobnob with the rich because then you will be noticed and they may invite you to their parties.” But God’s eternal principle rings in our ears. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. But he who humbles himself, whoever recognizes and confess their sinfulness, whoever lets God be God, whoever looks in faith to the one who humbled himself to become their savior—they will be exalted. They will sit with Jesus at God’s right hand for all eternity.