“Move Up Higher”

Friday Night Gospel Celebration, September 2, 2011
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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INTRODUCTION: Tonight, one word seems to jump out at us in our reading [Luke 14:1-14], and that word is humility! When we speak of humility we can speak it as a command or as grace. Let me show you what I mean; “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord!” That is the law… it’s a command. It doesn’t offer you any help in accomplishing it and if you are truthful with yourself and God tonight you know that on your own you can’t fulfill that command. But, if I put Jesus into the equation, Jesus for you, it becomes the gospel; it becomes good news for you! Listen: Jesus humbled Himself in the sight of the Lord for you! Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross (for you)!” [Philippians 2:6-8]

Do you see the point? If the focus is on you and your abilities and actions then you have the law, but if the focus is on Jesus and what He did for you in His life and death upon the cross, well then, you have the gospel. In one way of thinking you have yourself as the center of attention, as the provider of your needs and in the other way of thinking you have God as your focus and Jesus and His cross as your provider for everything… even your eternal salvation. You see, that is the difference between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.

I. In our gospel reading tonight we join Jesus at a dinner party. But make no mistake, this was not a friendly gathering of supporters or men who simply wanted to hear Jesus teach the Word of God; no in fact this was a hostile crowd that invited Jesus with just one purpose… they wanted to observe Him and use His own Words in order to destroy Him! But Jesus accepted the invitation so that He could observe them and then offer them His Word, both law and gospel so that He could save them.

Picture in your mind’s eye, Jesus has entered the home of the host, a Pharisee, when He observes other Pharisees in attendance rushing to get the best seats at the dinner party. There in front of him are a group of men, the distinguished teachers of Israel behaving like a bunch of first graders fighting over who get’s to sit next to the teacher; they are each trying to elbow the other out of the way so that they can have the best seats. Jesus filed this observation away as an object lesson for his second topic of instruction, but first He wanted to address their false teaching about what constitutes doing work on the Sabbath day.

Jesus looks around and spots a poor soul looking in on the diner party. This man had a disease called dropsy. Dropsy is an illness where parts of the body retain an unhealthy amount of fluid and become swollen. Jesus motions for this man to come to him and asks the Pharisees a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent.” [Luke 14:2-3] I imagine that Jesus let such an unusual amount of time lapse that it became uncomfortable. The question was a very simple one, yet because of their pride and self-serving interests, they refused to answer, so Jesus humbled them. “(Then) Jesus took (the man) and healed him and sent him away.” [Luke 14:4] And there is your answer; it is always good to do good on the Sabbath!

II. Now it was time for lesson #2! This lesson would deal with their self-serving and self-glorifying behavior, which Jesus observed earlier. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and 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. But when you are invited go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [Luke 14:7-11]

Now see how masterfully our Lord teaches; He uses an earthly example in order to make a heavenly point! He was speaking to the Pharisees, but He’s also speaking to us, and He does it by showing us His own life. It was Jesus who stooped down to our level. It was Jesus, God the Son who humbled himself by becoming a man! He took on the humble form of a servant so that He could serve the sinful world his own obedience unto death, even death on a cross. Jesus served us by taking the last place at the banquet of death when He sat Himself upon the cold and splintered bench of the cross! What is the point of this parable? Simply this, “Everyone who exalts himself (above God and his neighbor) will be humbled, and He who humbles himself (before God and his neighbor) will be exalted!” [Luke 14:11] “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up!” [James 4:10] Once again, Jesus demonstrated that a man centered theology of glory stands in complete opposition to God’s way… the way of the cross! Jesus is saying that it t is better to be honored by God than by men. It is better to be humble so that God will reward you than to be full of pride, which will cause God to humble you. And to really understand this parable Jesus decides that we need to hear another one.

III. “Jesus said also to the man who had invited him (to the party), “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” [Luke 14:12-14]

So what’s the point? Simply this: don’t do things with a self-serving agenda. Don’t worry about rewards in this life, but concentrate on Jesus and the humble way of the cross and you will acquire your reward in heaven. You see, Jesus knew that the only reason that He was invited to the party was so that the host would gain standing with his fellow Pharisees. He wanted to be known as the one who helped bring Jesus down! But what he was really doing was bringing him down, down to hell.

Jesus used the thunder bolt of the law to shatter that man’s self-righteousness and expose him as an enemy to God! But He didn’t do it to punish him but to save him! Jesus shared these teachings so that the sinful Pharisees and you and me might be moved to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness by turning away from our self-serving life styles and turn to God’s mercy. In other words, Jesus wants us to repent and see Him as who He really is… our Savior!

Tonight, we need to understand that Jesus isn’t telling us to go out and throw a party for the poorest of the poor and the most needy of the needy. Instead, He’s trying to get us understand our sinful and self-serving reasons for why we do what we do! If we’re happy with being like the self-serving Pharisees, well then what we get in this life is all that we’ll get. But if our motivation is to serve God and build His Kingdom, then we should be happy doing things no one would ever notice, and if they did notice, they would never reward.

The truth is friends, the only way we can change our motivations from being self-serving to becoming God-serving is if we allow God’s grace to change our hearts and our minds. But like the Pharisees, we need to first admit that there is something that needs changing! We need to confess our tendency to be self-serving and then ask God to help us take our eyes off of ourselves and teach us to look to the cross and to Jesus Christ!

CONCLUSION: Tonight, I’d like to leave you with this question: “Will you allow God to teach you humility and learn to rest in Jesus?” Now if you’re honest with yourself, you will admit that while your heart says yes, you know that your sinful flesh will do everything in its power to break that promise. So what can you do? Nothing but turn to Jesus and remember who He is; He is God with us and God for us!

Jesus is here with us right now in His Word. He is always with you, strengthening you through His means of grace; every day He works to take your focus off of who you are so that you will know more clearly who He is. Every day He’s moving your focus to His cross and to the place He’s prepared for you in heaven. He is working within you and around you so that as you’re strengthened in His grace you won’t be afraid to humble yourself and place God’s will and the needs of your neighbor above your own. Because you haven’t rejected the work of his cross, in essence you have taken your own humble seat next to your Savior. And you know by faith that one day soon you will hear your Savior call to you, “Friend, move up here!” I pray that you will always desire to hear those Words and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

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