“True Humility Is Christ-Centered”

(Luke 14:1, 7-11 – Pentecost 15 – September 22, 2019)

Luke 14:1, 7-11 – Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely…. So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:

When we attend a wedding, usually there is a banquet after the ceremony. Often as we enter the banquet hall, we find our table according to pre-assigned seating, by name cards placed on the tables for example. Usually, you would expect close family, friends, and special guests to be seated in places of honor, nearest to the head table with the bride and groom.

Imagine a guest proudly disregarding the assigned seating. Feeling important and wanting to be seen, he rushes forward to take the most distinguished seat. But then, when everyone is seated and waiting for festivities to begin, the groom approaches with an honored guest who is assigned to that seat, asking the first man to move for him. Imagine the embarrassment the first man would feel, as all eyes watched him move to the only table that was left in the outer wings.

On the other hand, a humble guest realizes that it is no disgrace to sit at the lowest table at a wedding banquet, especially if it is a large wedding or the wedding of someone very important. He knows it is an honor to be invited at all. He is content to take his seat far from the head table. His focus is not on his own position, but in sharing the joy of the newlyweds. But now, imagine the great honor as the groom approaches him and says: “Friend, go up higher; your name is on the first table! I have known you all my life, and I want to be close to me on this special day!”

We recognize the similarity to Jesus’ parable. We can imagine how it might look in such a situation, as Jesus says: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” But Jesus is not speaking merely of places for invited guests at an earthly wedding banquet. He is leading us to think of our place in the greatest wedding banquet of Him who is the heavenly Bridegroom. He is leading us to think of our place in His Church, as He has invited us and brought us near to Himself, bestowing His great honor on our humble state. And by this He leads us to focus, not on our own position, but on the joy of the wedding feast, the joy of the heavenly Bridegroom and His holy Bride.

Let us consider how “True Humility Is Christ-Centered” as we see 1) The focus of pride and false humility, and then 2) The focus of penitence and faith in Christ.

1) The focus of pride and false humility

Jesus was invited to a meal in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. Jesus noticed that, when it came time for the guests to be seated, they all rushed to claim places of honor. So He told a parable: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.”

This is what was happening with the Pharisees. They made their life all about seeking the highest place of honor. In Matthew 23:5-7, Jesus described the Pharisees this way: “All their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.'” In this way, the Pharisees absorbed themselves with the look of lavish religious ceremonies and traditions, hoping to be honored in the eyes of God and men. And as part of exalting themselves, they looked down on those who did not live such holy lives as themselves, or hold such high positions in God’s house. This is why the Pharisees were so offended to see Jesus, who claimed to be a Rabbi, a teacher of God’s Word, associating and eating with social outcasts and ill-famed sinners! Thus the term Pharisee has become synonymous with a spiritually proud, self-righteous, holier-than-thou image.

But there is a warning here for us too. For our own sinful nature proudly seeks a place of honor the same way, when it comes to our relationship to people and even God. It happens when we compare our life to that of others and take pride in our accomplishments. It happens when we feel like it would be beneath us to associate with those who have not done so well. It happens when we feel more deserving of a place of honor in God’s house, because of what we bring in and what we do. It happens when we seek to lift ourselves up by putting others down. It happens when we demand to have things our own way, and then pout when others get their way. This is why Philippians 2:3 needs to tell us:Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

But besides the obvious pride of the Pharisee rushing forth to claim the best seat of honor for himself, there is a more deceptive maneuver. It is that of false humility. In terms of the parable, it would be like a guest at a wedding banquet going to the lowest seat, all the while hoping to be noticed for his humility, and for that to be paraded to a higher position of honor than ever.

In this regard, Jesus described the false humility of the Pharisees in Matthew 6. He described how, when they went to do a seemingly humble act of charity, they sounded the trumpet. And when they were moved to humble prayer to God, they did it standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. And when they humbled themselves in fasting, they disfigured their faces so people would notice. Once Jesus told a parable about such a Pharisee who stood in God’s temple and prayed about his own life of humble service: “‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'” (Luke 18:10-12). So we that see, right there with the Pharisee’s pride in seeking the seat of honor is his false humility. He cannot get over what he does for God and men. He believes if anyone deserves recognition, it is himself.

Again, there is a warning for us too. Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things.” In what ways might our sinful nature lead us to seek a seat of honor through false humility? Do we speak in a lowly way about ourselves, fishing for others’ compliments? Do we use false humility as a cover for unwillingness to use our God-given abilities, so we may have others serve us? Do we do generous acts, and then feel slighted when we are not acknowledged?

Pride and falsely humility go together. Both are self-centered and focused on personal honor. Both seek to be moved up in the eyes of God and men. When pride and false humility seek a place in the Church, they like party poopers at a banquet. In focusing on their personal position, they find no joy in the wedding feast; they find no joy in the heavenly Bridegroom Himself.

For the Pharisees, the meaning of Jesus’ parable is clear. In wanting to think of themselves as the first in the kingdom of God, they were in danger of being the very last to enter. The reward for their self-righteous pride would be the humiliation of being moved to the very lowest place, outside of God’s kingdom. As Jesus said in Matthew 21:31-32, even tax collectors and harlots were entering the kingdom of God before them; for such sinners were humbling themselves before God in repentance, and being lifted up by His forgiveness and salvation in Christ.

We see the difference in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, when they came into God’s temple to pray. While that Pharisee stood over there praying to God, unable to get over his humility service to God, Jesus said: “The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).

2) The focus of penitence and faith in Christ

What a great contrast Jesus shows us between the focus of pride and false humility, and the focus of penitence and faith in Christ. One brings the sinner down to the lowest place; while the other brings him up to the highest place before God.

True humility is Christ-centered. It is that true lowliness of heart worked in us by God’s Spirit, as we see ourselves rightly, as miserable sinners who desperately need our gracious Savior. It is that true contrition, that sorrow over our sin, in which we come before the Lord like the tax collector, acknowledging that we are not worthy of being an invited guest in His house. As we confess our sins, we beat our breast saying: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” We repent of our many sins of pride and false humility. We repent of our self-centered and self-serving focus. We cling in faith only to Jesus’ blood-cleansing, and the true place of honor He has won for us. And like the tax collector, we go home justified, forgiven in the sight of God.

Here Jesus, wanting even the proud Pharisee to be saved through such penitence and faith, continued His parable in earnest: “But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

When it comes to our place as invited guests in God’s house, what alone will give us such a spirit of true humility? Philippians 2:5-8 gives us the Christ-centered answer: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

Here we are reminded that when we were the lowest of the low, as poor miserable sinners before the holy God of heaven, He chose to lift us up by His grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. He came down to us, when we were proud by nature and seeking a place of honor for ourselves. Though He is the King of heaven, He made Himself of no reputation, being despised and rejected for us. Though He is Lord of all, He humbled Himself and became the Servant of all. He came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for us all (Matthew 20:28). He was crucified for us. His suffered and died for us, to take away all our sins of pride. By His perfect life of humility and obedience, He covers us in His righteousness before God. And now Jesus is exalted to the highest place at His Father’s right hand (Philippians 2:9-11). And He sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us repentance and saving faith.

The apostle Paul was once a proud leader of the Pharisees. But he was completely changed in the presence of his living Savior. In the true humility that is Christ-centered, in the spirit of repentance and faith, Paul confessed in 1 Timothy 1:15-16: This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”

By the same mercy, our once humbled and now exalted Savior lifts us up in His Kingdom. As the Son of God, He has baptized us and given us the highest honor of being God’s children. As the heavenly Bridegroom, He has clothed us in His own spotless white wedding garment! Look around you: every seat in His banquet hall is a place of honor, every one of us worth His life, every one of us a recipient of His abundant grace. Come, let us partake of the feast of salvation to which our heavenly Bridegroom has called us! Let us eat and drink richly of His own Body and Blood, given and shed for our forgiveness and eternal life. As He lifts us up and bestows His greatest honor on our humble state, He fills our heart with the true joy of the wedding feast, the true joy shared by the heavenly Bridegroom and His holy Bride!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.