August 28, 2022
Text: Luke 14:1–14, Heb. 13:1–17, Prov. 25:2–10
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
In the Chinese Sermon last Sunday, I gave an example of how people misunderstand Jesus’ saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow door”. People, especially those believing in salvation by works like the Pharisees, tend to think “strive to enter through the narrow door” is like this: on Black Friday many years ago, people stayed up the whole night lining up by the door of Walmart or any retail store, hoping to be one of the first to enter the store and to grab some discounted big-ticket items like Computers and big screen TVs, etc. You have to strive, to make a big effort to enter the Walmart Store. However, that’s NOT what Jesus meant. Do you ever wonder why after saying these things, Jesus ends by saying, “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last”? This is against human logic, the Black Friday Walmart Logic. People tend to think, “EARLY Bird gets the worm”, right ? Unfortunately, or thankfully, I should say, Jesus anticipated that people would interpret what He was saying in that way. That’s NOT what Jesus means. Why? Because of human pride, salvation by works makes sense to our sinful nature. That’s why not long after saying, “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last”, in today’s text, Jesus says, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”. It’s about pride vs. humbleness.
It’s important to note here that Jesus was talking to Pharisees. They were hypocrites. We know that they took pride and trusted in their superficial good works and in their flesh as children of Israel, thus, they refused God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. We who are part of the sinful human race, more or less, have the same problem of pride. Pride has an inconsistency problem. Pride makes ideals inconsistent with realities. Pride makes thinking inconsistent with actions. So, people with pride end up deceiving others and themselves. This is actually minor comparing to what they do to God. Pride and hypocrisy make God a liar because God says, “None is righteous, no, not one”, but the hypocrite would say, “well, I am an exception. Everyone else is to blame, not me.” The narrow door is Jesus because Jesus is “the door of the sheep”. He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”. It’s Not that people have to try hard to squeeze into a narrow door. No. The door is narrow because people won’t find it and even if they find it, they don’t want to enter it. The reason is that temptations, deceptions of this world, and our sinful pride distract us from entering the door. It’s hard to trust God and Jesus alone, certainly not by our own effort. But only by the grace of God, are we willing to enter the Door of Jesus. Pharisees and hypocrites have an inconsistency problem in that they don’t recognize or admit that they are sinners just like everyone else before God and need God’s grace and mercy. Pride deceives them to think that they are better than everyone else and that if they don’t get into heaven, no one else does. They are the first in line to enter the door of heaven. But reality and Jesus’ Word is a slap in the face — They will be the last.
The same is true for Jesus’ saying, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Acknowledging our true place before God as a sinful human being and trusting His mercy to lift up the lowly is the key to understanding today’s lessons as to how we are saved. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus has illustrated this well by the parable of the wedding feast. When people try to sit down in a place of honor, what do you think they are thinking in their head? Most likely, they are not honest about who they are. They pretend to be someone who is more important than they truly are. They try to deceive others, but in the end, they only deceive themselves. Why? Because only the host knows who the important persons are, and who should be honored because that’s his party, His wedding feast. Similarly, the host of the heavenly feast is God the Father for His Son Jesus. We should be humble before God, recognizing our true condition before God as a siner, recognizing that we have sinned against God and others in many ways, and, like Paul, recognizing that we are the “chief sinner”. When we place ourselves at the last place before God, trusting His mercy in Jesus Christ to lift us up, He will surely say to you, “go up higher”. Do you know why? Because you are clothed with Christ’s righteousness and with His identity marked in Baptism and in Faith. God will certainly honor you not as a sinful being, but as a child of God in Christ Jesus. Today’s Old Testament lesson Proverbs 25 says the same thing, “Do not honor yourself before a king, and do not stand in the place of the great. For it is better that he shall say to you, Come up here! than that you should be put lower before a noble whom your eyes have seen.” God is the King. Interestingly, Luther connects this verse to the Virgin Mary and the Magnificat, where she praises the Lord for regarding her low estate. As Mary was nothing without the gracious favor of God, we too, are only “promoted and lifted up by the same mercy”.
Thanks Be to God! Jesus humbled Himself and came down from heaven. When He was on earth, He was still God. But He was honest, realizing He was man as well. The Bible Says, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Realizing He was a human being as well, He respected the reality of growing up like other boys when He was young even though He found favor before God and men. He obeyed God’s laws and Godly customs to show us His faith and how to work out this faith in everyday life. He humbled Himself to be a servant to serve others in need, and washed his disciples’ dirty feet. He shows what true love is by willingly carrying others’ sins and guilt (including yours and mine) and going to the lowest point of humbleness – death, even the humiliating and excruciating death on the cross. He humbled himself so that we might be exalted. Today’s Epistle lesson tells us that Jesus suffered outside the camp to sanctify us so that we may come before God in holiness. Jesus’ suffering and rising up that makes us holy is God’s ultimate mercy and favor to lift us up from the swamp of sins and the pit of death. Amen!!
Today, glorious God in Christ Jesus still comes in small and humble ways like word, water, bread, and wine. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Don’t be like hypocrites. We should humble ourselves and find the right place before God, which is a low place. But don’t worry. God in Christ Jesus is our “promotion”. The purpose for which He descended from the highest place to the lowest place is to lift you up that you may be ascended to heaven on high.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!