The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Exaltation and humiliation: it’s all pretty straight-forward and easy to understand, right? St. Luke tells us that it was a Sabbath and Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee. He noticed how people were jockeying and elbowing and fighting for the best places at the table; the places of honor and glory and prestige, so He taught them this parable on humility and exaltation. Now, I say that this lesson is very straight-forward and easy to understand, but I’m willing to bet that we don’t understand it nearly as well as we think we do.
For one thing, is it wrong to take pride in something? Is it wrong to exalt and be proud? Sometimes that’s what we take away from this lesson, and that’s not right. There is a difference between sinful pride and faithful, healthy pride. Sinful pride—selfish/self-serving pride—is not to be confused with the very good and healthy sense of pride of belonging; pride of accomplishment. Anyone here who’s ever graduated from anything should know what I’m talking about. That’s a very good “pride of belonging; pride of accomplishment.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Military folks know very well this good sense of pride and belonging. Anyone who’s ever had kids should know what I’m talking about. Parents take great pride in a well-behaved, high-achieving child, and rightly so, especially in this day and age. There’s NOTHING wrong with this. The book of Proverbs states this very Truth multiple times, “The wise son makes for a glad/proud father, but the foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Prov 10:1). The point here is that taking pride in something; exalting in something; being proud of something is not necessarily a bad thing; something to ALWAYS be avoided.
But…is this the exaltation and pride that Jesus is warning us against here? No. In this context Jesus is condemning sinful pride; the pride that exalts in and celebrates and elevates the self over and above everyone and everything else. Such sinful pride is very vain and selfish. It’s very glory-driven, always seeking the praise of others; always seeking the coveted “Atta boy!” One of my pastor-friends was just talking about this not too long ago. He HATES receiving gifts from one particular family member, not because the family member is a bad guy, but because the family member NEVER lets you forget what he so “humbly” did for you. “Remember five years ago when I gave you that trinket? Remember ten years ago when I helped you out and did that one thing for you?” “Yes, dear uncle. Man, if it wasn’t for you, I don’t know where I’d be today. Thank you, dear uncle. You’re the best. Without you I’d be lost, dear uncle. Thank God for you, dear uncle.” That’s what the uncle wants to hear—his own praise. The uncle seeks his own glory and honor.
Such sinful pride and exaltation, when you get down to it, is really, at its core, idolatrous. It’s a self-serving pride that seeks to steal glory that rightly belongs to God alone. It seeks to take credit for God’s work, basking in glory and honor that should be reserved for God alone. Understand: I’m not referring here to works-righteousness or synergism, which I know everyone here would immediately balk at. We would NEVER do that, right? We know that we can’t take any credit for the forgiveness of our sin or our eternal salvation. Christ alone! Thank God we’re not like “those people” who do believe so wrongly [Sarcasm? Irony? Yes…thank God we’re so ‘humble’ and ‘faithful,’ not like those jerks.]
Can we wrongly and selfishly try to steal credit and glory from God? Absolutely! Again, there is nothing wrong with celebrating our accomplishments …as long as we recognize who is at the origin of our blessings. You are who you are solely because of God. You have what you have solely because of God. It is all by His grace and providence alone, and that goes for salvation as well as everything else in life.
And that’s another way that this lesson often goes off-track. This isn’t a lesson on simple etiquette and table manners. It’s not even a hard/fast rule for winning God’s favor. I know that’s how this is often taught, but it’s not true. Can you ever win God’s favor? Can you ever put enough stars in your column of God’s holy book to earn His exaltation and praise? Friends: If that were possible, then Jesus didn’t need to die. You just need to step up your game and try harder.
That’s NOT what Jesus was teaching here! This, my dear brothers and sisters, is a lesson on the life that is lived out in the humility of repentant saving faith. When you really listen to what Jesus is saying here, this is more a lesson on proper perspective than anything else. I guess the simplest way to come at this is by simply asking you: What is most important to you? What do you exalt? What do you elevate and glorify? Now, we could give any number of examples that reveal the ugly truth of our self-serving, glory-seeking, idolatrous ways. Our daily lives are filled with these sinful idols and examples. Even our worship life is filled with these ugly realities. I won’t even go into things like bronze plaques and such. “Given to the glory of God by….” Your left hand shouldn’t even know what your hand is doing, but if we don’t put up a bronze plaque to commemorate the gift of the urinal in the men’s room, there will be all hell to pay! “I’m taking my business elsewhere! I’ll go where I’m appreciated!” Listen to those pronouns. Who is it all about? “I/Me.” That’s a problem.
But…as I said, I won’t even go there. Let’s hit closer to the reflection in the mirror. How many of you have blown off church because you’d rather do something “more fun, more relaxing, more enjoyable”? God doesn’t let you into heaven because you birdied the tenth hole or bagged the mythical 30-point buck. He’s not impressed. How many of you have blown off church because you’ve got such important work to do? That lawn needs mowing TODAY! “I’ll go to church next week. I’m good. Jesus knows I love Him.” So…the lawn is more important than Jesus? Jesus can wait, but the lawn can’t? What the neighbors think about your yard is way more important than Christ’s means of grace and salvation? What if the next time you come to church is when you’re getting wheeled down the aisle in your casket? What then? It’s a little too late then!
How many of you have blown off church because you’re just “not quite feeling up to it today?” Maybe your hair wasn’t cooperating or you had a late night with the grandkids and didn’t get a whole lot of sleep. Maybe your football team didn’t fare so well yesterday and it’s got you down. It happens. It happens all the time. How many of you have stayed away because someone at church just rubs you the wrong way; they made you feel very unhappy? “I’m not going there so long as they keep serving Folgers and not Maxwell House! I’m not going there because they always run out of apple fritters! I’m not stepping foot in that place again unless I get an apology; until I get a well-deserved and hard-earned thank you note for all the sacrifices I’ve made for that place and those people!” Hmmm…did you notice who’s at the center of all these sad excuses? Did you notice the common denominator in each and every one of these excuses to stay away from Christ and His means of grace? Listen to the pronouns. The perspective is all off!
That’s why I said this lesson is more of a lesson on proper perspective than anything else. This isn’t a “how-to” lesson. “Here’s what you need to do in order to make God happy.” That would be Law, and the Law can’t save you, no matter how hard you try. This is a Gospel lesson on proper perspective. Hold yourself up to this [the crucifix]. Go ahead and put all your accomplishments and sacrifices and oh-so-important things up against the all-redeeming and all-atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Kind of puts it all into perspective, doesn’t it?
Jesus Christ willingly and obediently gave up all of heaven to take on our fallen and sinful flesh, all for the sole purpose having that flesh beaten and crucified upon a lowly criminal’s cross. He took all the sins of the entire world upon Himself (even the people you don’t like), willingly suffering the all our eternal pains and all of God’s fiery wrath, all so that we would never have to taste it for ourselves, not for one single second. Out of His great compassion and love and mercy, He willingly became nothing—the absolute lowest, forsaken by God Himself—all so that we could have everything. He didn’t do it because we earned it. He did it precisely because we could do NOTHING about it. Apart from Him and His gift of all-redeeming grace, mercy, love, and peace, we are dead in the water; dead in our trespasses, our guilt…our sin.
Understood in this light—the light of the cross of Christ—all of life tends to get put into a very humble and proper perspective, doesn’t it? “No one comes to the Father except through Me, who humbled myself to the point of death on the cross for you.” And do not be deceived: God knows the difference between the true humility of faith and lip-service. You may fool everyone else with your “piety and humility,” but you can’t fool God. Who/what are you seeking? Whose glory do you seek? In what/whom do you exalt?
Folks: This [the crucifix] is what it’s all about. This bloody cross of Christ is the perfect and absolute picture of faithful humility. Every time I look to this cross I am reminded of the old story of a large crucifix statue that was erected in a church’s garden area. Naturally, there were a lot of positive things said about it, but, as is always the case, there were also a few digs and jabs and criticisms. You can’t please everyone. Every church has her “hemorrhoids.” One of the people complained, “It’s pretty and all, but I can’t see His face! For the amount of money we spent on this thing I should be able to see His face.” Immediately, a small child piped up, “I see it just fine down here. You just have to kneel down to see His face.” That’s the humility of faith your Lord is talking about; NOT the type of kneeling that some over-paid, self-absorbed, glory-seeking morons are doing nowadays. NO! This kneeling down is the kneeling down of true repentant faith; true repentant, thankful, humble faith that has all things in proper cruciform perspective.
My fellow redeemed: May God grant that every day of our lives be lived out in this repentant, cruciform, faithful humility; repentant, faithful humility that knows the Truth of our sin and the Truth of His mercy and grace; repentant, faithful humility that willfully and joyfully kneels down to see the face of Jesus, not just on Sunday, but all the time; the face of Him who humbled Himself by paying for each and every one of your sins, my sins, and the sins of the entire world with His lifeblood. May this Good News of Christ crucified—Christ exalted and lifted up on His cross for you—be at the center of all you say and do. May this be your glory, your praise, and your exaltation, all your remaining days and into all eternity.
To Him alone be all glory, all praise, and all honor.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
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