The Lowest Place. 17th Sunday after Trinity, 2014
17th Sunday after Trinity + St. Peter Lutheran Church + St. Luke 14:1-11 + October 12, 2014
“ The Lowest Place“
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus said the Pharisees loved the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. They loved to have people call them “Rabbi,” “Teacher.” They loved honor.
So no surprise that at this Sabbath dinner all the guests of the ruler of the Pharisees are choosing the best seats for themselves. They want the places of honor.
The Pharisees may have been good at not working on the Sabbath, fasting, tithing, memorizing Scripture. But they lack one thing without which all their righteousness falls apart. They lack love for their neighbor. They want the places of honor and they are ready to have their neighbor go sit in the lowest place. They keep close watch on Jesus, scrutinizing Him to find something wrong, something with which to discredit His reputation of being the Christ.
That’s not love. Love doesn’t rejoice when someone else falls. It doesn’t seek the best for itself at the expense of one’s neighbor. It rejoices when a neighbor is honored just as much as in one’s own honor.
What good is tithing, fasting, knowing Scripture, going to church if you don’t have love for your neighbor? The Law doesn’t command simply that we do this work and that, but above all that we love. Without love for our neighbor as ourselves, all knowledge of God’s Word, all works profit us nothing. We are just knowledgeable, religious transgressors of God’s commandments.
The Pharisees weren’t the only ones who liked to sit at the places of honor. Remember how upset Peter became when Jesus began to tell His disciples that He would be rejected in Jerusalem, suffer many things, and be killed? Peter wasn’t upset just because his Lord was going to be humiliated and die. He was upset because he didn’t want to accept that to follow Jesus is to walk in the way of the cross, the way of loss and shame and death, the way to the lowest place.
And Peter wasn’t unique among the disciples. James and John tried to arrange for themselves to sit at the places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Only a short space before His death, Jesus had to explain to His disciples that the greatest among them should be like the youngest and the leader like the servant of all.
The disciples were also lacking in love. They were seeking the best seats in the kingdom of God even as Jesus went to take His seat in the lowest and most dishonorable place—the cross.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. God honors the one who fulfills His law, who keeps His commandments. And the man who keeps God’s commandments loves his neighbor as himself. Love is not proud. It is humble. It is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant and rude. The man who loves his neighbor humbles himself and serves his neighbor and seeks his good. He’s happy if his neighbor gets to sit in the seat of honor even if it means that he sits in a dishonorable place.
In fact, the man who loves his neighbor willingly takes the dishonorable place so that his neighbor can have the better place.
Does that sound like you? Or couldn’t what Jesus said about the Pharisees also be said about you? “They loved the best seats, and to be greeted in the church and to be honored by men.” You say you are a poor miserable sinner, but don’t you expect to be regarded as a good person? Don’t you think of yourself that way? Are you content to sit in the lowest place so that your neighbor may take the higher place? And even if you do that without complaining, isn’t the craving of your heart to have people speak well of you and honor you? Doesn’t this desire to be honored and praised take precedence over God’s commandment to love Him above all things and your neighbor as yourself?
That’s why God taps you on the shoulder and says, “Give your place up. You must go down to the lowest place.”
The place of honor in God’s kingdom does not belong to those who exalt themselves and seek their own honor. The place of honor belongs to Him who loves.
It belongs to Jesus, who loved His neighbors as Himself. Before the foundation of the world Jesus foresaw our fall into sin and misery, and He loved us and chose to make Himself our neighbor by becoming one of us. Jesus loved you and so He became man and put Himself under the law to fulfill it for you. He loved you before you were born. He loved you when you were dead in your trespasses and sins and were God’s enemy. And now that you believe in Him but are still weak, still subject to much lovelessness, Jesus loves you. At the right hand of God, on the throne of the Most High, He loves you, intercedes for you, and seeks your good.
Because He loved you He humbled Himself for you. He humbled Himself and came down to you in the lowest place, the depths of sin, death, and despair.
Why should the Lord Almighty, the creator of the earth, humble Himself for you and me? There is no conceivable reason except that, inexplicably, He loves us. If God the Son had wanted to stay aloof from our dishonor and shame and pain He could easily have done so and remained in the highest place at God’s right hand and never troubled Himself with our misery. But instead He humbled Himself and took upon Himself our nature, our obligation to fulfill the law, and our unpayable debt of sin.
Finally He humbled Himself to suffer death on the cross for our sins under the just condemnation of God’s law.
And having taken the lowest place, the Father did what Jesus said in His parable to the Pharisees. He had Jesus move up higher, all the way from the grave to the throne of God. That was not Jesus exalting Himself. He went no higher than He had already been from eternity. But He brought our nature, our flesh and blood, to the right hand of the most High. And in doing so He exalted us. Because all who are baptized into His body He raised to sit and reign with Him. All who partake of His flesh and blood are exalted with Him to the Father’s right hand even while they remain in this world.
So you are exalted in Christ. In fact, He comes down to you today and exalts you to heaven. For He comes to us in His flesh and blood in the bread and wine. He comes to us as we are today, with our anxieties, our present troubles, our fear of death. And He unites us to God. It is God’s body and blood that we eat at this feast. Here there is healing for our lovelessness and pride. Here he assures us that we are reconciled to God.
The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria