“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 14:11 (Read Luke 14:1-11)
It was the Sabbath Day and Jesus was invited to a meal in the home of one of the prominent Pharisees, a sect of the Jews which believed one could please God and be acceptable in His sight by a strict keeping of God’s commandments. However, Jesus was being put to the test in regard to His keeping of the commandment regarding the Sabbath.
The Pharisees and experts in the Jewish law were watching Jesus because a man was there with dropsy, a condition in which fluid would build up in the extremities causing pain and discomfort. We might call it edema today, a condition often caused by congestive heart failure.
Jesus didn’t have to ask because He most certainly already knew the answer, but He wanted His hearers — experts in the Jewish laws — to consider the truth. “And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?” (v. 3).
They didn’t answer Jesus but, quite obviously, they considered it a violation of the commandment for Jesus to heal anyone on the Sabbath because they regarded such acts to be work forbidden by the commandment in Exodus 20:8-11.
What they failed to see and understand in their efforts to outwardly obey God’s commandments so that they might be deserving of God’s favor and eternal life is that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God had commanded man to rest from his labors on the Sabbath in order that he might have time to consider God’s Word and God’s ways (cf. Isa. 58:13-14). They were to sanctify and set apart the holy day. It was never God’s intent that the Sabbath be legalistically observed as nothing more than a day in which all work was prohibited.
And, since the Sabbath served as a shadow of things to come, pointing to the fact that we are justified and obtain eternal rest by faith alone in Jesus Christ and not by our own works and merits (cf. Rom. 4:4-5; Heb. 4:1ff.), Christians are no longer required to observe a specific day (cf. Rom. 14:5-6; Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 4:10-11).
Jesus healed this man “and answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things” (v. 5-6).
And how could they answer Jesus or accuse Him? Jesus showed their hypocrisy and guilt in regard to God’s law. None of them would even hesitate to pull one of their animals out of a pit on the Sabbath Day, and yet they considered it wrong to help a human being on the Sabbath and were ready to condemn Jesus for showing love and mercy on the Sabbath! (Cf. Rom. 13:8-10; Hos. 6:6).
Jesus also told the Pharisees and experts in Jewish law a parable when he noted how they chose for themselves the prominent seats at the table, “saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.”
Not only did this parable have a practical application for them to avoid being humiliated if asked to give place to a more-honored guest and to be honored before all if asked to move up; it also has a spiritual application: “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (v. 11).
If we exalt ourselves before God and seek to enter into the glories of heaven on the basis of our own works and worthiness, we will be humbled when we are removed from our place and it be given to one counted worthy by the LORD God for the sake of the perfect life and innocent suffering and death of Christ Jesus.
If, on the other hand, we count ourselves unworthy sinners and take the lowest seat and trust in nothing but the merit of Christ Jesus, who gave His life as a ransom for our sins and the sins of the world, we will be exalted when God graciously receives us into His kingdom and glorifies us for Jesus’ sake!
God calls upon us to humbly confess our sins and receive of Him forgiveness and life for the sake of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Think of the parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14. It was the humble tax collector who went to his house justified.
The Bible tells us: “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:18); “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17); and “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15; cf. 66:2).
And, St. John writes (1 John 1:8 — 2:2: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Jesus’ point? It will merit us nothing before God to legalistically follow the letter of the commandments when we miss the spirit of the law — love for God and love for neighbor. And, most importantly, rather than depending upon our own works and merits under the law which are far short of what God requires, we would be wise to humble ourselves before the LORD God, confess our utter sinfulness and unworthiness in His sight, and flee to the cross of Jesus, trusting alone in His perfect righteousness in our stead and in His innocent suffering and death for the sins of the entire world!
“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” — The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn 370
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]