The humble will be exalted – Luke 14

A favorite Christmas-oriented story that I have shared in sermons over the years (and surely have written somewhere else in our hundreds of devotionals on this site) is one that I was told by a seminary professor friend. He was also an elder in the Dallas church where I was minister of music, and he shared this story in one of my Christmas productions where I asked him to speak.

Dr. Harold Hoehner was a graduate / Ph.D. student at Cambridge University in England about four decades ago. You may recall that Prince Charles (in fashion uncustomary for British royalty) went to Cambridge. My friend was a resident student at the time that Charles was to arrive to begin his studies. His arrival was a big deal and much anticipated in the city. People lined the streets to greet the future king.

At the appointed time, several black limousines were seen coming into the edge of town from the direction of London, and the crowds followed these official-looking vehicles. But Harold and his friends happened to notice a black VW following at a distance that turned down a different street. And for some reason they surmised that perhaps the official vehicles were a feint and that maybe the prince was in the smaller car. Acting on the hunch, they crossed some fields and followed the VW and were indeed among only a handful of people to personally greet the future king on his arrival.

The incarnation of the king of kings was not in a fashion of grandeur that might be expected, and only a handful of people knew of the actual place of his arrival and were there to greet him. It was a group of humble people in the most humble of places.

As we shared in our second theme this past Sunday, as well as in yesterday’s devotional, there is a pattern of Christ coming to and choosing those who are — as the Christmas hymn puts it — “meek souls who receive him still.”  And that is good news for us in the Tri-State area, people who are far from grandeur and fame. But we can know Christ; we can be adopted by faith into the royal family of royal families … of the king of kings and lord of lords.

Think upon these thoughts as you today read these two accounts from Luke 14. This first is an exhortation from Jesus to be humble and prefer others, leading Christ to utter the phrase used multiple times in the gospel accounts … that the first shall be the last, and the last shall be the first. So be a servant of those most in need.

The second account, a parable, speaks to the timeless reality that the vast majority of mankind do not make room for Christ or the values of eternity. Rather, they are busy with all sorts of personal pursuits that turn their values upside down. It is generally not the up-and-outers of society who find eternal relationship with Christ, but rather it is those who by circumstance are most estranged from prominence and privilege … carpenters, shepherds, ordinary people beyond the suburbs of Washington, etc. People like you and me.

14:1 — One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

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Functional Saviors and the Need for an Invite (Luke 14:21-24)

Some people ruin everything.   In high school, it was common to have division between the “cool” kids and the chess club.  If we’re guilty by association, then no one wants to be tried and convicted of being socially awkward.  Thing is, as much as we shake our heads at the immaturity of high schoolers, this attitude never really goes away.  There will always be those above us on the social ladder, and if we want to be like them we have to put some distance between ourselves and the folks below us.

In Jesus’ day, many of the religious leaders thought that their righteousness and social reputations were one and the same.  Surely they could sneer down on those beneath them.  That’s why Jesus’ parable is so unsettling.  The “cool” crowd—the ones who had all the blessings—were too busy to attend the party.  So, in Jesus’ parable, the party host has another plan entirely:

21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:21-24)

Why would Jesus place special emphasis on the social outcasts?  Would the less fortunate be better able to enjoy the party?

In the ancient world, there was no ACLU.  A physical disability was little more than a death sentence without the assistance of others.  Worse yet, as we mentioned earlier many would see your suffering as God’s punishment.  Clearly you were worthy of being avoided.  But no; these were the sorts of people that the party host draws near.  When there’s room to spare, the host insists that the servants go to Wal-Mart, the DMV—the kinds of places we like to avoid—and bring in the people we tend to distance ourselves from.

Think about it this great reversal for a minute.  The wealthy, the well-off—these people avoided the party because they’d already found their saviors.  That is, if unhappiness is my greatest problem, then my salvation lies in securing happiness through prosperity or relationships.  Who needs Jesus?  But the broken, the lame, the outcasts—these folks had no idols to turn to.  They had a fuller understanding of their need for a Savior.

Jesus’ point isn’t that one group becomes socially superior—it’s actually far deeper than that.  Jesus is saying that those who seek self-sufficiency are “out,” while those who recognize their own weakness are “in.”  If my greatest need is happiness, then I need to look no farther than my TV remote.  But if my greatest need is acceptance, then I need the mercy extended from the cross of Christ.  What about you—what are your needs?  May we count ourselves not among the self-sufficient, but instead count ourselves among those who limp their way to Jesus’ party, and through the gates of the undying.

Declining the Offer (Luke 14:15-20)

If you’re a stranger to the world of social media, then consider yourself lucky not to have to endure one of its less pleasant aspects.  I’m talking about event invites.  Or, for that matter, requests to play online games.  Mind you, some folks are legitimately discriminating with their requests.  Others, not so much.  I’ve personally been invited to multiple parties wherein I’d be expected to purchase some sort of elaborate cookware or homemade scented candles or something.  It had occurred to me that hey, maybe going to these things would be a good way to meet women, but I suspect that all the hotties at the apron party are already spoken for.  But I digress.

See, thanks to technology we get bombarded with so many invitations to “like” things, “join” things, attend things—eventually the wall of information grows so large we learn to tune it out.  Ignore it.  Because frankly, we all have better things to do.  Trouble is, if we make this a habit we run the risk of missing good opportunities because we’re so preoccupied with our own lives.

This is what Jesus cautions his religious tablemates about at the party.  Yesterday we looked at two quick parables that speak of the great reversal of values in the kingdom.  When they heard this, Luke tells us:

15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15)

The more I read this the more I wonder if he’s being a bit defensive.  Jesus had just told them that their assumptions of status and “belonging” were faulty, and that they should extend love by elevating those from the lower rungs of the social ladder.  But, this man seems to be insisting, what difference does it make?  Surely everyone who joins the party has a good time, right?  Jesus responds by telling a longer story about a great banquet:

16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’  (Luke 14:15-20)

What are some of the reasons people might have for ignoring or dismissing the opportunity to invest in God’s kingdom?

Each of the invitees of this parable had an excuse for not being there.  To be clear, none of their excuses were sinful.  In fact, they were really good things.  Yet the story would have shocked the guests at the table Jesus was sitting at.  Why?  Because hospitality was such a great value, that they would have been unable to believe that anyone would reject such an invitation.

If Christianity is a means to an end, then we may easily find ourselves in a similar position.  If Christianity is a way to happiness, or a way of coping with grief, then we can easily find a variety of other things to serve those needs.  And, if we share the mentality of the Pharisees, we can easily fall into the trap of confusing our prosperity with God’s approval.  Jesus is essentially saying: Don’t assume that because you’ve found success in your work or your marriage that God is pleased with you. No; there’s something greater at stake, a heavenly joy we miss when we settle for earthly happiness.  We’ve placed self-satisfaction as our highest priority, rather than self-surrender and self-sacrifice.  The gospel romances us away from self into the joy of life in God’s kingdom.  Are we willing to accept the invitation?

Gated Communities (Luke 14:1-14)

It was Dallas, Texas where I first encountered “gated communities.”  Large iron gates and fences served to protect housing developments and apartment complexes.  Getting in and out meant you had to “belong” to the community—or at least have an “in” with the residents.

While there’s surely times when such boundaries are appropriate—and necessary—we do Christ’s Church a great disservice when we apply this type of thinking to our church communities—or to society in general.  Because really, we’ve only become increasingly polarized within our world.  Where once we may have found common ground or at least the space for respectful disagreement, now we gravitate toward the extreme positions of either conservative or progressive values, content to clench our fists and raise our voices in an ongoing clash of cultures.

Put a bit differently, we like to think of ourselves as the “in” crowd.  We’re right; the facts are on our side, by golly—so why bother with our neighbors?  And if we’re foolish enough to spiritualize this, then we tend to think that our religious behavior uniquely earns us God’s approval.

Such was the case of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  In Luke 24, we find Jesus as a guest of one of the “Pharisees”—a group of religious separatists deeply committed to God’s Law:

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. (Luke 14:1-6)

“Dropsy” was a medical condition known for fluid retention and swelling—meaning it would have been caused by either the heart or the kidneys.  Religious leaders of Jesus’ day would have associated such conditions as God’s punishment.  Surely the man must have done something to deserve his misfortune.  Notice how Jesus is the only one speaking in the above verses?  Yet even amid the awkward silences, God is at work.  Jesus brings the point home with two short parables before he gets to his third, longer parable:

7 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:7-14)

In the ancient world, a disability was essentially a death sentence—unless, of course, you could depend on the care of family or the generosity of strangers.  Jesus appeals to these folks because they could not possibly fulfill any of the usual social contracts.

Jesus’ whole point is this: we can very easily reduce relationships to a series of transactions.  We love people who serve us well, who enable us to climb the social ladder.  Likewise, we tend to distance ourselves from those we view as beneath us, socially speaking.  After all, we have a relationship to uphold.

If, like the Pharisees, you see religion as only a set of moral codes, then this attitude makes perfect sense.  Your “gated community” can be protected and free from the contamination of outsiders.  My right behaviors earn me a place of moral superiority over those I think less of.

Jesus will have none of this.  Sickness and suffering (like the man with dropsy) upset the equilibrium of our safely held beliefs.  What everyone assumed would have been a cause for moral superiority, Jesus turned into a chance for compassion and healing.  In the absence of grace, religion eventually falls apart.  Moral superiority will only carry you so far.  The gospel takes our usual categories and turn them completely upside down.  If I’m accepted by God based on Christ’s performance and not my own, then I can never feel superior.  Why?  Because I am saved by work done for me, not by me.  And I can never feel inferior, because the cross reveals God’s great love for me.

The gospel therefore becomes the key to unlocking the “gates” of my community—starting with my own heart.  The cross provokes me to see life not as a series of social contracts, but as an opportunity for love, for service, and for grace upon grace.

The Cost of Discipleship 2015

It has never been completely easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. To be such is to be out of step with the rest of the world around you.

At certain times and in certain places, it is costly to the point of losing one’s life. Actually, this time in history is among the most severe in terms of persecution and martyrdom for the Christian faith. It is a rather daily event around the world.

At the same time, living in America has been likely the least dangerous place for Christians in the history of the church. The historic exceptionalism that marked the foundations and principles of this country have made it to be so, by God’s grace and for his glory.

Yet times are changing. There is a growing effort to not only reject the gospel message, but to also marginalize it as a heinous sort of intolerable intolerance. There is an effort in our culture to re-define the new normal.  The new normal is that there is no objective truth, other than that it is certain that those who believe in objective truth and traditional Christian values are the freaks of society because they do not support the acceptance of “anything goes.”

Where is this heading? We don’t know for sure, but it is certain that these current times are more perilous than any other time any of us can remember. There are surely more difficult days ahead. It is going to be more difficult to stand for truth and live for God. Are you ready for that?  Will you have your family ready for that?  Are you/they counting the cost of discipleship?

Jesus said in our passage for examination … in Luke 14:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Are you ready to count the cost? Can you give up everything?

Here is the final question for pondering / discussion – Week 2, Question 4 – Do you have any doubt that our culture, along with geo-political events, is all turning against Christian faith; and does this challenge your imagination as to what you, or your immediate generations following you may well face in terms of persecution?

A Groupie, or a Disciple? (Luke 14)

“Groupie” is one of those invented words in the English language. It came out of the world of music where certain people were avid followers of a particular group or musical celebrity. They are notorious for idolizing their target of affection, wanting to follow and see and be with that idealized personage as much as possible. They want to be a part of the flow and energy surrounding the celebrity and his sea of followers.

At certain times, such as we will see today in Luke 14, Jesus looked out at the people following him and knew he was surrounded by fickle groupies. They would be there so long as the miracles brought about healings and the food multiplied from a wee basket of bread and fish. But when the cross came into view, they were sure to disappear.

It is easy to be a Jesus groupie in 2015. We love him when he takes good care of us – gives us health and provision, meets our felt needs, answers our obviously high-minded prayers, etc.  But will we stick with him when, like him, we must carry a cross of suffering because of sin in a fallen world?

In the previous chapter of study this week (Luke 12), the issue is to NOT depend on riches and human effort and achievement; but the lesson for today is the opposite end – to understand that there is a cost of discipleship. We must be willing to carry the cross at times.

Here is the passage from Luke 14:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

This discussion brings up that very troubling word for Christians in 2015 … commitment. In my nearly 40 years now of church work, I have certainly seen an erosion of such. And I wonder what the greater ridicule of the faith by the broader culture, and even some persecution, may do for the family of faith. It may well purify it; and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing actually.

So here is my question for today, the third question of this week:

Week 2, Question 3 – What do you find yourself holding onto or are fearful of losing that keeps you from an all-out following of Christ, regardless of the cost?

We’ll talk about some of these ideas tomorrow, while also thinking about the nature of the more difficult days in which we live.

A Place at the Table in the Kingdom of God (Luke 14)

With a final devotional thought today on the theme of this past Sunday’s study on the place of Mephibosheth at King David’s table, we look today at a sort of parallel New Testament story – one that anticipates the eternal reality of a permanent place at the table of the Lord in God’s Kingdom.

This passage from Luke 14 has a lot of “unsaid” sort of “elephant in the room” moments to it. Let me try to add them sequentially through the story as you read it…

Jesus at a Pharisee’s House

The Pharisees were getting increasingly annoyed with this self-proclaimed preacher dude from Galilee who seemed to enthrall the masses. So one day, one of the Pharisees said to the others, “Here is what we’ll do. Let’s invite this Jesus guy to my house for a meal on a Sabbath. We’ll put in front of him a diseased man and see if he breaks the Law and heals him. Don’t say anything. Let him hang himself by WORKing a miracle on the Sabbath.”

14:1  One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

So the Pharisees thought to themselves, “It worked! Our trap caught him in a severe violation of the Law! Yes!”  But before they could act on it in any way, Jesus spoke to them…

5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.

The Pharisees looked around at each other, seeing their elation suddenly deflated, with each saying with their eyes that there was no satisfactory answer to the question. Of course they would all save a life – even of an ox or a donkey – in danger of dying on any day, including the Sabbath.

While this unspoken battle was transpiring, people at the dinner were pushing and shoving and maneuvering in not so subtle ways to get positions at the table as close to the host as possible, thus avoiding the embarrassment of being at the foot of it all, humiliatingly far from the action.

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet

In the crowd was one guest who was – you know the type – a person who hated conflict and who was a peacemaker at all costs. He was thinking to himself, “This whole scene is soooo AWKWARD! What can I do? I know! I’ll blurt out a statement that everyone can agree with, and then the tension in the room will be broken and we can all get along and have a nice dinner.”

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus hears this, smiles, and thinks to himself, “Thanks for the softball toss man; I was wanting to apply this whole story to the Kingdom! I’ll tell them another little story to make the point.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Many of the Pharisees heard this story and understood that he was talking to them, saying that God’s kingdom and table was composed of the disgusting elements of society – sinners of all sorts and those with physical ailments due surely to their sinful lives as a just payment. This teacher does not understand that only the good and religiously precise such as we Pharisees will sit at the best places in the kingdom feast, closest to God.


So who does God save? How does God invite to the feast and who will come? He invites all, for there is room. But only those who in their spiritual state of crippled lives and diseased conditions, who understand that their own goodness and righteousness is fully insufficient, will actually find themselves at the table.

Find themselves there. Yes. Like Mephibosheth. King David came looking for him. He had no rights to be with the king and at his table. But David sought him out and brought him there in grace and in accord with his covenant love. And so God, with us, seeks us out by his grace. He sends someone who invites us in at a time when we were not looking at all for such an invitation. And in a series of God-orchestrated events, we find ourselves adopted into God’s family with an eternal reservation at the table in the Kingdom of God in the house of the Lord forever.

We find ourselves in a place at the table. That is grace. That is the gospel.