One Sabbath day, when Jesus went into the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat bread, they were watching him closely. 2 Right in front of him was a man who was suffering from swelling of his body. 3 Jesus addressed the legal experts and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they were silent. So he took hold of the man, healed him, and let him go. 5 He said to them, “Which of you, if your son or an ox would fall into a well on a Sabbath day, would not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. 7 When he noticed how they were selecting the places of honor, he told the invited guests a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline in the place of honor, or perhaps someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him. 9 The one who invited both of you may come and tell you, ‘Give this man your place.’ Then you will begin, with shame, to take the lowest place. 10 “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move up to a higher place.’ Then you will have honor in the presence of all who are reclining at the table with you. 11 “Yes, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
A couple weeks ago we heard Jesus deal with greed, one of the so-called “seven deadly sins.” Today, He tackles another one, pride. You could easily make the argument from Scripture that of all sins, pride is the worst sin of all, because it is so opposed to the Gospel. The central teaching of Scripture is that we are saved by grace alone—undeserved love. That leaves no room at all for pride.
After waiting years and years for a child, Hannah, the humble mother of the prophet Samuel rejoiced in song with these words: “Do not talk so high and mighty. Do not let proud words come out of your mouth, because the Lord is a God who knows. By him actions are weighed. 4 The bows of powerful warriors are broken. Those who were staggering are now armed with strength” (1 Samuel 2:3-4). When humble Mary learned she was going to be the mother of the Savior, she too rejoiced with very similar words: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name…. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation…. He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:47-52).
What those two women, and countless other believers have understood, is a theme that runs through all of Scripture. God brings low the proud but lifts up the humble. Pride is the enemy of faith. The proud need no Savior, or so they think, while the humble cry out from the depths, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). Our Old Testament lesson said it so straight forwardly and so well, “Do not exalt yourself.” No, rather “WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD.”
Jesus Showed Mercy to the Humble
Jesus was invited out to dinner, but His hosts were no friends of His. It was the Pharisees and the law experts who had invited him over. No, they hadn’t had a sudden change of heart. No, they hadn’t taken to heart what they’d heard Jesus say about their wrong attitudes and wrong-headed religion. Rather, our text says, “they were watching him closely.” It was a set-up. They were proud of themselves and their learning and wanted to discredit Jesus as a small-town know-nothing. They were on a fishing expedition for ammunition to prove Jesus was a false prophet. They wanted to make themselves feel good about themselves at His expense.
There was another “odd man out” at their dinner party, a man suffering from “dropsy.” That’s not a disease, but a set of symptoms. The man had swollen arms and legs, probably the result of kidney, heart or liver trouble. He was not at all a well man. Had he just dropped in? It’s possible. Mediterranean houses didn’t have big fences or alarmed doors. Or was he specially invited by the host as part of the game he and his fellow Pharisees wanted to play with Jesus? That’s certainly a possibility and would be in keeping with their character—or rather, lack thereof.
Jesus, of course, knows why he’s been invited. He knows everything. Considering that fact, it speaks volumes that He came to dinner at all. As prideful and wicked as these men’s unbelieving motives were, Jesus had not given up on them ahead of time. Jesus doesn’t give up on anyone ahead of time. Scripture means what it says when it tells us that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
But that doesn’t mean that God plays by the rules of the wicked. He wants all to be saved, but on His terms. Jesus knew what these men were up to, and so, without them having even spoken or asked a question, Jesus, “answered them.” Literally the original Greek text says, “And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
That’s about as tough a question as Jesus could ask Pharisees and legal experts. Their teachings and their beliefs led them to a clear answer. “No. It is NOT lawful to heal on the Sabbath.” But their consciences told them that wasn’t a very good answer. At least they were too embarrassed to say their answer out loud. – Now isn’t that something! These proud windbags were too chicken to stand up for their wrongheaded convictions! The guys in Israel who most loved to talk and hear themselves talk are totally silenced by one simple question. They refused to answer on the grounds that it would incriminate them. I wonder how long Jesus might have waited for them to break their silence. Maybe He waited until the silence became painfully embarrassing.
Finally, after never getting an answer, Jesus simply healed the man without further ado—completely and totally. Right in front of them. On the Sabbath! And still they didn’t dare open their mouths—or maybe their mouths were hanging wide open, but there weren’t any words coming out. He said to them, “Which of you, if your son or an ox would fall into a well on a Sabbath day, would not immediately pull him out?” And they still had nothing to say.
What Jesus did was simply the right thing to do. God Himself spelled that out already in the Old Testament: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” He said through the prophet Hosea to a stiff necked people who thought going through the outward motions makes God happy. God looks at the heart. God wants us to do the right thing. And He wants us to do it for the right reason. That’s what a good deed is: The right thing, done for the right reason, from the heart, out of thankfulness toward God. And it all starts and ends with an attitude of humility before God. God hates pretense and pride. God loves humility. “WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD.”
An Attitude of Humility Toward God
Pharisees and Law experts were proud men. The Pharisees were proud of their deeds. They liked to stand on the street corners in their prayer shawls and make a big show of their worship. And the lawyers? They were the self-proclaimed experts. They weren’t content with the laws God had given through Moses. They were still busy 1500 years later writing more. That was their source of pride.
Both of these groups were too pretentious to see their need for Jesus. They were too good for Him. Too smart for Him. Too prim and proper for Him. Too worshipful for Him. Too knowledgeable for Him.
That wasn’t unique to them or their time, however. Since the day of the fall, right up to today, man has been too proud for God. It was pride that caused even an angel to lead a rebellion in heaven. And it was an appeal to pride that he used as his very first temptation here on earth: “You can be like God!”
“Pride [still] goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before the fall.” Pride is the number one enemy of Christianity. It prevents people from listening to God. It prevents people from confessing their sins and being forgiven. It prevents them from believing God’s Word. “Forget God!” they say. “Who needs Him. Let’s entrust ourselves to the philosopher, to the scientist, to the politician!” Which is why God inspired the Apostle to ask , 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Jewish law? Where is the probing thinker of the present age? Has God not shown that the wisdom of this world is foolish? 21 Indeed, since the world through its wisdom did not know God, God in his wisdom decided to save those who believe, through the foolishness of the preached message. 22 Yes, Jews ask for signs, Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified—which is offensive to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 We preach Christ crucified, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).
God demands that we sacrifice our God-forsaken pride and pretentiousness, at the foot of the cross of Jesus.
When he noticed how they were selecting the places of honor, he told the invited guests a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline in the place of honor, or perhaps someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him. 9 The one who invited both of you may come and tell you, ‘Give this man your place.’ Then you will begin, with shame, to take the lowest place. 10 “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move up to a higher place.’ Then you will have honor in the presence of all who are reclining at the table with you. 11 “Yes, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
It’s not really wedding receptions Jesus is talking about here. He’s talking about the wedding supper of the Lamb. We do well to remember that The Day is coming when all of us, from the least to the greatest, will be called to account. On that day, God will judge the hearts of men. Were they pretentious, proud and self-sufficient? Did they believe they didn’t need Me? Or were they humble and put their trust in Me?
Pride rots our hearts from the inside out. Pride leads to damnation. Godly humility leads to salvation because it opens our hearts for Jesus. Humility enables us to let Jesus be our Substitute. Humility enables us to fall down before the cross of Christ and plead for forgiveness. Humility allows us to trust in the blood of Jesus to wash away all our sins. And a humble heart that understands the mercy of Jesus toward us, wants to be merciful toward those who need us—like the man with the dropsy.
The prophet Micah asked, “With what am I to appear before the Lord? How should I bow down to God on high? Should I appear before him with burnt offerings, with one-year-old calves? 7 Will the Lord be delighted with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my rebellion, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has told you, mankind, what is good. What does the Lord require from you, except to carry out justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:6-8).
Ask yourself this simple question today: Are you walking humbly with your God? The answer determines what God will say to you on the last day: move up or move down. May God grant us true Christian humility. Amen.
Pastor Timothy Buelow
Our Saviour Lutheran Church
Lake Havasu City, Arizona