He stood there, waiting…watching. He could read their minds, he knew what they thought of themselves and it saddened him to see how willingly and boldly they acted out their sinful pride. How they just couldn’t learn to be humble. One after another, they sought to claim an honor that wasn’t theirs to claim. Yet, they didn’t care, and more often than that, they didn’t know. How could they? How could they know that the best way to gain honor is to be humble? They were blind, blinded by sinful ambition and sinful pride. So Jesus said to them, “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 man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.” “Got Honor? Be humble.
Be humble. Why do we as human beings not like being humbled or being humble? Maybe a better question. What does it mean to be humble? A basic definition of humble has to do with showing or having a low estimate of one’s importance. Words that are synonymous with being humble include, modest, submissive, simple, inferior, etc. So now, if I asked you if you had honor—Or “Got Honor?”—and then proceeded to tell you that you can gain honor by being humble, you might think that I’m rather foolish. Gain honor, gain respect, and be esteemed by being modest or submissive, by being humble? …that doesn’t make sense.
Yet that is exactly what one of the wisest men to ever live on this earth tells us. The writer of the verses we are reflecting on today is Solomon. When Solomon became king of Israel God promised him wisdom, and he did, so much wisdom that people from all over the world came to see Solomon and hear him speak. Got Honor? Solomon had honor. Solomon owned honor. That alone makes these two short verses worth paying attention to. Solomon writes, “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.” But, lest we forget, Solomon was an inspired writer when he wrote these words, so these are not Solomon’s words but God’s words. God is telling us that if we want to avoid humiliation, if we want a “place among great men,” if we want to gain honor, we, as Christians, need to be humble. And what is the opposite of being humble? Being proud.
What a timely message for us today. Sinful pride is all around us. Live how you want! Do what you want! Think what you want! Love whomever you want! Rule don’t apply to you. Sadly, this pride has even worked its way into religion. You can now believe what you want; it is all the same. God’s commands? What commands? God just wants you to be happy. Many people today are so certain that there is no God and, if there was, he would have to let everyone into heaven, because if he didn’t he is not a loving God and therefore no God at all.
That is the danger of pride, it tries to rid the world of God. And it is a temptation that we too can fall into. We too, in pride, justify our sins, justify breaking God’s commands by telling ourselves that we will only do it once or that it isn’t a big deal, or that we are usually good otherwise. Our pride may even lead us to ask “Who is God to judge me? It is when we have thoughts like these that the righteous hammer of God’s judgment comes crashing in and in the King of King’s presence we are humiliated.
God from his throne of judgment rains down his anger on us and often he does that in the form of consequences. Sometimes he takes away the gifts of the talent that made us proud. Other times he uses others to humble us by having them point out our sins or how we wronged this person or that person. But why does God do that? Why does he humble us? To rub it in our faces that he is God? No, he does it to redirect our focus, to direct our eyes back to him. God humbles us to show us our need for a Savior and to show us that he provided that Savior in his Son Jesus.
Jesus humbled himself as he came to this earth to pay for our sins. In the book of Philippians, we are told that Jesus “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Can you imagine? God who is allknowing. God who is allpowerful. God who is present everywhere. Set all that aside in his humiliation and became flesh and bone. He went on to live a life of humble service, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, and offering forgiveness of sins to all who believed in him. And then he honored all people past, present, and future, by offering his life as a sacrifice on the cross for sin. Jesus honored you by dying for you.
Now, wanting us to remain and to grow in that honor, God calls us to be humble. To recognize that the pride of this world does not lead to honor, but to death and destruction. To recognize that humility and service to one another is God pleasing an honorable. Being humble means you know your need for a Savior and you know everyone else has that same need. Being humble means showing them who that Savior is so that they can gain the same honor you have, the honor of knowing their Savior by name, the honor of knowing Jesus and hearing him say to you, “Come up here,” I want you to sit with me.” Got Honor? Be humble.
Jesus stood there waiting, waiting to see if anyone had anything to say. He had just warned them of the humiliation that would follow if they failed to be humble. They said nothing. So he continued…“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 your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Got Honor? Be exalted.
Two similar sections of Scripture. Two similar lessons about humility and exaltation. Solomon was giving timely advice to his readers. As king, he was likely well versed in the politics of seeking honor in court. He would have seen how the nobleman jostled for positions of respect and honor, and he himself likely did his share of humiliating as certain nobleman became too arrogant or powerful. It was politics! Yet, Solomon knew the power he wielded as king wasn’t just capable of humiliating, but also could be used to exalt. Think about it! With one word Solomon could have elevated a person in his kingdom to a position 2nd only to him. That is power. That is honor.
Jesus, in our Gospel lesson, uses the same concept of humility and exaltation as he is eating with the Pharisees in a home. Can you imagine? I think we are all familiar with the custom of that time, where the more important people were seated closer to the host in seats of honor. So, can you imagine being invited along with many others to, let’s say, Aaron Rodger’s house for dinner. You don’t know why you were invited, but you go, and as the meal is about to start everyone seats themselves, and you, still not sure why you are even there, make sure to seat yourself in as inconspicuous a place as possible. When suddenly Aaronyes you now feel comfortable just calling him Aaroncalls to you, “Come up here.” And he has you sit right next to him. How exalted would you feel? How much honor did you just gain in front of all those other people?
This is a very straight forward lesson. Don’t seek honor. Be humble. Don’t exalt yourself. Be exalted. It has implications both here on earth and in heaven. Here on earth it makes sense, no one likes a braggart. No one appreciates someone who claims greatness for themselves. My father use to tell my brothers and me “Eigenlob stench” which is German for “selfpraise” stinks. He is right. Exalting yourself, praising yourself stinks!
It doesn’t gain you honor. It actually leads to dishonor. What usually happens a person who exalts his or herself? They are humbled. Someone comes along and reminds them that they aren’t God’s gift to mankind.
What are the heavenly implications? Well, I think you’ve heard it before. If you were to ask the average person on the street if he or she would go to heaven, what is likely the main answer you would get. Yes. Why? Because I’ve lived a pretty good life. Ah! There we have it. We cannot invite ourselves into heaven. We can’t even take the seat farthest from the front, the balcony, the nose bleed seats, our efforts will never earn us a place in heaven. Got honor? No, not even a smidgen in God’s sight.
If we are to enter through the gates of heaven, we need help, we need an invitation. God gives us that invitation. He calls out to us, see your sin and how it separates you from me. I’ve taken care of it. I’ve removed it. I don’t even see it anymore. I did it through my Son. Your efforts were not good enough, but his were, because he is perfect. You couldn’t earn your way into heaven, don’t worry, I’ve taken care of it. My Son earned you a placeÍ¾ he died to give you that place. You know who he is for “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Through him I have exalted you. “Come up here!” Take a seat next to me and gain the honor which I have prepared for you; a place with me in heaven forever. Got Honor? Be exalted.
At the end of our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus said these words to the host, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Brothers and sisters, being humble on this earth will not always win you praise and honor from other people. Yet, it is a command we as Christians carry out with joy and love. Because we know that our God will exalt us. Our exaltation will come on Judgment Day, and this exaltation is an honor that has everlasting results. But, it is a project, a project that will take longer than a summer, indeed, it will take a lifetime. It is a project we dedicate our lives to, by living for Christ, by serving others, and by showing love to all. This is an honor we seek not for our own glory but for God’s. This is an honor we gain by looking up, by keeping our eyes on the one thing, the only thing, that brings us eternal honor, our Lord and Savior Jesus. Got Honor? Yes. Now. Tomorrow. Forever.