In Luke 14:1-14, Jesus again points to the great reversal that will take place at the judgment. Humility is at the heart of our repentance and faith. Those who are humble now will be exalted then. Those who exalt themselves now, will be humbled then.
The Setting: Another Sabbath Healing
The Pharisees’ position on the sabbath has been refuted, yet they stubbornly refuse to yield. They no longer challenge Jesus, historically a losing proposition for them; now they lurk, silently watching for him to make a mistake, as they gather ‘evidence’ against him. But Jesus refuses to be intimidated or to be deterred from his mission to bring about a restoration of all things to the created order.
By refusing to yield, they show that they are unable to humble themselves. To give Jesus an inch would be to admit weakness and error. That is unacceptable to them, as they have made great strides toward popular esteem. Jesus has already commented that this is their great error, pride.
Humility and Exaltation
So Jesus teaches his proud host the attitude he ought to have. If we strive to take the place of highest honor, we are likely to get bumped from our self-exalted position, leading to our own humiliation. But if we humble ourselves, we are likely to be exalted. There is human wisdom in the suggestion … something along the lines of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” but that’s not what Jesus has in mind. The advice will work, whether your goal is gain the acclaim of men, or to be exalted by God. That is, the advice will work, whether the humility is feigned or real.
That is, if we grab the lowest seat, not because we believe it is our proper seat, but because we want the world to see us being exalted by our host, we’ve engaged in false humility. False humility is, itself, self-exalting. When we make self-deprecating remarks, in the hope that we will be contradicted by others, we are not really taking the lowest seat, not in our heart anyway.
But if we take the lowest seat because we believe that it is where we belong, we have exercised true humility. Then we will be truly exalted. God will not be fooled. He sees the heart. And only true humility will lead to heavenly exaltation.
The Reward and its Timing
And that is clearly what Jesus is talking about, as his second word of advice makes clear. We are looking for exaltation at the “resurrection of the just.” Unabashed arrogance and false humility are looking for immediate gratification, immediate exaltation. But true humility doesn’t demand exaltation. It wouldn’t even expect it, had God not promised it. The person who is truly humble takes the lowest seat because he believes it is his proper seat.
So, when Jesus told his host that he ought to be inviting those who could not reciprocate, he’s advising him not to seek human attention or praise, but to ensure that the only one who can repay him be God. This is the reason, too, why we should pray in secret and give in secret and take no vengeance ourselves (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; Rom. 12:19).
Humility, affliction and poverty are related concepts, biblically. And those of us who have already bowed the knee to Christ, have guaranteed our affliction (2 Tim. 3:12). We have become fools (1 Cor. 3:18). We have regarded ourselves and are regarded as being seated in the lowest place. So when will the reckoning be? It will be when Jesus returns.
If we seek the praise of men, we can get it by following this advice. Aim low. But such false humility, while it may ‘work’, will never fool God. True humility looks in the mirror carefully, and recognizes how terribly we have distorted the image of God. True humility sees the holiness of God and says with Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is 6:5 ESV)
Jesus has won the victory for the truly humble. He has cleansed their lips. They will stand at the judgment. They will be exalted. They are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. They do not belong in the lowest seat. And at the judgment, the seating order will be rectified. Those who took the highest seats because they felt they deserved them will be brought to shame. Those who took the lowest seats because they thought they deserved better will stay put, because that’s where they belong. But those who, after careful self-examination, took the lowest seats because that’s where they felt they belonged, those will be exalted, made to stand, given the crown of life, and ushered into their eternal inheritance.
Choose: By Whom and for How Long?
Choose your exaltation. If you want human acclaim, aim high with unabashed arrogance or aim low with a more subtle arrogance. Every dog has his day. But your crown will be a fleeting one. On the other hand, if you want to be exalted by God, look carefully at the majesty and holiness of your God, see how far you fall short of his glory, repent, and embrace the finished work of Christ. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up (Jam. 4:10). And your exaltation will never, ever, ever end.