So let's get this out of the way right now. Jesus' teaching today isn't really about who goes first in the potluck line. I used to think that. "Don't choose the high place," says Jesus. "Pastor, the food's ready, go ahead." "No, no, you first." Well, nowadays, if you tell me to go first, I will. Because what Jesus is talking about here is not table manners. It's our position in the kingdom of God. And we can say it simply like this: If you try to take Jesus' place, you will be cast out. But if you are GIVEN Jesus' place, then that is His gift to you and your salvation. Jesus came into this world to be humbled. He is given the lowest possible spot: on the cross, despised and forsaken by His Father and the whole world. And He dies and is laid in the grave. You don't get much lower than being dead. But then...Easter! Christ is risen and He ascends to the right hand of the Father and is crowned with all glory and honor and majesty. See? He humbled Himself and was exalted! He willingly took the lowest spot there is and the Father raised Him and exalted Him to the highest spot there is. But He does this, so that you can tag along, hang onto Him, and go with Him to the highest spot too.
But not because you cut to the front of the line. There is no calling "shotgun" in the kingdom of God. There's no sitting at the head table at the wedding if you're not in the bridal party. Taking the top spot at the table is Jesus' way of calling out how the Pharisees behave and it's His way of exposing our own sinful selfishness for which we need repentance. What does that look like, taking the top spot at the table? It looks like Pharisees inviting Jesus to dinner just so they can watch him heal a man on the Sabbath and then accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath. Taking the high place is you and me looking down our noses at someone who doesn't do as well as we do at...whatever...coming to church, raising our kids, helping others, doing their job...whatever. Taking the high place is how we treat others, thinking they owe us and that we have a right to this or that. We think to ourselves, "WE deserve a higher place in the kingdom of God than THAT person because we try harder, do better, behave better." That's to be a Pharisee who exalts yourself. Kingdom of God? The wedding feast of the Lamb? Oh, sure, I've got a spot right up there by the Lord! No, you don't. Not like that. Not on your own. Not based on YOUR sins or lack of sins. Repent because those who seek to take Christ's place and be their own Savior...they will be humbled. Thrown down. Cast out.
No, your place is at the bottom, the lower level, the last table, the farthest seat. The seat that no one can see. The seat that says, "I don't eve deserve to be at this party. Look at me. Sinner. I'll never get in. I don't belong." That's when Christ comes to you. At the font, He says, "Friend, come up higher. Take your rightful spot." Then someone might question whether you should be there. Christ says, "I forgive you all your sins. Nothing prevents them from sitting up there with me." Then, kneeling at the altar, to receive Christ's body and blood, we can be certain this is exactly what Jesus is doing: Come up higher. The highest, most honored place in the kingdom of God is there, where the Lord Himself, the Lamb, the Master of the Feast Himself comes to serve you and give you Himself as the holy food of forgiveness, life and salvation. The Old Adam tries to call shotgun and he gets booted down to the low spot. The New Man, in humility, claims nothing from God and yet is invited to sit with the Lord right up at the head of the table. This is how God's kingdom works. When we try it, go for it, work it out, attempt it, grab it--then bam! thrown down. But when the Lord brings it, does, it accomplishes it, gives it, bestows it, and declares it to you as a gift--well, then that's exactly what it is. You have been GIVEN the top spot, the head of the table, with Jesus. He did that for you. He came to be humbled in His death and grave and exalted by His resurrection and ascension so that you would be humbled in repentance and exalted by faith to the highest spot in the kingdom of God. So no need to cut in line or yell "shotgun!" That place is already yours because Jesus has invited you up and brought you to it. And one more time, on the Last Day, He'll call you from that low spot--your grave--saying, "Friend, come up higher," to the high spot, everlasting life with Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sermon Topics: Luke