Monday, March 16, 2015

Have You Ever Been So Sure of Yourself Only to be Embarrassed?


Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He marked how they chose the places of honor. Luke 14:7

IN these few words, Dear Christians, Jesus the Great Physician also proves Himself the Great Diagnostician. By this keen observation He seizes our sin by the throat and exposes it for what it is, and then in history’s greatest act of humility the Teller of the parable debases Himself and becomes obedient unto death, even the death of the cross in order to take away the sin of the world; exalt sinners to the heights of heaven; and plant the seeds of true modesty within us so that we might walk worthy of the high calling we have in Christ Jesus.

When Jesus noticed the race to the top taking place at dinner that day it wasn’t the first time; He’d seen it all before. He was at Babel when proud men decided they could build a skyscraper to heaven and situate themselves higher than even God Himself.  He was at the Exodus when Pharaoh humbled himself 10 times, and 10 times repented of his humility in order to exalt himself instead.  He experienced it up close when Herod killed the Innocents of Bethlehem on the chance that Mary’s son might be the Real King of the Jews forcing him to take a lower seat; and He noted it among His own disciples as they argued who was the greatest among them
(Mark 9:34).

Self exaltation is the life blood of politicians, actors, sports figures and world improvers of every stripe. Money, power and glory are the triune god they worship, but it’s not only big shots who promote themselves; it’s our sin as well. It’s in our hearts and in our homes. It’s the food we eat and the water we drink. Each of us is engaged in an endless struggle to be more important and more highly honored than those around us.

Those who work hard and lead orderly lives are often contemptuous of the entitlement generation, but truth be told we are all on welfare -- God’s welfare. We depend on Him daily to give us all that we need to support this body and life and for the ongoing forgiveness of our many sins, knowing that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

So we thank God that Jesus isn’t just the Great Diagnostician, but the Great Physician as well. To diagnose disease is a high art, but to cure it even higher, and the only cure for ingrained sin such as ours is a blood transfusion, and this is what Jesus gave. We who were once far away from God because of our sinful pride, have now been brought near by the blood of Christ
(Ephesians 2:13).

God promised death to Adam and Eve if they sinned therefore blood had to be shed. The thorns and nails were necessary for justice to prevail as God counts justice, but not just blood. If our sin is self-exaltation then our redemption needed to consist of humility as well. So Jesus “humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Whenever we hear those words we should think of both sides of the equation, not only the death, but also the humbling.

What did it mean for our Lord to leave His heavenly home? To glance from heaven’s unspeakable wonder to earth’s dank misery for even a moment must be a forbidding experience. We don’t like hospitals and rush past graveyards, but Jesus didn’t just give despair a passing glance. Instead He willingly came to earth, to live with us and for us in this vale of tears. He placed Himself under the Law which accuses and kills in order to redeem us from it’s curse (Galatians 4:4). He subjected Himself to humiliation, brutality and death, but this was exactly what the doctor had ordered to cure “the pride of life”
(1 John 2:16) which marks our very existence. As Jesus was humbled, we were truly exalted in heaven’s book.

Our first encounter with exultation was Baptism. It’s a sacrament so humble as to fly beneath our theological radar, but in it God forgave our sins, delivered us from death and the devil and gave us the unparalleled promise of everlasting life. However unassuming the sacrament may appear Jesus commanded it, and we have all been dressed with the righteousness of Christ in it.
(Galatians 3:26)

Jacob received Isaac’s blessing because he was dressed in the clothing of his older brother. In the same way we are arrayed in our Lord’s garment of holiness, and as such become co-heirs with Christ of the entire storehouse of God’s innumerable blessings.

We are exalted by absolution, too.  Confessing our sins before the pastor may seem humiliating.   Receiving absolution from a mere man may insult our self-esteem, but as Jesus states, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Things like sin and God’s judgment may not trouble us much when we are young, healthy and prosperous, but all that can turn on a dime.  Hospitals and morgues are filled with people who started out their day like any other, and in the blink of an eye all was lost. In all the changing scenes of life we need the assurance that our sins are forgiven, and it’s the Church’s ministry to make this Gospel known through the blessings of absolution.

We are exalted as well by the preaching of God’s Word. The Bible is held in contempt by men, and even by the flesh of Christians, but from it we learn the wisdom of the ages, most especially salvation which is through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. In it the mysteries of God, life and death are revealed, so that a child who has faith in God’s Word is wiser than earth’s most highly exalted scholars.

We are exalted, too, when we partake of the Lord’s body and blood. This is our earthly interface with the wedding feast Jesus talks of in the parable because it’s not just a parable! God has given a real wedding feast and we are the honored guests! More than that, in the surprise of surprises, upon arriving we find that we are not only the guests, but also the Bride, now married to the Bridegroom Christ. In this Sacrament the church is made One Flesh with Jesus her Husband, and it’s a marriage which will never end; a match made in heaven, and what God has joined no man can ever put asunder.  All this is the work of Jesus the Great Diagnostician, and the Great Physician.

He knows who we are: proud, boastful and self-exalting sinners who think that our righteousness before God and man will make us great and glorious, but such an attitude can only backfire and lower us to the depths of hell. He knows what we need; a humble and bleeding Savior, who leaves the highest seat of honor at God’s Right Hand, and takes the lowest place of all, so that we with Him might be exalted; and He makes provision to deliver these benefits to us by means as humble as He, namely preaching and the Sacraments, so that penitent sinners richly and daily receive the needed remission of sins, and continue in the: unity of the Spirit and the bond of Peace with God and one another. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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