Friday, 27 December 2013 17:03

Seating Arrangement Guidelines

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Dear friends, I wonder in which family there never has been any dispute about where you sit in the car or van? Maybe you have seen and experienced this too, especially in larger families with younger children, lots of crying happens sometimes before everyone gets settled in the car to go somewhere, perhaps even to church.

I begin this way because of the parable before us today as given in Luke 14:7-11. Here Jesus gives gospel teaching in connection with seating arrangements at a dinner or banquet. Jesus was at the home of one of the leading Pharisees for a meal, and there He observed how most of the invited guests were each looking for the best and most honored seats in the house for themselves. Hear now Jesus’ parable in connection with this as found in Luke 14:7-11.

 And he [Jesus] put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them. When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.  But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.  For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

The theme for this message based on this Scripture is: “A gospel parable in connection with seating arrangement guidelines.” Notice with me it is a parable:

  1. in the face of pride
  2. that calls for the grace of humility
  3. that shows us the humble Saviour
  4. that ends with a divine precept and pledge

What is the setting of this parable? It is not hard to see that Jesus witnessed face to face a lot of ugly pride on the part of the Pharisees.  In the verses just before this passage we are told Jesus was at this dinner at the house of one of the chief Pharisees. It is clear from the context Jesus had been invited to try to humiliate Him and find something wrong in Him. We are told at the beginning of the chapter the religious leaders were watching Him closely, trying to expose sin in His life. In the parable setting Jesus is challenged on whether He would or should heal a sick man placed right near the home where the dinner was to take place. It was the Sabbath day and the religious leaders were wondering if Jesus would heal this man on the Sabbath, something they thought for sure was not permitted by God, according to their false hypocritical religion.  Jesus heals that sick man and confronts the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day on their hypocrisy and self-centered loveless religiosity so dishonorable to God in every way and so heartless towards other people.

We can’t expand on this more now except to say that Jesus tells this parable before us in this setting of woeful self-centered pride.  Living in sinful pride over others and before God is always so wrong and wicked.  Never can we come to know God in spirit and truth if we will not give up our sinful pride before God and others.  In this case the sinful pride of these Pharisees and religious leaders, however, showed itself in another very noticeable ugly way that relates now more specifically to the parable before us. Their pride showed in the way and manner the dinner guests were seizing the best seats of the house for the dinner they had been invited to. In those days with meals the guests would be on seats reclined around the table, and those seats closest to the host and guests of honor were considered the best seats. Jesus observed how this proud selfish mindset of the guest running to grab the best seats for themselves prevailed at the Pharisee’s home.  So He then tells this parable. Praise God, Jesus sought to make use of all occasions for gospel teaching. Even in this rather hostile and unpleasant setting at this dinner meal, Jesus tells this parable.

He says in vs. 8-10: “When you are invited somewhere, don’t just grab the best seats or places of highest honor.” Why not? Because that place where you put yourself may have been designated for another person. What an embarrassment if when the other person comes and together with the host of the dinner has to ask you to move to another place, maybe one of the few places left open yet, and probably the lowest place in the room. Have you had it that you sat in the wrong seat on an airplane or have you seen this happen to someone else? There comes the flight attendant and this other individual. They inform you that you are in the designated seat of the other person and could you please move to the seat you have been given. Even that can be quite embarrassing, can’t it? But to have seized a high seat because in pride you thought you could claim that honor, only to be told in front of everyone that you have to move because you have taken someone else’s seat could cause you to feel ashamed and to blush indeed.  Imagine going to a wedding and then while not part of the wedding party, yet going to sit at the head table where the best man or the maid of honor is supposed to sit. 

Jesus teaches and warns us here: “Don’t so live in pride and arrogance before God and others.”  His parable is about much more than seating arrangements, you understand. It is about living in the sin of pride and refusing to humble yourself before God and man.  Pride is a root sin of so much evil and is the cause also of so much evil in this world. It was the sin of pride that showed its ugly head when Adam and Eve listened to the devil and ate of the forbidden fruit. They wanted to make themselves to be equal with God. In pride always we seek to enthrone ourselves and dethrone God and all others. The Bible warns us that the proud God knows afar off [Psalm 138:6b]. This means the LORD is estranged from those who live in pride. The proud also never seek the Lord nor call upon Him in humble repentance and faith. To live in pride is living independently of God and in rebellion and defiance against Him, setting yourself as most important above everyone and everything.

In speaking about this too now, isn’t it true how careful you and I need to be in thinking and even saying perhaps that pride may be everyone else’s problem but it is not a vice you have.  Rather, the Bible teaches us and history proves it, time we can be plagued with sinful pride in one way or another. This is true also of God’s true people even when born again and saved. The Gospels tell us how also the disciples on more than one occasion were arguing about which of them was the greatest, and incredibly competing even for the best seats in heaven one day. You can read about that in Matthew 20. Remember too the passage in John 13 where none of the disciples would stoop to be the least to wash the feet of the others and then, as we are told, Jesus Himself took water and a towel and washed the disciples’ feet.

The point here is that pride, sinful pride, is such a deep-rooted, devilish, destructive evil that we all can be so prone to before conversion surely, but after conversion sadly all too often still too. So what reason to listen to Jesus’ instruction here in this gospel parable in connection with seating arrangement guidelines!  Do you see the ugly setting and display of pride in which Jesus told this parable?

Here we move also to our second main point, noticing how this parable so in the face of pride also earnestly calls for the grace of humility. The opposite of living in pride before God and others is living in humbleness before God and others. If you live in humbleness, you don’t live independently of God but in hearty dependence on God. If you live in humbleness, you don’t place yourself above others but you realize and confess the truth about yourself before God and others, and thus know your place. Knowing yourself and living humbly, you know then there is no logical reason ever to place yourself above anyone else in so far as rank and worth before God and others. To the contrary, there is every reason to esteem other better than yourself and to be humble.

It is important to recognize here when the Bible calls us to be humble and to show ourselves as humble before God and others, it is not promoting a character trait so much as a fruit of grace. True humility, as Jesus’ parable here also calls for, is a God-given spiritual gift or treasure and never a natural gift or something of our genetic makeup. Some people naturally come across as more humble than another person. But this parable is not talking about any natural traits of someone but of that supernatural grace and wisdom of humility in your and my mind and heart as taught us by God by His Word and Spirit. This humility that Jesus here is calling for is about knowing something of Who God is in all His infinite glory and majesty, and something of who we are as fallen sons and daughters.

Are we not as a people, collectively and individually, totally depraved in sin by nature and completely dependent on God for everything in regards to body and soul, and time and eternity? Are we not in ourselves just frail temporary fools? Except God come to us and enlighten us and regenerate us and rescue us from our sins and sinfulness, what hope and help is there for anyone of us, left to ourselves?  I heard this week about the late Carl Sagan, an avowed agnostic, speaking of “the folly of human conceits”. But yet he himself tragically was willfully blind to the folly of his refusal to humble himself before the one only true God! Likewise the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were hiding behind their religious favors and acts of devotion to lift themselves up in pride against God and before other people.

But what Jesus calls for in this parable is to see things as they really are, as the Bible teaches that to us.  We were made good in the beginning, image bearers of God, but then we rebelled. In Adam’s fall we sinned all, and now the whole human race, by nature and by choice, is steeped in sin and the ignorance of sin, and in bondage to Satan, and under the curse of God’s just and eternal condemnation, left to ourselves.  We are so caught up in our sinful ways and mindset that except God come and deliver us from beginning to end, there is no one that will see the light nor escape the everlasting doom awaiting us under the just wrath of God for all our sins and sinfulness.  This is true of all people without exception. This is why it is so tragic how people can boast about themselves and their accomplishments and positions and possessions when it is all utterly meaningless in terms of the reality of this life and the truth about the endless world beyond the here and now.

So Jesus urges here in this parable: “Learn the wisdom of true humility before God and others.” Jesus’ little parable here too is rooted also in the Old Testament Scriptures, even on a passage like Proverbs 25:6&7 where King Solomon also advised not to be out just looking for first place honors for yourself, never mind God and others. What Jesus teaches us in Luke 14:7-11 is that we each need to realize our place before God and others. Who are you and I before God, of ourselves, and what would anyone of us be, apart from God’s grace and mercy in our lives? To be putting yourself forward and looking for highest honors and pushing for first place for yourself before God and others is always so wrong and out of place. 

Have you too, by God’s grace, learned this lesson of true humility before God and others, and are you continuing to learn it all your life long? Is it not a repeated lesson for us, if it is well?  In this connection I was struck by what J.C. Ryle said in his remarks on our text passage. He wrote: “All converted men should labor to adorn the doctrine they profess by humility.  If they can do nothing else, they can strive to be humble.”  When I read that, I thought to myself: “How does one strive to be humble?  How does one work at humility? Don’t we either just have it or not have it?”  But no, this humility of mind and heart is a grace taught us initially and repeatedly only by the Lord, by His Word and Spirit. We can, by God’s grace, grow in humility by truly and more and more being taught by God and led by His Word and Spirit in our lives.

Here the further words of J.C. Ryle are so worthwhile to repeat. He writes: “Would we know the root and spring of humility? The root of humility is right knowledge. The man who knows himself and his own heart, who knows God and His infinite majesty and holiness, who knows Christ, and the price at which he was redeemed, that man will never be a proud man. He will count himself, like Jacob, unworthy of the least of all God’s mercies.  He will say of himself like Job, ‘I am vile.’ He will cry, like Paul, ‘I am chief of sinners.’ [He will be like that publican in the temple that Jesus told about, who ‘standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’’] (Genesis 32:10, Job 40:4, I Timothy 1:15, Luke 18:13)  In that frame, a person will think anything good enough for him. In lowliness of mind, he will esteem other better than himself (Philippians 2:3). Ignorance, nothing but sheer ignorance, ignorance of self, of God, and of Christ is the real secret of pride. From that miserable self-ignorance may we daily pray to be delivered! He is the wise man who knows himself; and he who knows himself, will find nothing within to make him proud.” 

Are not these words of J.C. Ryle so right on in connection with the parable before us now?  You see how this parable is about much more than just seating arrangement guidelines?  This parable again touches on heart issues, matters essential unto salvation, which when learned by God’s grace will also show certainly itself even in where we choose to sit sometimes and in all kinds of other ways too. When you learn what this parable of Luke 14:7-11 has to teach us, you show sincere humility of life before God and man. It becomes unmistakably noticeable in your thoughts, words, and deeds when the lesson of the parable of the seating arrangement guidelines is being learned or not.

How terribly sad it would be if you just will not learn the simple all important gospel lessons of this parable before us now. Imagine all your life living in pride before God and others, especially because of your accomplishments and your possessions and your positions in life, and then in the last day being cast off by God and sent to the lowest place in the pit of hell, never to escape from there again for all eternity. Jesus’ parables are words of infinite wisdom in simple story form.  Are you and I hearing and heeding also this parable of Jesus instructing us in the wisdom of humility as something you too don’t want to live and die without?

Even now still the Savior invites us to learn this wisdom from Him, this way of grace and truth in and through Him, the one and only Saviour of sinners.  Saying that, we come also to our third main point moving from the context of pride and the call to humility in this parable to the gracious Teacher and all-time Example of humility, Jesus Christ Himself! Did not Jesus in His person and work as Savior so humble Himself in all His saving work on behalf of sinners?  Jesus coming to this earth as God taking on human flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, so humbled Himself in an indescribable measure!  Consider how Jesus left the glories of heaven and dwelt here on this earth among people under the curse of sin and all by nature totally depraved in sin.  And how much Jesus suffered humiliation in countless ways in all His lifetime here on earth, and that voluntarily so as He went about His God-sent mission to seek and to save sinners.  In all His lifetime here on earth, from His conception to His last breath and burial, Jesus suffered so much humiliation even as He bore God’s holy and righteous wrath against sin as the Just for the unjust. Jesus humbled Himself also to death, yes, even to the death of the cross, as Paul declares in Philippians 2.

Oh, who can tell from what heights of glory Christ came when coming to this earth and to what depths of misery and humiliation He descended when giving His life a ransom for many. It is unfathomable to what extent Jesus humbled Himself and the measureless ways He humbled Himself in His salvation work.  The gospel message is that in His person and work as Saviour is all our salvation, when trusting and following Him, and that also in Jesus’ life and way we have an example of how we should be so very humble too. So Paul exhorts also in Philippians 2: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” By Jesus humbling Himself as Saviour even to the death of the cross, you and I find all our salvation when repenting of sin and believing on Him. And so trusting Him, we also learn by His grace and Spirit to be humble ourselves.  And we learn hardly can we ever be humble enough when seeing and knowing the greatness and vastness of God’s grace and mercy and love to us in and through Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour. 

That Saviour calls to all of us now too, urging, as we read in Matthew 11: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls….”  I mentioned earlier the late Carl Sagan. He had a famous video clip of the earth as just a pale blue dot in this vast universe, and he wrote in connection with that, with the earth being just such a tiny planet in the whole universe with its seemingly boundless galaxies beyond: “In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”  How wrong he was in saying that.  It makes you want to shout, yes, as one put it, to scream out as it were:  “[But] such help did come, and we crucified Him!”  [We crucified Him yet we know Jesus] rose again, victorious over our greatest enemies – sin, death, and Satan.  And right now He reigns over this pale blue dot and every other dot in the universe. And He still offers to visit us, to take up residence in our hearts by faith, and to save us from ourselves, [as many as have ears to hear].” 

Carl Sagan, sadly, never came to the point where he humbled himself before God and looked to the only Saviour Whom God has sent into this world of sin and misery.  But the urgent call also of this parable is that we all do look to this one and only Saviour. All refusal to look to Him and call upon Him to save also a sinner like yourself is just base wicked pride in the end. 

That we should so pay attention to this parable comes out yet in the divine precept and pledge that it ends with. In Luke 14:11 Jesus states in climactic conclusion: “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” It is striking that this is a principle mentioned over and over in Scripture. How this climactic concluding verse should so drive home to us the importance of the gospel lessons of this parable teaching humility of mind, heart, and conduct before God and others. This concluding statement not only brings out how serious it is if anyone remains living in wicked pride, but also it promises so much blessing to all who live humbly before God and others. 

When you and I humbly call on God to be our Saviour and Lord and we seek in all things humbly and heartily to seek and serve the Lord and to love and care for others, God will not put us to shame. In this life God promises to be ever near to His people who humbly wait on Him day by day. “For”, as we can read in Isaiah 57:15, “thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Who can measure the worth of that divine comfort and guidance in this life, and then there is the promise with the life hereafter. A promise such as, for instance, in Revelation 3:21 where the ascended Saviour pledges to His people: “To him that overcometh [living steadfastly in humble faith and obedience before God and His gospel word in and through Jesus Christ] will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”

Friends, such promises of God for this life and the life to come are not lies or exaggerations! But every word and promise of God is ‘yea and amen’ in and through Christ Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, by grace through faith in Him. So, as Peter exhorts in I Peter 5:7-8: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”

A gospel parable in connection with seating arrangement guidelines but dealing with much more than just seating arrangements! Do you get it, and does your life too, by God’s grace, show that you understand also this parable of Jesus and that you seek to live accordingly, ever looking unto Jesus? He that has an ear to hear, let him hear! For remember, thus saith the Lord: “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”  Amen. 

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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