The Great Reversal
Last week we heard Jesus say, “Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” This Sunday we hear, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
And this theme really runs throughout the entire Bible. We could call this “the Great Reversal.” God turns things upside down – or really, right side up – from what we experience in our world. We find this Great Reversal elsewhere in Scripture. For instance, Mary, in her Magnificat, says of God: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” Both James and Peter, in their epistles, quote the same verse from Proverbs when they write: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
And so this same principle that holds true in the kingdom of God is stated here by Jesus in our text for today: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” It’s the Great Reversal, yet again.
Jesus applies this teaching in the context of a real-life situation, that of being invited to a dinner party. Jesus himself was at a dinner party, invited to dine at the house of a big-shot Pharisee, and he noticed that many of the invited guests were trying to choose places of honor. Pharisees tended to be like that, always trying to make themselves look good and look important in front of others. Jesus says elsewhere of the scribes and Pharisees: “They love the places of honor at feasts.” And so that’s what they’re doing here at this feast.
Jesus uses the occasion to tell them – and us – something that applies not only to dinner parties but also to the kingdom of God. He says: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In teaching us about humility, Jesus doesn’t use words. He also uses actions – his actions.
Jesus humbled himself by leaving his throne in heaven to be laid in a manger. He humbled himself to forsake the praises of the angels in heaven to be tempted by the devil in the desert. He humbled himself by being lifted up on a cross. And he did this for you. The Great Reversal thus is also the Great Exchange: Jesus took your sins. He gives you his righteousness. He suffered your death to give you life. He endured hell on the cross to give you heaven. This is what God the Father sent him to do. And he did it, for you and for the whole world. And after humbling himself in the greatest way, Jesus now is the most highly exalted, sitting at his Father’s right hand.
Jesus humbled himself and his heavenly Father exalted him. Jesus teaches us that we are to humble ourselves. Because we are connected to Christ in his humility, we will be exalted by our heavenly Father. This, again, is the Great Reversal. Poor, humble sinners like you and me will be exalted by being invited to the great and eternal wedding feast in the kingdom of God. That is when Christ Himself – our King and our Host – will say to each one of us, “Friend, move up higher.”