The Way of Grace Is Clearly Different: Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.
November 27, 2004
Luke 14:1, 7-14
The subject today is grace and I want to show that “The Way of Grace Is Clearly Different”.
I. In How We Think of Ourselves
II. In How We Treat Others
III. In How We Are Rewarded
The Word of God for our study this Sunday is found in Luke 14:1, 7-14:
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched…. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Folks, Jesus often taught using parables. In fact, Mark tells us in his Gospel that Jesus “did not say anything to the people without using a parable” (Mark 4:34). Matthew writes that the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:10-16)
So Jesus not only expected, but in some cases, intended, that the Pharisees and all the people that opposed him and his message would not understand what he meant when he used a parable. Certain things that he had to say were only for the ears and hearts of believers — they would have been wasted on his enemies. But this time, at this prominent Pharisee’s Sabbath dinner, Jesus spoke in parables that even the most self-righteous and hostile Pharisee would understand. There may not have been any believers in the house that day, but anyone there who heard would have understood. Which means that I probably don’t have to work very hard to explain the meaning of the two parables Jesus spoke in our Scriptures today. Even with 2000 years and a different cultural context separating us from Jesus’ audience, you can likely relate to how certain people have too high an opinion of themselves, and you can imagine the intense embarrassment someone would feel to be escorted, before everyone else’s eyes, from the place of greatest honor down to the place of least honor. And you yourself probably know people who pretty much only go out of their way or do nice things for people who can do something for them. Just think of the number of guest lists for weddings that have been determined by the size of the gifts the people invited might bring. And since the meaning of what Jesus had to say at this Sabbath dinner was quite clear and vividly illustrated the point Jesus was making was also clear. Jesus was not really that concerned about telling dinner guests where to sit or hosts whom to invite. What he really wanted to get through everyone’s heads — and hearts — was that the way they believed, thought, and acted was not God’s way. It wasn’t — and isn’t — the way truly righteous people behave, because believers are not concerned with self-promotion and self-glorification.
Christ’s way is clearly different, and Jesus wanted these Pharisees — and everyone, really — to look to God’s grace instead of their own interests. Now, to many people, “grace” isn’t much more than just a word. They’re aware that it has some kind of religious meaning, but they’re not exactly sure what. They just know that Christians think grace is amazing — from the song, Amazing Grace. The better informed in our society will recognize that grace has something to do with salvation — with how or why people get to heaven — but that’s often about the extent of their knowledge of grace. So let’s review.
What is grace? Grace is God’s undeserved love for undeserving sinners. Now if I assume that every one of us here today knows that, and if we all confess clearly that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone — then we’ve learned a wonderful truth! Well, even for us there might be some trouble making the connection: what does grace have to do with how we think and live? That’s a good question. Jesus probably would have been happy if one of the Pharisees had asked him that. They didn’t, but he showed them anyway — he showed them the connection between the love of God and Christian humility.
I. YOU SEE, A BELIEVER IN CHRIST HAS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT IDEA OF SELF-WORTH.
Most of the world finds self-worth in what a person does or has done — doctor, parent, athlete, president, hero, etc.; what a person is — race, class, height, beauty, brains, etc.; or they find their worth in how one is honored by other people — salary, rank, privilege, awards, influence, etc. But the Christian knows God’s law, and realizes that what he has done and keeps on doing is sin — he breaks every one of his Creator’s commands in one way or another, and keeps on doing it, because his sinful nature always wants to go the opposite way from what God wants. And the believer knows that she is a sinner just like every other human being on the planet — she understands that she is desperately in need of forgiveness and absolutely unable to save herself. And anyone who follows the way of grace understands that we do not deserve any honor from God, because our sin and rebellion merit us only death and hell. Understanding and accepting these things does a pretty good job of humbling a person — it’s hard to think too highly of yourself when you know you’re scum — but that’s really not what makes it possible for a believer to think and act the way Jesus encourages us here. What makes the difference is God’s grace — we realize that despite our natural unworthiness God loves us. We instead represent the ultimate worth to him, the Lord of the Universe — in fact, we meant so much to him that he sacrificed his own Son, sending him to suffer and die on the cross to take away each and every one of our sins for each and every one of us. If we matter that much to God — and we do — all people do — then human ideas of status and honor fade into insignificance. I mean, who cares about the best seat at a wedding reception when you’re already a guest of honor at Christ’s never-ending and glorious feast in heaven?
Grace also teaches believers, who have been given Christ’s perfection, to put others first, the same way Jesus did. We are not only recipients of God’s love by faith, we are also its distributors, and so we love our neighbors without regard for who or what they are or aren’t. And I suppose I should also add that we love our fellow believers, spouses, and siblings the same way — even when everything your brother does rubs you the wrong direction, and you’re convinced he does it on purpose, even then you love him, because that’s how God loves you. You see now how radical a change God’s grace makes in the way a believer thinks and behaves.