The Word of the Lord Jesus is plain: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”
And, truth be told, you have exalted yourself. You have done so in the past, and you still do it.
You exalt yourself over against the Lord by sitting in judgment of Him, no less than the Pharisees and their lawyers did when they invited Him to dinner and sat there watching Him closely, testing Him, looking for a way to trap Him, to accuse Him.
You may protest that, No, you don’t do that. You love Jesus. And you are here this morning, after all. But your critical assessment of His Word is a judgment against Him, which is an exalting of yourself. For you pick and choose what part of His Word you will hear and heed and honor and obey. You may listen to it, but you act as though you were free and clear to take it or leave it.
The Law of the Lord and His commands are clear, but you do not obey them. You do not fear, love, and trust in Him. You place yourself and other gods above Him, as though you were the higher authority, and as though you had the last word.
When you covet what God has given to your neighbor, for example, you accuse the Lord in your heart of being unfair to you, of holding out on you, of not giving you what you think you deserve. In this way, also, you exalt yourself in the presence of God.
You likewise sit in judgment of your neighbor, and here, too, you exalt yourself. You do not deal with your neighbor in love and mercy and forgiveness. You are not charitable toward your neighbor, as the Lord your God is so charitable toward you. When your neighbor is in need, you may or may not try to help him. Among your neighbors are those who go hungry, whom you do not feed. Those who are sick or in prison, whom you do not visit. Those who are naked and ashamed, whom you do not defend or speak well of to cover their shame and uphold them.
There are plenty of neighbors whom you do not help at all. And those whom you do help, you help because there is something in it for you. There are favors to be exchanged. Invitations to be received and given. Friendships to be won, and palms to be greased. After all, it’s who you know that gets you ahead in life.
Or, perhaps the benefit you get from helping some of your neighbors is a sense of self-righteous satisfaction. It may be that you help your neighbor, then, but only because it makes you feel that much better about yourself. Here again you exalt yourself above others.
And yet, despite your unbelief, idolatry, and lack of love, you persist in exalting yourself as you presume to come into the presence of God on the basis of your own righteousness. As though you had a right to stand before Him. As though you had a shred of merit or worthiness in yourself.
In all of these ways, with all your sins, you exalt yourself over and above both God and man.
Yet, the Word of the Lord remains clear: “The one who exalts himself will be humbled.”
He does not say, “may be humbled.” No, you will be humbled. You will be humbled by the Lord.
Pray, therefore, that you are humbled here in time, unto repentance, before it is too late; and that you are not permanently humbled in the final judgment of the living and the dead. For those who resist and reject the Word of the Lord; those who do not receive His chastening and His discipline; those who refuse to repent of their sins; those who persist in exalting themselves — they will be condemned in their unbelief and sin, and subject to eternal shame and everlasting judgment.
God grant that He would humble you by His Word and Spirit, not unto that eternal condemnation, but unto repentance and a reliance on His mercy, unto life everlasting in His forgiveness of sins.
Thanks be to God that, in His mercy, He does work to humble you in this way — by the preaching of His Law, and by allowing you to suffer some of the curse and consequences of your sin — in order to bring you to repentance. To turn you away from your death and destruction, away from your sin and your self-exalting, back to Himself in repentant faith and love.
That way of life has been opened for you. It is possible for you to be turned around and turned back. You can be rescued from the pit of despair into which you have fallen. And you are able to come into the presence of the Lord your God and stand before Him in peace and confidence.
The way is open to you, because the Lord Jesus Christ has humbled Himself in order to exalt you. In fact, He alone has truly humbled Himself. Though He is true God in the flesh, He did not count His equality with God as something to horde for Himself, but He made Himself nothing. He took on the form of a servant. He humbled Himself and became obedient, even unto death on the Cross.
He has gone to the Cross, bearing in His own Body all of your sins — all that you have failed to do, and all that you have done which you should not. He has borne in His Body all your griefs and sorrows, all your guilt, and all your shame, and all of your humiliation.
All that you have failed to do for your neighbor, He has done in love for you. And all that you have deserved for your sin, the judgment and punishment of the Law, He has borne for you.
He has not done it under any coercion or compulsion, but voluntarily. He has gone willing to His suffering and death out of His great love for His Father, and out of His love for you, His neighbor. He has thus gone to His death in true righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
He has done all of this for you and your salvation. He has taken your place. It is in your stead that He has humbled Himself and died. And because He has done all of this for you, on your behalf, so are His vindication, His exaltation, and His ascension all credited to you and given to you.
You are raised with Christ in His Resurrection, and seated with Him in the heavenly places, in the presence of God, who welcomes you as a Father His child, with love and mercy and forgiveness.
The Lord Jesus humbled Himself unto death, and God exalted Him by raising Him from the dead, and has given Him the Name that is above every name in heaven and on earth and under the earth. What is more, the same Lord Jesus Christ has given that Name to you in your Holy Baptism. Everything that He has accomplished and received in His own flesh and blood, He has also given to you. As you see Him rise and ascend, therefore, you see Him bring you into the presence of God in His own Body, into the heavenly Banquet of His own Wedding Feast.
You stand before God in Christ. Not to be condemned, but declared righteous, and dressed in His beautiful holiness and spotless perfection. Not to die, but to live forever with Christ in God.
For He has come down from heaven and given Himself for you, in order to make of you a member of His holy Bride, the holy Christian Church, and He your heavenly Bridegroom.
Here, then, already set before you in His Holy Supper, is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, who is your Husband and your living Head. You are His honored guest, for you belong to Him, to His Body and His Bride.
He has invited you here, and He has wooed you and wed you to Himself, not because of any righteousness in you, but for the sake of His Love and for the sake of His Righteousness. He has not invited you here because you were His friend or His relative or His wealthy neighbor. Indeed, you were none of these. You had absolutely nothing with which you could ever have repaid Him.
But though He was rich, yet, for your sake, He became poor. Not to line His pockets, but yours, so to speak; in order that you might inherit the riches of God in Him.
Though you have been a child of sin and death — a child of the devil and his murderous lies; estranged from God, and far removed from Him — the only-begotten Son of God has come to gather you in, to make of you a dear child of God, a beloved daughter or son of the Father in Christ, anointed by His Spirit. So it is that you belong to His family, and all that He has is yours.
It is in His love for you that He seeks you out and gathers you in to Himself. And in His mercy all your sins are forgiven. All of your iniquities are pardoned. All of your diseases and infirmities are healed. Your sadness is turned into joy. Your shame and humiliation are turned into honor.
Though you are a poor, miserable sinner, and you deserve nothing but punishment, and you could never repay the debt that you owe to God, and you have nothing to bring before Him, nothing to offer Him, Christ Jesus has come for you and given Himself for you. He covers you with Himself.
He prepares a Table before you. He sets it here in your presence. He invites you to come and kneel at His Altar to receive these good gifts which He freely gives. And here you are, set before Him with your sickness unto death, with all your sins and griefs and sorrows; yet, you are not turned away or cast aside. He reaches out to you with His Word of the Gospel, and with His own life-giving Body and Blood. He takes hold of you by grace. He heals you and gives you life. He grants to you His Peace and true Sabbath Rest in His Father’s House within His holy Kingdom.
Though He does humble you with His Law, He does not do it to destroy you. He humbles you, not to drive you away from Him into despair, but in order to bring you into repentance, and back to Himself in faith and love. So has He done by His grace, and so He continues to do in His mercy.
And with the preaching of His Holy Gospel, His Word to you is this: “Friend, come up higher!”
He calls you His friend! He invites you to come to His Table, to recline here with Him. Therefore, come, and take and eat the Body of Christ, which He gives to you in peace. And drink from this Cup His holy and precious Blood, which He pours out for you in love, for the forgiveness of sins.
Here the Lord, the King, the Prince of Peace honors you; He blesses you, and He exalts you in His Righteousness, in His Resurrection from the dead. He has pulled you out of the pit into which you had fallen. He has lifted you up, and seated you at His own side as a guest of honor at His Table.
Rejoice in the Lord, therefore. Give thanks to Him, and glorify His holy Name, forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.