“Friend, go up higher”
What a keen observer of human nature was our Lord Jesus Christ. He who made man, and had now become Man, was and is the greatest interpreter of man. Here He was a guest in the home of a Pharisee. Here, if ever, He might be excused for a few moments from serving souls. Here He might be allowed some remission from His relentless ministry to man. And yet as they came to be seated for supper our text observes that He “noted how they chose the best places (Luke 11:7).” Even when our Savior was not speaking, still He was always watching. The Psalmist says “His eyes behold His eyelids try the children of men (Psalm 11:4).” So it ever was with our Lord. Many foolishly flatter themselves. Some folks think that because they cannot hear God, therefore God cannot see them. Do not be deceived. “He who formed the eye, shall He not see (Psalm 94:9)?” Even when Christ was not speaking, yet He was watching.
And Jesus proceeded to teach them something. Yet it is, upon first reading, one of the strangest lessons of our Lord in all of Scripture. In the midst of such unconcealed pride we would anticipate a lecture like “the loveliness of lowliness.” Or perhaps He might develop a prolonged polemic on the “devilish disease of pride”. These hypocrites had cornered themselves with their own conceit. Christ could clearly score an easy point on His opponents. The puffed up Pharisees and lawyers were like sitting ducks in a pool of their own pride: “They chose the BEST places.” Yet strangely our Savior does not take the easy shot. They were like fish in a bucket, and Jesus seems to let them off the hook. Rather than aiming His arrow of rebuke at their arrogant hearts, He seems to present them with an even better way to secure their lust for honor. “When you are invited” He tells them “go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’” Jesus says to them, it seems, “if you want honor, recognition and praise…let Me show you a better way.” And having taught them this trick, He tops it off with “Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you.”
What is the real meaning of this mysterious message? Why does He who said elsewhere “blessed are the poor in spirit” here tell this company the quick road to “glory in the presence of all?” Why does Christ seem to cater to their crust on this occasion? How are we to understand this strange sermon?
First, it seems there is a hint of sarcasm here. Christ appears to be telling these false-faced honor-loving lawyers and Pharisees that if what they really want is worldly respect….here…let Me show you a better way. It is a sobering truth that the Lord sometimes gives you exactly what you want. Be careful what captivates your heart, you may just get it. Israel wanted a king, and the Lord granted their foolish and rebellious request. They begged for meat in the desert, and the Lord gave it, according to Moses, “until it comes out your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you (Numbers 11:20).” If we love money, we might very well get it, and all the evil that comes with such a love as well. If we want fame, we may very well get it, and all the pressures and impurities that such prominence often produces. Christian…if what you really want from this life is more friends, more money, more influence, and more experiences…the Lord may let you have them, and it may cost you your soul. Want to be the most important person in your church? You may have it. Want to be the envy of your circle of friends? It may be within your reach. If the reward you want is glory now, Christ may grant it to you as to the hypocrite of whom He says “I say to you, they have their reward (Matt. 6:16).”
But I think the heart of this lesson lies somewhere else. Jesus is not really teaching us how to get what we want in this life. This story is not about worldly advancement or the secrets to social success. Christ is contrasting two radically different choices. The attitudes displayed around this table were typical of two entirely opposite ways of living in this world. Choosing “the best places” or choosing the “lowest place” is a metaphor for those who live for this life and those who live for the next. To seek the “best places” is the way of this world. To seek the “lowest place” is the way of Christ’s kingdom. "The best places" are sought by those who "mind earthly things (Phil. 3:19)" but we are to have the "mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16)." Jesus is saying “take the low seat now.” Here, in the banquet of this world and this life, take the lowest seat. Don’t look for honor right now. Resist that natural pursuit of popularity. Be content with the humblest place, be satisfied with the station of a servant, and let others have the honors, glory and respect. Be willing to go unnoticed now. Moreover, be content to be mistreated, misunderstood and maligned. “Blessed are you,” said Jesus “when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11).” The great danger we all face is that we want our heaven right now. But as Jeremiah said to his servant “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not (Jeremiah 45:5).”
Christ’s very life modeled the true meaning of this message. He took for Himself the most humble seat in the house of humanity. Though being God Himself, He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5).” His whole life was one of humble obedience, “even the death of the cross (2:8).” Had He chosen a throne on earth, no king could have risen and asked Him to step down. But He chose a cave in Bethlehem for a cradle and the epitome of poverty for parents. In birth, life and death Jesus came and sat down in “the lowest place.” But when Christ’s life was done, God the Father said to Him (as it were) “Friend, go up higher.” And then He was “highly exalted” and given “the name which is above every name (2:10).” And oh Christian soul, you who suffer and sorrow now, one day Christ shall say to you “Friend, go up higher!” Then all the sorrows of this world will be left behind, fears will be forgotten, groans will be gone. “For I consider” says Paul “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).”
Dear reader: which end of the table are you aiming for right now? Do you want the best places in this life? Do you want the world’s esteem, praises and honor? Are you ashamed to consider Christianity for fear of what your friends might think? Are you trying to fit in with the crowd? Those who choose honor now must face the shame of their choice later. Christ, in this story, mentions that some who aim high will be brought low. Oh the dreadful day approaches when Christ commands you to step down and “then you begin with shame to take the lowest place (Luke 14:9).” The lowest place on earth cannot compare to the lowest place in Hell forever. Oh humble your heart now and repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Then shall the true meaning of this message not be lost upon your soul. “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11).”