"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." It is certainly good advice to be humble. It does no one any good to boast. Rather, let your actions speak for themselves. If you are invited to a wedding and you sit in the best man's seat you will with red face have to walk through the hall of wedding guests to your own seat when the true best man arrives. And if a young lad boasts to a pretty lady that he can dunk a basketball, he'll lose every chance of dating her when he fails to swipe the net.
But humility isn't just good advice, it is a Christian virtue, indeed, it is the God given second nature given to a Christian through faith in Christ. St. Paul urges you in our epistle lesson to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love..." Why is humility a manner worthy of your calling? Because you have been called to follow Christ Jesus. No one has humbled himself so greatly as our dear Jesus did. St. Paul writes to the Philippians in chapter two:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11)
We Christians want to imitate Jesus. He is our Brother, our Master, our Friend, and our Savior. If such humility is not beneath him, then none of us can claim to be too good to humble ourselves to serve our neighbor in any way we can.
Our Lord's humility is the source of our salvation. Had not Jesus humbled himself to the point of death then we all would be damned for eternity. Jesus, who is the eternal Son of God lowered himself lower than any sinner, even those in the depths of hell. He suffered the greatest wrath any being has ever suffered. And he did this to save us from the punishment of our sins. And now our Lord is exalted above every name, he is to be worshipped by all for all time. And our Lord did not ascend to heaven alone. He leads a train of captives now freed from sin. He exalts us with him, having freed us from the depths of hell. All glory be to Jesus forever!
Yet, we do not humble ourselves only to imitate Christ and behave as Christians, although we certainly do that. But being humble is how you become a Christian. You must be humble to receive salvation by grace. Many have this mistaken view that you become a Christian by being a good person. If you're honest, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and read your Bible then you become a Christian. They think that if God is impressed enough by your good works then he'll call you one of his Christians. But this is not the way you become a Christian. St. Paul writes, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in God's sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20) In fact, St. Paul, whose good works would put all of ours to shame, said this about his good works, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." (Philippians 3:8-9)
This is why our hymn of the month is so fantastic! No other hymn articulates the Christian faith so concisely! Just listen:
Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer. (Paul Speratus, LSB 555)
This hymn articulates the biblical truth that our salvation is a free gift from God and it does not depend on our works at all. "Good works cannot avert our doom." What does that mean? It means that there is nothing you can do, no matter how fabulous you think it might be, that can prevent your damnation. When you come before God asking to enter heaven, God doesn't want you to offer him anything. He wants you to come to him completely empty handed, humble, and lowly, so that he can give you eternal life purely as his gift to you. If you do not come empty handed, then you will put your trust in something other than Christ Jesus, and that is idolatry. God wants you to trust in Jesus Christ alone, and not in your own works.
God commands that you come before him empty and humble, not because he gets some strange satisfaction in humiliating those to whom he gives gifts. Rather, God intends to rescue you from your sinful condition. God isn't trying to get you to accept a fake reality. God wants you to grasp on to the true reality of your situation. You are a lost and condemned sinner, who can offer nothing to God to earn your salvation. Our hymn puts it perfectly, "From sin our flesh could not abstain, Sin held its sway unceasing; The task was useless and in vain, Our guilt was e'er increasing. None can remove sin's poisoned dart Or purify our guileful heart— So deep is our corruption." (Ibid, Stz. 4) God wants you to realize the gravity of this situation, so that he can save you by grace and rescue you from your sinful condition.
On Monday in the wake of Sunday night's horrific mass murder, many of us were glued to the news waiting new information. After the murderer was identified I saw a headline that stated, "The Face of Evil." But when I looked at the first pictures released of the evil man, who wreaked such havoc in Las Vegas, I saw an ordinary man, whom you wouldn't be surprised to see in the grocery store or even in one of these pews. "The Face of Evil" looks just like you and me.
Of course, you can't actually see evil. Evil is on the inside. But the fact remains, evil is within every one of you and me. Jesus says, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander," (Matthew 15:19). These are what defile a person and they are all within us. The evil that grew and festered within last Sunday's murderer is the same evil that originates within our hearts. It is only by God's grace that we are kept from committing such heinous crimes. This is why these things keep happening. Atrocities like the Nazi's genocide of Europe's Jews to the murder and displacement of millions of Christians in the Middle East will continue to happen, because the evil which causes it is deeply rooted in the human heart.
This is why we bring our babies to be baptized. As cute as they are, we know that they are born sinners. They cannot choose to come to Christ. God must come to them. So, we bring them to Baptism, so that God may give them a new heart and wash away their sins in the blood of Christ.
And even after we are baptized our sinful flesh still fights against our new man to keep us from doing what we want to do. And so, we confess our sins every Sunday. The words, "I, a poor, miserable sinner," are not pandering to God. We are confessing a dark truth that dwells within us. And we come to our merciful God for him to wash it out and raise us out of our darkness.
You see now how obscene it is to present your good works to God as payment for your sins. That would be to boast in your sin and to offer God filth. But rather, aware of our sins we offer God nothing and claim nothing, but the blood of Jesus, which has washed away our sins. And with that humble faith our God lifts us up, not to a false security, but upon the certain foundation of Christ. And when your faith is founded on Christ you have certainty that God will exalt you to heaven.
Do not seek the glory of people. Sure, you can impress them and it might feel good for a while, but it will end. Seek rather the glory of God. And you can't fool him. God glorifies those of a humble and contrite heart.
The world despises humility. And when you are humble it is easy for others to abuse you. But do not be embarrassed by your humility or weakness. St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12, "But the Lord said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (12:9-10) When I am weak, then I am strong. Wouldn't you exchange all your strength for Jesus' strength? Wouldn't you exchange all of your boasting, so that you could boast in Christ? Yes, this is what it means to be a Christian. The Christian says, "Far be it from me to boast in anything, except in our Lord Jesus Christ." (Gal. 6:14)
The humble shall follow their Lord, who humbled himself on the cross and is exalted to the right hand of the Father. They too shall be exalted. Amen.