Taking the Last Place (Luke 14:7-11)

Introduction: Jesus was not afraid to confront and contradict the Pharisees. (In some future lessons we will consider the role of Jesus as the controversialist.) The event of Luke 14 is classic in this regard. Jesus had been invited into the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Was he being set up? Possibly. They were certainly watching Him carefully (v. 1). Jesus healed many on the Sabbath:

  • The healing of Simon’s wife’s mother (Luke 4:38)
  • The healing of the man with the withered hand (Luke 6:6)
  • The healing of the woman crippled eighteen years (Luke 13:14)
  • The healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:9)
  • The healing of the man born blind (John 9:14)
  • The healing of the demoniac in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21)

Burton Coffman observes… The invitation for Jesus to have a Sabbath meal, the dramatic appearance of a man with dropsy, and the presence of many distinguished guests “had been carefully preconcerted among the Pharisees as a trap for Jesus.”

Jesus proceeds to heal, just as they anticipated. (v. 4) But there were more lessons to be taught.

In v. 7 Luke calls what follows a “parable“. Not in the usual sense. Yet as other parables, the truth contained is not easily seen. It must be discerned.

The parable can be divided into two parts:

1) v. 7 – to those invited, when he noted they chose the best places (best seats). He instructs how to be a good guest – sit in the back.

2) v. 12 – to him who had invited Him… how to be a good host – give unselfishly.

What are the lessons here?

1. Jesus’ words were almost certainly a reference to Proverbs 25:6-7, where the wise man gave some pertinent social advice. Don’t set yourself up to be humiliated. But Jesus’ remarks are more than just social etiquette. He is addressing a problem of the heart.

2. Jesus uses the analogy of a “wedding feast (v. 8). Different type of feast than they were attending. It may be that this was an analogy to the position of the Pharisees and scribes who had taken the chief seats” among the people in the kingdom. But Jesus would demote them. They needed some humility. One writer comments… The Master of the messianic banquet was indeed before them, and he was confronted with the harsh necessity of demoting the proud, arrogant, and unspiritual priests from the chief seats they had usurped and conveying them to “publicans and harlots” instead, such persons being more honorable than the usurpers. A decent humility on the part of the ruling priesthood would have saved them the shame which came upon them

I. “Do not sit in the best place” – this is where everyone wanted to sit. There were different arrangements of sitting from the Romans, Greeks, and the Jewish assemblies, but they all had the chief seats. In the synagogue the one in the center was the best, the one on the right was second, the one on the left was third. If you sit in the best seat, someone greater than you may come and you will be “out of place” (v.8) The Jewish leaders could not conceive of someone more deserving.

A. Take the Last Place: Verse 10 says, “But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place…” This was not easy to follow. Even if you thought you were not the most important person there and deserved the first row, you certainly did not deserve to sit in the last seat.

1. But Jesus points out that this last seat provided the opportunity for promotion. When the Master comes He will move you up… “Friend, go up higher.”

B. The lesson of the parable is in verse 11 where it says, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” If you want to force yourself into the first seat, you’ll be humbled. If you willingly take the last seat, you’ll be exalted. Oh, how that goes against the grain of our culture!

1. Elsewhere, in Mark 9:35, Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.” Notice the comprehensive nature of Jesus’ statement. “last of ALL; servant of ALL. Humility and self-abasement may be easy in the face of superior people. But the disciple of Jesus must always seek to put others before himself.

2. Jesus contrasts an earthly (natural) priority system and a heavenly one. The best seat in the house, according to Jesus, is the last seat. Someone said, The world’s instrument to success is the elbow – forcing our way in front of others; Jesus’ instrument to success is the knee – submitting to others. Which do you use more?

C. This is difficult because the last place is the least desired place among us. Jesus was asking them to take a seat that no one else wanted. We sometimes judge what we desire by what others think of it. If they don’t want it – neither do I. This attitude says, “I’m too good for that!”

1. Is a Christian too good to be last? One of the reasons we shy away from humility and don’t want to take the last seat is that we fear humiliation. Jesus used his humiliation to teach about serving others. It was through his own humiliation that He showed us how much He cared and how we should live. Nothing was pretentious.

2. This place of humiliation then becomes a great source of spiritual strength to those who can see its value and seek to give God the glory. 2 Cor 12:7-10 – 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

D. As Jesus prepared for His own death, knowing that His disciples would be greatly tested, what lesson was most important? John 13:12-15So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

E. Notice the dialogue in Mark 10:35-375 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

        • What is your take on their request? Are they being presumptuous or ambitious?

1. James and John get one thing right here, and most everything else wrong.

a. They are right in verse 37 when they say that Jesus is destined for glory—”When you sit in your glory.” They are convinced that Jesus is the one to invest in. If you know that a company’s stock is going to take off and go through the roof, you buy that stock and not the competitor’s. If you know this building is going to stand after the storm and no others, you get in this building, and not the others. And if you know that Jesus is going to reign in glory in the end over every rival, then you follow Jesus and not his rivals. Don’t be too quick to judge John and James. If you haven’t invested your life in Jesus, you’re not yet as far along as James and John.

b. But they probably didn’t understand the cup and the baptism that Jesus was talking about in verse 38: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said yes. But did they know? Jesus points them to his approaching suffering and asks them if they can also “drink the cup” and be “immersed” in His future distress. They think they can. So Jesus tells them they can count on it! (v. 39)

c. But notice how the other disciples react… vs. 41-4541 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. 42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

              • What happens, then, is that the other disciples get bent out of shape because of James and John’s aggressive claim. Jesus teaches again on the place of submission. Same lesson…
              • In the next verse, (10:45) he gives an example of what he means, namely, himself. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
              •  Notice the point here is serving that results in dying—a giving up of his life.
              • So in verse 38, when he showed James and John the way to glory, he said that they would need to drink his cup and share his baptism, namely, death.
              • And here in verse 45, when he shows the rest of the disciples the way to greatness, he gives his own death as an example: “the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.” In both cases he is giving his death as an example of the kind of suffering and service that the disciples are called to.
              • “He who would come after me must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
              • The reason taking the last place is so important is not because it gets results, or even because it distinguishes us from the ambitious society around us. But because this is how Jesus lived out His mission… He came not to be served, but to serve.

Jesus calls you to die with Him… may be physically if necessary. But certainly to die to sin and share in the resurrection to life. Will you take the last place and submit to Jesus?