Which Seat Do You Take?—Luke 14:1-11



Luke 14:1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. 


Jesus may have been the guest teacher in the local synagogue that sabbath day, and then he was invited over for dinner afterwards. 


But the chief Pharisee’s motive was not all hospitality, as we can tell from that ominous ending of this verse, “they watched him.” 


The word “watched” (paratēreō), has to do with watching very closely (Cf. 6:7, 20:20), like a spy waiting for an opportunity to strike.


Very likely the chief Pharisee who had invited Jesus had heard of the incident in recounted in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus had healed a woman in the synagogue on the sabbath, angering the ruler of the synagogue.


Now, he laid a trap for Jesus, just as the Pharisees had been trying to do for some time. Luke records that they were…


54 Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him. (Luke 11:54)


What was the trap? We see it next—


Luke 14:2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. 


The word, “dropsy” (hydrōpikos), refers to what we call edema today. Basically, it’s a build-up of fluid in the body. The affected person is will have swollen and doughy looking hands and feet. Visually, it will be obvious that something is wrong.


It’s odd then, that this man was at the Pharisee’s dinner party. A Pharisee wouldn’t allow such a sick and unclean person close to him, much less to eat with him (cf. Leviticus 15:1-3).


It’s possible that the man dropped in unexpectedly, and that’s what Luke means when he says, “behold”—surprise!


On the other hand, the “behold” could be expressing the surprise of the devious strategy of the Pharisee. That is, the Pharisee purposely invited the sick man to entice Jesus into healing on the sabbath. 


And, knowing Jesus’s penchant for healing people on the sabbath, they were sure he would do it. Then they would be able to show more people how Jesus was a law-breaker.


Jesus wasn’t going to let them trap him so easily, however. He turns the tables on them:


Luke 14:3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? Luke 14:4a And they held their peace.


They held their peace and didn’t say anything because they were stuck:


If they answered that it was lawful to heal (or do good) on the sabbath, that would officially authorize Jesus to heal the man. 


If they answered that it was not lawful to heal on the sabbath, then they either would have been seen as inhumane or they would have risked Jesus not healing the man, thus defeating their intentions. Seeing that they had no response,


Luke 14:4b And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; 


Sending the man on his way, Jesus turned back to the Pharisees—


Luke 14:5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? 


Pits were fairly common. Someone might dig one to capture ground water or as trap to capture an wild animal. Naturally, someone or some domestic animal might fall into the pit. Most people would immediately work to get the animal out of the pit, even on the sabbath (there were a few super-strict legalists who wouldn’t).


Jesus was saying that they themselves would do things of necessity on the sabbath. They wouldn’t look down at the stricken animal in a pit and say, “Well, if it’s still alive tomorrow, we’ll pull it out.” 


The obvious conclusion is: it’s lawful to heal on the sabbath day, especially something serious like dropsy. 


And again, they remained silent…


Luke 14:6 And they could not answer him again to these things. 


What is the function of these first six verses of a meal at a Pharisee’s house? Luke seems to be showing us the arrogance of the Pharisees. They were willing to use a sick man to try and trap Jesus in what they considered to be a unlawful deed.


In a world where medicine was super-primitive and most people died of things that aren’t a big deal today, it’s sheer arrogance to try and condemn a man who offered true healing to people!




I imagine the silence in the room was deafening for a few moments. Then, awkwardly, people started milling about, hoping to forget the embarrassing encounter and get to eating. The big question on their minds was, “Who would sit where?”


Finding the best place to sit has always been the most important thing for some people. As kids (and kid-like adults) we might yell out, “Shotgun,” to get the front seat in the car by the driver. 


And dare I say that it’s important to some people to secure the back pew in church?


In Bible times, it was important for the people attending a special meal to sit closest to the host. 


Most scholars say that the table was likely in an U-shaped formation, with cushions or low couches surrounding it. There are variances on where the host would sit, but likely it was at the center of the “U.” The best places would be on the right or the left of the host and, after that, you would try to get as close to the host as you could.


You can see people casually marking their place with a piece of outer clothing, or by standing near it until it was time to be seated. Jesus observes all this and decides to use it for the occasion of a parable.


Luke 14:7 And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms [seats]; saying unto them, 


You can imagine Jesus shaking his head as he recalls what he said a couple chapters ago—


43 Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. (Luke 11:43)


For all their airs of self-importance, the Pharisees were really a childish lot. Like toddlers, they demanded that they be first. If they didn’t have the best seat, they were so thin-skinned that they would either complain aloud, gossip behind the host’s back, or declare that they would never eat that house again. 


All that mattered to them was their public appearance, not their inward godliness.


You might be thinking: “Well, it’s a good thing that we Christians are not like those old Pharisees.” You would be mistaken.


James Boice was a popular pastor and radio preacher for many years before he died of cancer in the year 2000. 


The leadership of his church, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, decided that there would be no special seating at Boice’s funeral, something that Boice would have heartily agreed with. Funeral seating would be on a first-come, first-served basis—no special treatment. 


After the funeral, the new pastor (who had replaced Boice shortly before he died), said:


…I received an angry letter from a family that came too late to sit in the sanctuary and had to go downstairs. They told me in no uncertain terms that they deserved better treatment and would never worship at our church again![1]


The issue at stake here is the pride and arrogance of the human heart. We all have it and all of us have found ourselves smarting because someone has slighted us.


When I was a junior in high school, I took a part in the school play. Not many people tried out, and so I ended up with a major part in the play. I had fun, I did well, and received accolades afterwards. It was a good feeling.


My senior year, I tried out for the play again, hoping for a repeat of the excitement and joy I felt the last year. 


But instead of a major role, I ended up with a bit part. I was shattered. Why waste my time and talent with that part? I refused to take part in the play, saying that I was too busy with other things. But it was my wounded pride that was the real reason.


Have you had your pride wounded like that? Have you stomped off, wrote a angry letter, broke a friendship, because your sense of self-importance was run over by someone else? 


Have you, like the Pharisees did over their stubborn refusal to allow healing on the sabbath, rejected other Christians because your ideas on unimportant doctrines didn’t line up with theirs?


Christians aren’t immune to this kind of behavior, but we of all people should know better because we know the humble teacher, Jesus.


Jesus gives a parable, or an example, of how they should behave when they are invited over for a dinner party, like a wedding reception. (It’s similar to what Solomon taught in Proverbs 25:6-7.)


Luke 14:8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room [seat]; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;  Luke 14:9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room [seat]. 


Jesus says to not sit in the best seat, it might be that the host has someone else in mind for that spot. You could get kicked out, and wouldn’t that be embarrassing?


Although it sounds like Jesus is giving a lesson on etiquette and how not to have your pride wounded, the real lesson here is that we ought not to have too high of an opinion of ourselves. Don’t be so arrogant to think that you deserve the highest place at the table. Be humble.


Jesus goes on and says,


Luke 14:10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room [seat]; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. 


Then Jesus gives the principle—


Luke 14:11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.


What if this doesn’t happen? Do you get mad then? Do you go away and pout? No, what you should do is thank God for the reminder to be humble. If you got upset that you weren’t asked to move up to a higher seat, what does that say about your true motive? Was it a false humility?


If your real motive was humility, then you won’t mind if you don’t get moved to a higher seat!


There is a more important spiritual principle we need to see here. Let me state it this way: if you humble yourself by admitting you are a sinner and trusting in Christ alone, you will be exalted to Jesus’s side in Heaven. This will happen. And it will happen not because of your humility, but because of the humility of a King.




You may have heard that, in the United Kingdom, November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day. It’s almost like the Fourth of July here. They set off fireworks and have bonfires and so forth, originally to celebrate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of which a man named Guy Fawkes was a major part.


In 1605, Guy Fawkes and other disgruntled people planned to blow up the Parliament building on November 5th, the opening day of Parliament when everyone important, including King James I, would be there.


Guy Fawkes had experience with explosives from his military career. With his help and that of a tunnel, they planted 36 barrels of gunpowder in a room in the basement of the Parliament building. It was enough to blow up the entire building and part of the surrounding area. The explosion would have been immense.


But someone gave them away, and Guy Fawkes was arrested leaving the basement of the Parliament building. 


He was tortured for a confession, tried and convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death by being drawn (stretched until the joints popped out), hung (but not until dead), and quartered (then mailed to the four parts of the kingdom).


Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators hated the king, tried to kill him, and for that, they were put to death.


Jesus is also a King. He is the Kings of Kings! 


He is also hated by many people. In fact, all people begin life hating Jesus (even if they don’t consciously understand that). The Bible says:


10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans 3:10–12)


And today we say people are basically good at heart! What? That’s not what the Bible says!


Like the Gunpowder Plot conspirators wanted to kick King James I off his throne, we sinners want to kick King Jesus off his throne. We don’t want him to rule in our hearts or our lives! That’s treason of the highest kind, because it’s treason against the Creator. 


This treason demands the death penalty—


23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)


But instead of us dying for our crime of sinful treason, King Jesus went to the cross, where he died a slow, agonizing death. But, because he was willing to first be humbled, Jesus was exalted—


8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: (Philippians 2:8–9)


Now risen from the dead, Jesus offers us an exchange: if we would humble our arrogant hearts and trust in him, he will take away our death sentence and give us life. 


But he doesn’t stop there. We don’t become mere lowly servants in his kingdom, he makes us part of his family and heirs together with him. So, the Bible says:


16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:16–17)


If you want to be in charge of your life, fine, go ahead. But it will be like the person who grabs a seat of honor at the head of the table and then later is told by the host to move to a lower seat—except that the lower seat will be in the eternal flames of Hell.


We will all face eternal death and judgment. But our King has already died for us. If we humbly come to him for salvation and trust him, we will receive not a death sentence, but life and life everlasting.


[1] Philip Graham Ryken, Luke, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, vol. 2, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 69.


Levi Durfey—LDM-42-Luke 14.1-11-LKA#075-20191110FBCAM-SERMON

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