"It's not you; it's me." You ever hear that one? It's a classic breakup line. I suppose it is designed to make the person who just got his heart ripped out feel better. I don't know how often that works, since it's a line that is pretty hard to believe. "If it isn't me, why are you dumping me?"
"It must be me, right?" That's the same way our hearts naturally react when we hear God using that line on us. Of course, he isn't dumping us. He's using it to talk about our salvation. "It's not you. It's me." That's tough for us to swallow, since there seems to be something hardwired into us that says it has to have something to do with us. It must be based on my actions, or my obedience, or my decision for Christ. "No," God says, "It's not you. It's me." And he shows that in so many ways.
The text tells of Jesus giving advice on how the guests at a banquet should pick out their seats. Instead of doing the typical self-promotion thing, he said, take the lowest seat, and let someone else exalt you. I know it goes against our grain, but Jesus gives some pretty good rationale for it. Look at verse 11: "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Now, of course, Jesus is making a spiritual application to this earthly advice. He makes it pretty clear that it is not our job to show God just how good we are and how deserving. That would never work, since, well, God says only perfection is deserving. And yet, we sometimes try, don't we? We sometimes start to think of our lives and our good deeds as pretty respectable in God's eyes. He ought to love us because of how much good we do. No, God says, "It's not you. It's me."
Thank God that he does. You see, if he would let us base our worthiness on our merits, we'd earn hell. Since, as God's word so clearly says, "The wages of sin is death." It can't be us. It has to be him.
And so, instead of relying on our own actions or excuses; instead of trusting in our ability to talk our way out of something - he tells us to rely on his mercy. Let him do it. So, each week, when we gather for worship - we confess our sins. We don't confess like our human pride so often wants to, saying: "I'm pretty good and you should appreciate the good things I do and not expect any more, because I'm trying my best." That's just relying on ourselves again. That wouldn't work with your wife, would it? ("I'm sorry you have a problem with me, but you'll have to deal with it.") Why should we think it will work with a holy God?
No, we hear him say, "It's not you. It's me." And we let it be him. We confess that we have fallen short of perfection. We have no right to claim a place at his table. We take the seat our sins deserve - the seat of punishment. And then God lifts us up. God exalts us and gives us the seat of honor, a place in the eternal banquet. He comes with his word, saying, "I've taken care of that sin. Through the sacrifice of my son on that cross, I've removed it. Now all I see is his perfection in you." You see how powerful it is when Jesus says, "It's not you. It's me."
And that is the same message that we hear every time we open up God's word with honest eyes. Putting our pride aside, we realize that it is all about what He does for us. His gift of baptism works faith. His powerful word works forgiveness. His feeding us with the Lord's Supper connects us to him in a way we can't even fully understand. Thank God that he uses that line: "It's not you. It's me." What a relief!