Panic or Preparation?
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Matthew 25:13 “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord. If you have ever been asked to stand up in a friend’s wedding – to serve as a bridesmaid or groomsman – you know what an honor that is. In general, people select their closest and most trusted friends to play an important part in one of the key moments of their life – their wedding day. And if you are honored with an invitation to be part of a friend’s wedding, you would never think of showing up after the wedding had already started.
In the world of the New Testament, weddings were even greater social events than they are today. The wedding feast might last seven days or more. And a key part of the wedding ceremony was the bridal procession. It appears that the bridesmaids would wait outside the bride’s home for the groom and his attendants to come from his parents home, claim his bride, and lead the entire party to the nuptial hall for the ceremony. There the feasting and dancing would go on and on.
For anyone not to be ready to join in that procession would have been a tremendous insult to the bride and groom. One Bible scholar makes the following comments: “The foolish virgins were not excluded simply because the door was locked, nor because the host did not actually recognize them, but because they had insulted the bride and the groom, as well as all their relatives! The expression ‘I do not know you’ was sometimes used when one wished to treat others as strangers and keep them from approaching. This was an offense they would never be allowed to forget. To participate in their friend’s wedding was a great honor indeed. But to have spoiled the wedding for her by failing to do their appropriate part was a great insult to their friend and to the groom and guests” (C.Keener, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 599).
Now, it is not as though the five foolish bridesmaids did not have an opportunity to prepare. During the time of the bridegroom’s delay they would have had plenty of time to secure a supply of oil for their lamps. But they did not. They wasted a golden opportunity. The lamps, or actually the torches, that they carried would probably have needed to be re-fueled every 15 minutes or so. Why did they procrastinate? Why did they delay? We are not told. Perhaps they thought that the groom would come sooner rather than later. Maybe they did not see the urgency of having a lighted torch for the walk through the streets to the site of the wedding. It could be that they reasoned that their companions would have enough oil for them also.
But all these are weak excuses. It doesn’t matter. When the groom approached, the cold, hard fact is they were grossly unprepared. They ran to the merchant to make a purchase, but it was too late. When they returned, the groom and the wedding party were gone. It was too late.
Notice that the contrast between the wise and foolish virgins is simply this: the five wise virgins have oil while the foolish have none. When the groom is delayed, both the foolish and the wise virgins slumber and sleep. For the wise, it is a sleep of confidence because they know that when the groom finally arrives they will be ready to meet him. For the foolish virgins it is a slumber of irresponsibility for they have no oil and when they awake they will be found unprepared. Sleep dulls and deadens them to the fact they lack the oil that they will need to participate in the march to the wedding hall.
For the wise virgins nothing is as important as being ready for the wedding to which they have been invited. They realize what a high honor it is attend to their friend, the bride. They prepare. They watch. They wait. Their very existence is oriented toward that wedding. For the foolish virgins live as though the wedding was not terribly important. Their time and their attention are occupied with the present moment. They take no thought for the wedding itself.
And so the question is, what is the message of this parable? Are you among the wise or the foolish virgins? Are you living your life in light of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb or are you living it just for this present and fast-fleeing moment in time?
In the Scriptures, to be wise is to see all of life from God’s perspective. Don’t confuse being wise with being smart or being intelligent as the world counts intelligence. Hell will be filled with many intelligent people, and heaven will be populated by some folks who did rather poorly as far as grades are concerned.
To be wise is to see your life in the light of eternity. That is why God teaches us to pray in Psalm 90, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” A heart of wisdom is a heart that knows that Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom who was crucified for us and was raised again to give us life. Wisdom is to know that He alone is the Lord who gives meaning and purpose to our days because His blood has redeemed us and His resurrection opens the door to heaven. Wisdom knows that if we gain every thing this world has to offer and yet do not have faith in Him we have absolutely nothing. Wisdom knows that this Lord Jesus will come again at an hour that no one knows and only those who have faith in Him will have access to His wedding hall.
To be a fool, on the other hand, it is to live life so pre-occupied with the projects and aspirations, the wants and the needs of this passing world, that you have no time for Him. To be a fool is to live as though God did not matter. To be a fool is to live as though there were only this day and nothing else. To be a fool is to live as though there was no Marriage Feast coming. To be a fool is to ignore the need for oil, to think or conclude that it doesn’t matter.
But the oil does matter, for that is finally what separated the wise from the foolish virgins. The oil in the parable points to something that is always being consumed and must always be replenished. And that is the way it is with faith. Faith is not something that is stagnant or inert. Faith is alive, and like a flame it must be fueled or it will grow dim and finally die. Faith does not feed off itself; rather, it is fueled, energized, and strengthened by the words of our Lord which are poured into our ears, and His body and blood that are given us to eat and to drink. In His Word and with His body and blood, our Lord Jesus Christ is giving us the gifts through which He keeps the flame of faith burning until that Day when He returns to usher us into the wedding hall of heaven.
And so as we end the church year today by focusing on the second and final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we begin next Sunday a new church year with the same focus, you and I as members of the Church of Jesus Christ prepare for His coming by letting Him prepare us. We do not resist the Holy Spirit’s efforts to bring us into this house of worship where God’s Word and gifts are given. We receive with faith and thanksgiving all of what God has to offer. And He offers much!
He offers and delivers faith and Christian growth through the preaching and teaching of His Holy Word. He offers and delivers forgiveness of sins through Holy Absolution, the spoken forgiveness that, as we learn in the Catechism “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.” And He offers and delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation in and through the Sacrament of the Altar which we are privileged to receive this day.
Neither the Church nor any individual Christian can possibly survive without these means of God’s grace, which is why they are there for us every Lord’s Day here in this place. For sinners are in constant need of forgiveness, whether or not they realize it. And as we continue to grow in faith, we realize more and more how much we depend on God and the gifts He gives us in His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus says “Watch therefore, for you neither know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” We do not know what lies between today and the Day of His coming. We do not know what we might be called upon to suffer for the sake of His name. We do not know what crosses we may have to carry. Will He return tomorrow or many centuries from now? We do not know. But this we do know: our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead is here with us freely giving us the oil of forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Word and Supper so that we will be prepared to receive Him when He comes.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.