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Year A - 3 Before Advent Matthew 25:1-13
Matthew 25:1 "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 "At midnight the cry rang out: `Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' 7 "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 9" `No,' they replied, `there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' 10 "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 "Later the others also came. `Sir! Sir!' they said. `Open the door for us!' 12 "But he replied, `I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' 13 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.1 Thess 4.13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
We live in an uncertain world. Concerns about two world leaders who seem unstable and have nuclear and other weapons at their disposal. Economic and other uncertainties surrounding Brexit. Extreme weather conditions that seem to be increasing. What can we be certain of? God, and His word to us.
The Old Testament is saturated with prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming, or Advent. Both testaments are also filled with references to the second coming of Christ. One scholar has estimated that there are 1,845 references to Christ’s second coming in the Old Testament, where 17 books give it prominence. In the 260 chapters of the New Testament, there are 318 references to the second advent of Christ—an amazing 1 out of every 30 verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books refer to this. For every prophecy in the Bible concerning Christ’s first advent, there are 8 which look forward to His second!
Before today's gospel Jesus had told his followers that the day and time of his return to earth is known only to God the Father. It will be a surprise. Like a burglar or a master of a house returning after a long journey. Jesus then told the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.
In Jesus’ day marriage involved the bridegroom leaving his house to get the bride from her home. He was accompanied by some supporters, usually late in the evening. The ten virgins were bridesmaids responsible for preparing the bride. The groom then took the bride with the friends back to his own house. There a feast was prepared, to which all the friends and neighbours were invited. This could last for a week or two.
In the allegory, the bridegroom represents Christ. The delay represents the delay in his return. The wise virgins are believers who have continued to love, worship, and serve God, and are prepared for Jesus’ return. The unwise are those who have failed to continue in the faith and will be unprepared when they come to meet Jesus. The feast represents the heavenly banquet that awaits those who are faithful and prepared.
Those who are excluded are told that they are not known. This implies that those who are careless in their faith really don’t know Jesus at all. The message of this allegory is in the final verse, 13 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Jesus made the same point in 24.42.
The return of Jesus will happen. This is what today’s epistle is about. The Thessalonian Christians were worried because some of them were dying, and they were expecting Jesus to return soon. Paul addresses their uncertainty.
He wrote that Jesus will return unexpectedly. Like the bridegroom in Jesus' parable, or the thief in the night in 1 Thess. 5.2. We don’t know when exactly this will be. When he does come his appearance will be visible and dramatic. Believers who have died will be resurrected to be with Jesus in the clouds, closely followed by believers who are alive at that time.
Today we remember the sacrifices made in two world wars and other conflicts since. As believers, we can look back to he sacrifice of Jesus for us on the cross. We live because of the sacrifice of Jesus. We are to continue living in the knowledge of this. To remember this every day. Our lives are to be like a sign that someone died and rose again for us. We are to be ready for his return. Being encouraged because, when Jesus returns “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21.4
We can be secure in the knowledge of this, whatever is happening in the world around us. But, at the same time, we should not be complacent.
I imagine that we have all, at some time, forgotten to do something. Perhaps missed an appointment or a deadline. Jesus’ return should be at the forefront of our minds. We should be ready and alert, looking forward to that day.
In 1985 my brother-in-law Paul married Anita in Holland. Groom goes to brides home, normally in transport associated with work. He is a tree surgeon and used a lorry with lift & platform. They then both got in it, and we had a cavalcade to church, hooting & waving.
A Jewish wedding was held at the house of the bridegroom or his parents. He would come to take his bride from her parental home to his for the ceremony. This would take place in the evening and it was usual for the groom to be delayed. Contra this country where the bride is expected to be late. The groom would come with his close friends to collect the bride. The bridesmaids would come out of the house to meet the groom and then accompany the bride to the groom's home. They would process from one house to the other holding lamps, probably torches. Those who did not have a torch would be seen as imposters, gate-crashers. The torches were oil soaked rags on a stick. If the rags were well soaked in oil this would provide light for about a quarter of an hour.
Before today's reading Jesus had been teaching his disciples about his second coming. He had just told them a parable about a master who had been away and returned unexpectedly. This was to show that Jesus will return when suddenly and unexpectedly.
In today's parable the bride is Jesus. In the Bible God is sometimes portrayed as a bridegroom and His people the bride. Sometimes this is linked to a wedding feast. We looked at this four weeks ago when we looked at Chapter 22:1-14. The 10 virgins represents the Christian community. The delay shows that the return of Jesus will be longer than some thought. The rejection of the foolish virgins refers to the final judgement of God.
The difference between the wise and the foolish virgins is in their degree of preparedness. The foolish virgins were not ready for the delay. They may have soaked their torches with oil liberally some hours before, but when the groom comes most of it had evaporated and their lamps would not continue to burn. In contrast the wise virgins had been more diligent. Yes, this had involved them in more work. Having to get a jar, pour oil into it, and carry it to the bride's house. But in the long run it was worth it.
There are times when the Christian life is difficult. It requires more time and effort to follow God's ways than to follow the crowd, to take the short cut, the easy option. But there is a price to pay for those who neglect God's ways. And there is a glorious future for those who follow God's perfect will.
8 The foolish ones said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 9" `No,' they replied, `there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
Are the wise being uncaring, un-Christian in their response to the foolish virgins ? No. They are illustrating an important spiritual principle. This is that each one of us is required to make our own individual response to God's love and mercy. Yes, we are required to make that response as part of the church, the body of Christ. Yes, we are to help one another in our walk with God. But ultimately we have responsibility for our own salvation. We cannot blame our upbringing, our genes, our poverty or our wealth, the Vicar or the Pope. We are called to act wisely in response to the invitation that we have. We should do all that we can to show that our faith is radical and that it is real.
10 "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 "Later the others also came. `Sir! Sir!' they said. `Open the door for us!' 12 "But he replied, `I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'
This was shocking to Jesus' listeners. Firstly, the door was shut. Secondly there was a failure to recognize and admit the five foolish virgins. The foolish were not rejected because they had fallen asleep, because the wise also fell asleep, verse 5. The foolish virgins were not admitted because they were ill-prepared. They may have looked like bridesmaids, they may have expected to be admitted, they may have desperately wanted to come to the banquet, but they had not acted in a way that befitted a true bridesmaid.
The man refused to admit them and said that he did not know them. This reminds us of Matthew 7:18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
A true disciple of Jesus is marked not by a mere profession of faith. Not just by a desire or expectation to go to heaven. Not only by ministering for Jesus. But by obeying the will of God the Father. This obedience will almost certainly involve all of these things because it is God's will that we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, that we have a living hope, and that we take our part in the life of the church and minister for Jesus. It is also God's will that we worship him, we study our Bibles, we care for one another, we pray to Him, we give some of the money He has loaned us back to Him, that we live moral lives and so on.
A child is more likely to obey his/her parents when they see that the parents' demands are there for their own good. We should obey God because he loves us and wants the best for us. Unfortunately we live in an age that rejects authority. We have a society where some parents expect their children to do what they like and to be allowed to do what they like, even when this infringes upon other people's freedom. We will reap the consequences for this lack of discipline as a society.
This parable tells us that there will be some people who would say that they are Christians who will not be admitted into God's kingdom. Why ? Because they were ill-prepared, not ready for the kingdom. Because they want to be disciples without the discipline.
Jesus explains the main point of the parable in verse 13, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."
We do not know when Jesus will return. History records a number of individuals and organisations who thought they knew better than Scripture. Therefore, we are to keep going in our walk with God. To keep doing the things that we looked at earlier. These show that we are true disciples. It was no use the foolish virgins claiming that their torches had once been soaked with oil and ready to be lit. They had a responsibility to continue being ready.
D.L.Moody once said, 'I never preach a sermon without thinking that the Lord may come before I preach another.'
We do not know when Jesus will return. So he could come tonight, or next Sunday.
If you knew that he was coming next Sunday what would you do differently in the next week ? You may devote your time to praying, worshipping God, perhaps visiting friends and family, even telling them what was going to happen and urging them to turn to Christ.
Some people will die before Jesus returns. We will all die unless Jesus returns first. Jesus return will be unexpected. Death can also be sudden. Recently hundreds of people have died unexpectedly in earthquakes, a railway crash, a coach crash, a plane crash, and in flooding. Few if any of them would have expected to face death the day that they got on their train, or plane, or coach, or as they slept in their beds.
Jesus calls us to be wise and to live in a way that shows that we are prepared to meet Him, and that we are preparing to live in His eternal kingdom.
This is something that we can look forward to. We can look forward to new, perfect resurrection bodies. There will be no more sin, no more suffering, sickness, death, or mourning. There will be no more wars, starvation, accidents, breakdown of relationships. We will be able to worship and serve God wholeheartedly, to be in His presence all of the time.
A king had a jester who would sometimes say very foolish things, but would also say very wise things. One day he said something so foolish that the king handed him a staff saying, 'Take this and keep it until you find a bigger fool than yourself.'
Some years later the king was on his deathbed, surrounded by his family, friends, and servants. The king said, 'I am about to leave you to go on a very long journey. I will not return and so I have called you all here to say "Goodbye".'
The jester stepped forward and said, 'Your majesty, may I ask you a question ? When you have journeyed abroad, visited your people or stayed with your nobles your heralds and servants have always gone before you to make preparations. May I ask what preparations your majesty has made for this long journey ? '
'Alas!' replied the king, 'I have made no preparations.'
'Then,' said the jester, 'take this staff with you, for I have found a bigger fool than myself.'