Last Sunday in the Church Year
St. Matthew 25.1-13
25 November 2018
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept…” (Mt. 25.1–5; ESV)
The bridegroom who returns in the middle of the night for the bridal party is a foreign note to us. American weddings are usually Saturday afternoon with dinner and reception to follow, home by nine pm for those of us with children. The younger bride, groom, and bridal party dance further into the night. Palestinian weddings are overnight affairs. The night of the wedding the groom goes to haggle with the bride’s father for the dowry. He delays because the longer they haggle, the more honor is shown to the bride. This tells everyone the bride is quite a “catch”.
The church is worth a great price to the heavenly bridegroom. The cross shows us just how much she is worth to Him. He will return for the Bride. The watchmen on the heights of pulpits everywhere for two millennia have been crying out to God’s people: “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” His return will have been with fair warning. More than fair.
Nevertheless, when Jesus comes at the last day, some will be ready and some will not be ready. The wise virgins and the foolish virgins represent all people who call themselves “Christian”. They are baptized, they go to church, and they profess the Christian faith. You can’t tell the difference between the wise and the foolish virgins. They all have lamps. They hang out together. They look alike. They act alike. To our eyes, they are indistinguishable from each other.
But Jesus lets you in on something He knows: the wise virgins have oil for their lamps and the foolish virgins do not. Some will be ready for His return, and some will not be ready.
“…But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’
What is the oil?
It is the living and abiding word of God that stands forever.
It is the gospel of Christ, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.
It is the voice of the Holy Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.
It is the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit that sets you before God as a spotless bride before her husband, having washed you clean by His holy, precious blood.
It is the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, living bread from heaven that gives and sustains life, a cleansing blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel, a blood that sprinkles your heart and conscience clean to stand upright before the living God.
The oil is the gospel and sacraments of Jesus Christ.
The foolish virgins were in church. They received the sacraments. They heard the gospel. But they didn’t treasure these means of grace. Perhaps they grew as Christians for a time, and then in a time of testing or persecution, they withered in the heat because their faith had not been regularly fed with the oil of Jesus. Perhaps they grew as Christians for a time, but the cares and allurements of this world grew around them like thorns and thistles and choked their faith off, choked off their desire to receive more and more of the sustaining oil of Jesus. Perhaps the devil convinced them they knew all they needed to know, when they really had nothing, and so he devoured them up. For whatever reason, they neglected the means by which the Holy Spirit keeps us in the true faith.
So when the fools needed the bright light of faith, its source had run dry. The wick was dry and useless. The lamp would not burn in the darkness. They could not go with the bridegroom.
And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.
When Jesus comes, He is saying that you will not have the time to get ready. When He comes the day is far past. All work is done, and all the works on earth will be laid bare. When the foolish virgins need oil the most, they do not have it and they could not get it. You will not be able to lean on another’s works, as the fools demand the wise to share oil. You will not buy your way in, either, as the fools go to buy at the midnight hour.
So now is the time to listen. Now is the time to take God’s word to heart. Now is the time to get the oil that keeps faith alive for the hour when Jesus comes to take His church to heaven.
The wedding is heaven, the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom. The coming of the bridegroom is Christ coming to judge the living and the dead and to bring his saints to heaven and to condemn all unbelievers to hell. Among the unbelievers will be people who were attached to the church but didn’t actually belong to it. They had lamps.
But when they tried to enter, they find the door to the feast shut.
Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt. 25.6–13; ESV)
Those words are a terrible, eternal judgment: “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Christians who are taught the faith in their childhood and neglect God’s word after they are grown will often claim that, while they may not be regular church goers, they know what they believe. They know the gospel. They know what it means to believe in Jesus. They were taught as children and they believe what they believed and so they are fine. No need to secure any oil for the lamp. The wick is ready to light.
What these Christians are foolish about is that the gospel is not something that can be believed by our own natural powers. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him. St. Paul writes about the preaching of the cross that it is foolishness to those who are perishing. The suffering and death of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins isn’t something that our flesh wants to hear, it is indeed something the devil wants us to disbelieve and disregard.
But the suffering, dying, and rising Lord Jesus, the one who is coming back on the clouds in judgment, is the one that faith needs. The gospel that makes faith burn is the gospel of Christ’s humble obedience, suffering, and death whereby He paid to God what we owed Him. The oil that burns into the fire of faith is Christ. It is His righteous living, His innocent dying, and His resurrection from the dead. This Gospel gives us forgiveness of all our sins. This oil is the substance of the preaching, the liturgy, the hymns, and the Sacraments. Brothers and sisters, do not neglect or take for granted this precious oil, and pray for and encourage those who do to think better of that path. May we all repent of ever neglecting the saving Word of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” Come, one and all, to be forgiven. The wedding feast of the Lamb is here, even today at this altar, heaven meeting earth, the Lamb both host and meal. Let us follow to the marriage hall, to eat the eternal Supper at His call, here in time, and there in eternity.
And when the door is shut and you are safely in His eternal marriage feast, there will be pure joy, a holy and blessed peace. The Word that fueled our faith here on earth will be finally and permanently fulfilled, as every promise God ever gave will be realized. Every wrong will be righted. Every disappointment will be forgotten. All tears dried and forgotten. The light in that place will never fade away. For that day we pray, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +