Sermon: Are You Ready?

In this lenten season leading up to Easter, we are drinking in the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry through the gospel of Matthew. This morning, we will be listening to a parable from Matthew 25:1-13. Matthew is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew 25:1-13. This story is known as the Parable of the Ten Virgins. But what is a parable? I like Brad Young’s definition best: a parable is ’a story that reaches the heart through the imagination.’ Jesus tells a story that, at the end, hits you right in the heart. Matthew 25:1-13.

As we prepare to hear God’s word, join me in this responsive prayer from Psalm 119:

Teach me, LORD, the way of your decrees,

that I may follow it to the end.

Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law

and obey it with all my heart.

Direct me in the path of your commands,

For their I find delight.

Turn my heart toward your statues

and not toward selfish gain.

Turn my eyes away from worthless things;

preserve my life according to your word.

Fulfill your promise to your servant,

so that you may be feared.

Take away the disgrace I dread,

for your laws are good.

How I long for your precepts!

In your righteousness preserve my life.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God

At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps, but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out, “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”

“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.”

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.

Later the others also came, “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us.”

But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Are you ready? Therefore keep watch, Jesus says at the conclusion of this parable, because you do not know the day or the hour. So the question we must answer is ‘Are you ready?’

When I was about thirteen or so, my family began renting a cottage on Lake Leelenau in Michigan for one week each summer. We would swim, go boating, and I would bring about seven or eight thick fantasy novels to read while I asocially ignored everyone. Shocking, I know. One of our regular activities was to drive a couple miles from the cottage to walk some of the trails in the sand dunes. One time, we arrived and I didn’t really feel like walking. I wanted to stay in the van and read. My parents gave in, left the keys with me, and went for a hike. Now, it was really hot out. Instead of rolling down the windows, I put the keys in the ignition, turned them part-way and got the air conditioning going. I didn’t turn the van on because I didn’t want to waste gas, so I turned it enough to engage the battery and get the air running. When my parents come back, they tried to turn the car on and it won’t turn over. Those of you who understand cars might have seen this coming. I drained the battery. We looked around and there was no one there. This was before GPS, so we had no idea where to next. I was thoroughly chastised for my foolishness, but we were still stuck. We were unprepared. Suddenly, a couple of Australian tourists come drive in to the parking lot. They drove us to the gas station where we bought some jumper cables and helped us get the van started. I was never left in the car by myself again.

Most significantly, my dad went out and bought one of those portable car chargers. It is a huge thing that sits in the trunk, is always charged, and can be brought out to jump the car at a moment’s notice. Do you think that charger has ever left his trunk in the last 15 years? No. I don’t think he has used it since we got it, but he is prepared. He does not know the day or the hour the battery may die, but he is ready.

Are you ready? In Jesus’ parable, the stakes are much higher than having to wait around with a car that won’t start, and there will be no Australians to come and bail us out. So, are you ready?

In our short time together, we will look inside the world of the parable to try and understand what was happening, before turning to the spiritual context of the parable. Finally, we will sit with the question, ‘Are you ready?’ and then rise and come ourselves to the banquet table.

First, what is going on in this parable? The parable is set at a wedding with the main characters being ten virgins, who were likely the equivalent of bridesmaids. Jewish weddings in the first century were huge celebrations for the whole community. At one part in the wedding, the groom (or ‘bridegroom’ – same thing) would come to the bride’s house to bring her to their new home, where there would be a great feast of celebration. This took place at night and it was the job of the bridesmaids to go out to meet the groom and his friends and escort the bride carrying torches to light the way. These bridesmaids knew that the groom would come, but not exactly when. Jewish weddings often involved families haggling of the value of the presents given, so they never knew exactly when the groom would arrive. The virgins must be ready to light their torches whenever the announcement comes. To be unprepared would have been a deep insult to both the bride and the groom.

In the parable, some of the bridesmaids are ready and some are not. Jesus says, At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps, but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

The difference between wise and foolish was not that they fell asleep, but that one had prepared with enough oil and the other had not. The foolish assumed the wait would not be long, so they didn’t have to do anything but bring their lamps. The wise knew the bridegroom may be delayed, so they were prepared.

At midnight the cry rang out, “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”

“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.”

Finally, the announcement comes that the bridegroom is approaching. The virgins wake up and the foolish discover their lamps have dried up. They need more oil. They turn to the wise ones, but are rejected. It may look, at first, like the wise are being selfish, but their bigger concern is the honor of the wedding couple. It is better to have five lamps leading the way shining brightly than ten lamps that burn out because there is not enough oil to go around. The unprepared virgins scramble to prepare now that the bridegroom is coming, but it is too late.

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.

Later the others also came, “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us.”

But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

It is too late. The foolish had not prepared and by the time the bridegroom arrived, there was nothing to be done. The ready virgins head into the wedding feast. They sit down at a meal of joy and gladness. The unready virgins arrive late and are left out in the darkness, told that the groom wants nothing to do with them.

The foolish ones accepted the invitation, but thought that it demanded nothing of them. They brought their lamps, but no oil. At best, they thought the groom wouldn’t be long so there was no need to prepare. But truly, they said they wanted to come to the wedding and were looking forward to seeing the bridegroom, but their lack of preparation, their lack of love and care for the honor of the bridegroom betrays them. They do not truly want to see him, they simply want to be in the party. Their carelessness reveals a lack of true love for the bridegroom. Their foolishness ends in them being left out of the party.

The wise ones, however, are prepared. They knew the bridegroom would come, even if they did not know when. They loved the bride and groom enough not only to accept the position of bridesmaid, but faithfully to prepare for the work of honoring the couple. They did nothing to earn their invitation, but they showed their thankfulness for being invited by being ready at all times to honor the couple by lighting their lamps.

The foolish accepted the invitation with words, but not with their heart. The wise accepted the invitation with words and their whole heart. The wise and ready went in with the bridegroom to the wedding banquet. The foolish and unprepared were left out.

Jesus ends the parable with these words: Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. There is a wedding day coming. There will be a day when the bridegroom will come, the announcement will ring out across creation, and the bride will be brought forth into the house of the groom and there will be a feast of joy and gladness.

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

As the Spirit revealed to John, there will be a wedding at the end of all things. There is a great wedding day that all of God’s people look forward to, when we shall be wed to the king. Whether we are married in this life or not, all who belong to Christ have a true spouse in Jesus Christ, and one day there will be a wedding and a great wedding feast.

This parable of Jesus is about his return in glory, his second coming. We know this because this parable comes in the middle of a series of parables all speaking of the end of all things. In each of them, the master, the king, the bridegroom returns and there is both joy and judgment. And our parable itself points in the direction of the return of Christ. But the bridegroom was a long time in coming and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. Sleep in scripture is often an image of death. Jesus Christ has yet to return and many have died waiting for his coming. But when the announcement comes that he is coming, all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. All the dead will be raised to life at the return of Christ, some of glory and some to judgment, but all who have fallen asleep will wake. The parable of the ten virgins is about coming judgment at the return of Christ.

If this parable is about the coming judgment, then we should notice at least three things before we come to the table.

First, Christ’s return may be longer than we expect, but never when we expect. The emphasis in this parable is on it being longer than anticipated, so preparation is necessary. If we think Christ is coming tomorrow, we may feel no need to love our neighbor, study God’s word, or root out sin in our life. We may feel no need to bear the fruit of a renewed life in Jesus Christ. We might think, I said the prayer, I am saved by grace, that is enough. That is true, but the heart that has truly been taken captive by the grace of God in Jesus Christ will be prepared for death and the judgment. It will bring oil in jars with their lamp. Don’t mishear me: the readiness in this parable is not good works in addition to faith. It is not some sort of works-righteousness where you need something more than faith in Jesus Christ in order to enter the heavenly banquet. The invitation is ever and always by grace. But the foolish ones said they had received the invitation, but denied it by their lives. But the faithfulness of the wise ones demonstrated their trust in and love for the bridegroom. It is the type of thing James says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” Christ’s return may be longer than we expect, but never when we expect. Jesus’ parable rebukes the super-spiritual, who believe obedience to God has no place in the life of grace, who believe the end is soon and there is no need to prepare. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Second, At the judgment, we all stand individually. No one can believe or follow Jesus for you. At midnight the cry rang out, “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”

“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.” Each of us must stand for the judgment individually. If we trust in the saving work of Christ, have been forgiven and washed clean through his bloody sacrifice for us, raised to new life with him and tasted of his goodness and been filled with his Spirit, then we come into the presence of the Father and sit at the marriage supper of the lamb. But if we acknowledge God with our lips, but our hearts are far from him, claim to long for his return, but daily deny him in our hearts, words, and actions, we will find ourselves in the outer darkness, left out of the banquet. No one can believe in Jesus for you. No one can have faith in Christ on your behalf. Each of us will stand at the judgment either trusting in Christ alone or unprepared, standing on our own strength, which will mean not standing at all. The foolish wanted someone else’s oil to keep their lamps burning when the bridegroom came, but they could not have it.

Third, we must be ready, because there will come a time when it will be too late. 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.

Later the others also came, “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us.”

But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

There will come a time when it is too late to get ready, too late for repentance and faith. When the virgins fell asleep, they were either ready for the bridegroom to come or not. At his coming, it was too late. For the foolish, the door was shut and they heard, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” When we lie in death, we must be ready. When the dead are raised at the last day, it will be too late to go looking for oil, too late to turn in repentance and faith. Are you ready? My mentor was fond of saying that we must all be ready to pray, preach, or die at any given moment, because we do not know when we will be asked to do any of the three. Are you ready?

I am not trying to scare you any more than Jesus is. The stakes are eternal, so to soften the warning, to downplay the seriousness of what Jesus is saying, not only does a disservice to the teaching of our LORD, but reveals an underlying apathy or hatred toward our neighbor. If this is what Jesus says – that we must be ready, ready now and ready always for his coming, because when he returns if we are not ready it will be too late, then to say anything else is misleading and uncaring. And if what Jesus says is true – that the end of all things will be a wedding banquet, filled with joy and gladness and the sweet presence of the triune God – then what does it say not to share it?

Friends, the promise of the gospel is that for those who are ready, there will come a day when we can enter the wedding banquet. A feast. A meal. Brothers and sisters, those who are ready are invited to come and get a taste of that future feast.

We are invited to come to the feast, the banquet table of the LORD. At the table, we are promised that “as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the LORD broken for me and the cup shared with me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross” and that as surely as we receive from the hand of the one who serves and taste with our mouths the bread and cup of the LORD, so surely he nourishes and refreshes our souls for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood. We come to get a taste of the heavenly banquet, to taste and see that the LORD is good, to feast with our bridegroom so that we hunger and thirst for more of him.

So brothers and sisters, come to the banquet table. Come feast and be nourished. Come feast and remember. Come feast and long for the day when we will finally enter in to that heavenly wedding banquet.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s