Matthew 25:1-13 Over the course of our lives there are many important days: the day we graduate--the day that we begin our professional career --the day we get married-- and the day that we retire.
As important as these special days are, all of the days of preparation that leads up to that day are also important. In fact, the way that those important days turn out for us is totally dependent on how well we prepared day by day up to that moment.
Of all the important days in our lives, none is as important as the day of our Lord’s return when we will stand before him and be judged-when heaven or hell are the only two choices for eternity. But as important as that day is, every day that we can prepare for that day, is also vitally important. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins vividly illustrates how important it is to be prepared—day by day-- for our Lord’s return.
To understand the point of this parable it is enough to recognize that the virgins are the members of the church, their lamps are their individual faith, the oil is the Spirit that enlightens that faith, the bridegroom is the Lord, the wedding banquet is the great eternal feast in heaven that begins on the Last Day for all who have trusted in Christ.
But all these details exist to make only one vital point—one thing that Jesus wants us to know today: that it is absolutely necessary to be prepared for the Lord’s return—no matter how long it takes. Jesus says:
"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.”
The picture that we have before us is that of the believing church—each of the virgins representative of the child of God who is pure in God’s sight through faith in Jesus—each of them with the light of faith burning bright through the powerful oil of the Spirit—each of them waiting for the Lord’s return.
Bible scholars tell us that the word used for lamp in this passage describes a kind of torch used at night with enough oil to keep it burning for only about 15 minutes and the only difference between those virgins who are called “wise” and those who are called “foolish" is that the wise ones were prepared to wait with extra oil to keep their lamps burning bright--and the foolish ones were not. Not only did the wise virgins have enough oil to keep their lamps burning at that moment-- but they were prepared to keep their lamps lit for a long, long time.
At various times in the Gospels Jesus reminds us that we are to expect his return at any moment—but here he reminds us that we also ought to be prepared to wait—that the believer who is truly prepared for his return has a supply of the oil of the Spirit to keep his faith burning bright as he waits for the Lord’s return.
For 2000 years the church has had to wait for that day and the simple fact of the matter is that we don’t know if the Lord will return today or if it will be another two thousand years. As Jesus says about his return in our lesson today: "keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” and so we have to make sure that we keep our faith strong until that day whether it comes tomorrow or in 2000 years.
Our confidence on that day depends on the measure of God-given wisdom that we exercise on this day and then tomorrow and the next day and throughout our lives—wisdom that causes us to prepare for his return because not only do we need to have a true and living faith right now if he comes in this moment—but we must persevere in that faith throughout our lives and then die in that faith--if we are to enjoy an eternity with God.
Our faith in Jesus Christ is not a one-time thing but must be renewed and replenished again and again with the Holy Spirit to keep it burning bright throughout our lives. So how is faith kept alive in us?
A big part of that preparation is what we are doing right now. Worshiping God—hearing his word—receiving the body and blood of Christ. These are some of the most important ways that the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts and strengthens faith in our hearts and sustains faith in our hearts.
It is the height of spiritual foolishness to neglect the means of grace through which the Spirit works to keep our faith strong because we simply do not know how long we will have to wait for that day. Spiritual sloth is deadly to our life of faith just like the sleepy virgins in the parable. Jesus says that: As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.
It is so easy to grow complacent in our spiritual life—so easy to lay our head back down on the pillow on Sunday mornings and tell ourselves it won’t matter that much just this once if we miss church. It is so easy to grow complacent because, let’s face it, it has been a long time since our Lord’s promise that he will come again to judge.
It’s also easy to get caught up in the pressures of the daily grind—of the pressing need around us—of the” right now” of tomorrow’s deadlines-- that it’s difficult to keep in mind the big picture and take the long view when it comes to our Lord’s return.
This is especially true in a culture where we are never disciplined to wait for anything—where the idea of saving for a purchase is ludicrous if there’s a credit card in hand.
We’re not used to waiting and all of us, like the 10 virgins in our text today, fall victim to spiritual drowsiness at times. But today is the day to remember that, no matter how long it takes, the Lord will return and then it will be too late to prepare. Who and what and whose we are in that moment-- will be true for us forever. Jesus says that:
"At midnight there was a cry, `Here's 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 you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.'
The sobering reminder from the Lord to us today is the light of faith can go out. If our faith in Jesus Christ is not regularly replenished by the oil of the Spirit as he works through Word and Sacrament, it might not be there when we need it the most.
The Bible does not teach that, having “once upon a time” been baptized or confirmed or come to faith in Christ that you are spiritually “good to go” throughout your life. When we die and depart this world—when we face the judgment of God—we must be found steadfast in faith in that moment.
The other sobering reminder in these words of our Lord is that we cannot prepare for another Christian. My parents’ faith or my spouse’s faith or my friends’ faith will not save me--each of us, individually, for ourselves, must believe in Jesus and be prepared and ready to face his judgment. Jesus says that:
"While they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was 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 not hour.
Make no mistake about it, the Lord will come again—whether we are prepared or not—and we will either be welcomed into the eternal feast prepared for those who love Jesus--or we will be left on the outside.
The bible knows absolutely nothing of an in-between place between heaven and hell. You are either part of the wedding feast of the Lamb or you are not. The bible knows nothing of a time of preparation or second chances after our Lord’s return. You are either with the Lord on the day that the door of grace closes—or you are not.
The great tragedy is that some of those who had every chance to be a part of the great feast of the victorious Lamb—some of those who, for a time, had lamps of faith that were burning bright—will hear from Jesus the most terrible words that can ever be spoken: “I don’t know you.” And they will be cast into hell for eternity.
There will come a day when the door of salvation will be shut forever and then there is no more time for preparation—nothing that you can do-- to change the verdict that is spoken about you.
Dear friends in Christ, we have this God-given moment, this day of salvation, to re-commit ourselves to Jesus Christ—to thank him for his life, death, and resurrection that provides the way for us into that wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom that has no end.
We have this day to resolve that, by the help of the Holy Spirit, we will stay close to the Lord throughout our lives, that we will gladly hear his Word and receive him as he comes to us in the sacrament and so stay strong in our faith.
We have this day and every day until the Lord comes to remain steadfast in our faith so that we are prepared to partake of the feast that has no end. Amen.