Matthew 25:1-13 (8 Nov 2020)

I have been asked a few times why God doesn’t come and clean up the mess the world is in. It’s a good question.
I answer by asking, “where do you think he should start?  What if he decided to start with you?”

And then I tell them that God is delaying coming to clean up the world waiting for you to become a Christian. Actually, that’s not my answer.  That’s the answer that God gave us in the Bible.

That’s what it says in 2 Peter 3:9-14

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 

There are messages in this passage for non-Christians and Christians as well.  For those who don’t know Jesus as Saviour and Lord they need to know that Jesus will one day return and the reason he has not come yet is because he is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It’s the same message Jesus preached starting with his first sermon.  Jesus message was and is, “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

For Christians the message is make sure you are living spotless, blameless lives at peace with Jesus, ready for his return.

For us all of us the message is that he will come with drastic clean-up power leading to the total destruction and end of the world as we know it and the creation of the wonderful new heaven and new earth for those of us looking forward to it. They are looking forward to Jesus’ return because they have repented and have been made righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

It also contains the message that Jesus’ return will be sudden, unannounced, like a thief in the night but unlike a thief in the night we will not miss it! We’ll all be raised by the blare of the trumpet so that every eye will see it and every knee shall bow!

However, not even Jesus knew when that time would be. Only God the Father knows that date and time, so ignore any pronouncements.  If someone claims they know just when the return of Jesus will be you can be quite sure that they are liars.  It will happen when God is ready! (Matthew 24:32-51) Mind you, it is best that it happens when we are READY!

This is also the message in today’s reading from Matthew 25:1-13, when Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids.  He starts the telling with the words, the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. He is telling us that he WILL return to finalise the complete overthrow of Satan. It WILL happen, so learn from these girls to be ready.

In our day the bridesmaids attend the bride so as to ensure she is ready to be presented to the groom but in Jesus’ time the bride stayed home with her parents while the bridal attendants escorted the groom to come to her home to collect her, accompanied with celebration, singing, dancing and lamps to light the way.

We are told There were 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.

It’s pretty easy to conclude with the commentators that the bridegroom represents Jesus himself who is expected to come to collect his bride, the Christian church; that is to say, Christians who are waiting for him to return. And the ten bridesmaids represent us, Christians who are to be ready to meet him and accompany him to the ultimate celebration, the banquet prepared to celebrate his enthronement as King of kings and Lord of Lords.

So, how do we compare with the bridesmaids in the parable, some wise, some foolish? Are some of us wise and some of us foolish.

All of them turned up with lamps with which to welcome the groom and accompany him to the bride but some of them took additional jars of oil with which to top up their lamps – they are the wise ones.  The foolish ones took no spare oil.

Then we read, “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” Most of us can relate to that!  As the night wore on and it was well past bedtime it was so easy to nod off and fall asleep. Some of us nod off to sleep just waiting for the end of a sermon.

In this parable, though, this is not a good thing.  Here we are, Christians standing by for the return of our Saviour and Lord, expecting his return, ready to announce his coming and prepared to encourage others to be ready, too.  If we are not we might as well be asleep. 

As Christians we know he should be alert, lamps alight, excited with anticipation of this glorious, epoch-ending arrival and the beginning of a new and eternal epoch. But these bridesmaids illustrate the reality.  Rather than show enthusiasm and awareness that was expected of them they were all asleep. Have we, too, given up waiting, expecting Jesus’ return? Have we, too, dozed off?

Look out!! “‘At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” No sense of expectation here, but surprise! Surprise! But I told you I was coming. Are you ready?

By the way, we sing the song, “Keep the oil in my lamp, keep me burning,… keep me burning till the break of day” but it turns out for these bridesmaids the lamps were needed in the middle of the night.  The groom turned up unexpectedly in the middle of the night, well before the break of day. Remember, we know that Jesus return will be just as unexpected. What we should sing is, “Keep the oil in my lamp, keep me burning,… keep me burning as I wait and pray!”

 But we have been waiting over 2,000 years now.  How long, O Lord, how long? It’s an old question, one raised to the Apostle Peter 2,000 years ago and to which he replied, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8)

Time means a lot to us but means nothing to God.  He invented time. He started time. The delay in Jesus’ return is because of God’s patience.  As we read – he doesn’t want anyone to perish but to repent, to be saved, to be ready to welcome Jesus.

Sadly, the bridesmaids were asleep. They dozed off and then the groom arrived! 

“‘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.”

Now, you might be thinking that that’s a mean response.  Shouldn’t they share their oil? But then what would happen is that all the lamps would have gone out before they got the groom to the bride and the whole affair would have been dull and they would ALL have been complete failures at doing their job.

Besides, they were each responsible for their lamps and their oil supply and a failure to live up to that responsibility marks five of these bridesmaids as foolish, the other five as wise. Each of us is responsible for our own readiness.

So they scuttled off to buy some more oil – probably not an easy thing to do at midnight – ‘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!”

Now their situation is really serious, because, from behind the closed door, the groom replied “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Suddenly there is a terrible finality to be faced and an awful response to their foolishness.

Can you understand the message in this parable for you? 

You and I are given the work of preparing for Christ’s return, to be ready to be part of his entourage, to accompany him to his kingly banquet.

We should be like the wise bridesmaids, not like the foolish.

Be prepared.  Have your lamp burning, trimmed and stocked with oil to keep it burning for who knows how long?

Are you ready?

To answer that question we need to think about what is your lamp, what is your oil and how do you keep it topped up?

Jesus said in Matthew 5:14, ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The lamp is you and your life which is to be seen by as many as possible to light the way to Jesus. It’s not to be hidden and secretive.  That would be so useless! Jesus has given you light and intends that you give your light to everyone – let it shine before others.

Then we see an indication as to what the oil is, that is, your good deeds which glorify your Father in heaven.

Jesus also clarifies what this oil is in other parables he told.

He told about the true and false disciples and said ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” There are people who falsely claim to be Jesus’ followers and even seem to say the right things.  But the measure of the true Christian is, “do you seek to know Jesus’ teaching and do you follow it?”

In the parable of the men who built their houses on rock while another built on and he says one of them is wise, the other foolish.

He talked about the wise men, describing them as ‘everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ 

In Matthew 24:36-45 we read the parable of the faithful servant who was ready for the master’s return.   ‘But about that day or hour no-one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. … ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.’… ‘Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? ‘

The answer is, the servant who diligently did the job and was on the job when the master returned.

The message can’t be any clearer.

Some of us might die before Jesus’ return.  Some of us might be alive when he comes.

Be on the job, doing what Jesus expects of you because he might be back any moment now.

Clearly, you need to know what his expectations are. To know this you need to keep reading the Bible, keep learning from it.

You need to keep praying, talking to Jesus, listening to his Holy Spirit so as to know what he wants of you.

Keep lighting the way. Share your light with each other. Let the rest of your family and friends know that Jesus is coming, emphasising this expectation by your readiness.

Keep encouraging each other – let people know when you notice their glow! Remind each other to keep burning. 

Let your little light shine!­