The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 12, 2023
The Time In Between—
A Time For Watchfulness!
1“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The 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. 8The 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. (NIV1984)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For many people— myself included— waiting doesn’t come naturally. We live in an instant gratification culture. We want what we want— and we want it now! Read a book? Takes too long. Stream me the movie. Make dinner from scratch? Tovala or Door-Dash is faster and easier. Write a letter to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while? Just add them as one of your Facebook friends. But sometimes if we do wait— or to be more specific, if we have to wait— such as waiting to finish your education until after the kids are grown, or waiting to volunteer until after you retire, well, there’s a risk in that isn’t there. If the waiting goes on for too long there is the risk that we lose sight of what we were waiting for. There is the risk that we get distracted by something else. There is the risk that we simply give up.
Ever since our Lord ascended Home to heaven His people, the Church, have been waiting for His return to this earth. In the early years after Jesus’ Ascension there was eager expectation for Jesus to quickly fulfill His promise and return to this earth. Then it began to seem that the waiting was too long. Did we misunderstand what Jesus said? Is Jesus not going to keep His promise? Is Jesus ever coming back? How long are we supposed to wait?
Since waiting is not easy for us and since there is the risk that we lose sight of what we are waiting for, or get distracted by something else, or simply give up— Jesus gives us the parable that serves as our text for today. As we continue focusing on The Time In Between, that is, the time in between Christmas and Judgment Day, let’s see how our Savior emphasizes that The Time In Between is: A Time for Watchfulness!
Matthew once again takes us back to Holy Week. This was the week that Jesus’ enemies brought some of their most pointed attacks against Jesus. This was the week that Jesus spoke some of His harshest judgments against the religious leaders of God’s people— “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees…” (See Matthew 23:13ff). This is the week that Jesus encouraged His disciples to recognize the signs that will indicate that the end of the world is drawing near. (See Matthew 24:1ff) This is the week that Jesus encouraged His disciples to always be vigilant because no one knows the day or the hour of His return. It is in this context that Jesus uses a parable to impress upon us that we need to see that the time in between His first coming into this world and His second coming into this world is indeed a time for watchfulness!
The Parable of the Ten Virgins was easily relatable for the people who first heard Jesus speak these words— far more relatable than it is for us today. According to the Jewish marriage customs of Jesus’ day when two people wanted to spend the rest of their lives with each other there was first a “betrothal”— a religious ceremony which legally bound a man and a woman together as husband and wife. Then some time later— perhaps even weeks later— the bridegroom would go to the house of the bride and bring her home as his wife. When that time arrived the bride’s attendants, the virgins here in our text, would go out to meet the groom and escort him to his bride. The lamps that the virgins carried not only served to light the way, but they also served as festive lights for the joyous occasion.
While all of that was very familiar to the people in Jesus’ day and while of all that is relatively easy for us to understand, the next part of Jesus’ parable is not. Jesus goes on to describe the virgins by saying, “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, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”
Outwardly all ten virgins looked the same. All of them were undoubtedly close friends of the bride. All of them were anxiously looking forward to escorting the bridegroom to his bride. The difference between them is that five of them were “wise” and five of them were “foolish.” The word that is translated here as “foolish” can also be translated as “senseless.” The “foolish” virgins didn’t have the “sense” to bring along any extra oil. Perhaps they thought that they would not have to wait long for the bridegroom to arrive. The word that is translated as “wise” can also be translated as “sensible.” The ”wise” virgins were “sensible” enough to anticipate that they may have to wait a while for the bridegroom to arrive, so they brought along extra oil— just in case. They wanted to be ready no matter how long they had to wait.
How does this part of Jesus’ parable apply to you and to me? Look at it this way: The ten virgins represent all of the people, all of the church members, who are waiting for Jesus, the Bridegroom to return to this earth. On the outside all of these people look the same, but in their hearts they are not. In their hearts some are “wise” and “sensible” and some are “foolish” and “senseless.” The “foolish” members think they are prepared to meet Jesus face-to-face when He returns as the Judge of the living and the dead, but from God’s perspective they are like “lukewarm” Christians. They don’t see a need to attend church on a regular basis. They don’t see the benefit of studying God’s Word or receiving the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis. In short, their supply of “oil,” their supply of faith, is not nurtured and replenished with the spiritual food God has graciously given to them.
The ”wise” and “sensible” members are those who understand that since they don’t know how long they will have to wait for the Bridegroom to return, they need to come to church and receive the Lord’s Supper as often as they can! They need to strengthen and nourish and replenish their faith on a regular basis!
Jesus then highlights the seriousness of always being prepared for His return in two ways. First He goes on to say in our text, “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.’”
Jesus’ return to this earth will come suddenly and unexpectedly— like a “thief in the night.” (See Matthew 24:42-44) Once Jesus returns there is no time left to prepare. Those who are “wise” and “sensible” have nothing to fear. They are ready to meet the Bridegroom. Those who are “foolish” and “senseless” quickly realize that they are not as prepared as they thought they were. They panic and beg the “wise” to share some of their “oil” with them, but the answer is, “No.” This reminds us that each and every one of us is personally and individually responsible for preparing our own heart to meet the Bridegroom. In other words, no one can believe for someone else. A parent cannot believe for their child, a child cannot believe for their friend. If we want to help someone be prepared to meet the Bridegroom we must help them now — before the Bridegroom arrives!
The second way in which Jesus highlights the seriousness of always being prepared for His return is found in these words, “But while they were on their way to buy oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir!’ ‘Sir!’ they said, ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’”
It doesn’t get any more serious than this, my friends. From the perspective of the Bridegroom, from Jesus’ perspective, all people fall into one of two groups. There are the “wise,” the people who are prepared to meet Him when He returns to this earth. They will be welcomed into the “wedding banquet” where they will enjoy eternity celebrating in the presence of God— because they are “known” by God! Then there are the “foolish,” the people who may have thought they were prepared to meet the Bridegroom but neglected to strengthen and nourish and replenish their faith through regular use of God’s holy Word and God’s holy Supper. As a result they are not “known” by God.
To be known by God is a tremendous comfort. To be known by God means to cling to His promise given to us at the time of our Baptism, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). To be known by God means that we not only belong to Him, but He freely shares with us everything that belongs to Him! On the other hand, to hear God say to someone, “I don’t know you,” results in nothing but doom. The gates of heaven are closed to them. They are not allowed to enjoy the marriage feast of the Lamb. There is no second chance. There is no appeal process. If someone’s only claim is that outwardly they lived a decent, respectable, upright life, but their heart was not filled with faith and trust in Jesus as their Savior, then when He returns to this earth they will hear Him say, “I don’t know you.”
So what do we want to take home with us today. Jesus answers that question very clearly when He says to us in the closing verse of our text, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or hour.”
The time for watchfulness is now! Will Jesus come back today or tomorrow or many years from now? We don’t know! That’s why we always need to be ready, prepared and watching! What might cause us to not be ready? What might cause us to not be prepared? What might cause us to not be watching? The same risks that we face when we are waiting for something in our day-to-day lives here on this earth, are the risks that we face as we are waiting for Jesus to return to this earth.
There is the risk that we lose sight of what we are waiting for. The world in which we live can have a huge negative impact here. As far as the world is concerned there is no need to be watching and waiting for Jesus to return to this earth. As far as the world is concerned watching and waiting for Jesus to return to this earth is a waste of time. As far as the world is concerned a better use of our time would be doing everything we can to combat climate change and to prevent nuclear war. As far as the world is concerned instead of watching and waiting for Jesus to return to this earth there are better and more important things that we can and should be doing.
There is also the risk that as we are watching and waiting for Jesus to return to this earth that we get “distracted” by other things. It’s not difficult to come up with a list of things that can easily distract us. There is: our education, our job, our family, our friends, the various recreational opportunities we have to pick from, the quest for money, the quest for material possessions, the quest for success, the quest for pleasure. These are just a few of the many things that can easily distract us from waiting and watching for Jesus to return.
And then there is the risk that we simply get tired and give up. It’s difficult to watch and wait for something that from our perspective is taking too long. Our old sinful nature is inclined to forget the fact that even if something has not happened yet, that does not mean that it won’t happen. Our old sinful nature is constantly urging us to live as if the things of this life are the only things that are actually real, so give up your pipe dreams and concentrate on your reality.
How do we overcome those risks as we are watching and waiting for Jesus to fulfill His promise to return to this world? We begin by looking at how faithfully our God always fulfills all the promises that He makes to us! In His holy Word God promised that He would send His own Son into this world to crush the head of Satan and save us from our sins. Did He fulfill that promise? Yes He did! In His holy Word God promised that His Son would physically rise from the dead to prove that He is the Victor over sin, death and the devil. Did He fulfill that promise? Yes He did! In His holy Word Jesus not only promised that He is preparing a room for us in His heavenly Father’s Home, but that one day He will come back to take us to be with Him for all of eternity. Will He fulfill that promise? He most certainly will!
The pattern I am trying to emphasize here is very simple. Since Scripture assures us that our God always fulfills all the promises He makes to us, the more we are in the Scriptures, the more we are reading and studying our Bible, the easier it will be for us to overcome whatever risks we might face as we are watching and waiting for Jesus to fulfill His promise to return to this earth.
My prayer this morning, my friends, is this: Just because you know that Jesus is going to return to this earth does not automatically mean that you are prepared to meet Him. Consciously follow the example of the “wise” and “sensible” virgins who made sure that they brought extra “oil” with them so that no matter how long they had to wait they would be ready for the bridegroom. Let their example serve as a powerful reminder to you of how important it is to replenish the “oil” of your faith through regular use of God’s holy Word and God’s holy Supper. As you are regularly strengthening and nourishing your faith then you will have the joy and the comfort of knowing that when your Bridegroom (Pointing to the cross) fulfills His promise to return to this earth, He will say to you, “Come! Come and enjoy My wedding banquet!”
To God be the glory!