“The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (Matthew 25:1-13)

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 8, 2020

“The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (Matthew 25:1-13)

Today we are entering the last three Sundays of the church year. And, appropriately enough, the readings these weeks all have to do with the end times and the second coming of Christ. You see, the church year mirrors the life of our Lord, culminating in his return on the Last Day. And so the last things of this age are emphasized in the last days of the church’s calendar. But while we know exactly when the church year will end, we do not know when our Lord Jesus Christ will return. “You know neither the day nor the hour,” Jesus says. Thus the need for the church, for us, to be ready for his coming. He may return tonight or tomorrow or next year or a hundred years from now. We don’t know when. But we do know that–that he is coming back to take his church home to himself. So we want to be ready whenever he comes. And that’s what our Gospel reading today is about: being ready, whenever Jesus comes again. Jesus urges this upon us, this need for readiness, in the story that he tells us today, “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.”

The story involves a wedding procession that would accompany a first-century Jewish wedding. The customs back then were a little different from today, so I guess I need to explain. A man and a woman would first become betrothed, which was more than our being engaged, but not quite our being married. The man and the woman would not yet be living under the same roof. But having become betrothed, the actual wedding would follow after some amount of time. Which could vary. What would happen is, the bridegroom would leave his house, head over to the woman’s parents’ house, where she was living, and bring her back to his place. There would be an evening wedding procession, kind of like a torchlight parade, with the friends of the couple accompanying them back to the man’s house for the big marriage feast.

So, for instance, the girl’s friends would be stationed somewhere near her house, oil lamps or torches at the ready, waiting for the bridegroom to appear, the exact time of which could be something of a surprise. The lamp or torch would need oil to work, olive oil, most likely. So it was important that you not only would have a lamp or torch, but also oil, or else your lamp would not stay lit. Well, that’s the setting for the story that Jesus tells.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” As in most of the parables, Jesus is telling a story to let us know something about the kingdom of heaven. This one is about how people will be either ready or not ready to meet Christ at his return. The people are portrayed here as ten virgins, ten young women. We might also translate, “ten maidens.”

“Five of them were foolish, and five were wise,” Jesus says. The term for “wise” could also be translated, “sensible.” How these five will act will be sensible, wise, because they will be ready and prepared for the bridegroom’s coming. The other girls in the story are described as “foolish.” The Greek word used here is related to our word, “morons.” They were morons, because they were not ready. They were not prepared for what was coming. They were “stuck on stupid,” as we might say. “Foolish” girls, these five.

“For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” The foolish girls had lamps or torches alright, but they didn’t bring anything to keep their lamps lit! No oil! That was dumb! The smart girls know you need oil, if you’re going to participate in a torchlight parade.

So these gals, all ten of them, know that the bridegroom is coming. They’ve been told that much, and they’re waiting to meet him. But some are prepared, and some are not. This is a picture of the outward, visible church, all of whom should be in a position to greet their returning Lord. But mixed together in the visible church, there are some who are ready and some who are not. There are some in the church who are true believers, and some who are only hypocrites–outwardly associated with a visible church, perhaps, but that’s all. They may be church members, but they are not really believing in, trusting in, looking forward to, the Lord Jesus Christ when he returns.

“As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” Well, the bridegroom takes longer than any of them expect, not early evening, but late evening, even as late as midnight. They all fall asleep, all ten of them, the wise and the foolish. But in this story, the sleeping is there only to indicate the long delay, not to show any negligence or unpreparedness on the part of the wise virgins. They were wise, after all, and they did come prepared with oil for their lamps. The foolish girls, on the other hand–they would have been foolish even if the groom had come earlier, because they had brought no oil in the first place.

The delay of the bridegroom corresponds to the relative “delay” of the return of Christ. He would not come again within the lifetime of the apostles or during the early church. In fact, we are still waiting for him today. It seems like a delay. But God is working all things out in his own good time. When Christ will return, we do not know. It could be a while yet, but whenever he comes, we want to be ready. So the question is: Do you have oil for your lamp?

“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.’” The moment they had been waiting for has arrived. Time for the wedding procession! Get your lamp lit! Trim off the charred edge, and light it up! “Oops!” say the foolish virgins, “we forgot to bring any oil!”

“But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you. . . .” Apparently, they did not have any extra . . . virgin . . . olive oil. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) “‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’” The foolish girls are faced with an existential crisis. The other girls have no oil to spare, it’s midnight, and now they have to scramble to find what they need for the wedding–which they could have had, which they should have had, earlier on, if only they had not been so foolish.

“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.” Too late. There will come a time when it is too late. “The door was shut.” Ominous words.

“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.’” This is the danger of being foolish, being unprepared. It will be too late, and you will be shut out. And you do not want to be shut out of this wedding feast. No, for this will be the great and eternal feast.

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” That’s the bottom line. Be ready. Be prepared. Don’t think that just because there’s been a delay, that the bridegroom is not coming. No, he is coming, he could come at any moment, so don’t put off being prepared.

So now the question obviously comes: How do we get prepared? You need to have oil for your lamp. Just having a lamp is not enough. Merely having some outward association with the church–even sitting in a pew occasionally–is not the same as actually believing in and trusting in and looking forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank God, the good news today is this: 1) It is not too late, and 2) the oil is free and plentifully available. First, it’s not too late. It’s not midnight yet. Jesus has not yet returned. This is the opportune time to check and see if you have the oil that you need. Listen: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” In other words, repent and believe the gospel. Realize that you are a sinner who cannot stand in the day of judgment on your own. You need what only Jesus can give you: Forgiveness for all of your sins. Righteousness, his perfect righteousness, to stand before God on Judgment Day. Trust in Christ your Savior. That’s the only sensible thing to do. Don’t be stuck on stupid. Now is the time to receive and rely on the free gifts Christ has to give you, to be received by faith, so that your lamp will be burning brightly at his return.

And so, second, the oil is free, and it is plentifully available. It’s like the invitation in Isaiah 55: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk”–or, in this case, oil–“without money and without price.” Christ has bought all the oil you need for you, and he gives it to you as a free gift. It’s the righteousness you need, as well as the faith to believe it. That righteousness, Christ won for you at great cost, the cost of his holy precious blood shed for you on the cross. That faith, the Holy Spirit works in you through the gospel, through the means of grace. This Spirit-given faith is yours in plentiful supply, as plentiful as the Word and Sacrament you receive here week by week. Friends, there is no oil shortage. And the price could not be any lower.

Oil for your lamps? You got it! No oil shortage here! Instead, there is a free and plentiful supply: purchased by Christ your Savior, supplied by the Spirit, through the means of grace distributed here at this filling station called the church. Fill, baby, fill! And you will be ready, wise ones, whenever our Lord returns.

Published in: on November 6, 2020 at 9:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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