November 16, 2014
Third Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant
Matthew 25:1-13 / Always Prepared
The anticipation has been growing. Hearts are overjoyed with what is coming. Some, on the other hand, are simply awaiting misery. Nevertheless, the proper gear is pulled out from the deepest corners of the garage. Cars are prepped. Jackets and wool socks are once again seeing the light of day. What seemed to be so improbable has now become ever so real. And to the joy or sorrow of everyone, winter is upon us! We knew that winter was coming, we just didn’t know when. The signs were all there. So, the right preparations needed to be made for this day so that when winter actually came you wouldn’t be caught off guard. And isn’t it your natural reaction to think how rather ignorant the people are who fail to prepare. Or don’t you maybe think some people are just crazy who choose not to wear the proper attire for the frigid temperatures? We look at them and question their intelligence, thinking, “Did you not feel that you might need something warmer than a sweatshirt?”
But there are those times that I need to shut my mouth, because I’m the very one not prepared. Oh, and don’t give me that eye roll, thinking I’ve never been unprepared! What about the times when YOU were caught unprepared for something like winter or maybe something as simple as a sporting event? Isn’t it rather embarrassing and uncomfortable? I don’t think I can count on my fingers the number of times I traveled long distances to a soccer practice or a soccer game, only to frantically rummage through my athletic bag, rummage through the car, go back to my bag, back to the car. My heart is pumping so fast and so hard I can hear it in my ears. I forgot my jersey, or I forgot my shinguards, or my shoes. Well, you can’t play when you forget those items! And then you get that look of disappointment from the coach or even your parents. It’s heartbreaking. But a sports game is nothing compared to what Jesus was getting after in our lesson for today.
Jesus’ life was winding down. He didn’t have much time left on this earth. It was already the Tuesday of his passion week when Jesus spoke these words to his disciples. Just imagine walking with Jesus, his heart fixed on what was to come and yet the disciples seemingly ignorant of that very same task. And as they proceeded up the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked what the end of the world would be like. Just like the fact that we know winter is coming because of the colder weather, and the turning leaves, so Jesus said there would be signs. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” And he goes on to mention persecution, false prophets, the increase of wickedness and on and on. The disciples could see that some of those very same signs that Jesus had mentioned were happening at that moment! And those same signs are happening in our lifetime too! You could probably sense that the disciples were trying to figure out when THE End of the world would be and when God would come to judge the world.
It would be nice to know that, right? Just like, it would be nice to know when I was going to die, wouldn’t it be? I could get all my things in order at home. I could make sure my will is set up. I would probably get some last minute traveling in, or a my favorite meal in. That would be nice to know those things. It would be nice to know when the end of the world was. If we knew the end of the world was next week, we would probably do some of the same things. But then, I would probably also read the bible, try to tell some people about Jesus, and THEN I would be ready for judgment day. But Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples or us when the end will be. Instead, Jesus gave this parable about these women in the bridal party waiting for the groom to show up.
Some in the group were foolish. The foolish were considered foolish not because their IQ was low, but because they didn’t bring any extra oil with them as they waited for the bridegroom. It seems as if they had some oil for their lamps but they were not fully prepared to face a long night of waiting and did not bring any extra oil with them. It seemed as if they had no idea of the personal obligation in bringing their own oil. So, maybe, it wasn’t from forgetfulness, but from willfully ignoring, thinking that there would be enough at the house or that there would be enough time to get some at the announcement of the bridegroom or even that the bridegroom would come much sooner. They thought they had time! They were just living in the moment in the here and the now.
In the mindset of many people, religion and Christianity is only about how you feel here and now as if it is merely a temporary remedy to the problems of life. As if it is simply a bandaid on a life in need of much more. Christianity is so often thought of to only bring comfort to the emotions when necessary. When the times are bad, that’s when we need Jesus like a crutch. When the times are good, what’s the point? We’ve made it 2000 years since Jesus was on earth. I think if I carry on my business for one night, I’ll be fine. I doubt he’s coming back soon.
But you have probably had that same feeling I had with my soccer equipment when something wasn’t ready for the appropriate time. Think about if you pushed off paying your taxes and you didn’t realize until May 1st that you didn’t pay. It’s too late! Taxes are to be paid before April 15th. The overwhelming thought of “oh no!” In the same way will it be with those who foolishly stuck with only the outward forms of Christianity or put their faith on the back burner and had nothing to do with committing their hearts and their lives to Him. They grow as careless as their Christianity. And when their faith is put to the test, they have no extra oil in their lamps.
When the foolish virgins asked the wise ones for some extra oil, they were denied. In our spiritual lives, no one can give of their own faith to another person. You can’t cling to the coattails of someone else’s faith to get you into heaven, thinking, “Well my family has been members here since the church started, I’m going to heaven.” No! Each individual is personally responsible. We can’t just hide under the idea and community of the church. Many are satisfied with just the ‘membership’ of a church. They are happy being part of a church on record but neglect personal bible reading, or even worship and their reception of the Lord’s Supper. They care little for the inner life, still expecting to go to heaven. But as Jesus points out, our lives require personal preparation. When they realize this, it will be too late. When the ‘door was shut,’ meant that when a person dies or if Judgment Day comes in our lifetime, the clock of God’s grace has run down. To hear the words, “I honestly don’t know who you are” really hits home. For example, say you grew up with your best friend, and you did everything together. One day you hear your friend is getting married and you call him up and he responds, ‘Excuse me, who are you again? You’re not in my phone contacts.” That hurts. Jesus here was looking to strike some terror into the hearts of his followers who had despised him, or those who just grew careless and lost their faith.
However, Jesus gave this lesson and told this parable for a reason. He was speaking about the people in His Church. Jesus loves his people like the groom loves the bride. He wants us to come to the heavenly feast. God wants us to be prepared. As Christians we should supply ourselves with more and more oil by studying the Word so that our faith might grow stronger. Any careless attitude toward an increase in faith and knowledge may only prove to be disastrous in the end.
So the question really comes down to this: Are you ready for his return? Are you personally and individually ready for when the groom, Jesus Christ, returns to meet his bride, which is the church? This parable of Jesus is a very practical lesson and a serious one for you and me teaching us that the Lord’s coming will be very unexpected. And on that last day, on Judgment Day, there will be no “sort of” invited people that can crash the party if they want to. To use the terms that Jesus used in his other parable that we heard last week, you are either a sheep or a goat, and there is no other option. You will be either judged righteous or condemned. In our world today, it might be difficult to see who are these people, but at the judgment the Lord will know. God surely wants us to be prepared and has given us so many opportunities to strengthen our faith in his Word. If we fail to take advantage of these opportunities, we have nobody to blame but ourselves on the last day if we are unprepared.
Can we ever be truly prepared for Christ’s return? The answer is not on our own. On our own we would be like the foolish virgins. Even on our best day we could never be fully ready. We see that in the parable. Even the wise virgins fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom. But in his grace, God has awoken us from our slumber with his Word. He has called us to faith, fed us, clothed us with righteousness. God has done everything to make you right with him and holy in his sight. When we hold on to his Word and promises, we will be ready. So, on that Last Day, God won’t see the wretchedness and lack of preparation of our sinful nature, but He will see Christ, the holy perfect sacrifice, the groom returning to the bride.
So our lives are like preparing to run a marathon. You’d never go out and run a marathon right now. For us average folk, there is a lot of preparation and a lot of training involved. But the goal and object are always in sight. For a marathon runner, beating the competition and making it to the finish line first would be the goal. For us Christians, we aren’t looking to compete and beat other people. However, as we run this long marathon of a life waiting for the end, Christ is the object of our faith. We continually look to him for strength and comfort as we wait patiently for his return, prepared for any time because we don’t know when! And the final goal is heaven, where we will be able to enjoy the first fruits of what Christ has accomplished for us.
I’m almost jittery with excitement and anticipation and I'm not just talking about the upcoming winter, even though I’m excited for that. Are you ready for Christ’s return? Since we don’t know when the Lord will come again, we faithfully persevere and as Paul says in Hebrews that we should not give up meeting together, but to encourage one another! We ask that God continue to be with us and strengthen us as we prepare for that last day. Amen.
And the peace and love of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.