St. Matthew 25:1-13
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like 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, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 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.’
“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. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)
In Jesu Christi
The theme of the church’s teaching during the last Sunday’s of the church year is the end of this world and of Christ’s Second Coming. In short, the topic is of End Times at the end of the year. We are reminded that another year of God’s grace is about to pass.
Like the secular world which reminisces over Auld Lang Singe just before the coming new year; so too, Christians pause during the last three Sundays of the Church’s year to ponder our preparedness to enter the kingdom of heaven at Christ’s coming, be that today or sometime in the future.
We consider our present relationship with Christ in the certain knowledge that just as God established a fixed time for the deluge of the world in the days of Noah, so too the Father has established a time for the end of this age of grace, when Jesus will clearly make himself manifest to believers and unbelievers alike; that he is Lord and King of kings who will judge the world in truth.
In applying it we must first determine the point of comparison. All parables are embellished with details which serve merely to heighten the interest and enliven the story but contribute nothing of importance to the teaching and truth presented. A parable has only one point of comparison. In the chapter that precedes today’s Gospel our Lord speaks of the signs that will characterize the end of the world. Into this context then the Lord of Heaven and Earth speaks this parable “Then the Kingdom of Heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”
The ten virgins represent the whole professing church throughout the ages and so we see that the parable is not addressed to unbelievers but to all who claim the name “Christian”. Then, in the last days before the end, the Church of God here on earth will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of the virgins are called wise, five are called foolish
Actually, there are two kinds of fools. There are those who outright reject God, who boldly curse both His name and His Church, and there are those who secretly despise Him. The secret fools say in their hearts, “there is no God,” but they lack the courage and honesty to say it with their lips. They wish only to go through the motions of faith. They attend worship in order to keep their parents or other relatives off their backs, or to look good to their neighbors. They honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him (Matthew 15:8). They hold no faith in God’s promises, but they are more than happy to hold Him responsible for all of the hardships and misfortunes they bear, even when such hardships are caused by their own reckless living.
The picture before us today is old Jewish wedding custom; the bride awaits the groom to come to the home or her parents. There he will consummate their marriage, and then in a great family and community procession he takes her to the wedding feast to begin the life they would share together. Surrounded by her youthful companions the Bride waits in great eagerness for her Groom. The Groom makes his way to his Bride in the midst of a great company of his friends and community. There is great anticipation in the Bride’s household as the exact time of the Groom’s coming is not known. Then the call goes out, “The Groom approaches”; and the maidens go out to meet him. Soon the joyful procession wends its way through the streets to the place where the marriage feast was prepared. The maidens entered the hall of feasting with the rest of the bridal company. Weddings were celebrated in the evening; therefore the maidens carried lamps to light their way in the darkness.
The ten virgins in today’s Gospel are half wise and half fools, and please bear in mind how God’s Word defines wisdom and foolishness. The ten virgins are the visible Church on earth, believers and unbelievers gathered together in the same place. Half of them wisely believe that Jesus the bridegroom will soon come and they wait expectantly for Him. They plan ahead, careful that nothing distracts them from their task. The other half foolishly fail to prepare. They are those secret fools, “churchy fools,” fools who wish to go through the motions of waiting for Jesus’ return, but inwardly reject the promise that He will.
In each case, both wise and foolish, their actions merely reflect that which they already are. “The foolish ones [the unbelievers] took their lamps but did not take any oil with them” (Matthew 24:3). Take note of the fact that their actions give evidence to their unbelief: Fools act foolishly. Those who disbelieve act disbelievingly-even when they pretend to be believers. Fools act foolishly and the wise act wisely: “The wise took oil in jars along with their lamps” (Matthew 25:4). Notice that those who are wise reflect wisdom in their actions. Those who believe reflect belief in their actions.
So when this parable speaks of wise and foolish virgins, it speaks of the people who gather together in the Church on earth. Some are wise-that is, some believe. Others are fools, that is, they do not believe. Now, the point of this parable is not that we ought to look around and try to determine for ourselves who is the fool and who is the wise in our midst. That is neither our place nor our calling. The point of the parable is that when the bridegroom comes, there will be no fooling Him. He will come and gather the wise into the marriage feast, but to the fools He shall say, “I tell you thetruth, I don’t know you” (Matthew 25:12).
So it will be in the Church when the Bridegroom comes to take His bride to the heavenly marriage feast. Ten maidens will wait for His coming, with lamps in their hands, to meet the Bridegroom and to join the bridal procession. All will appear to be ready, apparently all will be adorned with festive decorations and ornaments, and all will carry lamps. Outwardly there will be no difference. All in the communion of the Church will profess faith in the Lord; all will know that the Bridegroom is coming to take His bride to the eternal home. All will act like Christians, talk like Christians, and imagine themselves to be ready for the Bridegroom and fit to enter the marriage hall. All will be waiting to meet the Bridegroom and to be present at the wedding feast. All will appear to be Christians, all will have lamps and the same dress and ornaments.
But Our Lord points out the difference that will become apparent only later. And by pointing out this difference our Lord impresses upon us that there is a distinct difference and division in the Church. Among those who wait for His appearance some are foolish. They have the outward earmarks of a Christian, they carry the symbol of watchfulness, the lamp, but they have no oil. They are without true, heartfelt faith. They are not equipped for watchful waiting. They lack the one quality that will make them acceptable as wedding guests at the marriage of the Lamb. They shut their hearts against the constant supply of the Holy Spirit.
The others are wiser. While there was yet time, earlier in the day, they acquired a supply of oil, real faith. They permitted the Holy Spirit to perform His work in them, to have His way with them, to direct and rule their conduct and life. They put on the breastplate of faith and love, the helmet of hope. They had not only the outward appearance of Christians but believed in fact, in their innermost heart.
The difference between the maidens became apparent in due time. “The bridegroom was delayed.”
The maidens waited and waited. The parable does not state whether their lamps were burning throughout the period of waiting and therefore the oil in the lamps of the foolish maidens consumed. More important is that all the maidens fell asleep. All ten slept.
We must remember that our Lord is presenting a picture of the Church in the last days before the end. Even true Christians, even the faithful, fall asleep while waiting for the Bridegroom. In the days of the early Church, the Christians waited eagerly and longingly for His coming. In Thessalonica some discontinued working for their livelihood and idly awaited the Lord’s immediate appearance.
Modern Christendom occupies itself far less with thoughts of Christ’s return. Concern for the things of this world is generally closer to our hearts than seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The faith of many has grown weak and their love cold. In the atmosphere of the last days even true believers find wakefulness and watchfulness most difficult.
“At midnight the cry rang out, ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ ” When all were asleep, when all the world lay in the slumber of security, when preoccupation with sinful indulgence was at its height, the bridegroom came unexpectedly and suddenly.
At the cry all the maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. When they attempted to trim the wick, the foolish virgins discovered that they had no oil in their lamps. Their lamps were going out at the very time they were to serve their purpose. They had no oil to replenish the lamps! They could not go to meet the bridegroom without lamps. In their dilemma they turned to the wise maidens and said: “Give us some of your oil!” These refused. So the foolish maidens rushed out to buy oil from some dealer. This was hopeless, for at this time of night all shops and markets were closed. While they vainly tried to acquire oil, the bridegroom arrived at the home of the bride.
The wise maidens met him when he approached, with their lamps burning brightly. “Those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.” Later the foolish maidens came, after a vain search for oil, and pleaded: “Lord, lord, open to us!” But the bridegroom answered from within, without opening the door: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
One is that oil is essential, an absolute necessity. Without oil the foolish maidens could not face the bridegroom. There must be true, inward faith. Again, no man can believe for another. No man can be saved by another’s faith. All must have their own oil, have oil in their own flasks and lamps, and must see to it that their flasks contain oil before the advent of the Bridegroom. Again, when the Bridegroom comes, it is too late to acquire faith. At that moment the time of grace will have come to an end—the door is shut, never to be opened again in all eternity. Again, the Bridegroom says to the maidens who had no oil, “I do not know you.” The Bridegroom knows only His own, who are united with Him by true faith. Faithless pretenders, have no claim on Him when He comes. It is not enough that we are outwardly members of a church and identify ourselves with God’s people.
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” The Bridegroom will come, but we do not know when. Therefore, the great lesson the parable teaches, is that we are to watch at all times, always be ready to meet Him.
The oil of Jesus’ parable representing God’s grace in the forgiveness of our sins and the nourish of our faith is an apt illustration; particularly in that grace, like fuel oil, continually needs to be replenished. You don’t fill your car gas tank once and never again expect to fill it, do you? If you do, such foolishness is guaranteed to get you stranded and left out in the cold. Jesus says that when the groom arrived for his bride the wise virgins had enough oil for themselves only; and so directed their sisters, who did not have an ongoing relationship of faith by God’s gracious word, v. 9, “go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.”
“What!” you say, “Can grace be purchased?” Certainly not with money; and certainly not for any price whatever, for grace by definition is the free gift of God. But yes, grace may be acquired in the sense that God uses human means to distribute his Gospel promise of grace to those who will continually receive Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
Our risen and ascended Lord says to his church, Rev. 3:18, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Also through the prophet Isaiah, that our Lord says to us, “Lo! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1).
The distribution of God’s grace is the essence, really, the sole function of Christ’s Pastoral Office in the congregation. The Pastor must preach God’s word in all its purity which always triumphantly concludes with God’s free gift of the promise that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. To those who declare and show sincere repentance and discern the true body of the Lord for forgiveness and unity, the Pastor freely gives of the Lord’s Supper. In receiving God’s grace in Christ’s body and blood, we at once receive both the gift and the payment.
Thus Jesus counsels you, “buy from Me gold refined in the fire.” Jesus is our free treasure who on the cross took all our sin to be refined to death in the fire of the Holy Spirit. It is true that the power of God’s word is such that it can convert the human heart in an instant. It is also true that as for those virgins whose oil is on low, “(a) smoking flax He will not snuff out” (Isa. 42:3); nevertheless be aware that the world, the devil and your own flesh, given half a chance, will seek any means possible to snuff your wick and your light in Christ. It is important that your “living-faith”, formed by Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, be continually nourished and replenished in order to withstand the assault from Satan who would sift you.
Dear saints of God do not be deceived. You have been given plenty of oil for your lamps of faith. The bright light of your eternal life continually finds its nourishment here, in the riches of God’s Word and in His means of grace, which are the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. You need not go elsewhere for your oil, as the foolish virgins needed, for here you are well supplied. You will not be found wanting or lacking when Jesus your Bridegroom comes for you.
Those who are fools, who lack faith and do not trust in the merits of our Lord’s death and resurrection—those fools will make a last desperate attempt to find God’s gifts, but it will be too late. Now is the time to receive what only God can offer; now is the time store up oil for “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). But you who are wise-who live by faith and trust in Jesus-you who are wise already possess all that you need. Only do not squander these God-given gifts of Word and sacrament!
Do not allow your hearts and minds to entertain any doubt, and do not wonder whether you are wise, in the Scriptural sense of wisdom. The very fact that you ask yourself the question whether you are wise or foolish, and that fact that you are concerned with the answer-these facts are evidence enough that you are already made wise unto salvation. Fools do not really care; but the wise always seek to make themselves wiser. The great bounty which is God’s grace is yours today to keep your lamp lit and prepare you for a Christian-life lived to the full. this grace will no longer be available when Christ reveals himself in his glory. On that day, at the Groom’s command, we close up shop.
St. Luke Lutheran Church and School is a one-of-a-kind congregation. Today when most churches, like our gas stations, are self-serve affairs, everybody worshiping and interpreting God’s word as is, “right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6); St. Luke is like that old fashioned full-service gas station and garage of yesterday. The service is provided free of charge and we even give away the road maps that guide you on your journey. We don’t only preach the word, but as commanded by Christ you are privileged to receive his grace in all its supply.
The parable before us today speaks to the certainty of your salvation, dear saints. “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:13), but do not doubt and do not fear. The flame of your eternal life is well-fed. God’s gifts make it so! God has given you His rich wisdom, the wisdom which comes down from above, a wisdom that has made foolish all the “wisdoms” of this world. He is given you a wisdom that grasps and holds a seemingly foolish way to life-that of a death on a cross. Yet this God-given wisdom shall not fail you, and on the Last Day, you who possess this wisdom shall by no means be counted as fools.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria