Good morning. I feel a little bit like Chris Davis this morning. If you are an O’s fan, you might remember that in May of 2012, five hours and fifteen innings into a Sunday -afternoon game at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox, O’s skipper Buck Showalter turned to designated hitter Chris Davis and had him warm up in the bullpen. All the other relief options were exhausted – eight relief pitchers in total – and Davis had gone 0 for 6 as the designated hitter. But in he went, the last option on a Sunday afternoon…
With Pastor Bill on vacation, and all the relievers unavailable, I guess it falls to me for this morning’s message. I hope I can do as well as Chris did four years ago…
There are five major discourses by Jesus document in the Gospel of Matthew. The fifth and last discourse occurs during Jesus’ final week on earth, after he has made the triumphal entry in Jerusalem, and upended the temple money changers. Sometime in the middle of the week, Jesus had retired to the Mount of Olives, and was preaching on the end times and the coming judgement. It is this preaching – in Matthew 23, where Jesus’ harsh criticism of the Pharisees reach its zenith and the Pharisees begin plotting to undo his ministry and destroy him.
The imagery here in Jesus’ language becomes darker and more apocalyptic, and the disciples, growing worried, quietly come to him, and push for Jesus to tell them when the end times will happen, and what will be the sign?
Jesus’ immediate reply in Matthew 24:36 at first seems evasive, “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.“
But the answer is not evasive, it’s a warning – and it sets up the parable to follow in chapter 25.
At first, it’s a warning against listening to false teachings about the end times. Only God knows the day and hour – no one else. Not me. Not you. Not pop-theology authors and television hosts. Not Pastor Bill. No politician. Not even Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Only God The Father knows the day and the hour, and he has not revealed it.
It also acts a lead-in for the parable, because Matthew 25:1-13, commonly known as the “Parable of the Ten Virgins”, hinges entirely on one event: the time and place chosen by the Father, and the Father alone—a custom that Jesus’ disciples would understand as the linchpin of the Jewish wedding ceremonies of the time. And it was a common metaphor to the disciples and Jesus’ other followers – the nature and structure of earthly marriage as a reflection or “shadow” of the plan for redemption and the covenant between God and His people.
Let’s open our bibles and turn to Matthew, chapter 25:
1″At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The 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. 8 The 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. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
As we read through the parable, understand that Jewish wedding ceremonies of the 1st century were vastly different than what we call a wedding today. In fact, “marriage” as a concept is – fair to say – different than what our culture calls “marriage” today. And it would help to understand a little more about that ritual to understand the significance of the parable…
The first step of a Jewish wedding was called the ‘SIDDIKUHN”: the negotiation of a betrothal by the father of the bridegroom by selecting a bride for his son.
God chose US to be His Beloved Son’s precious bride: from Ephesians 1:4 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
The next step in the wedding process was a legal contract called the KETUBAH, which stipulates the conditions of the proposed marriage.
Our KETUBAH is the New Covenant, where the groom (Jesus) promises to love and care us and give Himself for us. He has also paid the proper price for us (His own life). In return, we promise to yield our lives to Him and preserve ourselves for him.
The Mohar or “Bride Price” is the gift paid by the bridegroom to the bride’s family—but ultimately belongs to the bride. It frees her from her parent’s household and changes her status.
Our Mohar is Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. He was asked how much he loved His loved his bride, and he stretched out his arms and said “This much. That I will die for her.” He paid a blood price for us. As St Peter wrote in 1 Peter, Chapter 1 verses 18 and 19 : “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
The Mohar also frees us from our sin. It frees us from the penalty of our sin now, and in the future.
Following the Mohar, we come to the Eyrusin, or Betrothal. Also called Kiddushin, this is literally a time of “sanctification” or “set apart”. The couple is set apart from one another to undergo the ritual Mikveh (or “immersion”) to be cleansed and made pure and to prepare to enter their New Covenant of marriage.
As believers, we have been ‘set apart’ and baptized by the Holy Spirit, who works in us even now to build and perfect our faith and prepare us to spend eternity with Jesus in heaven
During the betrothal, the bridegroom will return to his father’s house and begin by preparing their new home –usually a new room in his father’s house – to be prepared as the bridal chamber for his bride.
This is just as Jesus promised in John 14:3-4: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
It does not take a grand theologian – WHICH I AM CERTAINLY NOT — to see the thread that God has sewn into the tapestry of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry – and just a few days hence, his death and resurrection.
And it is here that the disciples ask that natural question, “So when is the wedding?” Or, as we might say today to a betrothed couple, “Have you set a date yet?”
And Jesus says, “Only the father knows.” Because in a Jewish wedding ceremony in the first century, it was the father of the bridegroom who decided when the bridal chamber (and the bridegroom) were ready. Until then, the bride and her attendants would wait expectantly, ever ready to hear the call, “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
In those days, the bridegroom would be announced by a blast from a shofar – a ram’s horn trumpet. And all the wedding guests and attendants would carry oil lamps on the procession from the bride’s parent’s house to the wedding banquet. Only those with lamps would generally be admitted – the rest being considered the 1st century version of wedding crashers.
And so we come to the significance of the ten virgins: five of whom have saved enough oil, and trimmed the wicks of their lamps so they would burn steadily. And five who, were not quite so prepared. They were foolish even. They waited until the last minute.
Now why did matter about the wicks and the oil? Wicks burn brightest and most efficiently when just the tip of the wick is exposed to air, providing enough oxygen for combustion without causing smoke (too much oil) or the wick extinguishing (too little oil). A trimmed wick – one without carbon and soot on the end – would burn long, evenly and brightly. And in a typical procession, it could take a lot of oil to go from the bride’s house to the bridegroom’s house and the wedding banquet.
And the five who were prepared refused to share with the five who weren’t, so they missed the procession, and when they arrived at the wedding banquet… the doors were locked. And the bridegroom said, “Truly, I do not know you!”
And they were shut out of the wedding banquet, unwelcome guests left outside the gates to the house.
The wedding banquet in Matthew 25:10 is Heaven. As the Apostle John wrote in Revelation 19:9: “Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
The foolish virgins would be shut out of Heaven.
I think there are two lessons that come out of the Parable of the 10 Virgins. The first is obvious, in verse 13: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” We must always be ready – Semper Paratus – for the Kingdom of Heaven, because it will come when we are least expecting it. Like the good Boy Scout, we must always “Be Prepared”.
The second lesson is that you are all in, or all out. With Jesus there is no “hedging the bet” with a just little oil. There is no advantage in “waiting until the last minute”. You cannot keep one foot on the boat and one foot on the pier forever. Jesus wants us to choose him: not as least bad of many options, but as the true choice of our hearts.
He won’t claim to know those who are only partially vested in going to the wedding, and they will be left outside.
But what can we do? What can we do to prepare for something when we do not know the when?
There a lot of things we can do to prepare for Jesus’ return to take us to the wedding of all creation. Lucky for us, none of them involve gift registries, ceremonies, or wedding receptions. But I want to focus on three things we can do now, starting today:
The first thing we can do, is to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior.
It’s not a popular position to state in our culture right now, but we are in a Methodist Church, and it happens to be Methodist doctrine, and I am going to say it: You cannot possibly go to Heaven if you do not know Jesus Christ.
The Bible is emphatic in Romans 3:23 that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Romans 6:23 says that “The wages of sin is death.” We are all sinners. Every single person who has EVER lived, EXCEPT Jesus Christ, was a sinner. That doesn’t mean every one of us is or was especially or inherently evil, but it does mean that we are imperfect, and we are separated from God so long as we remain imperfect, and there is nothing we can do to become perfect on our own.
Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for that sin. Through Him and Him alone can we know God personally and experience his love and salvation.
Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, “Christ died for our sins…He was buried…He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred…”.
And John 14:6 records, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me”.
And the Bible says in John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
We must each make a decision to receive God’s grace by accepting Jesus Christ into our lives as Savior and Lord, and recognizing that only his atoning death on the Cross two thousand years ago is sufficient to free us from sin and let us enter into fellowship with the God of all creation. Only Christ can restore us to a rightful relationship with the Heavenly Father.
The Bible promises us in John 1:12 that, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name”.
We receive that right to become children of God through faith… there is nothing we can on our own to earn this, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,9 : “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works that no one should boast”.
Jesus wants us to call for him. In Revelation 3:20, he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him.”
Only by choosing Christ as Lord and Savior can we be assured of our place at the great wedding banquet. And the sooner, the better. We do not want to be like the five foolish versions… waiting and procrastinating until it is too late, and the wedding banquet is locked.
If you haven’t made that decision yet in your life, I beg of you to do it. You can do it now, sitting right here in church. You can quietly bow your head, and pray, “Lord Jesus, I want to know You personally. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving me of my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.“
Choosing Christ means, to paraphrase the missionary Jim Elliot, giving up what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose.
The second thing we can do to prepare for Jesus to take us to the wedding is to build and strengthen our relationships with another.
We are many parts, but one body. You are the feet, I am a hand. Others are toes, and fingers, or eyes and ears. We are one body, and a body works best when all of its parts work together. And we do that by sharing our lives with one another.
We are relational beings. God created man and woman to have a relationship with them. Relationships matter. We form families and communities through relationships. We serve one another, encourage one another, love one another. As it says in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another”.
Join a life group, or an affinity group here at Hereford United Methodist Church. Help work in a ministry. Serve in the King’s Café, or help out in Sunday School. Help visitors on campus as a greeter. Pitch in at the Food Bank. Sing in the choir. Lead a bible study. Volunteer to preach a sermon!
Shared burdens stop being burdens and become joys, acts of mercy, and kindness.
Lets’ not leave anyone behind for a want of a little oil for their lamps.
We are commanded by our Savior in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.“
The third thing we can do to prepare for Jesus is to build and strengthen our church through worship and fellowship.
Worship and Fellowship are not for us. They are for God. Coming together to worship and praise and fellowship God is an act of obedience, an act of faith, and an act of love. It is the rehearsal dinner for the wedding banquet when we will be presented to Christ as his bride.
If prayer is a way that we connect individually to God, so that the Holy Spirit may mold and shape our hearts to make us more Christ-like as individuals, so that we may put on the robes of righteousness, then worship and fellow are the time we come together corporately, as the body of Christ, to share in his grace and manifest blessings upon us.
This is Jesus’ promise to us from Matthew chapter 18: 19-20:
Imagine the power of worship when we view it through that lens!
Worship and fellowship prepare us, teaches us, and mold us. It is our time to set apart not to just pay homage our God and King, but to let the Holy Spirit to prepare us for our eternal lives in Heaven.
Worship and fellowship remind us that we will not walk this path alone, but that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. More important than ourselves. It forges us into one body, one church… into the perfect bride.
Three things we can do to be ready for that day, when the trumpet will sound and the bridegroom will appear, and take us to our new home – Heaven, where will be seated not as distant guests but as the bride to the King of the Kings and Lord of Lords.
Let us pray.