Matthew: Be Ready, Part 2: The Ten Virgins

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on September 14, 1999

Matthew 25:1-13

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If you have Bibles, please open to Matthew chapter 25. In this passage we find Jesus teaching about two types of people, those who are spiritually prepared and those unprepared for His coming. The story of the Ten Virgins, or if we were going to update it for today, the story of the ten bridesmaids is part of that instruction and that is the passage which we are going to specifically consider today. So let’s look at Matthew chapter 25, beginning in verse 1. This is God’s holy word. Take heed to it.

"Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 "And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 "For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 "Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 "But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 "Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. 8 "And the foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 "But the prudent answered, saying, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10 "And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 "And later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.' 12 "But he answered and said, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He write its eternal truths upon our hearts. Let’s pray.

Our great God and heavenly Father, You hear our prayers as we offer them up in Jesus’ name. And we ask in Jesus’ name even, now that You would give us eyes to see and ears to hear that we would take heart this warning from the lips of our Savior. That we would pay heed to it, and by the Holy Spirit we would walk in the way of light and of truth. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This story stresses the truth that now is the time for the preparation for Jesus’ coming. Then will be too late. The story of the ten virgins, the ten bridesmaids reminds us that when the day comes, it is too late to make preparation. Have you ever been caught unprepared? I suspect that you and I could both share many, many humorous stories about times when we were caught unprepared. I have been with the summer missions team in Lima for a few days. It was the last day we were there, and already my ministerial colleagues and I had discovered a pattern. Every day, Alonzo would feed us lunch. But when it came to supper, we always seemed to skip it. I mean, it was on the schedule, but we never actually got supper. Apparently Peruvians live on one meal a day. And so we decided to foil this pattern that we had seen developing and I looked down on the schedule and I noticed that on that last night that were going to be in Lima, with the team that there was nothing scheduled and so, I said, we’ll invite Alonzo out for the evening meal. And so, I said, Alonzo, we would like to take you out to supper. He said, that would be wonderful, my brother. And we would like to take you out to supper tonight. Oh, no my brother, you’re preaching. Alonzo there is nothing on the schedule. Oh no, you are preaching. What time? Fifteen minutes. Alonzo, you had me scheduled to preach evangelistically next week, in Cahamarjca. Oh, no, brother, you are going to preach an evangelistic sermon tonight, in fifteen minutes. Quick preparation. I was caught unprepared.

The first year or so of my marriage to Anne, we were living in an apartment in Clinton. Anne was still finishing her degree work at the seminary. She was keeping a heavy client load and Dr. Whitlock had just moved to Orlando. So he was commuting into town and staying in, what was at that time, basically an empty apartment. And he had come into town and Mary Lou wasn’t with him, and so, my greathearted wife said, you know we really ought to ask Luder out for a meal. We ought to have him over for supper. I said, well, honey, your schedule is very heavy. She said, no we’ll do this. This is will work. And she had clients until the middle part of the afternoon and she wanted to have the house just so, and so when she came home, she began working furiously to prepare for his arrival. Anne always likes to have fresh flowers and have the house nicely decorated and so she had called up several neighbors to see if she could clip flowers in their yards and she drove around the neighborhood with her hedge clippers in the back of the car and her nice clothes on clipping flowers here and there. And then she came home and arranged the flowers and put out the crystal and put out the china and when I arrived home about fifteen minutes ahead of time and the house looked absolutely beautiful. The china was out, the crystal was out, the flowers were out and Anne had this look of consternation on her face. And I said, what is the matter? I haven’t had a chance to prepare the food. We took him out to eat that night. The house looked great. Maybe, you too, have been caught unprepared. This is a story about being caught unprepared. But it is a situation which has no humor in it at all. In fact, the kind of unpreparedness about which Jesus speaks in this story, although there is some ironic humor here is absolutely disastrous. This is a time when you don’t want to be caught unprepared. That is what the story of the ten bridesmaids is all about.

Look with me at this passage. I think you will see three sections in the story. In verses 1-4, you will see the character of the bridesmaids described. You have ten wise bridesmaids and ten foolish bridesmaids. And they are described in that section. And then if you will look at verses 5-10, you will see the consequence of their care and the consequence of their carelessness. You will see what happened because of five of them in their care and five of them in their carelessness. And then if you will look at verses 11-13, you will see how Jesus applies the story. He will show you the consequences of their carelessness as reflected in what happens when the bridegroom comes. Let’s look at this together.

I. The character of the bridesmaids.

First, in verses 1-4, we are reminded that we ought to examine ourselves and consider whether we are wise or foolish. Whether we are nominal Christians, Christians in name only, or whether we are true Christians, trusting actively in our Savior and living only for Him. But this story, this parable stresses the need to be prepared for Jesus’ coming. But this story reminds us that when Jesus comes, there is going to be two classes of people. There are going to be some who are prepared, and some are unprepared. Some are going to be believing in Him, some are going not going to be believing in Him. Many in the church who are part of His kingdom, part ostensibly at least of His wedding feast are going to be unprepared. Remember He is speaking these words to His disciples. He is telling them, that they need to be prepared. And so as the previous parable of the faithful steward, especially applied to church leader, to ministers and to elders, so this parable especially applies to all of us as believers in Christ’s church. We must be prepared. This story tells us about a groom who was delayed longer than expected and his delay formed the opportunity to show which bridegrooms were ready and which bridegrooms were not.

Let me set the context of marriage and wedding practice in Jesus’ time. They made about as much to do over weddings as we do. In fact, their weddings tended to go on for seven days. The custom would have been for the groom on the night that the wedding feast was to begin to go to the home of his bride. He would have been betrothed to her, which is something more than engagement, he would have been betrothed to her for at least a year or so making preparation for their marriage. But the custom was for him to go to her house on that night and to speak to her parents and then they would grant her permission to go with him to the wedding feast. But, as a sign of honor, towards their daughter, these parents would traditionally keep them, the grooms waiting. The groom would come to the house and he would make his argument for bringing the bride along and the parents would delay him and stall him and talk to him and the longer they delayed, the greater it was an honor towards their daughter. Maybe they were preparing him for something that he was going to experience in marriage. I don’t know. But in this story, apparently this groom was delayed a long time. His bride’s parents honored her for a long time and the groom is delayed. And what he would do is once the parents released the bride, they would progress along with his groomsmen and then her bridesmaids would join them and they would parade through the darkness of the streets with their torches lit and they would make their way to the wedding feast. That is the setting of the story that Jesus is telling here.

But, of the bridesmaids of this bride, five of them were ready for this processional, and five of them were not. Five were prepared. But five were not. This story stresses the vital distinction between those who are outwardly, visibly part of the Lord Jesus’ kingdom. They profess His name, but some are nominal and some are real Christians. Some are Christians in name only. Some are Christians in profession only and others truly believe in Him and are ready. J.C. Ryle says, "Of all these bridesmaids, all of them profess to have one object in view, but only five were truly wise, the rest were foolish. The visible church of Christ is in just the same condition. All of its members are baptized in the name of Christ. But not all really hear His voice and follow Him. All are called Christians. All profess to be of the Christian religion, but not all have the grace of the Spirit in their hearts and are really what they profess to be."

This story is reminding us of the absolute importance of watchfulness and heart religion, if we are going to be prepared for the day of the Lord’s coming. And this kind of watchfulness requires self-examination. We must ask ourselves if we are truly in Christ? Are we truly trusting Him? And are we living in such a way that we are saying that we long for His return, that we are preparing for His return. This story of the ten virgins is a compliment to the story to the faithful and unfaithful servants in the previous passage. It gives a picture of the predicament that the disciples are going to find themselves in at Jesus’ coming if they have failed to prepare themselves for it. Because when that day comes, the day of opportunity is passed. That is the moral of the story of the ten virgins. When He comes, it is too late then, to get prepared. You must be prepared now. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the day of preparation.

II. The care and carelessness of the bridesmaids.

Look at verses 5-10 as we see the care and the carelessness then of these virgins displayed. This section teaches us that when Jesus comes, it is going to be too late to become true Christians. That commitment must be made now. We are told in verse 5 that all the bridesmaids got sleepy. Now Matthew is not recording this to condemn them. They say, the groom had been delayed for a long time. No fault is pressed there. They all got sleepy. But notice, it is the groom’s delay which provides the circumstances to tell which bridesmaids are faithful and which are not. Which are prepared and which are not. Which are true and which are not. That is the circumstance in which he comes. And in which their mettle is proven.

The plot turns on the groom’s delay. Bridegrooms in those times were often late and their comings were repeatedly announced until they arrived. And what differentiates the foolish from the wise is precisely the failure of the foolish bridesmaids to face the possibility that the bridegroom may come earlier or later than they expect. They think that are going to be able to get ready when they hear the announcement. The wise bridesmaids, ready themselves before they hear the announcement. And thus, they take advantage of their day of opportunity.

So when the arrival of the groom is announced, only five of the bridesmaids have enough oil for their torches. Their torches had enough oil on the rag to light, but immediately they begin to flicker and start to go out. They knew that they wouldn’t stay on, they wouldn’t continue to burn as they went through the street. And so they said to the other bridesmaids, share some of your oil with us. This is the first ironic thing we see in this story, by the way. And the response is no.

Now you might think in the context of a wedding ceremony that there might be a little more cooperation between the bridesmaids, but in this case, I think there is perhaps a moral behind the story. Saving grace is not transferable. Preparation is not transferable. And so Jesus has this ironic exchange here where the prepared virgins say, no there is not enough oil for both of us. We have prepared for this, you haven’t. You go out to the dealers and you buy some. Well, it is in the middle of the night. It is hardly going to be easy to find a '7-11' there in the city where they can buy their oil. And so they are going to have to wake somebody up and then of course, the story tells us that while they have gone off to buy the oil to light their lamp, at that time, the bridegroom comes. And he takes the other bridesmaids with him and they go along with the rest of the wedding party and they go into the feast and the door is shut. And they is so much pathos in that phrase, the door is shut. It reminds us of that word in the Old Testament, II Samuel 18:33: "Absalom, Absalom, my son, Absalom would that it were who would die rather than you." It is one of those many passages in the Bible where our hearts sink whenever we hear those words. The door is shut. The time had come and they were unprepared. Now is the time to prepare for the second coming of Christ. Then, will be too late.

About ten days ago a friend of mine called up. He had been struggling with bone cancer for about five years. He had been in remission on and off, but it had come back with a vengeance. And I had known him and had known his family when I was in Yazoo City. And he called me up and he said, Ligon I think I am dying. He was in a hospice by that time. The doctors had released him to the care of the hospice. And he said, you know, something has been bothering me. I trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, I profess His name. I have lived my life in light of His saving knowledge. But you know, I have never been baptized. When I made my profession of faith in the Methodist church, I slipped between the cracks. The minister who had received me into the church left the very next Sunday. And he left without baptizing me. And when the new minister came, nobody ever approached me about my baptism. And then I eventually, many years later, joined the Presbyterian church and they just assumed if I was transferring from the Methodist church on restatement of faith, or transfer of letter, that I had already been baptized, because Methodists baptize their converts. And so, it never happened, and that has been bothering me. And I said, well, Gary, you understand that water baptism is not necessary for salvation. You trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, oh, I understand that. This is not a superstitious thing. I just understand that baptism is a sign of obedience to the Lord and I want to be baptized. And I said, well, Gary that is going to be difficult. You are in a hospice and we can’t get you to a worship service. But I said, you know I think I could call your elders and they might be willing to call a special worship service. We don’t do private baptisms, but we could call a special worship service at the hospice and we could bring some friends from the congregation and we could have a worship service together and you could be baptized. And so we did. We called his elders and we went to the hospice and we gathered around and we sang together, we read the word, the word was proclaimed, and then we administered baptism. Seven days later, Gary went home to be with the Lord. And he was a man who was prepared. He was prepared for his, he was prepared by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. That man had faced that cancer without an ounce of bitterness because he trusted in the Lord and he was ready when his day came. He had made preparation. You see, this preparation is not transferable. Your mother can’t do it for you. Your father can’t do it for you. Your brother can’t do it for you. Your friends can’t do it for you. Your husband, your wife, they can’t do it for you. Only you can make this preparation. Are you prepared for the day of His coming?

III. The consequences of lack of preparation.

And then Jesus speaks of the consequences. We saw the character of these virgins in verses 1-4. We saw their carelessness and their care respectively in verses 5-10. And now in verses 11-13, you see the consequences of their behavior. Jesus begins to apply the story in verses 11-13. He tells us the final eternal consequences of unpreparedness. And we learn again here that the consequence of nominal profession of Christ, the consequence of a nominal profession of Christianity is eternal separation from God. If we profess the Lord Jesus Christ in name only, if we are Christians in name only, we face eternal separation from God.

In these verses 11-13, the story begins to fade and the reality and the applications begin to come to the surface. And note again the irony of the response of the Lord of the house. These bridesmaids who had been part of the wedding party show up late and they knock on the door and the door is shut and the response is, I don’t know you. Now you think to yourself, well that is a bit unreasonable, isn’t it? But think about it for a moment. Let’s transpose this story to the present day. Let’s say that you have invited ten young ladies to be your bridesmaids, at your wedding. And the night of the wedding rehearsal comes and you have all gathered and you have all rehearsed together and then the wedding director says right before you go, now, bridesmaids, I want you here tomorrow two hours before the wedding with your hair done and your dresses on. And the wedding day comes and the hour for the bridesmaids to arrive comes, and they are not there. Five of them are there. Five of them are not. And you draw closer and closer to the noon hour and finally five of the bridesmaids are not there and the wedding director says, we are just going to have to go on and do this wedding. An hour and fifteen minutes later, at the reception, the five absentee bridesmaids show up. No excuse. They over slept. They forgot. How would you feel about this? Jesus is saying that at the day of the wedding feast of the lands, the time for preparation is past. You must have been ready beforehand, or not ready at all.

In this story, as they cry out, Lord, Lord, and the master of the house says, I do not know you. You remember in Matthew 7:21, Jesus says that at the end there would be people who said, Lord, Lord, and what is Jesus going to say to them? I never knew you. That word 'to know' is filled with importance. To say that 'I do not know you' means not only that I do not recognize you, but it means to say that I do not acknowledge you as part of my people. In II Timothy 2:19, Paul tells us that the Lord knows those who are His. In Genesis 18, verse 19, we are told that the Lord knew Abraham. In Exodus 33, verses 12 and 17, we are told that the Lord knew Moses. In Nahum chapter 1, verse 7, we are told that the Lord knows all those who fear Him. In John chapter 10, verses 14 and 15, Jesus says, he is the good shepherd, and he knows His own and His own know me. And for Him to stand and say, I do not know you means you have never had a personal saving relationship with me. I do not know you. I do not recognize you as part of my people.

This story, you see, is putting forth the consequences of nominal unprepared Christianity. Our choices here have everlasting consequences and we must take care that we really care about the most important things. That the Lord Jesus Christ is truly Lord and Savior, that we truly trust in Him and that we are walking in His ways. Why? Because William Hendrickson tells us by no means are all who read the Bible, attend and belong to a church, sing the songs of salvation, make a public profession of faith, or even preach in Christ’s name, going to share in the blessings of Christ’s return. Some are sensible, religion with them is not a sham, and a pretense. They believe in being prepared by faith in a Savior and lives dedicated to Him and therefore to God’s triune. But others are foolish. They have a form of piety, but they deny its power. And unprepared, they travel on to meet the judge. None of us, none of us may presume to be prepared. All of us must be watchful of our hearts. We must examine ourselves to see if we are trusting in Him, lest we unprepared travel on.

At staff meeting this last Friday, Tim Horn was sharing with us about a pastor in Alabama who used to hand out gospel tracts at Presbytery and General Assembly meetings to the ministers. I thought that was kind of funny, to give gospel tracts to ministers. But it is really not, is it? The last thing you want is an unconverted minister. He wanted to make sure that they knew. Jesus is speaking this story to His disciples. These are the people that are going to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If He could speak these words of warning to them. Certainly we need to take these words to our own hearts.

On that last day, as our congregation gathers before the Lord and we hold hands before the throne, I don’t want a one of you to be unprepared and so to miss on hearing those beautiful words, well done, my good and faithful servants. Come and enjoy the glory that I have prepared for you. Now is the time. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, in this hour, there is no greater priority for us, than to make sure that our hearts are prepared by trusting in Jesus Christ. We ask, O Lord, that You would implant in each of us a desire for Him and for His kingdom, above all else. That we would truly trust not ourselves, nor our faith, but the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation. We ask it in His name. Amen.

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