As you’re being seated, please take your Bibles and turn to page 830, if you’re using a pew Bible. We’ll be studying Matthew 25 verses 1 through 13, as we conclude this evening our brief study of the parables. We close with the parable of the ten virgins. Again, this is found on page 830, if you’re using a pew Bible; Matthew 25 and verses 1 through 13. This is the inspired and therefore inerrant Word of the living God. Let us listen carefully to it:
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 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.’ 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.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 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. 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.’ Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. Let us pray and ask His blessing on it!
Father, now we are those who need wisdom. We admit to being foolish this evening. Would You instruct us through what we have just read and by the preaching of Your Word? We are so thankful for it. Open our eyes. Give us ears to hear what the Spirit would say to the churches. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
There were only thirty-seven laps left. He was in the lead. His fuel light was on, and a caution flag was waving because a wreck had just happened. And yet he radioed back to the crew, “No, I think I can make it.” They warned him saying, “Your light’s on. It’s thirty-seven laps.” And he said, “No, I think I can make it.” And he was in the lead through the rest of those thirty-six laps and it came down to the final lap of the 83rd running of the Indianapolis 500. And Robby Gordon, still in the lead, going on fumes, decided to make one last desperate pit stop to get just enough fuel to finish, and that pit stop cost him the race. He did not win. He lost the lead.
In our spiritual lives we can so often be like Robby Gordon, can’t we? We believe we have enough fuel to make it to the end only to find out that what we’ve been trusting in was not what we needed to be trusting in and that we were unprepared to finish well. And in this parable here before us tonight Jesus introduces us to others who ran out of fuel and did not finish well. And He tells us this parable for a very specific reason. He wants us to have a prepared faith that, at His return, will result in feasting and not in eternal famine. And I want to look at this text with you under two headings. In verses 1 through 9, lasting faith. Lasting faith. And then in verses 10 through 13, feasting or famine. So lasting faith or feasting or famine.
Now just to set the context for you briefly. Matthew 24, may be the most extensive teaching Jesus gives us concerning the end times, that subject of perennial fascination for all of us. And really the discourse in Matthew 24, breaks down to two main sections. It breaks down to what’s going to happen at the destruction of the temple and then what’s going to happen when Jesus comes back. He uses that destruction of the temple to illustrate what it’s going to be like prior to His return. And then He tells the disciples, “It may be a long time before I come.” And to drive that point home of delay, and by the way there’s the death nail to all the prophecy experts who can tell you they know the date when Jesus is coming back or it may be any moment. We don’t know. Jesus Himself told us it may be a long time and to drive that point home He tells us the parable before us this evening. He says, “Don’t be caught unprepared. Here’s how to avoid that.”
- Lasting Faith
Look with me there at the text. Verse 1, “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps they took no oil with them but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” We need a little bit of background here to understand the customs of marriage in this day. It’s not like our day and age where at most you may get two nights. You get the rehearsal dinner and then you get the wedding. In Jesus’ day it was likely a week or more for a marriage. Fathers of daughters, I’m one of you, I’m very glad it’s not practiced that way anymore! But feasting would go on for a whole week and during that feasting there would be bartering over the bride price and the marriage would not happen until the bride price had been agreed upon and there were informal rules of how to go back and forth and barter for the bride. Now that took an amount of time that nobody really knew, but once that bride price was reached the wedding started officially. The bridegroom would come and the maidens, who were basically ancient bridesmaids, would take these torches at night and process behind the bridegroom to go gather the bride and take her to the feast and the ceremony would take place.
Now these torches that Matthew mentions here, that Jesus rather says, were about fifteen feet long or so; maybe a little bit shorter. They had long extensions at the end that you would take a flask of oil to light and these torches would be lit high so that everybody could see the procession that was coming. Attached to the end of the pole were little jars of oil. There was enough oil in each flask for about ten to fifteen minutes worth of fuel. So there may be one or more of those flasks there to make sure that you got to the procession with your torch burning. That’s the background that Jesus gives us here. And this groom could come at any moment. And this sets a perfect illustration of what Jesus is trying to get at here with this parable. Let’s look more in detail at what Jesus is saying.
Notice he says there in verse 5, as the bridegroom was delayed, “they all became drowsy and slept.” Both groups fall asleep. That’s not a judgment on their character. Jesus is not saying it’s sinful. That was likely the practice of the time. There could be, again, a long delay so they fell asleep. Jesus paints Himself here as the bridegroom. And He’s saying to His disciples and to us, “Your faith , my faith, will be tested by the delay in Christ’s coming.” Now I say that, and as immediately as those words leave my lips you know that to be the case. Haven’t you thought at one point or another, “Is this really true? Is Jesus really correct? Is it really true that Christianity is the only way?” because after all the world just seems to be getting worse and you wonder at times, “Is He right? Was He telling us the truth?” And Jesus understands that and so He tells us this parable. The temptation for us will be to lose our focus while we wait. And more seriously, perhaps, to lose our faith while we wait.
What are some ways that we are tempted to lose our focus and go off mission as it were, to become drowsy and fall asleep and be caught unprepared? Let me mention just two. One may not seem so forthright at the beginning but think about it with me quickly. One of the ways that we can lose our focus is shame. Shame is one of the most powerful, negative, motivating forces we experience in our lives. And most of the time when we have shame, Satan will use that and he will use our shame to make us do all kinds of things that make us lose our focus on Christ. Maybe we work harder to get enough money so people will respect us. We can cover up whatever shame we’re dealing with in the past. Maybe we work out an inordinate amount so that our bodies look a certain way. Maybe we overspend so that we cover up whatever it is that causes so much shame in our lives. And again, this is one of those things that Jesus warns us about because these false solutions to shame that we derive in our own minds, or devise in our own minds, always and inevitably result in unfaithfulness to Jesus. So that’s one way that we can lose our focus. All of us have shame we’re dealing with. In fact, I’ll bet if you look at your week this past week, you did some things you weren’t proud of, you had some thoughts you weren’t proud of. One of the things that was motivating them, I can almost guarantee you from painful personal experience, is shame. What is it that you’re ashamed about? Where is that causing you to lose your focus by covering up for that shame in wrong ways?
The other thing, or at least one other thing that can cause us to lose our focus as we wait for Christ, is something that I think all of us can understand and assent to very easily. It’s our affluence. Our affluence. We begin to live as if this life is all there is. And isn’t the temptation strong for that? To live in this land of plenty where the poorest of our poor are still better off than almost eight-tenths of the world’s population. And most of us in here tonight live in Disney Land. Now I well recognize there’s financial struggles, there’s hardships in this room that have not been verbalized that I don’t understand tonight; I know that. But all of us here tonight have had two meals at least, most of us. All of us here tonight have clothes on our back. We are better off that most of the world’s population that has ever lived and we’ve got more than that. And it’s hard to long for the hereafter when we’ve got so much in the here and now, isn’t it? It’s hard to long for Jesus to come back and to be in heaven with Him forever when we’ve got everything we could possibly want right here and right now. And that affluence is one of the most difficult things for us to overcome spiritually. People talk about some of the trials that wealth brings. Now most of us would say, “I would welcome those trials tonight, frankly!” Let’s be careful. God gives us exactly what we need. And when we’re tried by the test of affluence one of the biggest temptations, one of the biggest dangers of wealth is to make us start trusting in it rather than Jesus. That is one of the single greatest ways we could become spiritual drowsy.
What Gets You Excited?
And ask yourself this tonight if you want to find out where your heart’s treasure is - “What do you get excited about?” You see, whatever we’re excited about we’re never going to get drowsy about. If you’re really excited for something, you don’t get drowsy. You’re anxious for it. Here’s another way to ask that question. “What, if you lost it today, would make your life go into a tailspin, would cause you to despair? What, if you lost it today, would cause your life to go into a tailspin?” Whatever that thing is, that’s where your treasure is; that’s what’s going to take your focus off Jesus and waiting for Him. We become spiritually drowsy. That’s Jesus’ point.
Two Very Important Truths
And it reminds us that there’s two truths that may be the hardest truths to balance for us as Christians in this life. Truth number one - there are a lot of really good things in this life. There are a lot of really good things. And God calls us to enjoy them for His glory. Truth number two. This life is not all there is, and self-denial for Jesus in this life is the only way to live. Those two truths are very difficult to hold in balance and nevertheless the Scriptures teach them both. And holding those two truths in balance is the main way for us to live a life of prepared faith for when Jesus returns. I’ll put it simply - a prepared faith enjoys this life, but realizes at once this life is not all there is and therefore sets its gaze on the world to come. So here’s what Jesus is telling us. He’s saying that we have to remain faithful to Him to the end. Our lives must be marked out by a constant staying on mission, serving the poor, studying His Word, engaging in prayer, coming to worship, witnessing the Gospel to our neighbors. Our lives have to be marked out by faithfulness.
- Feasting or Famine?
What’s the end result of either faithfulness or unfaithfulness? That’s our second point. Feasting or famine? Look down with me there at verse 10. “And while they were going to buy,” those are the foolish virgins, “the bridegroom came and those who were ready went in with him into the marriage feast and the door was shut. 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.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Now the virgins who were prepared, who had those maybe two or three flasks of oil tied to the end of their torches as they marched in that procession with the bridegroom, they’re welcomed to the marriage feast. And we don’t have to look far in the Scriptures to see what Jesus is giving us an analogy of. He’s telling us these are the ones who go to heaven. If you go to Revelation chapters 19 and verse 6 through 10, you can read all about it. Heaven is compared to a feast! Isn’t that amazing? We can tend to be so scared of enjoying things in this life, and yet the way that God wants to tell us about what heaven is like is thinking about the highest caloric intake possible and saying it’s even better than that! That’s what heaven is like! That’s why it’s such a goal held out for us in Scripture, the highest goal; the thing we should be striving after not simply as an end to itself to enjoy the feast but because we want to be with the one who’s giving the feast. That’s our joy! That’s our hope! That’s one of the things the apostles say to set your mind upon when life gets really hard. And it’s not pie in the sky, by and by theology. That hope that Jesus lays out for us here of going to this great feast is as certain as the wind whistling through the empty tomb. That’s the hope that we have in Christ - being with Him forever. Worshiping at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Does the Prospect of Heaven Excite You?
Let me ask you this! I had to ask myself this, this week. How long has it been since heaven has been thrilling to you? How long has it been since you took a break from thumbing through the phone, put down social media, turned off the TV and maybe turned off Pandora or Spotify, and thought about the fact that because of what Jesus has done you will be with Him in eternal bliss forever with a resurrected body to enjoy a feast? How long has it been since that’s been thrilling to you? Doesn’t the world dull us to that being thrilling? Aren’t we sometimes more thrilled about iPhone 6s than we are about heaven? Score! Another one for Madison Avenue! Nothing’s really changed despite the really neat looking ads. The iPhone 6s is the same one as you’ve got in your pocket now if you’ve got a 6 and we’re more excited, more thrilled by that prospect than oftentimes we are of going to heaven with Jesus.
That’s the holidays! A lot of us are going to be sitting around tables and enjoying feasts with family and with friends. Maybe not. And that’s all the more reason to look forward to the great feast of the King. But if the Lord has blessed you with that, when you sit down to eat don’t just say, “This is amazing. I’m really enjoying this.” Do that. Do that emphatically. And then remind yourself it gets so much better. All the good food, all the wonderful tastes, all the great smells - take them in and remind yourself heaven is going to be better than this. Heaven is going to be feasting forever. That’s the reward that Jesus holds out. That’s the reward for a life faithfully and wisely lived, He said.
The Danger of Self-deception
Meanwhile, this text ends on an ominous note, doesn’t it? You see, if you flip back to Matthew chapter 7, there’s another place in this gospel where Jesus says the exact same words. What Martyn Lloyd-Jones, he was a preacher of the past century in Great Britain; consider him one of the best preachers to have ever preached. He said once in a sermon on Matthew 7, “Those may be the most terrifying words and the most terrifying passages of Scripture ever written - ‘I never knew you.’” Who do these foolish virgins represent? You see, they were all part of the bridal party, did you notice that? They started out well. They fell asleep but they weren’t prepared for the bridegroom to return. They represent people in churches like this one who may live really nice upright lives, who may read their Bible occasionally, engage in prayer, come to worship, and be completely lost and separated from Christ. What Jesus holds out for us in Matthew 7, and repeated right here in Matthew 25, is one of the most terrifying prospects in all of our Christian lives. It’s the horrifying prospect of being self-deceived, of thinking you’re one of His children when you’re really not, of thinking you’re “in” when you’re “out,” of thinking you belong to Him when you don’t.
Let us Examine Ourselves!
And as I speak about that, let me just make this caveat at the outset. Whenever preachers preach a passage like this the constant danger is this. We either afflict the afflicted and comfort the comforted and fail to do what Jesus calls us to do which is afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I want that to happen tonight. Some of you struggle with assurance. Some of you wonder if you’re really Christians. We’re going to talk about that more in a second. But let’s think here and let this land with us what Jesus is saying. We need to examine ourselves! That’s what He’s calling us here to tonight. Are you really a Christian? Have you been born again? Are you His? Are you ready to meet Jesus? That’s what He’s asking us here. That’s the picture He’s painting for us. This should make us uncomfortable. This should make us very uncomfortable because so many times it’s easy to go through the motions and not really have any heart in it. And you see, at the end of the day it’s not going to matter if you were a good neighbor, if you were a nice person, if your name was on the roll at First Presbyterian Church, if you were a church officer, if you taught Sunday-School, if you were raised in a home that came here every day. None of that’s going to matter when Jesus comes back or you meet Him when you die. Not a lick of that! The only thing that’s going to matter is that you’re His, that you’re truly His.
How can we know? That’s the question that comes right after this. He gives us two ways in this parable to know that we’re His. First, He tells us to be wise. That’s who He commends to us this evening. It’s the wise virgins, right? He says, “That’s the kind of people who will come and feast.” Wisdom in the Bible is simply the skillful application of God’s Word to everyday life. Second, He tells us to be prepared. That’s how we can know. Be prepared daily to meet Him. We must live in such a way that we can stand without shame before Jesus if He would return at any moment. Does this describe you? Are you wise all the time? Are you faithful all the time? Can you look your neighbor in the eye and say, “I’ve done nothing to bring shame upon my life this week. I’m ready to meet Jesus right here, right now. I was ready to meet Him when I was looking at something on a computer screen this week that I might should not have been looking at. I was ready to meet Him when my thoughts were going to places that they shouldn’t have been going to.” Would you be bold enough to say that to Him? I would venture to say, “No,” if your heart’s anything like mine. I certainly wouldn’t be able to volunteer and raise my hand and say, “Yes, I’ve been wise always. I’ve been prepared to meet Jesus, always.”
Is There Any Hope?
And so then the question becomes for us, “Is there good news here for us? Is there any hope for people who, like us, aren’t wise all the time, aren’t faithful, and generally are not prepared? Will we be those who hear, ‘I never knew you’? Will that prospect be the last line in the story of our lives?” There’s good news. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s like the end of A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is taken and shown his gravestone and he says to the ghost of Christmas future, “Please let there be a way to sponge away these words.” One like Dickens, the Bible says, there is One who has sponged away those words. There is hope in the One to whom this parable points because this parable is first and foremost about Jesus. How so? He’s the bridegroom. And this is, as an aside, an astonishing claim to deity. If you flip back in the Old Testament, when God wants to communicate His love to His people He says, “I’m just like a groom to you. You’re like my bride.” And Jesus picks right up on that and says, “I’m that groom that you read about in Isaiah who’s named Yahweh. I’ve now come in the flesh,” is what He says to us. He’s the bridegroom who will bring His bride to the feast.
Christ Our Wisdom
And Christ is also the One who is our wisdom. You remember what Paul says about Him? Colossians 2:3, “In Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.” He’s the perfectly wise man. He’s the only perfectly wise man who’s ever lived. And here’s the question for you. “Do you lack wisdom?” All of us should answer, “Yes, we do lack wisdom.” Here’s the good news with that. Jesus longs to make us wise. He longs to let us into the open secret as it were of what it takes to live life well for His glory. He longs to make us wise. He longs to bring us in and show us how to live in a way that brings glory to Him and makes our lives better. He longs to do that for us. And how do we get in touch with that wisdom? We have to humble ourselves, my friends. We have to go to His Word, we have to go to Him in simple faith and say, “I’m a fool! Make me wise!” Have you done that? No more playing games, no more putting up the shield and the front to make everybody think you’ve got it all together and you don’t need any other wisdom. We all do. All of us are foolish. We must come to the One who is wisdom incarnate. And what Jesus tells us about wisdom is that it’s personal. It’s personal and it’s available. It’s personal in Him! He’s wisdom for us! What does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 1 and verse 30? “He has become for us wisdom and righteousness.” He’s the one who is our wisdom. Trusting in His wisdom is the way and the only way to be wise and the greatest news ever is that it’s available tonight. Tonight! Right now! You can be wise. Humble yourselves. Go to Him! That’s what He’s saying.
Moreover, we can have the absolute assurance we will never be locked out of that wedding feast and find ourselves in the awful position of those five foolish bridesmaids. How? See again, we have to look at Jesus. He’s the One who was faithful and prepared always, until the end of His days. Every minute of His life, perfect and persevering and being faithful and being prepared because we wouldn’t be. And on the cross, for the first time ever, and never again to happen after that, Jesus heard from the Father the divine, “I do not know you!” Jesus heard that first. When His cry was uttered, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” the only answer that came back with the stunning divine silence was, “I never knew you!” He’s the One who bore that curse for us. And the only reason we’ll have hope to never have that said to us is for the simple reason that by faith and by faith alone in Him what was said to the Savior on the tree, as it were, will never be said to us because He bore that curse in our place. He’s our wisdom. He’s the one who was prepared for us. What you and I lack, this is amazing, He provides.
Our Need for Self-examination
What then do we do? What do we say to these things? First thing to note about this entire text, what we’re saying here tonight, is very simply this. Examine yourself. Are you in the faith? Are you ready to die? Are you ready to stand before the Savior today not trusting in your own righteousness, not saying, “I’ve been a good church member. I’ve been a nice person. I’ve paid my taxes on time. I’ve tried to be a good parent. I’ve tried to be a good single person.” None of that. All the games are gone. You are ready to look at Jesus and say, “The only hope I have is your cross and Your righteousness and that You lived and died for me!” Are you trusting in Him alone? Are you making progress in the faith no matter how imperfectly? Don’t look to your works. Look to the one who did the work perfectly. But is there any growth in your life? We’re at the end of the year. It’s a good time to look back and be thankful for the blessings of God and also to examine ourselves. Where do we need to grow? Where have we not grown as much as we should have this year? Where do we need to pray about that, asking the Lord’s help to grow in holiness? Examine ourselves.
The second thing is this; Stay prepared! J. C. Ryle, he’s one of the great preachers again in the 19th century, he pastored in Liverpool, England. He used to get up every morning, he’d look out his window, and he’s say, “Perhaps today, Lord, perhaps today.” And before he went to bed every night he’d go to the same window and look out the window and say, “Perhaps tonight, Lord, perhaps tonight.” Stay prepared, every day, watching and waiting. And how do we do that? How do we do that if we’re Christians? How do we stay prepared? We keep a careful watch on our heart. We look for those things that can take our focus off of Jesus. Things like overeating, especially this time of year. Again, I love food. I love to eat food. Especially this time of year, I love fudge, I love cake, all the sweets. We need to ask ourselves, “Is food becoming a replacement for Jesus? Do we love chocolate more than Christ? Are we using that food to cover up something and thus indulging in gluttony rather than following Jesus and enjoying the good gifts and loving the gifts, loving the Giver as well as the gifts?” What about money? How again, easy, is that to take us off balance? But have you noticed this. If you’ve earned more and the more you spend, generally speaking at the end of the day, the less you enjoy life. I’ve spent a lot of time with very wealthy unbelievers and heard story after story, “I don’t know how to sleep anymore. I’m so worried.” Is that you? You spend more; enjoy life less. Does the security and ease that money affords you, does that take you away from following Jesus?
Let’s examine our hearts tonight. Let’s find out what they are actually set upon, where our security is, because when trials come, and come they will, we’ve talked about that in this series, then you’ll find out what you’re trusting in, then you’ll find out where your faith really is. And the only way to be prepared when those trials come so that we don’t make shipwreck of the faith and we stay prepared for the day that Jesus could come at any moment - you notice that in the text, right? “Suddenly the bridegroom came with a great shout.” It’s never going to be expected. There will be signs, but there’s been signs in every age. Don’t go looking for signs. Jesus says be ready. It can happen at any moment, maybe tonight, maybe tonight. And the way to be prepared by examining our hearts now, so that when trials come or Christ comes, we don’t make shipwreck of the faith, is to constantly and daily do the hard work of saying, “Oh Lord, help me to love You above every bewitching idol that takes and captures my heart and makes it love it more than You. Destroy them! The dearest idol of my heart, what ‘ere that idol may be, O Lord take it away forever and replace it with Thee,” as the poet wrote. That needs to be our prayer every day.
And we don’t engage in an introspection that never ends. We look at ourselves, we examine ourselves, and then we look to the Savior. Then we look to the cross and we say, “It’s finished! My hope is in Him! My hope is sure. Heaven is my reward. Heaven is my goal. I will be in that feast and the only way I’ll be there at that feasting table is because of what He did, not because of what I’ve done, and therefore I will be prepared!” One author I read this week put it this way. I think it captures in a sentence this parable. “Live as though Jesus were coming back today. Plan as though He’s not coming back for a thousand years.” Live as though Jesus is coming back today. Plan as though He’s not coming back for a thousand years. Look at your life, look at the Savior, stay prepared, and let’s get ready to feast together. Let’s pray!
Father, how grateful we are for the truths of Your Word. We thank You that they are eternally true. Nothing will ever move them. Our hope is sure in Christ. Help us to think about that this week. Help it to be more realized in our lives. And let us lead lives that end in feasting, not in famine. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, that is our prayer this evening. We ask it in Your mighty name, amen.
©2015 First Presbyterian Church.
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