Matt. 25: 1-13 Gal. 5:13-25 Psalm 32 March 4, 1984, Community Pres. Church
In the days of old, when a Jewish man wanted to marry, either he or his parents would make an agreement with the girl's family on the price of her dowry, and, in exchange, he himself would pay the bride's family a certain sum of money. This agreement was called a betrothal, and it was as legally binding as the marriage itself. After the betrothal, the man went away for a year to prepare a house for his bride. And during that year, he would purchase fine gold and pure silver so that his bride would be properly adorned on the day of her wedding.
Jesus often talked about his relationship to the church as that of a bridegroom to the bride. He celebrated his coming marriage to the people of God. But he also knew that in order to take the church as his bride, he would have to pay the price. His death was the downpayment; and his resurrection was the betrothal. Now that we have been betrothed to him, we are as bound to him as if we were married; all that waits is the consummation of our love. Now, in this time between the betrothal and the wedding, Jesus is preparing us for his coming. As the man adorns his bride with gold and jewels, so Jesus is adorning his church with the finery of good deeds and the wedding gown of righteousness. He wants us to be prepared for our wedding day. And he wants us to wear the proper garment of righteous living. He does not want to see on us any spot or blemish.
Likewise, as the bride of Christ, we should be preparing ourselves for his coming, and as a bride, we should be waiting with eager longing for that day. As a bride yearns to hear the sound of her lover's voice, so we should be watchful and waiting for the coming of our Lord. Even now, we should be washing ourselves clean of every impurity and every defilement with the water of the Word, lest on that day we be found giving ourselves to the blemishes of sin.
Just think how awful it would be if the bride knew in her heart that on the eve of her wedding she had been with another man. Would not shame cause her eyes to look down to the ground, and her guilt keep her from looking her bridegroom in the eyes? How much more do we feel ashamed when we do evil and cannot look Jesus in the eye for fear that he will see in us what we know to be true. A bride may hide her shame behind her veil, but Jesus sees into our hearts, and nothing can we hide from him.
Think again of the groom, as he spent that long year alone, waiting for his wedding day. Just think of the joy and eager longing of his heart as he prepared his house for his bride. He would deck the halls, paint the walls, clean the floor, and supply his cabinets with ladels and pots. And as he lay in bed at night, he could barely sleep because of the excitement that he felt as he waited for that day. Like that groom, Jesus is waiting for us. Jesus can barely wait for his wedding day when he can finally take us to himself and share with us his joy.
But think of the disappointment of that man, as he is preparing his house for his bride, if his neighbor comes and brings the news that his bride has been caught in adultery. How quickly would his joy be lost; and sadness fill his breast. He would be hurt beyond measure, and as he looked about his house, his eyes would droop to see the beauty of his love that his bride had scorned. He would be distraught, and tears would fill his eyes. And in grief, the man would return to the girl's house and demand back from her the gifts of gold, silver, and precious stone; she not being worthy of his love. And the bride would be shamed before her family and before the whole town.
So our Lord is disappointed in us as we spurn his favor and great love to defile ourselves with lusts and earthly pleasures. He is distraught to see his bride favor temporal pleasures over the eternal home he has prepared for us. And his joy is crushed as we despise the gifts he has given to us. He grieves for us and because of us. Jesus has caught us in adultery with the world. We prefer riches and "getting and spending" to the righteousness of Christ. We fill our souls with cares for the things of this world: for cars, clothes, televisions, stereos, and we desire these things more than God's love. We want to have material prosperity so much that we fornicate with the world to get it, and we ignore our calling to be the bride of Christ and to be totally devoted to him and him alone. We even treat the sins of church members with indifference. We fight and hate each other; others are adulterers, others living in fornication, and yet we are not ashamed. We say to ourselves, "Oh, well, it really doesn't matter." But it does matter, and Christ is grieving over us and he desires to strip us of our wedding gown and bridal ornaments. He wishes to shame us — and do so publically — so that we will turn from our sins and seek him. Most men of Jesus's day would have cast aside a bride who was impure, but Jesus loves us too much for that. He bears his shame and disappointment and grief and still he loves us. He wants to shame us–so that we will return to him. For he knows that if we do not, we will not come to the marriage feast, but will be put out.
Now hear the meaning of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins: The ten virgins are the church, for all confess the bridegroom as "Lord," and all are invited to the wedding feast. And all wait for the wedding procession to the groom's house. The year of long waiting is now over, and the bridegroom is finally coming for his bride. Everyone is joyful, but he is delayed; just as Jesus seems to be delayed as we wait for his coming. Now these delays were quite common in those days, and it was a mark of honor for the groom to be delayed. For it meant that the parents of the girl were holding out during last minute negotiations, driving up the price of the bargain. And the higher the final price the groom was willing to pay and the longer the negotiations, the greater the mark of her honor in the community. So our Lord's delay is not a sign of his indifference towards us, but a sign of our great worth to him. And just as the ten virgins did not know the exact day or hour of the bridegroom's coming, neither do we. But our Lord is coming; and he is coming soon!
Now the virgin's lamps are the lamps of our witness and they are filled with the oil of righteousness which flows from Christ into us as we live in obedience. And the flame of this oil is the good works which our obedience produces. Without this oil of righteousness lit by our good deeds, our witness grows dim and eventually goes out.
The foolish virgins are those in the church who profess to know Christ but who do not practice their faith in life. They have the right religion and they know the name of the Lord, but they do not follow Jesus in obedience or in suffering for righteousness' sake. These virgins practice "feel good" religion, not faithful obedience to God's holy Word. And their oil is running low as the bridegroom approaches. So now they panic and ask the wise virgins for some more oil. But because the oil flows from Christ and we receive it as we obey him, we cannot give it or lend it to anyone else. So when Jesus comes to claim us, those who are not now prepared will not have enough time to get ready. The lamp of their witness will go out. And here is the sad news: One half the church, 5 of the virgins, one half of all those who profess to be Christian will be shut out. One half of all the people who say they believe in Christ will not have enough oil in their lamps, and they will not go to heaven and join in the marriage feast or share in the joy of the bridegroom and the bride. And these Christians will say to the Lord, " Lord, lord, open up to us." But the Lord will reply, "Truly, I do not know you." There are many of us who are Christian in name only, but who neglect godly obedience.
So the question I ask of you this day is this: Are your lamps full of the righteousness of Christ are are they empty and about to go out? Do you have enough oil to make it into the marriage feast? Or are you going to be shut out? Are you trimming your lamps with the good deeds of faith, or is your flame put out by the shame of your wickedness? I am not asking you, "are you going to be obedient to Christ in the sweet bye and bye," but "are you obedient to him now?" Not, "are you going to be clean and put away your shame," but "are you clean? and has God made you righteous?" Do your deeds show your religion, or is your faith an excuse for doing nothing? Don't say to yourself, "Oh, I can't become a Christian now; there are too many things I want to do and too many things I'd have to give up. I'll be a Christian later." I come to you as one who has seen the very gates of hell and as one who has looked upon the distress of the damned, and I say, "Don't wait!" I have come to give you fair warning. I have seen the place of torment where there is no comfort and no ease and I say to you, "give up your sins before it is too late!" Do not tempt God to send you to that awful place; for you know not the day of your death or the hour of his coming. And if your lamps are not trimmed at the hour of his coming, it will be too late to purchase oil. The day grows short and night is almost come upon us. Come clean from the things that trouble you conscience. Give up your sexual lusts. Come clean of your trust in money and of your desire for many things. These earthly treasures will rust and will not save your soul. Rather, lose yourself in Christ's service. Care for those who do not have enough to eat. Let Christ be your meat.
If you are not prepared to meet God; if there is some uncleanness in you life or something of which you are ashamed, today is the day to be washed clean. Remember, "God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentence," but if you ignore his offer of pardon and continue to work deeds of evil, though you may be a Christian in name, you will not see the kindgom of God. For it is not enough to believe the words of Jesus, we must also do them.
If you wish to get to the marriage feast, remember you cannot barter for oil when the bridegroom comes. So now, while there is still time, barter with Christ for oil. Seek his righteousness and become obedient to him, and he will give you enough oil to light your way. Come forward. He is asking for you. You are his bride. He loves you, and he wants you to come home. He is coming for you.
Are you prepared?
Let us pray: O Lord, turn our hearts to repentence, and make us afraid to do evil. Make us afraid to be casual Christians, and help us to give up today those things that trouble our conscience. Make us aware that our days are short, and that we may not have time to change. Forgive us, O Lord of our pride and arrogance, for we pray your name, Amen.