Today, we are going to study a parable in Matthew 25 that speaks about being ready for the return of Christ. As we get ready for the Advent Season that reminds us that Jesus came from Heaven to earth and we ready ourselves to celebrate that reality, the reality known as the Incarnation, the moment in Bethlehem where God literally became a man, I want us to remember that we also need to be ready for Christ’s return. Before Christ came, those who were faithful to God were waiting for His coming. Those who were truly waiting in faith were ready to receive Him when He came.
As believers on this side of Christ’s birth, life, death, burial and resurrection, we are also in a state of waiting as we wait for Him to return. There are all sorts of ideas about what it will look like when Christ returns, and that’s not the focus of my message this morning. The focus of this message is that we need to live ready for the reality that one day our Heavenly Father will look at His Son and say, “It’s time, go and get my children. Go, and claim your bride.” We need to live ready for that moment.
Matthew 25 comes on the heels of Jesus doing some other teaching about readiness. We read in Matthew 24 that no one knows the hour or the day when Christ will return except the Father. We also read that many will live oblivious to this reality or live as if it won’t happen or live as if it will be of no consequence to them. Matthew 24:42ff is worth a look before we delve into chapter 25.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at white time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must BE READY, because the Son of Man (Jesus) will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:42-44
Before we delve into chapter 25, let me explain that chapter 25 references some wedding customs of the day. They aren’t our wedding customs, but they were Jewish wedding customs, so as Jesus spoke, He was speaking in language, He was speaking about culture norms that would have been easily understood by His audience. In speaking about the return of Christ and the end of life on earth as they knew it, Jesus likened it to a Jewish wedding.
We’re going to read about ten virgins who were like our contemporary bridesmaids. That is a big wedding party, but it was par for the course for the Jews of that day. It’s unusual, but in a Jewish wedding, you didn’t send out a “save-the-date” card. As a bride, you didn’t even know the date of your wedding yourself. I’m not kidding. Wouldn’t that be stressful? There wasn’t a way to alert guests to the day and time of the ceremony. You couldn’t make a hair and makeup appointment for your big day. Like a firefighter who has their suit and boots ready to jump into, you had to be ready, at a moment’s notice to be wedding ready!
There were stages to the Jewish wedding. After a formal agreement had been made by the father of the bride and groom, there was a betrothal phase where mutual promises were made between the bride and the groom. Even though they exchanged vows in that phase, that wasn’t even the wedding. That was simply the start of the engagement period. The bride pledged or promised to live ready for the return of the groom. He was going away to get their home ready.
No one would know how long it would take for him to get their home ready. How could anyone know? It would be ready when it was ready. But when the home was ready, the groom would return for the bride. The father of the groom would decide when it appeared ready. He would inspect the groom’s work and would give him the signal that he could go collect his bride.
The blowing of a shofar would signal his return. The bride simply had to be ready. She had to remain faithful to her promises. She had to live in anticipation of her groom’s return. It was typically about a year that she had to wait for her groom, but it could be longer or shorter depending on how the construction of the home went.
Just like the bridesmaids in a wedding today assist the bride and help her get ready and stay ready until the ceremony starts, fixing her makeup, reassuring her that all would go well, tending to whatever she needed, the ten bridesmaids or virgins in our story today had a job to do. When it was made known that the groom was on his way by the blowing of that Hebrew horn, they were to get their lamps lit and were to go meet the groom and to escort him to where the bride was. They would all then travel together to the groom’s house where the ceremony would take place.
So, as we read this parable in chapter 25, the fathers have made the agreement, the couple has made promises to each another, the bride has promised to be faithful until the groom returns, and the groom has gone away to prepare the place where he and the bride will live. The bride and her bridesmaids are in a state of waiting, only half of the bridesmaids weren’t living ready for their assignment. Let’s read it.
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. 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.
There is a lot to unpack here. We have five wise virgins and five foolish virgins. What made the five wise one wise? They understood their assignment to be light bearers for this very lengthy wedding processional. They took oil and were ready to fulfill their assignment. The foolish ones, however, took their lamps but didn’t take any oil with them. There was no way they could fulfill their assignment without having oil. They understood that. They knew what was needed to be part of the wedding processional and after that, the wedding banquet, but they failed to get ready to execute their assignment.
Maybe they thought, “We’ve got time to get oil. The groom is often away for even longer than a year. We’ll get around to getting oil at some point, but there is no need to hurry to be ready for the task. The foolish virgins didn’t have a sense of urgency about the groom’s arrival.
The parable says that the groom announced his arrival at midnight. How many of you would choose midnight for the time of your wedding? Not me! Weddings in those days lasted seven days, so they had plenty of time to rest and plenty of time to party. But midnight? When they heard the sound of the shofar, the foolish virgins panicked and asked the wise virgins to share their oil, but they didn’t comply. They had taken their assignment to provide light for the wedding party very seriously. If they gave some of their oil away, they might be able to light the foolish virgin’s 5 lamps, but what if that meant they all ran out of oil halfway to the ceremony? Five lit lamps were better than none, and they weren’t going to miss the feast.
The wise virgins told the foolish virgins to go and buy some oil. I guess Walmart was open 24 hours a day back then because they left to get the oil. What that says to me is that there wasn’t a shortage of oil. It was accessible, even at midnight. The fact that they left at midnight to get the oil tells me it wasn’t a money problem. They had the funds needed to procure the oil. They simply put off doing what they should have done as soon as they had been selected to be the bridesmaids.
Anyone here ever done that? You put off studying for that test, thinking you can cram the night before or the morning of. I suppose it works sometimes. or you wouldn’t repeat that approach. I’m also guessing it doesn’t work so well sometimes.
The parable has a tragic ending. 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.
Once the door was shut, there was no more opportunity to be part of the wedding banquet. The opportunity was missed. Because the foolish virgins didn’t enter with the rest of the bridal party, they weren’t given the privilege of attending. Beyond missing the celebration, however, is an even sadder reality because the parable is about the return of Christ and what the book of Revelation calls the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. When it is time for that celebration, there will be no more time to get in. When the foolish virgins get to the door, they cry out, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But He said to them, Truly, I tell you, I don’t know you.”
“You don’t know us? We thought we were on the guest list! We have the lamps like the rest of the bridal party! We look the part! We got our dresses at David’s Bridal! We have our bouquets! We hung out with the bride until we had to go get some oil! We look like we fit in! We look like we belong with everyone else at the marriage feast! What do you mean you don’t know us?”
This parable teaches a sobering reality. It teaches us it is possible to look ready and to not be ready to meet Christ. You can look the part. You can carry your torch. You can talk a good talk. You can blend in. You can be religious. You can attend church and hang out with the Bride of Christ. You can even know who Jesus is, but if He doesn’t know you, you have a big problem! There will come a moment when the door is closed, when the opportunity is gone, when the trumpet sounds, at the midnight cry and your opportunity to get oil has passed!
The foolish virgins wanted to borrow oil from the wise virgins, but that wasn’t possible. The wise virgins needed the oil for their lamps to get them all of the way to the banquet. Can I just be very blunt this morning? When Father God turns to Jesus and says, “The mansions are ready, go get your bride,” you won’t be able to borrow the faith of your spouse or your parents or your grandparents or your friends who are in Christ. You have to have your own oil!
In the Bible, oil is a symbol for the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that brings the ministry of Jesus to us on the inside. There is no real conversion without a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms us from the inside out. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us fuel to stay faithful to Jesus and to have the endurance we need to run this spiritual race.
Y’all, you can hold a torch for Jesus, but if there is no oil in it, if the Holy Spirit does not reside in you, you don’t belong to Christ. Romans 8:9 says so.
Now, in their defense, the foolish virgins had oil in their lamps. They simply didn’t take jars of oil for the possibility that the groom could get held up or would come later than anticipated. Maybe they were holding the groom to their personal expectation. Look at the verse again: The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ (Verse 8) Their lamps had been lit. They had some oil in their lamps to get them started, but it wasn’t going to last long enough. They had enough oil to get them connected to the bridal party, but not enough oil to be part of the processional, not enough to connect them with the groom.
Believer, you can start with Jesus, Church, but if you don’t keep your torch lit, if you start chasing the things of the world instead of the things of the Spirit that add oil to your torch, eventually your torch can burn out. You may have grown up hearing that taught differently, but I can’t read this passage and many others as well, without coming to the conclusion that if I do nothing to add oil to my lamp, and if I do the things that intentionally put the Spirit’s fire out, what the Bible calls, “grieving the Holy Spirit,” I am in danger of not being known by God when the trumpet sounds.
Church, as we anticipate the return of Christ, we need to make sure that not only is their oil in our lamps to start with, but we need to make sure we are chasing the things of the Spirit, to make sure we are frontloading the Word of God, to make sure we are praying for help to stay connected to the bridal party, to make sure that we can make it to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb without burning out. I’m not talking about “losing salvation,” because I don’t think it can simply be lost, but I do believe it can be forfeited. If we make a choice for Jesus, but on down the road, we make a choice for other things in place of Jesus, we aren’t living ready to meet Him. The Bible teaches that we need to live ready.
Romans 12:11 is my life verse. It says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord.” -Romans 12:11
Where is the spiritual fervor of the Church? What is the temperature of the Bride of Christ? Are we waiting in expectant faith with passionate zeal? Are we serving the Lord as if today could be the day of Christ return? Since the Covid pandemic, church attendance across the world has been on a steady decline. That doesn’t jive with the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 69:9, “For zeal for your house consumes me.” For far too many, attending church is simply one of many weekend options and isn’t the priority.
Biblical illiteracy is now at an all-time high. We have more translations of the Bible than ever. We have more Bible apps than ever. We have more access to the Word of God than ever, but fewer and fewer believers are reading it. One person I read after this week called the current condition of biblical illiteracy “The Epidemic of the 21st Century.” Cultural morality, hope, joy and peace are all tied to this staggering reality…people don’t know the truth anymore because they aren’t regularly exposing themselves to it.
Where is the spiritual fervor of the Church? Where is your personal spiritual fervor? Do you have enough oil in your lamp to keep you going when you wake up to unwanted circumstances? Do you have enough oil in your lamp when that relationship goes south? Do you have enough oil in your lamp when your child becomes the prodigal? Do you have enough oil in your lamp when someone offends you online or even when someone hurts your feelings at Church? Is your lamp burning for Jesus brightly enough that others can see what He means to you? That they can see Who you are living for?
So, the ten bridesmaids hung out for months together, waiting for the groom to come. I’m guessing they did a lot of wedding talk. They probably talked over details. They probably helped the bride dream of her wedding day, but I wonder if they talked about oil. I mean, there is usually at least one responsible bridesmaid in the lot. You know the one. She makes sure everyone knows what time they are supposed to meet at the church. She is the one who remembers the steamer for everyone’s dresses. She thinks ahead about the need for safety pins and bobby pins. She brings the lint brush and even has a roll of duct tape for a quick wardrobe malfunction. I just wonder if any of the wise virgins were warning the foolish ones of the elapsing of time. Some people aren’t good at keeping track of time. Some people miss great opportunities because they can’t take necessary steps before time runs out.
Church, I believe that part of us living ready for the return of Christ is that we are busy, and I mean busy, telling people how to get their oil.
Jesus more than adequately prepared His Church for His return. He told us He was going away. He taught us how to follow Him. He told us He was preparing a place. He gave us a vision of Heaven. He told us He would return in a cloud of glory, just the same way He ascended. We have all of the information we need to live ready. We have all of the inspiration we need to live ready. We have all of the incentive we need to help others live ready! We have been commissioned to be His witnesses. We have Holy Spirit help to be the light we need to be, and we need to take it seriously because once the door is shut, friends, it won’t be opened again.
Living as if the midnight cry could be today! Live ready. Live to warn other people about their need for oil! Live ready. He came once just as He promised He would. He is coming again, just like He promised He would. History proves Jesus is a promise keeper. He made a lot of them. He has kept almost all of them. There are just a few yet to fulfill. He said He is coming back. Why would He break His promises now? Live ready.