Sermon for Sunday, November 8th, 2020, the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons for Morning Prayer: Psalm 70; Amos 5:18-24; Matthew 25:1-13
The Lessons for Holy Communion: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-13; Matthew 25:1-13
The Text: Matthew 25:1-13
The Topic: Be ready for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ
When the telegraph was the fastest means of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away. A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.
The young man completed his form and sat down with seven other applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. The other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold? They muttered among themselves that they had not heard any summons yet. They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.
Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man.”
The other applicants began grumbling. Then one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute — I don’t understand something. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair.”
The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did, so the job is his.”
God uses many means to demonstrate his care — not only through his Word, his Spirit, and the ministry of Christian friends, but also through more unconventional methods — like burning bushes, talking donkeys, hungry creatures of the sea, visiting angels, or a bright star in the darkened sky. We need only to be alert to these signs.
— Gary Preston, Character Forged1
THE PARABLE OF THE TEN BRIDESMAIDS
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids sounds a warning parallel to the warning which the Lord gave to those servants of his who use the time of delay before His Second Coming to mistreat their fellow servants. In this Parable, a deliberate contrast is drawn between the five wise bridesmaids, who took oil in vessels along with their lamps, and the five foolish ones, who took no oil besides that which was in their lamps, as they did not expect any delay in the coming of the bridegroom. It was the responsibility of the bridesmaids to meet the bridegroom and bride at the bride’s home after the wedding ceremony and escort them to the bridegroom’s home, where a great banquet would be held.
While the bridegroom delayed, all the maidens fell asleep until midnight. Then suddenly the call was issued, “The bridegroom has come! Go out to meet him!” The five maidens who had supplies of oil with them were able to trim their lamps (v. 7), while the foolish ones simply asked the other five for some of their oil, but were told by the wise ones to go and buy their own supplies of oil; otherwise, there might not be enough oil to go round. While the foolish maidens went away to buy more oil, the wise ones accompanied the bridegroom into the banquet hall, and the door was shut. When the foolish bridesmaids returned and knocked on the door, they were refused entry with the words, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”
The Parable has one lesson, or moral, which the Lord himself declares:
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
(Matthew 25:13, KJV)
If this were not a parable, but simply the account of a wedding in ancient Palestine, it would be unlikely that late-comer bridesmaids would be refused entry into the banquet hall. But this is a Parable whose goal is to warn all Christians to be vigilant and ready at all times to meet with the Lord Jesus Christ, since they do not know beforehand when the day of his Second Coming will be.
Just as the wise virgins could not share what little oil they had with the foolish ones, so today no Christian must think that he or she does not need to be ready to meet with the Lord Jesus Christ at His Coming. Spiritual preparation is not something we can give our fellow-Christians at the last minute. We must each take responsibility for his own readiness. Each of us must be in a right relationship with God through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must abide in the Lord Jesus Christ, by abiding in His love, and obeying His commands. The long delay in the Parable contrasts to the suddenness of the bridegroom’s arrival. None of us must suppose that the long delay in the Lord Jesus’ Second Coming is a reason to be spiritually lax or lazy, since even today, even tomorrow, the Lord Jesus might suddenly come!
THE KEY TO SPIRITUAL READINESS
What is the key to spiritual readiness? In this Parable, the Lord himself gives us two keys: one is that the Bridegroom knows us and knows who we are in God’s kingdom. God’s knowledge of us implies our knowledge of him and of being in a relationship with him by grace and faith. The second key is that we watch, or live lives of spiritual wakefulness and watchfulness, in other words, that we continue in prayer, Bible reading and study, good deeds, and acts of kindness, obeying all the commands and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and of his Apostles.
This spiritual vigilance includes keeping watch over our own lives, to take care that we are not overwhelmed by the cares, anxieties, desires and pleasures of this world, but rather seeing to it that our love for Christ remains strong and grows stronger, and that we are cooperating with the Holy Spirit daily in his work to conform us to the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we find that there is anything in us that is drawing us away from Christ, we must work with the Holy Spirit to overcome it and to stand faithful, rejoicing in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4).
Every Christian must examine his priorities. Why were the foolish maidens foolish? They did not think the Bridegroom would be long in coming. The possibility never occurred to them that he might delay, or that they would need to take supplies of oil with them for their lamps. Possibly, their minds were occupied with other concerns. Here we must take warning! St. Paul wrote this command to Christians:
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4, KJV)
St. Peter explained that the length of time before the Second Coming is to give all sufficient opportunity to turn to the Lord in repentance. He wrote:
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
(2 Peter 3:8-9, KJV)
Let each of us watch and pray, keeping guard over our thoughts, words, and actions, and setting our heart on God’s kingdom and the priorities and values of His kingdom. Let us love God wholly, exercise neighborly love, abide in the Lord Jesus Christ, and look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ!
1 Quoted on p. 351, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof: 1001 illustrations that Connect, Zondervan, 2008.