November 16, 2014

Ready for the Marriage Feast - Nov 16, 2014

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Modern American culture doesn’t seem to think weddings are all that important anymore. I’m not sure exactly where this attitude comes from. Maybe some are put off by having to get a marriage license from the state. So they don’t. You know, don’t let big brother tell you what to do. Just do what you want.

Other people are put off by what the Bible says about marriage. That you should actually BE married, before you start living together and ACTING like you’re married.

Some people  are simply  never taught that this is the way God intends an intimate relationship between a man and a woman to work. Marriage first, and then a life lived as one.

And so people move in together, have children, raise families, and somewhere along the way they may get married, or they may not.

And that’s just too bad. First of all, it’s not the way God wants us to act. When people bypass marriage a just move on to living together, they also miss out on all the significance and joy of a wedding day.
Weddings are wonderful things. Joyful things. Times of happiness and celebration. A wedding is a public announcement that you’re not just dating anymore. You’re committed for life. A wedding draws important people from both the groom’s side and the bride’s side. They come to watch and to listen as people they love promise to be faithful to one another, to forgive each other, and to care for one another for the rest of their lives.

Weddings are beginnings. And the possibilities of future blessing hang out there, just waiting to be realized. And that fills weddings with anticipation, and joy.

One of my favorite memories from my own wedding day was that my face hurt by the end of the day from smiling so much. So many people that we love had come to celebrate with us on our special day.
Back in Jesus’ time, wedding customs were a little different than they are today. The Jewish people had a different way of going about the whole marriage thing.

For the Jews, marriage started with betrothal. When a man and a woman were betrothed, that meant that they were legally married. But even so, they didn’t start living together right away. The husband would go and prepare a place for them to live. And he would make preparations for a special marriage feast too. Getting their future home ready, and making arrangements for the feast could take up to a year to complete.

But then one day, the groom would gather his friends and take a special wedding walk to the bride’s house. There she would join her husband, and they would walk together, surrounded by friends and family, to the place where they would hold a big celebration. A wedding feast.

After the wedding feast everyone in town would know that they were married. That they were dedicated to one another for life. That they could be found in the home that the husband had prepared.
Today actually isn’t “Wedding Sunday”. It’s “Saints Triumphant Sunday.” The Sunday when Christians look forward to Christ’s return, and our final entrance into heaven.

We’ve been talking about marriages and weddings because Jesus used a wedding story to teach people about heaven. We’ll be meditating on that parable for our sermon today.

Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV)

25 “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.’ 10 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. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The young women in Jesus’ parable were ready for a celebration. That’s what they were waiting for.

And that’s what followers of Christ across this globe are doing today too. Just like us. They’re waiting for the celebration that will begin when Jesus returns. We’re not afraid of the Holy God, not afraid of being tried and condemned  to hell because of our sins. We know our sins were paid for when JESUS suffered OUR punishment on the cross. We believe what John the Baptist said in John, chapter 3,

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life;” (John 3:36 ESV).
There are 10  virgins in this parable. But none of them are the bride. This celebration isn’t about them. But if they are ushered into the wedding feast they’ll get to enjoy the celebration all the same.

In the same way, the celebration that will take place in heaven isn’t about you and me. It’s about God.

He’s the one who Created the universe by simply speaking it into being. He’s the one who redeemed sinners by the sinless sacrifice of his precious Son. He’s the one who raised Jesus from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit out into the world to show sinners that they have a Savior. The heavenly celebration to come will be all about praising Yahweh for his goodness and his mercy.

But all the same, those who trust in the God of their salvation will get to participate in the celebration. That’s what God wanted from the very beginning. When he created Adam and Eve, he made them so that he could love them. So that he could bring them joy, and be loved and praised by them in perfect harmony. Dear Christians, this is what we’ll get to experience in full when the final celebration comes.
Like I said, there are 10 virgins in this parable. And that number carries significance. In the Scriptures, the number 10 sometimes has a symbolic meaning. It’s a nice round number which represents completeness in various contexts.

All 10 of these young women would have entered the wedding feast if they had remained ready. This reminds us that God wants all sinners to come to know Jesus as their Savior from sin. In his Word, God repeatedly tells us that Jesus died for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD, not just a select few.

But just like in Jesus’ parable, not all will be ready when he returns on the Last Day.
In the parable, the 10 virgins all settle down to wait for the bridegroom to arrive. They expect him, but they don’t know exactly when he’s going to get there. One reason they don’t know when he’ll arrive is that he’s been delayed beyond the usual time. Another reason they don’t know exactly when he’ll get there is that it’s late. Darkness has surrounded them, and they can’t see him coming. And thirdly, they don’t know exactly when he’ll get there because as they’ve been waiting, they’ve fallen asleep.

All this serves the main point of the parable. We don’t know when the Son of God will return to this earth. We know he will. We know that everyone will know it when he does. We know he’ll descend through the sky accompanied by the angel armies of heaven. But we don’t know when he’s coming.

And since we don’t know when he’s coming, Jesus says we need to watch. We need to stay alert. We need to be ready for his return. Only those who are ready will go with him to heaven’s celebration feast.
In the parable, the virgins who are ready to greet the bridegroom are the ones who still have light. They’ve brought extra oil for their lamps, and so they have light.

It’s pretty obvious what this signifies. Scripture calls the Word of God a lamp for our feet, and the light which illuminates our path (Psalm 119:105). Jesus calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12). The Bible says that the message of sins forgiven through Christ’s cross is the light which brings life and immortality to sinners (2 Timothy 1:10).

The virgins who still held burning lamps were able to go with the bridegroom into the wedding hall. When Jesus returns to this earth, all who hold the light of his Gospel in their hearts will be able to go with him to heaven. It’s that simple.

Dear Christians, we have that light. By faith in our Savior, and all that he has done for our redemption, we are ready to meet him. Now, we just have to STAY READY!
Do you need some more oil to keep the light of faith burning in your heart? Then remember what Jesus said from the cross,

“It is finished” (John 19:30 ESV).

Christ’s work of redeeming sinners from their sins is done. It is complete.

Remember what it says in First John,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Remember what the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote,

19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
[He] will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19 ESV).

It was the message of God’s gift of forgiveness that brought us to faith in Christ. And it is this same Good News that will keep our faith burning bright.

When we bring our children to be baptized in the Lord’s Name, his powerful Word breathes the fire of faith into their hearts.

When we stand before the altar to receive our Savior’s body and blood in Holy Communion, the fire of faith is stoked.

It is the Gospel in Word and Sacrament that will keep our lamps burning bright. It is the Gospel which sustains our faith, not our piddly attempts at doing good, or living right. It is the Gospel which keeps us ready, not our own paltry efforts.

And that’s why we can call this Sunday “Saints Triumphant” Sunday. Without forgiveness coming to us as a gift from God, we could never hope to be ready to meet the Holy God. But by faith in Christ, we ARE ready—RIGHT NOW.

Right now we ARE “Saints Triumphant” because of Christ. And on that Last Day will be “Saints Triumphant” if we remain in him.
Have you ever had a good time at a wedding? Maybe had your eyes fill with tears of joy taking those vows with the love of your life? Maybe you’ve had your eyes fill with tears watching your friends take those vows? Ever had some really good food at the party afterwards? Took a spin or two on the dance floor? Ever enjoyed a glass or two of fine wine or champagne? Ever linger into the night talking to friends you hadn’t seen in a long time?

Yeah, there’s nothing quite like a wedding celebration for joy. But dear Christians, I gotta say this—you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Our God has saved the best for last. Whatever things we’ve enjoyed in this life have been enjoyed through the fog of a sinful world. Heaven’s feast is gonna make any wedding feast we’ve enjoyed seem like a day old happy meal. For in the presence of the Almighty, all things will be made new. And we shall finally see HIM as he is.

So stay ready, dear Saints. Keep returning  to the cross of Christ to see your Savior and all he’s done to remove your guilt forever. Remember your baptism and how God put his Name on you through those waters. And come to the Lord’s Supper where your Savior comes to you in bread and wine.

Stay read, dear Saints, and I’ll see you at the feast.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

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