The Vigilant Believer…
1. Waits in Joyful Expectation
2. Stays Watchful and Prepared
Matthew 25:1-13 "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 "Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 "Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 "but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 "But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 "And at midnight a cry was heard:`Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' 7 "Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. 8 "And the foolish said to the wise,`Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 "But the wise answered, saying,`No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' 10 "And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying,`Lord, Lord, open to us!' 12 "But he answered and said,`Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
Is there a worse feeling in the world than waking up late for something? Have you ever experienced that feeling; perhaps sleeping through your alarm or forgetting to set it? It’s feels terrible. It leaves a pit in your stomach. I can tell you what’s even worse is forgetting to wake up for something you have to do but don’t want to. It’s one thing to miss something you’re looking forward to, it’s an entirely different level of pain to miss something you need to be at but don’t want to.
When I was in college, I would have to wake up for 6 am basketball practices from time to time. That meant in order to be on time I would have to actually wake up at about 5 am, if I wanted breakfast. For some of you that’s normal. Let me tell, for my college self, it wasn’t. I was not a morning person, and even more so when I had a 2-hour practice impending. And when something was coming up the next day like that I never slept well, either. It was just terrible.
Well, one time my first year of playing, I woke up at about 5:55 am. It was a horrible feeling. I didn’t want to go, knowing I’d be late. But, I knew it would be worse if I just didn’t show up. So, I went as fast as a I could, showed up late, received some well-deserved banter from my teammates (who had to run whenever someone was late), and that was it. It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and because it scared me so much it never happened again. I was sure to be prepared every time after that.
Jesus describes the same feeling in this parable, but with a much sadder consequence. Imagine how horrible it would feel to be late to heaven, too late in fact. There’s no lesson learned after that. That’s it. The message of the Last Day is fiercely upfront and simple. There is one day, coming in the future, when all will stand before God and face eternity. Of this truth the Scriptures are crystal clear. God expects us to prepare now to face that day. But not one of us can say we’ve been diligent in that task.
I want to ask you something different though. When you think of that Day, are you looking forward to it or not? Are you excited about heaven or is it just too hard to take seriously? Are you secretly hoping it’s not true, that God isn’t going to judge all, that somehow everyone will be saved? It’s not wrong to hope for all to be saved, but it can be dangerous to nullify the reason why Jesus died for sin.
Jesus spoke this parable to help teach His followers about vigilance, especially near the end. And yes, preparation is key, but joy is important too.
The ten virgins were waiting in joyful expectation. This was a wedding after all. What isn’t joyful about a wedding celebration? Jesus speaks about some of the traditions of that culture to show us what vigilance in our faith is like. The typical Jewish wedding took place at night. The groom would go to his home, or his parent’s home, wherever the ceremony was to take place and prepare it. The bride would wait with her bridesmaids at a different location. When the groom came to get her the entire party would travel to the ceremony, the marriage would be sealed, and the celebration would take place.
All of these things were occasions of joy. Preparation by both the groom and bride were necessary, as well as waiting, but it was all in eager expectation. Of course, that joy would be dampened if something went wrong, or if someone was ill-prepared. It’s not by chance that Jesus taught with this analogy. The vision of the Church and Christ being united like a wife to her husband is common in the Bible. God takes the most intimate, sacred, covenantal union known to mankind and says that it’s a taste of what true union with God is like. In the course of the parable Christ is the groom, believers are the virgins. On the last day, the marriage feast will take place; the two will be united forever.
But this happens at midnight, at a time of great darkness. In such a setting light will be especially beneficial and necessary. The entire lamp is faith, divided between the oil and the flame (think substance in the heart and manifestation in action). Notice how all the virgins have lamps, but when the bridegroom comes, not all have light. The claim of being a member of the wedding party is present, but some have tarnished that distinction by ruining the ceremony. They want acceptance but they are left out of the celebration because they no longer have light. Think of how John described Christ’s effect in the world, John 1:4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
The oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s presence through the gospel, to keep the light alive and burning. Think of another Old Testament analogy of significance. When a king was chosen by God and crowned, he was anointed with oil, symbolizing God’s calling of that person. In a similar way the oil in this parable represents God’s presence in the heart. The light of faith is certainly helpful in all circumstances, but especially when things are most trying and desperate. Light is needed when it is dark, and Christ alludes the fact that it will be dark when He comes. Things will be difficult. Jesus warned in just the prior chapter, “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold (Matt 24:12). In our epistle reading, Peter warned the believers of his day that scoffers will arise and mock them for being followers of Christ, for patiently waiting for the bridegroom’s coming. If Peter needed to warn the Christians 2,000 years ago, how much more so for us. The darkness is upon us. Lawless abounds. Has our love grown cold?
This is why joy is so important to our waiting by faith. It is always easier to wait for something you’re looking forward to it. The joy in the parable is apparent in the attitude of the virgins when they hear that the Bridegroom is approaching. The text tells us they “trimmed” their lamps. Literally, this word means to adorn, or the beautify. We might think of making something presentable. This type of action is done when the activity is important. We don’t bother to adorn things that we deem worthless. We do it when something valuable is at stake. The believer values the coming of the Savior. We desire to be presentable for Him, to adorn ourselves by remaining faithful through His Word. A living, vibrant, active faith is pleasing to God. And the effort behind all of this is because the Bridegroom loves us. John writes in his first letter of this love: Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1John 3:1-3).
Christ’s love for us leads us to joyfully wait for the fulfillment of His promises, for that day when He will return. There is no place for fear or anxiety in the believer’s heart because the Father’s love is there. The flame of faith burns bright with hope, and this hope is pure and pleasing to God.
The second aspect of vigilance is probably the dominant theme of the parable. Jesus says at the conclusion, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” We are vigilant because we are joyfully expectant but also because there is an uncertainty to the whole matter. God has not seen fit to reveal the exact moment when Jesus will return. No one knows, no matter what they say or predict. This information has not been given to us. Therefore, there is only one other thing to spend effort and time on – preparing.
The first step of staying prepared is to be watchful. The idea here is to be awake, to be aware of what is going on, both by intuition but also by having a healthy respect for the gravity of the situation. It’s interesting to note the way that Christ used the call to watchfulness near the end of His ministry. Back into chapter 24 Jesus introduced it with another parable, by describing a thief breaking into a house. The coming of the Lord is like the coming of a thief – it is unexpected. So, be ready by watching. After our section, the theme comes up in chapter 26 as well. There, in the Garden of Eden, Jesus implored His disciples to “watch and pray” with Him. We know what happened, they fell asleep. One might call this moment a testing of the Lord’s command. He had just instructed them to be mindful of the situation and He then wanted them to put their faith into action. They failed, miserably, in the most important of moments. But not for lack of trying. Jesus summarized, “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).”
Likewise, the distinction of the ten virgins was not based on intention. They all had the right intention. They wanted to be part of the wedding. They wanted to be included. Rather, the result was based on the status of their lamps, and that was based on their action, or inaction, to prepare. Sincerity for Christ will not save you. The dividing line between foolishness and wisdom, between faith and unbelief, is based on the truth. Either your light is burning or it’s not. This is the very essence of the final day. Your standing before God is not about the thoughtfulness or sincerity of your attitude. You can have the best of attitudes and yet still be lacking.
Those who slumber, slumber in the darkness. Keep your light burning. If sincerity is not enough, you will need something more. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jesus is the One who first gave your light and He can keep that light bright. When you boil down this parable to the most important take away, it’s that light that matters. The virgins were not chosen or rejected because of how important they were. Likewise, it doesn’t matter who you are today. The virgins didn’t prepare and stay watchful to prove themselves worthy. They were already invited and ready to come to the wedding. Likewise, your sins are already paid for. You’re not to be busy atoning for yourself serving others to earn heaven. Don’t burn yourself with the flame of you lamp. And finally, when the Bridegroom came, the wise virgins did not trim their lamps the catch the fancy and attention of the groom. They did it to see Him; it was the consummation of everything they waited for. Likewise, you do not make yourself presentable to the Lord based on your merits. He is the One for which you wait because He is the One who loves you and has proven that love.
Don’t oversleep for Judgment Day. Heed the Words of Jesus to you: Watch and Pray. Be mindful of eternity. You won’t miss it, of course, but that’s not why we’re staying watchful today. Our vigilance is by faith. Therefore, it is one of joy and excited expectation for our Beloved. Amen.