The Second Sunday in Advent December 8, 2002
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
609, 606, 703, 70
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose 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, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 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. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
Dear fellow Watchers of the Kingdom:
Waiting can be the hardest part…
All of those Christmas presents underneath the Christmas tree: some big, some small, different shapes, different weights, some rattle, some don’t. WAITING to open the presents in order to see what is inside of them is often the hardest part.
This is not the only time when we find waiting to be difficult. There may be some event coming in our lives for which we find it difficult to wait. Sometimes, just waiting to “grow up” can be hard in childhood. It can be waiting to determine career aspirations, waiting to find a job, or waiting for anything in the future knowing that God makes certain promises about our futures, but waiting to see just how He will fulfill those promises.
Patience in waiting just isn’t a trait that many of us always have in abundance, and our modern world does nothing to encourage patience.
We live in a world in which family problems and life crises are solved within 30 minutes, or even less if you deduct the time of commercials.
We live in a world in which the media’s entertainment shows people fulfilling their expectations without any kind of waiting. What they see they obtain and then discard just as quickly. Seldom is there any waiting much less a denial of “self” and of self-interest.
We live in a world in which a quick run through the drive-through of a fast food restaurant turns into 10 minutes and we think waiting 10 minutes for a meal is far too long.
We live in a world in which if the speed limit is 15 we wonder why we can’t go 20, but if its 50 we’re sure to go 60, and if its 70 you can be certain we’re wanting to push 80.
Impatience can at times lead a person to change direction, like standing in line 4 at grocery store only to conclude that line 7 is moving more quickly so you move to line 7. When you arrive in line 7 you find there’s a problem at the cash register. So you look back at line 4 and find that three more people with big carts full of groceries have entered line 4, and every other line is now equally full. Now you are at least as “bad off” as you were in the first place, maybe even worse. About that time you take a look at the four items in your hand, wonder if you really need them, decide that you don’t, put them back on the shelf, and go home because it really wasn’t worth WAITING.
Perhaps your impatience would never lead you quite that far, but most of us would certainly get pretty crabby while we waited in line; and impatience often DOES lead to disinterest and/or a change in direction.
Impatience as we await Jesus’ return on Judgment Day can easily lead to a change in direction that is distracted from watching for Him. Impatience can grow to disinterest, disinterest turns into being unprepared, and being unprepared leads to destruction.
As we continue this week in our consideration of a KINGDOM LIKE NONE OTHER, Jesus pleads for us to be READY when He returns, even though He delays. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE A WAIT: Watch to the End. I. Be watchful and wise in repentance II. Be watchful and wise in service. III. Be watchful and wise in expectation.
When Jesus begins this parable of the “Ten Virgins” He begins in a slightly different way than in the other “kingdom” parables. Jesus begins by saying “The kingdom of heaven will be like….” In many of these parables Jesus is describing things that are going on (at least in part) right now as He lives and rules in our hearts. Here, however, Jesus is clearly describing events that lie in the future, specifically, the events of the Last Day.
Jesus’ parables touch on the every-day life of His time. The life back then was considerably different than our own. So, although the truth that Jesus is teaching in these parables remains ever the same, it is helpful to understand the customs and practices of His day. In today’s parable, Jesus takes part of the marriage custom of His day and uses it in His teaching.
The marriage customs of Jesus’ day were quite different from our own. The “betrothal” of Jesus’ day is not equal to our “engagement.” The “wedding” of Jesus’ day is not what we typically think of as our “wedding service.” The marriage customs of those days allowed for the young man and woman to find each other, but then the parents would arrange the betrothal. In the betrothal (without much of a public formal service) the man and woman would make promises to each other and to God. In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God, this betrothal was the marriage.
However, the man and woman did not begin to live together as husband and wife at that time. Following the betrothal, they would each go to their own separate homes until a specified time in the future when they would come together and consummate the marriage physically, and then continue living together as husband and wife.
It was in this time. between betrothal and marriage, when Mary was found to be pregnant of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the Scriptures describe Mary and Joseph as being betrothed (Luke 2:5), but also describe Joseph as being Mary’s husband (Matthew 1:19) because in God’s eyes they were married though they had not yet come together.
At the appointed time and in the evening, a betrothed groom would (with his friends) proceed to the bride’s home. Some of the bride’s friends would be stationed along the way and they would go out (with oil lamps for light) to meet the groom and his friends. The bride’s friends would accompany the groom’s party to the bride’s home where they would meet the bride. Next, the whole company would go in procession to the groom’s home. Upon their arrival, a week-long marriage feast would begin.
In Jesus’ parable, the ten virgins are the bride’s friends waiting for the groom to come so they can escort him to the bride and then join in the procession to the groom’s home. There were five of these virgins who were wise and prepared—thinking ahead, thinking of what they would need; and there were five who were foolish and unprepared. In the end, the foolish women were not able to celebrate and take part in the feast.
Jesus’ lesson in this parable is rather straightforward. He Himself says in the concluding verse, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” [v.13] The application is clear. As we await Jesus’ return we want to be wise and not foolish. But, what constitutes wisdom? For the virgins in the parable it was having extra oil. For us, it is as Job says, “Behold! The fear of the Lord that is wisdom, and to depart from evil that is understanding…“ (Job 28:28). In Proverbs we hear, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7). In another parable, Jesus compares a wise builder to one “who hears these sayings of mine and does them” (Matthew 7:24).
In short, we will be wise in waiting for our Savior’s return when we hear and heed the words of our God; when we fear our God with the awe and the respect and the honor which He so richly deserves; and when we use His Word in every aspect of our lives. With that understanding of what true wisdom is we wish to heed what Jesus says in describing how we are to be ready.
Readiness begins with REPENTANCE. Sin is the ONE thing that can stand between you and eternal life. Without Jesus, sin stands and will stand until Judgment Day. That one need…that one fear…that one mountain over which we must climb to reach eternal life is what Jesus came to REMOVE! Jesus came to be our Savior. He lived a perfect life, fulfilling God’s Law for us, and then He also died to take down that mountain of guilt & sin by washing the guilt & sin away.
If we “stand” in Jesus’ forgiveness, we are forgiven, we are wise, and we are ready. We receive the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ. Jesus came to redeem the WHOLE WORLD. There is forgiveness that wipes out the mountain of sin for EVERYONE! And then the forgiveness comes to us personally through believing and trusting in Jesus as our Savior.
We are WISE and READY when day-by-day we are repenting of the sins we commit day-by-day; and then also after that repentance putting our complete trust in Jesus, confidently knowing that those sins are GONE!
BUT…we don’t always FEEL so wise or so ready. We have doubts and uncertainties. You will be ready, wise, and watchful when those doubts and uncertainties come by remembering that you’re not saved by your feelings. Your salvation does not depend upon how “saved” you feel. Your salvation does not depend upon how much of a Christian you thought you were yesterday and today, and what you hope to be tomorrow. You are saved because Jesus died on the cross for your sins. That salvation is won and unchanging. Put your faith and trust in that salvation and the Savior who brings it to you. When doubts and weaknesses arise cling to that truth because that truth never changes. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).
So as you’re watching and being ready, put your trust in the ROCK of Christ and His salvation, nothing can shake it. But also, recognize your sinfulness. Recognize your own weaknesses and then pray with the man who came to Jesus saying, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Also realize that your life is going to be a constant cycle of repentance, sin, repentance, sin, repentance, etc. Paul, writing to the Romans, said, “I know that in me that is in my flesh nothing good dwells. For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (keep doing!).” (Romans 7:18-19).
Paul faced the same thing as you and I do. He didn’t want to sin, but he found himself sinning. When he found himself sinning he repented, put his trust in Jesus for forgiveness, and went forward. Then he found himself sinning again, and he again went to Jesus for forgiveness. Don’t be discouraged by that ever-going cycle. It is part of our lives on this earth. It is part of the watching and waiting.
We are going to have that spiritual tug-o-war between the part of us that wants to follow Christ and the part of us that keeps pulling us back. If that fight and struggle were ever to cease, THEN is when you should become concerned. We are READY when we’re battling our “Old Adam” and daily finding ourselves in sorrow over our sins and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. But if we should find ourselves beginning to not care, then we need to redirect ourselves and watch, and be ready.
The wise virgins in Jesus’ parable were prepared. Their readiness could not help the five who were foolish. Each of us is an individual soul before God. As Paul told the Corinthians, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body…” (2 Corinthians 5:10). So, preparedness is a personal issue for each one of us, as is repentance, and the trust in Jesus for forgiveness.
In Jesus’ parable, the bridegroom delayed. Likewise, now, Jesus delays in His return. He delays and thus we have time on this earth. What are we do with the time? How are we to be ready while spending our time?
Following our text, Jesus continues into another parable in which He describes a man going to a far country (Matthew 25:14ff). The man entrusts certain goods to his servants to manage while he is away. The owner entrusts his goods to his servants in an amount according to each one’s ability and then he leaves. The servants received differing amounts of goods and they produced differing amounts of return.
The first servant invested his amount and doubled it. The second servant invested his amount and doubled it. These two servants pleased the master upon his return. The third servant buried what he had been given. The master was ANGRY with this servant. The master was angry, not because this servant only had one talent while the others had several, but because he didn’t use what he had been given.
This second parable combined with the parable of the ten virgins instructs us that while we wait we are wise and watchful when we use what God has given us in a profitable way and for His service.
God has given each of us gifts—different amounts and different types, but to each of us He has given gifts to USE. He has given us according to His wisdom, according to our ability, and what He knows we will be able to use. In the Gospel reading, we heard that the good servant is the one who is found conducting business faithfully while the master is away from home. So too, we seek to be good and faithful stewards of ALL that God has given us as we wait for Jesus to come back.
Jesus has given us work to do. We are not on this earth just for our own amusement. We’re not on this earth to live, eat, drink, and be merry, then die and go to heaven. We are on the earth to witness to the Gospel! We are on this earth to serve our Lord Jesus in everything we do and to bring His saving Word to others so they too can enjoy eternal life with Him in heaven.
There are SO MANY gifts that God has given to individuals throughout this world’s history. There is SO MUCH opportunity to misuse these gifts…we need to WATCH and be WISE that we use them well.
Someone may have the gifts of wit and humor, but use them for off-color jokes. Someone may have a beautiful singing voice, but sing lyrics that offend God. Someone may have the ability to lead. Almost anyone would follow that person wherever he or she would go, but that person may use the power and authority and leadership qualities to lead astray, to lead in a selfish path instead of taking an active and profitable role.
Whatever your gifts may be, use them! Perhaps it is a love for children and a talent for working with them. Then teach the children. Whether this is in a classroom or more informally, teach the children. Mother your children if you have them of your own. Instruct them in the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps you are of a quality that can lead and lead well. Step up! Lead! Use those gifts for the work of the Church and the glory of God! Whatever the gift, use it!
If we consider our gifts in comparison to other people we will become discouraged because we will always be able to find someone who has more. If you try to compete with others in their realm of gifts and you don’t have those particular gifts, you’ll always lose and become discouraged. Again, it is PERSONAL readiness. It doesn’t matter what I can do and you can’t, or what you can do and I can’t. It is what each of us can do for the work of God’s kingdom. It is what each of us can do to be shining lights in the world to glorify our Savior. It is what each of us can do so that when you put it all together we become a “body” working for Christ.
Paul told the Corinthians, “As the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ…For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Corinthians 12:12,14-18).
We have these gifts to use in EVERY part of our lives and so we ought to be ready, watchful, wise, and diligent in using them. Paul told the Ephesians, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time…” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Redeeming the time is making the most of EVERY opportunity that you have and “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
We are READY through repentance and actively working with the gifts God has given us, AND we need to be aware that He could come at ANY time.
The unexpectedness of Jesus’ return was highlighted in both of today’s Scripture readings. In another parable of Jesus, He spoke of a rich fool who had a bountiful crop—so bountiful that he built new barns to hold it all. The man said, “I’m going to take it easy, eat, drink, and be merry.” That night God came to him and said, “You fool! TONIGHT you will lose your life.” (cf: Luke 12:13ff).
We can easily fall into the trap of “I need to address that spiritual part of my life…tomorrow….some day…when the children are a little older…when I have more time.” The old saying is still true: “First it’s too young…then too busy…then too old…then TOO LATE.”
We need to expect Jesus at ANY given SECOND! This gives us cause to think about what we do in our lives. When I’m preparing to go somewhere or do something I can well ask myself, “If Jesus were to return while I’m engaged in this activity, is that where I would want Him to find me?” If not, perhaps I should reconsider my plans.
Jesus said that as in the days of Noah when people were doing everything they would ordinarily do and the flood came, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man (cf: Matthew 24:37f). Therefore, if Jesus returns in our current age we can well expect that there will be drug deals taking place. Somewhere someone will be lying drunk. Men will be sleeping with women who are not their wives. Many unbelievers will be caught unaware and unprepared. Even Christians will be lulled into complacency because Jesus delays. BEWARE! WATCH! BE WISE! He is going to come unexpectedly without a moment’s notice.
Even if Jesus doesn’t come in our lifetimes. When our lives end it is just as if He had come. For “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). And for all the witness that the Scriptures give describing how frail and how passing our lives are we should be READY at ALL TIMES. Our lives are like a mist (James 4:14), they are quick like a weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6), they are like grass that today is here and is gone tomorrow (1 Peter 1:24). Our lives are quick, brief, and they will be GONE! Whether our own death comes unexpectedly, or Jesus returns unexpectedly, there is really no difference. We need to be ready at any time!
If your Old Adam ever wants to tempt you into thinking, “Oh, its OK, there’s lots of time.” Just remember what the groom in Jesus’ parable told the five foolish virgins: “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.” [v.12] If we apply this to Jesus, how sorrowful it is to realize that this same Savior who…
…came to the earth
…became man for sinners
…kept the law for sinners
…died for the world’s sins
…has given every advantage, every opportunity, and every spiritual blessing
…has done all of this purely out of grace
…and still showers more grace upon us—
How sorrowful it is that this same Savior will, at the end, have to tell those who have rejected Him: “I DO NOT KNOW YOU.”
Be READY with expectation knowing Jesus could return at any time. For us this is not an exhortation to readiness that comes with fear and threatening. Rather, it is a call to readiness with excitement and anticipation! Jesus could come at any time!
Be READY, WATCHFUL, REPENTING, ACTIVE IN USING YOUR GIFTS and then you can say confidently: “Even so come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). Take me home. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.