End Times Sunday November 12, 2023
I Thessalonians 5:1-11
72, 67, 609, 509
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Lord God, heavenly Father: make us watchful and heedful in awaiting the coming of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that when He shall stand at the door and knock, He may find us not sleeping in carelessness and sin, but awake and rejoicing in His appearance; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our meditation is based on the parable of the ten virgins. You will see that the demands we sinners make of this earthly life blind you from the perfect care of your God, but that the Gospel reveals how Christ Jesus has both prepared and given everything you need for eternal life in Him. Again, from the parable:
And at midnight there was a cry: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him.’
Lord Jesus, bless Thy Word that we may trust in Thee. Amen.
In all my years as pastor, I have rarely, if ever, officiated a wedding which has started right on time. Some have come remarkably close. Even then, the last-minute anxieties can make each passing second seem to last centuries.
Just moments before “go-time,” something will undoubtedly not work like it’s supposed to. Some piece of wardrobe does not fit. Somebody’s not there yet—somebody who needs to be there and said they were going to be there, and I just got a text that they’re on their way…
What choice do I have as pastor… what choice do I have, but to wait?
But in the parable of the ten virgins, Jesus says He will not wait. Ten bridesmaids slumber and sleep, and just before “go-time,” mind you not till then, the five foolish discover some detail not quite right. And what you see unfold is that everything, everybody else, must stop for them: “Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.”
No other wedding they’ve been in has started on time, and definitely not without everyone ready just how they saw fit, why should this one be any different?
Yet, unlike any other wedding, their anxiety receives not one ounce of compassion from their fellow bridesmaids: “No, lest there be not enough for us and you… go rather and buy for yourselves.”
A shocking level of rational behavior moments before go-time. Any other wedding this kind of anxiety would have spread like wildfire.
And what more, the seeming lack of compassion on the part of fellow bridesmaids is matched by a Bridegroom who carries on regardless, for when the five foolish finally do show up—late—they find the wedding has already begun without them, as if their part in the big day had never been expected in the first place: “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”
This cruel, callous approach—that which no pastor dare try—is Jesus’ way of teaching that you are not in charge. For the sinner—who wants everything in life to go how you want, just how you see fit—this can be hard, I dare say impossible, to accept.
The proverbial bride’s demand that everything must be perfect—the underlying assumption it should be just so and the companion anxiety that if it’s not, there must be something wrong with you—this lies at the heart of so much of life’s aggravations, a driving force behind a good deal of discontentment and misconduct among us mortals whom the Lord calls to simply watch and wait.
The insistence that your family behave a certain way for you to openly claim them as yours, to be treated fairly at work in order to have a sense of worth around there, to be given a certain level of respect in order to show it to others yourself. In all this is the delay that I’ll get my act together right once everyone else does. All of which actually makes your God wait on you. And it makes every day your wedding day, so to speak, as you make yourself the assumed center of attention.
Yet Jesus is right. You and I are not the ones left in charge of the big day nor any other. Regardless of any delay or excuse on our part, there is a set time for us all to give an account.
You see, although as pastor I have never had a wedding start precisely on time, funerals are a different story. For despite how that old joke goes, I have never encountered the problem of that person of honor showing up late. No, ready or not, the body has been promptly prepared the very moment appointed by God. The question is, “Was the soul?”
Thus the parable’s concluding words: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”
But if you, dear friend, have been awakened from the delusion that it’s all about you, even if for the brief moment of this sermon you find yourself roused from the slumber of your demands of life and of Him, hear and receive the good news yours this very hour: “Behold, He is at the door.” For the same Bridegroom who will come for you the final day lives in our midst this day, as His call echoes here in this banquet hall, for you and I feast together on His Word of life.
A Word which makes you the center of attention after all, the full focus of Jesus’ boundless, saving love, as if you, dear soul, as if you are the only one in the room.
This Bridegroom is the Savior promised throughout human history, to our first father Adam long ago, by many a preacher every generation since. And though to man’s perspective every second God has made us wait might seem like centuries, in His divine perspective, Jesus entered the precise moment promised through many a prophet of old: “When the fullness of the time was come.” (Galatians 4:4)
Many had their own expectations of Him, pulling and tugging Him in the direction of all sorts of fancies and demands, ranging from making Jesus a bread-king to fill their bellies, to a zealot who would overthrow the Romans. And when He lived up to none of their dreams, they threw a fit, plotting to stone Him or at least put Him secretly away, but nothing could take Jesus off what He had in mind for His big day to atone for the iniquity of all mankind, according to God’s appointed time and public manner of a cross.
At the rehearsal dinner the night before, Jesus had spent the evening trying to calm His groomsmen’s nerves, help them understand what they were about to watch unfold, by washing their feet as a picture of humility and love. But Peter, ever the bridesmaid, had to object: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” (John 13:9) Peter’s confusion was the same as the foolish virgins, that the kingdom of God should somehow wait on his standards. No, for a matter as important as this, Jesus alone was in charge: “He that is washed… is completely clean.” (John 13:10)
Washed clean by Jesus’ choice to proceed down an aisle adorned in a veil of thorns and blood. Though in terms of sin white as snow, He went with purple for a gown, for those in attendance to heckle each step of a march on up to the altar of Golgotha, when in truth they should have been watching in awe as the only-begotten Son of God bore the sin of the world as His own.
As the Apostle describes, Jesus is the Bridegroom who “loved the church, and gave himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse [you] with the washing of water by the word… that He might present [you] to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing… holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-28) Who both gave Himself unto death and rose again from the grave so that by fulfilling every detail to the letter, you might believe every word He spoke, as He Himself explained: “I go and prepare a place for you… if it were not so, I would have told you… that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:3)
For through those words, the Spirit of the One who rose from physical death calls you forth out of spiritual death unto a living faith in Him, that adorned with His righteousness as royal dress, He might including you in the bridal party by grace, to stand up from death yourself alongside all those who sleep in Him and receive eternal glory that great and final day.
Thus, we stand up for Him this day, by gathering around His life-giving Word: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. If any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20) Ever inviting, ever knocking, ever welcoming you through the good news of the forgiveness and life are yours through His holy, precious blood: “Come for all things are now ready.” (Luke 14:17)
Which brings us back and explains in full the foolishness of the five who, at go-time, go tearing off as if there’s just one last thing…
The anxiety and flurry of demands which receive no compassion from fellow bridesmaids: “No.” And neither from the Bridegroom: “I know you not.” Because in the end, you either have everything you need or you don’t have a thing. The difference being faith.
Without faith in Jesus, there’s no help to be had for any struggle this vale of tears. But with faith, you receive—maybe not what you think you need—but the one thing needful. And along with Him and His forgiveness, you get to have the mindset that the world need stop for you put to rest by the Savior who for you put everything to the side.
The slumber of the parable is our watch and wait until these promises you receive here through your ears are brought to completion to the eye at Christ’s return. Asleep in that our minds are incapable of grasping, blinded to how Jesus is indeed in control all things, guiding every second which passes, despite how this mind wanders off, too many an anxiety and priority off focus from the world to come, the foolishness as if something, as if anything would be left to you.
Thus, you keep your vessel trimmed through repentance and faith, filled with oil through the comfort and hope that all things have been prepared by Him who suffered and died for you.
Rejoice, then, this one wedding, the eternal feast of heaven, this one will start right on time, only because no detail has been left to you… …other than to watch and wait on the Savior who promises to guide your every step your walk down the aisle till you reach His side.
Thus our hymn declares:
With bridal care, yourselves prepare
To meet the Bridegroom, who is near. (TLH #609:1)
Prepare yourselves by keeping in His Word. And thereby become equipped with the kind of faith that allows you to be there for others in their more bridesmaid-moments. Be so demanding yourself. And share the oil of humble love with all in your life while there still is time.
Yes, the bride might think she needs just one more thing. But the Gospel reveals how you couldn’t be more perfectly adorned. So, hold the vessel tight, your lamp, keep trimmed and bright, as we await together the dawn of that glorious day, the call for which is coming, coming soon enough for us all.
Now the peace that passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.