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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
 www.lynwoodurc.org
 
Title:Keep Watch for the Hour is Near
Text:Matthew 25:1-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:End Times
 
Preached:2005-08-27
Added:2007-09-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Matthew 24: 36-42

Matthew 25: 1-13

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, just over 4 years ago, when I was living in Minnesota, we received the news that President Bush (then governor of Texas) was going to fly into nearby Sioux Falls, South Dakota for a campaign appearance. As you can imagine, this news caused quite a stir of excitement in all the surrounding communities; thousands planned to attend.

But as it turned out, this announcement also set in motion a very complex set of plans and preparations for the arrival of Gov. Bush. The governor’s security team arrived many days in advance of his visit, and they supervised the construction of the staging area, (setting exact height specifications, etc).

To add to the celebration, various musical groups from the area were invited to sing at the event. In fact, my daughter Sarah was a member of a musical group called the Sioux Land Singers and they were invited to sing. What a great honor it was.

But in order for her group to sing, each member had to submit their personal information to the head of security staff, so they could do a thorough background check. Not only that, but as each group rehearsed their numbers, the security team was right there, giving out specific instructions as to where exactly each member was allowed to stand on the platform.

Also, the hospitals in Sioux Falls were put on full alert, so that when the Governor did arrive, the hospitals would be standing ready with their finest doctors on staff and ambulances ready to roll. Needles to say, the security team was extremely vigilant. They were not about to overlook any details.

Although this was a field day for the citizens of Sioux Falls—a chance to see a presidential candidate, for them, this was not a casual matter. They were adamant about their preparations! They were deadly serious about their work. They had to have everything prepared for the moment of his arrival.

Beloved, that is the type of vigilance, that is the type of preparedness and readiness that Jesus speaks of here in Matthew 25. Up to this point (in chapter 24), Jesus he has been talking to His disciples about the signs of the times, and the coming day of the Lord. Now, he’s instructing them to be ready, to be prepared to meet that day; to be prepared for the arrival of the Son of Man.

That’s the purpose for this parable in chapter 25. Here, The Lord Instructs His Waiting Bride to be Ready for His Arrival. We will focus on three aspects of this readiness:

    1. The Urgency to Be Ready (vs. 1).
    2. The Activity of Getting Ready (vv. 2-9).
    3. The Consequences for Being unready (vv. 10-13).

1) The Urgency to Be Ready

Notice that Jesus begins this parable with the phrase, “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like…I draw your attention to that, because in many parables, Jesus uses a more familiar introductory phrase. We usually read: the kingdom of heaven is like something (a treasure in a field, a farmer, etc).

But this parable is different. It’s referring to a future event. It points forward to ‘that’ time. And to what does that time refer? We read that back in chapter 24: 37-39. There Jesus says,

    As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

So obviously Jesus is referring to the time of His second coming. But notice, this was not only a reference to time, it was also a reference to the circumstances surrounding Christ’s coming. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. People will be going about their everyday lives with no regard at all for Christ, for His Word, for His ways, for His warnings.

I suppose that shouldn’t surprise us much. We’ve come to expect this kind of behavior from the world, right? Unbelievers today aren’t going to heed the warnings about Christ’s return any more than that wicked generation did back in the days of Noah when he warned them about the coming flood.

But here’s the first real shock of this parable. Jesus isn’t talking about the world in this verse. His warning pertains to the covenant community, to the church. This will be more obvious as we go on, but for now, we can conclude at least this. When Christ returns, he will find members of “the church” who are unprepared, unaware, and unconcerned about his coming.

These will be members of the church who will be so caught up in and entertained by the activities of this world, that they will completely lose sight of Christ’s return. They will lose all sense of urgency and readiness and vigilance.

To illustrate this, Jesus tells a story about ten virgins, ten maidens who are awaiting the bridegroom’s appearance. Jesus says, At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Notice, at this point, all ten of these maidens appear to be waiting, they appear to be ready to meet the bridegroom.

Boys and girls, the wedding ceremony and celebrations that took place in Bible times were somewhat different than the weddings we have today. Yes, the bride and groom still got all dressed up, and the friends of the bride and groom still took part in the ceremony. Yes, there was also a wedding banquet—a feast—although the feast often lasted a full 7 days.

But the main difference was in the way the bridal procession was carried out. In our weddings today, the bridal procession takes place here at church. The groom is already here, usually waiting at the front of church as the bridal party walks down the center aisle of church.

But in Bible times, the wedding procession took place outside, in the streets of the town, not in church. And the groom was the one who would actually begin the procession. The custom was that in the middle of the night, the bridegroom would leave his home and walk over to the father of the bride’s house, where his bride awaited within.

Once outside the father’s house, the groom would call out for his bride to come forth to him. Then the two would make their way to the wedding feast—to the place of celebration, and the 10 maidens would be there, walking alongside, holding their lamps up high, lighting the way as they went.

So you can see why the maidens would need to be ready. They would be the ones holding the lamps for light. So they needed to ready to go at a moment’s notice. As you can imagine, this would have been a very beautiful scene. The bride and the groom all beautifully adorned, accompanied by their friends, all walking by torch light to the wedding feast—what a grand procession!

Now, let’s pause a moment and ask ourselves, “Is that what Jesus is comparing the kingdom of heaven to?” Will it be like this grand procession? No, that’s not the point of comparison. Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven will be like one particular aspect of that procession—the kingdom of heaven will be like one instant within that procession. The kingdom of heaven will be like the time—the moment—when those maidens are called to go out to meet the bridegroom.

So as you can see, there was an urgency to that moment; there was a pressing need for these maidens to be ready for the instant the bridegroom arrived; for nothing was going to hold up this procession.

Now, you may have noticed that Jesus never mentions the bride in this parable. He only speaks of the bridegroom and these waiting maidens. Some commentators say that this means that the bride was already at the wedding feast. But really the whereabouts of the bride doesn’t concern us. Christ points our attention to the anticipated arrival of the bridegroom.

He wants us to learn something from the activity of these maidens who are waiting with their lamps. Why? Because they represent the waiting church. They represent us, people of God. As I said before, that is the real shocker of this parable! As it was in the days of Noah—so it will be when Christ returns. There will be those numbered among God’s people who will have lost their sense of urgency.

That’s doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the Church, does it? But, that’s all the more reason for you and me today to heed Christ’s warning. For every Sunday, the call of the gospel goes forth, calling each and everyone one of us to live everyday of our lives with a sense of urgency, with a sense of readiness. We must be ready for the moment of Christ’s return.

2) The Activity of Getting Ready

Christ’s warning, however, goes beyond just the need to be ready. He also instructs us about how to get ready. How are we to prepare for the coming of the bridegroom? This is what Christ addresses next in verses 2-9. Here, we discover the Activity of getting ready.

At this point beloved, it seems that all ten maidens are ready and waiting to meet the bridegroom. We’re told that all ten are holding lamps. All ten of them seem intent on participating in the wedding procession, and all ten seem to be looking forward to feasting at the wedding banquet.

But Jesus tells us that of this ten –of these seemingly 10 identical maidens—five are foolish and five are wise. Again, it’s quite striking that everything about them seemed the same. Everything seemed so similar. Yet, one dis-similarity makes all the difference! Jesus says, five are foolish because they took no oil for their lamps. What a tragic oversight.

Boys and girls, in Jesus’ day, they had no electricity, no flashlights, so all the lighting was done with lamps and torches. The lamps that Jesus mentions are fueled by oil. We still have lamps similar to this today. I have a set of Tiki torches that I use when we go camping. It’s basically a bottle of fuel with a cloth wick sticking out of it.

Once that wick is dipped into the bottle of fuel, the wick gets saturated, and when you light it on fire, that torch, that wick will burn until all the fuel (oil) is gone. It works like gas in a car. The car will only run as long as there is gas in the tank. Without gas, the car won’t start. That’s the way it was with these lamps. Without oil, the lamps would soon burn out and couldn’t be restarted.

Well Jesus says, the 5 foolish maidens had their lamps with them (with whatever oil was in the bottom of their lamps). But, they didn’t take any extra oil with them, in case their lamps ran dry. Whereas (in vs. 4) the five other maidens were said to be wise because they were attentive enough to take a jar of oil with them to refill their lamps.

And in vv. 6-8, we see the immediate benefit of their wisdom. At this point, the maidens were said to be sleeping because of the delay of the bridegroom. Contrary to what some think, this is not an indictment against the maidens, as if refers to the sleeping church. We know that because all of them are sleeping—including the 5 wise maidens.

Rather, it just illustrates the point that the Lord’s return will be sudden, like a thief in the night. That’s how sudden the bridegroom appeared. But at midnight, the long awaited cry goes out “The bridegroom is here! Go out to meet him!” Immediately, all ten maidens woke up and trimmed their lamps. Literally, it means that they adorned their lamps (word from which we get cosmetic).

They made them beautiful for the procession. They trimmed away the charred wick, the strips of cloth, so that their lamps would burn bright and clean for the bridegroom. But as all of them were doing this, the five foolish maidens begin to realize their horrible mistake. Their lamps were lit for the moment, but they quickly going out, they’re beginning to extinguish....all because they have no oil.

The wise maidens can’t give them any, for then they’ll risk running out of oil themselves. So they send them off to those who sell oil. It’s all they could do. As one minister remarked about this point, “There are some things you just can’t borrow”.

So right then, in the middle of the night no less, the foolish maidens must scramble about and go in search of oil, but they know they won’t be able to find any in time. So again, the five foolish maidens were waiting there, just like the others. They’re anticipating the bridegroom, just like the others. They have lamps, just like the others. But they have no oil!

How foolish, when you think about it. How tragic. The very reason, the whole purpose, their sole responsibility for being there was to light their lamps and accompany the bridal procession. That was their duty in the wedding ceremony. So how could they forget to bring oil? What good was a lamp without oil?! It serves no practical purpose whatsoever.

In the same way, beloved religion without faith, without Christ, is nothing. Where is the church, where are her members without faith in Jesus Christ? See, Jesus was drawing a perfect picture of the problem with the Pharisees. It was they who had the duty and responsibility to teach God’s people His law, to teach them God’s Word, to be prepared for the day when the Messiah would come.

But when the Messiah came, what did they do? In their foolishness, they were unprepared to receive him. They denied Him. They attributed His powerful works and wonders to the power of Beelzebub. So Jesus accused them of being white-washed sepulchers; clean on the outside, but dead on the inside.

People of God, this is the way Christ will find his church when he returns. Some will be wise and be ready, others will be foolish and unprepared. There will be those in the church—maybe in this church—who are not ready because they simply do not believe and have living faith in Jesus Christ.

The thing is, their lives show it. They can adorn themselves, make themselves look beautiful to others, but on the inside, they are empty and worthless. But outward religion is not enough—it’s nothing more than dead religion. We can not claim that Christ is the Lord of our life, and then go on living like others do in the world. Then all we have is a form of godliness.

Now, as I look across the congregation, outwardly, all of you look wise and ready. It appears to me that all of you are here because you love the Lord, because you long for His arrival, because you look forward to participate in His marriage feast. But, who among us is wise, and who among us is foolish? That is something that no eye can tell. Is there fifty percent who are wise and ready? Forty percent? Or maybe 60%? Only the Lord knows.

But this parable isn’t designed to give us exact percentages. It is designed, however, to get us to reckon with this question--“Are you ready? Are you living wisely? Are you right now, at this hour, prepared for the Lord’s return, or for him to call you out of this life?

The good news for us, beloved, is that it’s it’s not midnight yet! It’s not too late to do something about it. The bridegroom has not yet come. There’s still time to prepare—there’s still time to fill our lamps so that we might shine till the day of the Lord’s appearing!

So how exactly do we prepare? How do we ready ourselves? We prepare by keeping our faith strong and adding to it! We prepare ourselves by diligently coming right here to church, to the workshop of the Holy Spirit because here is where the Holy Spirit does his best work!

Here is where the Holy Spirit creates faith in us by the preaching of the Word and strengthens our faith by the administration of the sacraments! What was the warning that the writer of Hebrews gave? In chapter 10:25 he said Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching!

There’s no better place to be, no better way to prepare ourselves for Christ’s return than by coming to His house of worship. Wouldn’t it be great if the Lord chose to return on a Sunday, while we were worshipping? So, beloved, where will you be tonight around 6 p.m.? Will you be here, ready to meet the Lord?

Also, let’s not forget the important roles that we parents, and teachers and Christian education plays in getting us ready to meet the Lord. This morning, we witnessed two sets of parents stand here before us and promise to bring up their child in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. As the spiritual heads of your household, you, Brian and Nick, are responsible for the readiness of your family.

We fathers must ensure that our children are taught the truths of the faith, and that they understand and embrace the promises God has made to them. That’s where Christian education comes in. Whether our children are instructed in the home or in the Christian day school, their education is distinct from that of the public schools. Christian education is designed to teach covenant children in a context that is saturated with the truths of God’s Word. So that in every subject, in every class, at recess and extracurricular activities, our children’s education is centered around Christ and His claims upon us.

Sometimes you boys and girls, and sometimes even we parents do not appreciate how truly blessed we are to have Christian education. Let’s never underestimate the importance of that in our lives and on our churches. It’s for that reason that even when our children are finished with grade school and high school, we should never stop supporting those institutions. They help prepare the next generation!

So beloved, are you ready? Are you prepared? Is your lamp full?

3) The Consequences for Being Unready

The outcome of this parable should be no surprise to us. The wise maidens who were prepared, they immediately join in the bridal procession; they are welcomed into the wedding feast with the bridegroom. And, after they enter the banquet hall, (vs. 10) the doors come closing behind them.

There is an unmistakable tone of finality in that sentence. It’s just like the day in which the Lord shut the door of the ark behind Noah and his family. That door separated all those who were inside the ark, who heeded the voice of God, from all those outside the ark, who defied the warnings of God. This parable ends with that same awful finality.

Now the five foolish maidens must pay the price for their negligence, for their lack of faith. They must reap the Consequences for Being Unready. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that they still come to the feast, knocking on the door, demanding entrance. They shout Sir! Sir! Open the door for us! We can almost hear them justify their plight as they talk with the bridegroom himself, “We were supposed to be in your procession, but we were caught off guard—(we might interpret this as, “Lord, Lord, have I not been a member of church all my life; did I not serve as an elder, did I not teach Sunday School”).

But the voice of the bridegroom comes back, I tell you the truth, I don’t know you. What devastation! What shock! What great disappointment! They were locked out of that joyous event—the celebration that no one wants to miss--but they did. They were shut out of the kingdom!

Christ tells us that there will be many like that on the day of the Lord’s coming. Many who assume that Christ will let them in for their good works; many who assume that Christ will let them in because they kept their nose clean in life, they sent their kids to the Christian school, they paid their church budget, they served on the School board and on the Council. But when it cmes down to it, they never truly had faith in Jesus Christ to—they never truly gave their hearts and lives over to Him completely.

Again, people of God, Christ’s warning is designed to call us to be wise. Only a fool would fail to take heed to the Lord’s warning. So let’s not be foolish. Let’s not take our Christian life, our Christian calling for granted. Let’s not get so caught up in the attractions and entertainment and occupations of this world that we lose our sense of urgency and we let our guard down.

Remember, this is serious business, and we’re called to be serious minded! Our Lord is coming, and He far more important than any governor running for the Presidency. He’s our Lord and Savior, the Judge of heaven and earth, and we are the ones called to be prepared, and to make ready for his arrival.

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, the bridegroom is coming. He has an unbreakable appointment with us. At the midnight of history, the voice of the archangel will shout, the bridegroom is here and ready or not, the bridegroom will appear.

I ask again, are you ready for that moment, congregation? Do you understand that the consequences for our foolishness are very grave, and very permanent--we stand in jeopardy of missing the wedding feast of the lamb that lasts for all eternity.

So let’s prepare ourselves, let’s ready ourselves here and now, while there is yet time. Let’s number ourselves among the wise so that we might be welcomed into the heavenly banquet hall and begin the eternal celebration with our exalted Lord! Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Pastor Keith Davis

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