[All Saints]  Matthew 25:1-13  J.D.Roekle

 

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

 

Saints Are Prepared for Christ

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          Our wedding customs are pretty standard, aren’t they.  Certainly some of the details vary, but the basic outline of what happens remains pretty much the same.  A couple gets engaged. They set a date for the wedding.  Plans are then made.  Then on the wedding day a ceremony or service is held.  Finally, a reception is held.  That’s the pattern we are generally familiar with. 

          Wedding customs were different in Bible times.  Some of the details in Jesus’ parable here may have tipped you off to that fact.  The marriage bond between a husband and wife was brought about by their mutual pledges of faithfulness.  Generally, it was their parents who arranged this to happen.  But following this pledge, they would live apart for a time.  At the end of the time apart, there was no marriage ceremony such as we have.  Rather, there was a wedding celebration that sometimes lasted for several days, which was initiated by the custom that Jesus talks about in this parable.   That custom involved the groom going to the house of his bride in order to bring her back to his home.  As he would do this, the bride’s attendants – in this case, the ten virgins – would go out to meet him in order to escort him to the bride.  They would take oil lamps with them in order to light the way on this joyous occasion.  It was necessary for these attendants to be prepared for the time when the groom or bridegroom appeared so that they could join in on the wedding festivities. 

          You see where Jesus is going with this, don’t you?!  One day, our bridegroom, Jesus himself, will appear in order to bring us into the eternal feast of glory he has prepared for us.  The question is:  are you ready?  Are you ready for the day that Christ calls you home through death or for when he returns at the end of time, whichever comes first?  We have a name for people like you who believe in Christ and what he has done for them.  We call them saints.  And so as we celebrate All Saints today, we want to recognize that Saints are prepared for Christ

 

          Whenever there is a wedding, there are always preparations involved.  Especially for the bride and groom, of course.  But preparations are also necessary for the guests that are attending.  You plan what you are going to wear.  You go out and buy a wedding card.  You look at the gift registry at the department store for an appropriate gift, or you write out a check. 

          There were also preparations that were necessary for the attendants, the 10 virgins who wanted to attend the wedding festival.  The preparation that is zeroed in on?  They needed to have enough oil for their lamps so that their lights would stay lit the entire walk during this wedding procession. 

          It isn’t difficult to see what Jesus is talking about in this parable. The fact that we are in the end times and focusing on this parable also gives us a clue.  Jesus is the bridegroom who the ten virgins are waiting for.  Who are these ten?  This is describing all those who profess to be Christians, who at least on the outside say they are looking for Christ’s return. 

          Then there is the element of their preparation.  The oil for their lamps.  The 5 wise virgins made the necessary preparation with their oil; the 5 foolish virgins didn’t. 

What is it, finally, that you need in order to be prepared for Christ’s return?  What is that you need to be saved?  Remember what the Apostle Paul said?  He said that it is by grace you are saved through faith.  Through faith in Jesus Christ and his work for you.  So the oil in the lamps symbolizes faith in Jesus.  On the other hand, the lack of oil is a picture of a lack of faith. 

          Faith is important to understand correctly.  In understanding faith correctly, you need to understand the object of faith.  After all, many people profess to have faith.  They will say that they have faith in God.  Don’t you often hear people say that even publicly? But what exactly does that mean?  Many times it is used in generic terms. People use faith in god to mean faith in any power that is greater than yourself.  With that being the case, then what is the difference between a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness?  There really is no difference. 

          But in reality, there’s a huge difference.  Only the Christian has the necessary oil in their lamp to join Christ’s wedding feast when he returns.  For it is faith in Christ alone which saves.  Faith in the great exchange.  Jesus took on our sin and gave us his righteousness.  Jesus gave up his blood on the cross so that we could be his. 

          We need to also be careful on how we talk about faith as Christians.  You’ve probably heard it or even said it yourself this way before: “You just have to have faith.” “You just need faith.”  “You just need to believe.”  But what does that mean?  Faith in what?  What are we really saying?  Sometimes it becomes a sort of having faith in their faith thing.  Think about the danger in having faith in your faith. 

          The danger is the thinking that you are at least partially responsible for saving yourself.  What it is really saying then is that Jesus’ sacrifice and death on the cross was only partially effective for me.  Now, I’ve got to do the rest and have faith. 

          When I think that way, then I wonder if I have enough faith.  The thing that Christ wants you and me to do is to focus on him and what he has done for us.  That is truly the thing that saves.  That is what we put our hope and trust in.  That’s the thing that never wavers or changes.  That is the one thing constant.  And so my faith always needs to focus on the object and not me or on my feelings or on how much I believe. 

          There’s one more thing to keep in mind.  Faith is a very personal thing.  Think about it.  When the bridegroom came and the 5 foolish virgins realized they didn’t have enough oil to keep their lamps lit, what did they do?  They turned to the 5 wise virgins and told them to give some of theirs.  How did the 5 wise virgins respond?  No, there’s not enough for both of us.  Go get your own

          There’s a lesson there for us too.  You and I are not prepared if we’re just going to rely on other people to be saved.  We aren’t going to heaven just because our parents believed.  Faith does not mean you rely on others to do the believing for you.  The Apostles’ Creed captures that point very well.  We begin by saying “I believe…”  I personally accept all these truths about Christ by God-given faith. 

          After all, when I focus on the object, I realize how thoroughly Christ has prepared me!  He brought me into his kingdom at the baptismal font where he put his name on me: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is there, that he gave me faith in this Triune God who has created me, redeemed me, and sanctified me.  And it is through Christ’s word of promise that he continues to nurture my faith.  He even reaches out when I kneel at the altar to receive the very body and blood that were sacrificed for me, to assure me I’m prepared for him because I’m forgiven.    

For some, the word ‘saint’ may be a confusing term.  That’s often the case because sometimes people look at that title as if it were a title that was earned.  Well, it was earned.  But not by you or me.  It was a title that Christ earned for us.  He was the one who lived perfectly for us.  He was the one who died innocently in our place.  And he was the one who gave you faith.  In doing so, he made you his saints.  By definition then, you are prepared for Christ.  You are prepared for him whenever he calls for you, either on the Last Day or before.  In the meantime, as you keep watch for him, guard what you have so that you remain prepared when our heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, returns to take us his eternal feast.  Amen.