Sermon for the
Last Sunday in the Church Year
St. Matthew 25:1-13
The story of the wise and
foolish virgins is a hard one to understand.
We might think it is because of our culture.
What do we know about the wedding customs of rural first century
Palestine? But even when we
learn a little of these customs it still doesn’t make sense.
Who can explain the folly of the
foolish virgins? The reason
they are there is to escort the bridegroom into the wedding hall.
Since he will be arriving in the evening, they take their lamps
with them. But why in the
world would they have lamps in their hands but no oil to put into the
lamps? They know perfectly well that you cannot light a lamp unless
its wick is soaked in oil. One
wonders what they were thinking of.
Why go through the motions of carrying a lamp that cannot be lit?
The behavior of the wise virgins
is equally inexplicable. Why
can’t they share just a little bit of oil with the foolish virgins?
They don’t need much; they only need enough to keep the lamps
lit for as long as it takes to escort the bridegroom into the house.
They appear to be rather stingy.
Surely they could have shared just a little.
But it’s the behavior of the
bridegroom that is the most perplexing and even upsetting.
It is understandable that he would be annoyed by the failure of
the foolish virgins to be ready for him.
He was counting on their participation in the processional into
the wedding hall and he had to make do with half the number.
But why is he so harsh with them?
He speaks with the solemnity of an oath and says to the foolish
girls, “I do not know you.” Why
so callused? A wedding is a
time of joy and celebration! Why
is the bridegroom so strict? It’s
only a wedding, after all.
But it’s not only a wedding. It’s a parable of Judgment of Day. We won’t understand Judgment Day by becoming acquainted
with the wedding customs of first century Palestine.
There is only one way to understand Judgment Day and be ready for
it. That is to know Christ.
After all, Christ is the One who is seated at the right hand of
God the Father, almighty. Christ
is the One who will return to judge the living and the dead.
Only those who know Christ are ready for Judgment Day because
only those who know Christ will be able to stand before Him.
Some years ago there was a
popular rock opera called “Jesus Christ: Superstar.”
A couple of years later a Country Western singer sang a song
titled, “I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Superstar.”
A Lutheran theologian has written a book called “Jesus through
the Centuries” that features the different perspectives folks have had
of Jesus down through the years. These
views of Jesus are reflected in poetry, hymnody, and the arts.
There are as many views of Jesus as there are religious opinions,
it seems. So when I say
that only those who know Jesus are ready for Judgment Day one may
rightly ask: Which Jesus do I mean?
The real Jesus is revealed in
the words of the Bible. He
is revealed most clearly in His suffering for sinners on the cross.
This Jesus has given to His holy Christian Church on earth marks
by which she can rightly identify Him and find in Him her salvation.
The real Jesus is not portrayed for us in popular songs, movies,
plays, or religious movements. The
real Jesus has never been very popular.
He is portrayed for us in Holy Baptism by which and through which
we die to ourselves and are born from above to eternal life.
It is His death and His resurrection to which our baptism binds
us. He is portrayed for us
in the gospel that reveals His suffering for the sin of the world and
bearing away into the grave all of the guilt of guilty sinners.
He is portrayed for us in the Sacrament of His body and blood
which we eat and drink with our mouths, even while we eat and drink by
faith the same body and blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness
of our sins. Jesus is
portrayed in the words of absolution spoken to us when we bare our soul
before the God who judges our hearts and we confess our sins of thought,
word, and deed. The words
of mercy the pastor speaks are the words of Jesus Himself.
We know Jesus in His gospel and
sacraments. Knowing this
Jesus we are ready to face Him when he returns to judge the living and
Yet the true Jesus is regularly
twisted and turned this way and that to become an artificial Jesus who
can no longer even be recognized by the faithful.
The true Jesus is distorted in every which way to make him
conform to whatever popular opinion or the latest trendy cause wants him
to be. While there is only
one true Jesus there are dozens of frauds: Jesus the moralist, Jesus the
revolutionary, Jesus the socially sensitive reformer, Jesus the
Republican, Jesus the Democrat, Jesus the anything else but the Savior
of sinners and the Judge of the living and the dead!
We live in a post-Christian
America. Jesus Christ is so
familiar to so many people and yet it seems as if few people really know
him. And this is why so few
are ready for His return to judge the living and the dead.
No wonder Judgment Day seems to be an unnecessary imposition on
our busy lives. It is
rarely preached today. Who
even believes it anymore?
We occupy our minds with all
kinds of foolishness. Time
marches on and we know that the day of Christ’s return is imminent.
He could return today. You
don’t know. God knows.
To what do we devote the short time left to us here on earth?
If the true and saving faith were something we could just conjure
up within ourselves all by ourselves we’d always be ready for the time
when faith was to give way to sight. But faith is the gift of God.
Faith isn’t something we work for.
It is something the Holy Spirit creates inside of us.
And when Jesus returns it will be too late to find any oil for
lamps that have no oil.
The lamp is a symbol for God’s
word. The Psalmist writes,
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm
119:105) But the word of God doesn’t lighten the path of the
unbeliever. Those whose
lamps are empty and have no oil are not ready to face God their Judge.
Those without a living faith in Jesus, the only Redeemer of
sinners, are not ready for Judgment Day.
There is only one way to be ready for Judgment Day.
We must know Jesus today. We
must know Him now for who and for what He is.
Who is Jesus?
He is the eternal Son of God become flesh and blood.
He is your God and He is your brother.
That’s who Jesus is. What
is Jesus? He is your
Savior. He saw you as you
were caught in the filth of your own sin.
He saw your guilt and your helplessness to escape the
consequences of it. Even before you knew Him or acknowledged Him in any way, He
knew you and He loved you. He
saw with perfect clarity every sin you’ve ever done or will do.
He hated what He saw because He is the holy God who cannot
tolerate sin. But His love
for you was greater than your sin against Him. His love is almighty. He
chose to become the sinner. He
did no sin. Yet he suffered
as if He did. He became the
liar, the adulterer, the thief, and the murderer.
He became the blasphemer, the despiser of God, and the idolater. He was pure and innocent and holy and did nothing wrong.
He thought nothing wrong. He
spoke nothing wrong. Yet He
chose to take the place of every sinner who has ever lived.
He chose to bear their judgment.
The just punishment of all sinners was precisely what Jesus
Christ Himself bore in His sacred body and soul.
He thereby silenced the word of judgment of an angry God against
all sinful humanity.
Now the One who silenced the
judgment of wrath against sinners comes to this world to judge.
He who bore the judgment will stand and judge. We will stand before Him.
Those who trusted in Him are those who found refuge in his mercy
here in this life. Jesus
came into the world to save sinners.
Those who sought in Him the Savior from their sins are those who
will be able to stand before Him on Judgment Day.
Those who heard the gospel in faith are those whose lamps will be
burning because they have oil. Those
who neglected His word will be outside looking in.
Most of them will be folks who also neglected church.
But there will be people who went to church, read their Bibles,
attended the Lord’s Supper, and did not believe in Jesus.
They will cry out, “Lord, Lord,” but it won’t be the cry of
faith. They will hear the
answer, “Assuredly I say to you, I do not know you.”
Jesus knows those who trust in Him for the forgiveness of their
sins. These are the ones He
will take into the eternal celebration of heaven where Christ and His
bride, the Holy Christian Church, will enjoy an eternity of mutual love.
What does Jesus want from you
right now, dear Christian? What
can you give Him today, so that you will be ready whenever He returns to
judge the living and the dead? Nothing.
You have nothing He needs. So
give Him what burdens you. Give
Him your sins. Take it all
and confess it all and leave it all on Him who bore it for you.
That’s what faith does. It
gives all sins to the sin-bearer. When
our sin-bearer returns to judge – and nobody but God alone knows when
that will be – we who know Him now as Savior will have nothing to fear
from Him as Judge. This is
why we pray that God will keep us steadfast in the true faith that we
may be ready to meet the bridegroom when He comes.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus