Last Sunday of the Church Year| Matthew 25:1-13| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| November 20, 2022
We Christians are of all people greatly privileged, because we do not need to be afraid of Christ’s return. Last week, we heard of Jesus’ lesson of the final judgment when he would separate all nations before him like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. That lesson was terrifying. Jesus sits on his glorious throne to judge all nations. Our lesson today is from the same chapter of Matthew. Yet, instead of all nations being gathered before him, there are ten virgins going out and waiting for the return of the bridegroom, so that they may enter with him into his wedding hall and celebrate! The bridegroom is Christ Jesus. The ten virgins are the Christian Church. Christians do not dread the return of Christ. Rather, we welcome it. We look forward to it with great anticipation as one looks forward to celebrating a wedding. Jesus even teaches us to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” by which we pray not only for God to rule us with his grace today, but that Christ would finally come with his glory.
St. Peter tells us to be waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, when we are promised new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:12-13). Hebrews chapter 9 tells us that Christ will return a second time, “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” And the book of Revelation closes with a prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!” To be a Christian means that we look forward to and welcome the return of Christ.
I can’t overstate how wonderful this is. We’re sinners! We have been born enemies of God (Ephesians 2:3). Every intention of our hearts is sinful from our youth (Genesis 8:21) We regularly break God’s commandments. Even though we have been born again, we still do the evil we do not want to do. And what does God’s law say to such things? God threatens to punish all who transgress his commandments (Exodus 20:5). God threatens his wrath against all ungodliness and sinners (Romans 1:18) Because of our sins, we should be terrified to meet God. A day of judgment should fill us with anguish and anxiety! And for many it does. Islam does not promise forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ to its followers. Muslims often have a more acute awareness of God’s law than we Christians do. They know that God demands obedience. And they know that they have not been obedient enough. So, they are filled with terror at the idea of God coming to judge. And they are not alone. Many people around the world, who are aware of their sinful condition are fearful of God’s judgment upon them.
Yet, why have we escaped this fear? How can we be unafraid of Jesus’ return in power? Because we have faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. We know what he did when he came the first time. He submitted himself under God’s law for our sake. And having lived perfectly, he bore our sins on the cross. The man who comes again is he who willingly suffered and died for our wrongdoings, so that we would not be sent to hell. We Christians look forward to the day of Christ’s coming, because he is our Savior. He is our dearest Friend! He is our Redeemer, who has purchased our release from hell with his precious blood and innocent suffering and death. The hymnist puts it beautifully:
The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is His new creation By water and the Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her, And for her life He died. (LSB 644)
Jesus is our Bridegroom, who has purchased us with his own blood. How can we not welcome him with great joy and anticipation? We long to see him! And would that everyone would have this joy, the Muslim, the Hindu, the works-righteous “Christian,” that they would come and know Christ as their Savior.
Yet, with this parable, Jesus warns us to keep watch. You must not become apathetic, as many have become in this age. In our current culture, fewer and fewer people are concerned about the return of Christ or the final judgment. They are not afraid of a final judgment. They over-psychologize everything spiritual, and explain away or counsel away a guilty conscience. No one looks to Jesus’ return with joy if they never feared judgment for their sins in the first place.
And that is the danger that the Christian Church is in. The ten virgins are the Christian Church throughout the ages. Most of them will not be alive when Jesus returns, but all will stand before him, both the living and the dead. And we don’t know when that will be. Just as you do not know when you will die, so you also do not know when Christ will return.
The virgins all look the same, yet there is an important difference between the foolish and the wise. The foolish brought no oil for their lamps, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Those who brought oil were prepared for the Bridegroom when he was delayed. Those who did not bring oil were unprepared.
This shows that not everyone who looks like a Christian or is an outward member of the Christian Church on earth is prepared for Christ’s return. There are many hypocrites. They look like Christians on the outside, but they do not have a repentant heart or faith or love or the Holy Spirit on the inside. Their love has grown cold (Matthew 24:12). They no longer tolerate sound doctrine, but have itching ears to listen to those things that satisfy their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3). They become distracted by the things of this world and do not value the things of Christ.
Who on earth would take a lamp out in the dark to meet a bridegroom, whom no one knows when he will arrive, and not take any oil for the lamp to burn? What good is an oil lamp without oil? A fool would do that, that’s who. There’s no sense in it. It’s foolishness. Yet, that is what we do in our unbelief all the time. St. Paul exhorts us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) That is how we fill our flasks with oil, so that we are prepared for Christ’s coming. Yet, is that what we do? Do we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly? Do we pay attention to Christ’s teaching and admonish one another and receive admonishment with humility? Do we sing psalms, hymns, and songs with thanksgiving to God?
If you refuse to repent of your sins, then your oil has run out. If you do not have faith in Christ, your oil has run out. If your love toward your fellow Christians has grown cold, then your oil has run out. How can we keep Christ’s flame burning within our hearts? How can we turn ourselves from our sin and increase our faith in Christ, so that we stand prepared? By hearing Christ’s teaching and preaching. By receiving Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament. By repenting of our sins and believing in the absolution declared to us for Christ’s sake. Our flasks are filled with oil when we receive the means of grace, which proclaim Christ’s forgiveness and salvation to us.
In the hymn of the day for the first Sunday in Advent, we sing:
O Lord, how shall I meet You, How welcome You aright?
Your people long to greet You, My hope, my heart’s delight!
O kindle, Lord most holy, Your lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly All that may please You best. (LSB 334)
God fills us with oil, so that Christ’s lamp burns within our hearts. He does this by proclaiming his Word to us. He rebukes sin and comforts us with the Gospel. He strengthens our faith with the Sacraments, the benefits of which surpass our understanding. He teaches us to trust and love in him more. The more oil he gives us, the more oil we want, so that we are always prepared.
Why do the foolish forsake the oil? Because they’ve lost interest in it. They don’t think they need it. They think they have enough. So, they don’t go to church. They avoid theological discussions about God’s Word. They avoid prayer. They avoid repenting of their sins. And the longer they live that way, the easier it is for them to ignore the oil. The longer they go without hearing Christ’s Word, the less they desire to hear it. The longer they go without receiving Christ’s body and blood and absolution, the less they desire it. They treat faith as if it is some knowledge they can keep in the back of their mind for when they need it, but it doesn’t need to be exercised or rehearsed. The foolish virgins don’t have faith in Christ, yet they don’t even realize it. They’ve grown so apathetic about Christ’s teaching that they are surprised to discover that they aren’t Christians. Yet, because they have no faith, they will be locked out of eternal life forever. The door will be closed. They will never be let in.
So, Jesus warns us today, “Stay awake! Keep watchful! You know neither the day nor the hour!” Yet, the preparedness he calls us to is not a great burden. The oil he offers is free, purchased for us by the blood of Christ. He calls us to be excited for his return, to believe that he has prepared all things for us (John 14:2-3). Jesus’ warning to be prepared for his return is a call to faith. That means, he calls us to believe that he has done it all for us. That he has satisfied God for us. That he has won for us eternal life. He calls us to celebrate his victory over sin, death, and hell. The cry of the watchman sounds out right now. Here is the Bridegroom, come out to meet him! Trim your lamps. Fill your flasks with oil. Let us go and prepare for our Bridegroom to return to us. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.