Last Sunday in the Church Year| Matthew 25:1-13| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| November 26, 2023
This morning, Lillian was baptized. She was clothed in in the garment of a virgin attendant at the royal wedding in the Kingdom of Heaven, and she was given a lamp filled with oil, set aglow by the Holy Spirit Himself. With that burning lamp, she will be prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, when He arrives at her death or at the Day of Judgment, yet only if she keeps her lamp burning. And for that she needs oil to burn. Baptism indeed saves. But Baptism does not save apart from faith. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) The lamps indeed contain the oil, which burns. But when the oil runs out, the lamps are rendered worthless. In order for Lillian and all of us to be saved, more oil must be added to our lamps, so that they stay ever burning.
Last week, Jesus taught us how He would judge all nations by separating the righteous from the unrighteous as a shepherd separates sheep from the goats. This week, Jesus teaches us how He will judge the Church on earth and separate the false Christians from the true Christians. The ten virgins represent the Christian Church on earth. They all have lamps. They all look the same. They are baptized, go to church, at least on occasion, receive Communion, identify as Christians. Yet, not all of them are true Christians. Only those who have oil to burn are true Christians. The oil is the Holy Spirit, who comes through the Word. The flame is true saving faith, which emits hope and love.
Now, some will malign the means of grace, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the preaching of the Gospel, and will say that these are not what make a true Christian. A true Christian is not what you see on the outside, but the faith that is in the inside, just as the lamps are not what make you prepared for the Bridegroom, but the oil. And so, they conclude that they don’t need Baptism or to go to church. Well, it is true that these outward things do not make a person a Christian apart from faith, but this is how God gives us faith and keeps us in the faith. You aren’t going to say that because the foolish virgins didn’t have oil, and so their lamps did them no good, that you don’t need lamps at all, as if you could hold the oil in your hand or pocket. That’s absurd. You still need the lamps. And so, you still need Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and to go to church. Yet, you need to receive these things with prudence.
Oil burns. And so, oil lamps need to be refilled. The way we receive oil for our lamps is by hearing the Word of God and receiving the Sacraments. It is through these means of grace that the Holy Spirit comes to us and dwells in us, so that our lamps burn with true faith. The virgins who brought no oil with their lamps were called foolish. The virgins who brought oil with their lamps were called wise. The word there for wise means prudent. It means to have foresight, to think ahead. When the wise virgins hear the Word of God, they don’t let it go in one ear and out the other, as the foolish virgins do. They listen intently and apply God’s Word to themselves.
I’ve heard people say that they don’t get anything out of church. That says a lot more about them than it does about church or the Word of God proclaimed there. God’s Word is always relevant for your life. You are a sinner living on the edge of eternity. Within you is a battle between the sinful flesh and the renewed spirit. At any moment you may die or Christ may return. How does God’s Word not apply to you? How do you not get anything out of the message that Christ suffered and died to take your sins away and that God recons you righteous for His sake? How do you not get anything out of the fact that Christ here feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. In church, where God’s Word is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit comes to strengthen the weak, so that they may resist the devil and the sinful flesh. The wise virgins get this, and bottle up this oil to be used.
And the wise do use it! The Psalmist declares, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) The wise take what they hear on Sunday morning and apply that throughout the week, to turn from sin, to repent, to trust in God’s grace, and to love. Our Lord Jesus says, “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all the house.” (Matthew 5:15) So, wise Christians live out their faith in their lives, letting their light shine, so that people see their faith through their good works of love and give glory to their Father in heaven.
The foolish have lamps, but no oil. They were baptized, but they let their oil run dry. They’ve heard God’s Word, but they don’t apply it to themselves or take it seriously enough. Scripture warns frequently of those who have received God’s grace, yet let their oil run dry. St. Paul writes of the people of Israel in 1 Corinthians 10, “For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ, Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” They were overthrown, because they became idolatrous, sexually immoral, and discontent with the Lord. They were overthrown, because they let their lamps run dry.
Jesus warns against this in another parable about the sower and the seed. The seed is the Word of God, which is sown in four types of soil. The first is the path, where the birds devour the seed, which Jesus says is Satan robbing the Word from their hearts. The second is the stoney soil, where the sun scorches the seeds. Jesus says these are those who give up the faith on account of persecution. The third is the thorns, which choke the seed. These are those where the Word is choked out of their hearts by the riches, pleasures, and cares of this life. Finally, the fourth fall on good soil and produce much fruit with longsuffering and patience. This parable sums up well the challenges to our faith, the reason the oil runs low, and why we do not fill it back up again.
Satan lies and tells us that the Gospel is not important or untrue. You feel like a fool for trusting in Christ. The world presses in on us with stresses and even persecution for being a Christian, which makes being a practicing Christian more and more difficult. Eventually you give up going to church and confessing Christ to avoid the pain it brings. The third group is the most devastating. It is the cares, riches, and pleasures in life. It is the main reason people miss church or why when they are in church, their mind is somewhere else. The cares, riches, and pleasures of life are the main reason people let their oil pour out instead of filling their lamp and flask.
Jesus warns us to stay awake, for we know neither the day nor hour. You don’t know when you will die. You don’t know when Christ will return. And when that happens, it is too late. So, why don’t we check our oil today? When each of you were baptized, you were given a burning lamp filled with oil. Well, is the lamp still burning? Or is the flame flickering and dying? Do you have oil? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Are you prepared for the Bridegroom, Christ Jesus to come?
You can’t take oil from someone else? And you won’t be let in without a flame. The foolish virgins banged on the door with their empty lamps, given to them at their Baptism, but Christ tells them that He never knew them. They’ll say, but we have our lamps! We were baptized! We went to church! We got confirmed! But it won’t matter, because their oil ran out. They resisted the Holy Spirit and their faith went out.
This isn’t something to mess around with. We’re at the cusp of the end of the age. Christ is coming. Are you ready? Are you awake? Do you repent of your sins? Do you pray God that He will forgive you for the sake of Jesus’ bitter sufferings and death for your sins? Are you living according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed, remaining true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Are you making effective use of the means of grace, gladly hearing God’s Word and receiving the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Are you trusting in Christ Jesus for salvation?
Jesus told this parable to wake us up, so that we don’t have empty lamps. Like virgin attendants locked out of the wedding banquet, hearing the muffled laughter and singing inside of those rejoicing with the Bridegroom, so will they be, who let their faith die and the Holy Spirit depart from them. Yet, the Gospel promises much more than to be mere attendants at a wedding banquet. Christ Jesus is the Bridegroom. Who is His bride? His bride is the Holy Christian Church, the community of saints. When you are baptized and given your lamp of oil, you are not merely an attendant at a wedding, but you are a member of the very Bride of Christ, the Holy Christian Church! Christ has purchased you with His own blood, so to present you to Himself blameless, without spot or wrinkle. And He comes to claim you for Himself.
So, let this knowledge encourage you to fill your lamp with oil more and more. Do as the hymn states, “Hasten as a bride to meet Him, And with loving rev’rence greet Him. For with words of life immortal He is knocking at the portal. Open wide the gates before Him, Saying, as you there adore Him: Grant, Lord that I now receive You, That I never more will leave You.” (LSB 636)
Being a Christian isn’t just a task you have to do to make sure you end up in the right place, like taking vitamins. Filling your oil isn’t a chore. It is the fervent desire of the faithful. You are Christ’s bride. He has redeemed you with His blood. Your greatest desire is to be with Him. To be locked out of those doors isn’t simply to be locked out of a party. The worst part isn’t even going to hell! The worst part is being separated from Christ, your one true love, who is your Head, your Bridegroom, your very Life! We fill our oil today by coming to church to hear the preaching of God’s Word and receiving the Sacrament, because we fervently believe that Christ our Bridegroom is here filling our oil! We fill our oil by reading our Bibles at home, and discussing the faith with our family and friends, because we love Christ. We long to be with Him. And when this isn’t our longing, it is a dangerous sign that our oil is getting low, that we’re nodding off to sleep unprepared to rise and enter with Christ.
So, let us cast aside the vain pleasures of this life, which weigh us down and distract us from our Savior. Let us fill our lamps with oil by hearing God’s Word with prudence, meditating on His Word beyond just listening to the sermon, so that our light shines wherever we go. Baby Lillian has joined us in waiting for the return of our Bridegroom, with her lamp filled with oil. Lord, grant that our oil will not run out, but that we will be found prepared at Your coming. Amen.