Matthew 25:1-13  

A well-known Christian wrote, "the last days are upon us. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible." That was not written by a modern prophecy expert. It was written by a man named Ignatius about 110 A.D., just a couple of decades after the Apostle John wrote Revelation.

Another early church father, Hippolytus, wrote in the year 236 A.D. that Christ was sure to return by 500 A.D.

The years surrounding the year 1000 were filled with predictions about the imminent return of Christ - to the point where Christians didn’t plant crops for the next year, buildings weren’t repaired and the details of daily life were ignored.

In the 1500’s, Martin Luther wrote, "We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world will not last any longer . . . than another hundred years."

A little-known fact of the life of Christopher Columbus is that he was a student of biblical prophecy. He wrote a volume called "The Book of Prophecies," in which he predicted that the world would end in the year 1656. He even wrote, "there is no doubt that the world must end in one hundred fifty-five years."

In the 1800’s a man named William Miller predicted the return of Christ. He laid down the date of somewhere between March of 1842 and March of 1843. The hopes of the Millerites were dashed when it didn’t happen. Their hopes were down but not out. In New Hampshire, in 1844, one of the brothers stood up and declared His return would be in the seventh month of the current Jewish year. More fervently than ever, the Millerites set out to warn the world. October 22 - the end of the world was pronounced. In ten weeks, the great day was at hand. In a Philadelphia store window this sign appeared, "This shop is closed in honor of the King of Kings who will appear about the 20th of October. Get ready friends, to crown Him Lord of all." A group of about 200 left the city. They waited, but the days past and nothing happened. Five years later, another date was set, and another date passed.

It never stops. About 1992, a popular book in Christian bookstores by Harold Camping was "1994." Another date set. In 1993, he wrote another book called, "Much More Evidence That 1994 Could Be the End of the World." 1994 came and went. Not easily discouraged, Camping came out with another prediction that the world would end on October 11, 2011. Today you can walk into a Christian bookstore and see dozens of books making bold predictions about the return of Jesus.

Jesus promised us that he would come back, but he also said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). In Matthew 24 and 25 (the Olivet Discourse) he taught us through a series of several parables that we ought to be prepared at all times. We are looking at one of those this morning. It is called the Parable of the Ten Virgins or, sometimes, the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids.

Notice that in this story, it is the groom who is the center of attention. In the male dominated society of Jesus’ day, that was the way of life. Not anymore. Now it’s the bride who is the center of attention. Everyone waits for her arrival. Everyone stands when she enters the room. Everyone stares at her beautiful dress. The groom is just the guy sweating next to the preacher - the one lucky enough to have won the love of the beautiful bride. I like it our way. But in Jesus’ day, it was the groom for whom everyone waited with bated breath.

When we think of a wedding today, we think of the wedding ceremony—the exchange of vows, etc.—usually followed by a reception. In Jesus’ day, the vows took place earlier—during the betrothal (what we would call the engagement). It was at the betrothal where all the legal matters were taken care of and the bride price was negotiated. When both families were satisfied with the arrangements, then a wedding was agreed to.

But, the couple did not live together as man and wife yet. The groom would go off to prepare a place for he and his bride to live, and when those preparations were completed, he would come to the bride’s family’s home and take her to their new home. Upon which there would be a tremendous party and feast.

It was traditional for the bridesmaids to wait at the bride’s family home together to await the bridegroom to come and bring them to the wedding feast. Then there would be a torchlight procession through the streets of the town to the place where the wedding feast was held.

So, the bridesmaids’ “lamps” were not like the little Aladdin’s lamps that you see in the movies, they were more like torches – cloths wrapped around a pole, soaked with oil and set on fire. And they wouldn’t be lit to burn through the night, either. They would be prepared “trimmed” at the coming of the groom then drenched in oil and lit. So, the old Sunday School song, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning . . . Keep me burning ‘til the break of day,” is not Biblically accurate. Is wasn’t that the foolish girls had not brought enough oil, it was that they hadn’t brought any oil.

In Jesus’ story, the bridegroom is delayed for unknown reasons. In such a delay, the bridesmaids had to be ready at any moment for him to arrive and escort them to the feast. Five of them, however, were not ready. They had time to get the oil they needed, but they did not feel the sense of urgency to do it right away. Their procrastination caused embarrassment when the groom came and they had to run to the store for more oil. The problem was that when they returned and sought entrance to the feast, they were considered no different than other uninvited seekers. The feast had begun and the doors were locked. It was too late. And Jesus says His return will be like that.

Be prepared - the bottom line of this story - whether the oil represents your faith, the Holy Spirit, Christian character - it doesn’t really matter -- each feeds the other. It could be any or all three that Jesus had in mind. The main message of this parable is that . . .

The Wise Person Is Prepared for Christ’s Return at All Times Even If He Delays

The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

I recently heard the story of one young couple’s first date.
She was expecting him to show up at eight. She was dressed up and waiting patiently. However, by the time he was an hour late, she figured she had been stood up. So, she took off her makeup, put on her pajamas, gathered all the junk food in the pantry and sat down to watch tv with the dog. As her favorite show was just coming on, the doorbell rang. It was her date. He stared at her wide eyed: "I’m two hours late, and you’re still not ready?"

Jesus said, don’t let My return sneak up on you. Be ready all the time.

“For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ the destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4).

The Wise Person Is Prepared for Christ’s Return at All Times Because There Are Some Things You Can’t Borrow

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

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

“‘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.’

You can’t borrow faith - a relationship with God through Christ. Your faith must be personal and individual. When we stand before God no one can say, “I’m with them.”  It doesn’t work that way.

You can’t borrow character produced by the Holy Spirit. It is a product of your relationship with Jesus and time.

I remember an episode of MASH where Hawkeye is called out to the front lines due to a shortage of doctors there. When he arrives, there are bombs and bullets flying all around. He suddenly realizes that his own life is in great danger. So in the few spare moments he has there, he takes time to write out his last will and testament. Eventually, another doctor arrives at the front and Hawkeye can return to the 4077th. He arrives late in the evening, enters the office, sits down at the desk and works on the conclusion of his will. Klinger comes in and sees him and asks what he’s doing. Hawkeye tells him, “Just some paperwork,”  and Klinger responds by saying, "No paper work is so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow." Hawkeye looks at him thoughtfully and says, "I used to think that way too, but not anymore." It was not until Hawkeye had experienced his close encounter with death on the front lines that he had come to realize the great importance of being prepared for death and living each day to the fullest.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!’”

Is there evidence of relationship, real relationship in your life with Jesus?

That’s the point of this parable. Last second preparation isn’t effective.

The Wise Person Is Prepared for Christ’s Return at All Times Because Current Choices Reflect Present Faith and Character

The present is all that matters now. We have no guarantee of tomorrow. All we have for sure is today, this moment.

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 3:7,8).

I must admit I don’t like this parable. I like most of the stories Jesus told. Most of the ones He told emphasized gracious invitations, offers of mercy, and that’s the way this story starts, but then there are those words - "and the door was shut." That’s so final. This story seems so contrary to the image Jesus has drawn of God - forgiving, endlessly forgiving. But Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like this story too. I like the parables that emphasize grace - come anytime - God will take you just as you are. But there is an end to the window of opportunity, and it comes at death or the second coming, whichever comes first for you. There are no second chances then. Heb. 9:27 says, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

But this story is not somehow a contradiction to grace. This story does not teach that you are saved by good works - as if that were the oil in the lamps. But if you receive the grace of God by faith, you will be changed, transformed, continually, over time. That’s what happens when you receive Christ by faith. The Holy Spirit does a number on you . . . unless you resist, unless you didn’t really have faith to begin with. So, are you prepared?

How do I supply oil for my lamp?

If you have never placed your faith in Jesus, that’s where you must start. When you become a Christian, you receive the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives you a new nature. You begin to draw from that never-ending well to change your life from the inside out.

If you have already placed your faith in Jesus as Savior, then you daily seek to freshen and deepen that relationship through prayer, study of God’s Word, fellowship with other Christians and by cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He guides you.

If you knew that tomorrow was your last day on earth, how would you live it differently? Would you confess hidden sins that you thought you could get away with or that you thought you would deal with some day later? Would you decide to follow through in accepting God’s offer of forgiveness in Jesus? Would you heal a relationship with someone who has hurt you or someone you hurt? Would you talk to God more in prayer? Would you finally get around to sharing your faith with that person you have been thinking about for so long? If so, then what Jesus is saying is "do that today, right now, because today may be your last day."

Remember the deeper problem? The foolish girls became complacent and did not take advantage of the opportunity to prepare for the groom’s arrival.

Titus 2:11-13 – “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,”

Hebrews 9:28 – “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Revelation 16:15 – “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

Do you anticipate His return or are you distracted by other things here?

If we were really looking forward to heaven . . . if we trusted Jesus to prepare a place for us that beats anything here on earth, we would live prepared for His return.