Trinity 27

Jesse Jacobsen

Typeset November 26, 2017

Our hope and expectation, O Jesus now appear; Arise, O Sun so longed for, O’er this benighted sphere. With hearts and hands uplifted, We plead, O Lord, to see The day of earth’s redemption That sets Your people free! Amen. ELH 543:4

You Can’t Afford to Sleep

We all need to heed the lesson before us on this last Sunday of the Church Year, and those who are not here to receive it need it all the more. For we live in the last days of the world. Though we don’t know how long these days will go on, there will certainly not be another age to come in the cosmic story of Creation. Jesus tells us today to watch, “for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

As Peter predicted (2 Peter 3:3), ‘scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”’ Yet the wise know the Proverb (19:29), “Judgments are prepared for scoffers, And beatings for the backs of fools.”

Don’t listen to the scoffers. Listen to Jesus. He prepares His Church with the teaching we need to outlast this dying world.

Matthew 25:1–13

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

This parable has drawn the interest of many Christians over the years. What should be our focus? Can we say that the lamps represent something, and the oil represents something else? Why does the bridegroom not recognize the five foolish virgins, and why did they leave to buy more oil for their lamps?

This parable teaches us about the very end of the world, and how to prepare for it. Yet since it’s a parable, the hearers need something first in order to understand it. Anyone not having that key thing will find the parables and indeed the whole Bible to be a closed book. They may read the words, but not with understanding.

So do you believe that God created everything? Jesus did. He taught it. And do you believe that God will end it all? Or are you with the scoffers? Paul writes in our epistle lesson, ‘For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. If you believe that the Bible is God’s Word, then you are also sons of light and of the day.

That’s the key to understanding what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson. The ten virgins were also believers. They were of the day and the light, not of the night or of darkness. The difference between them was not at first the difference between faith and unbelief, or Christianity and heathenism. All ten of those virgins could be sitting right where you are today.

So then, what happened? Why were half of them lost in the end? In the parable, only half of them took a jar of oil along with their lamps. But though the foolishness of the virgins who took no oil seems obvious to you now, is it so obvious when you consider your life outside the parable?

The ten virgins represent you and me. We are the ones who need to know how to be prepared for the Last Day. We need to have an honest look at how we have prepared. That will tell whether you are among the wise or the foolish. Jesus’ parable gives us the benefit of hindsight. There you can look back and see the wisdom of the wise and the foolishness of the foolish. That’s not so easy in real life, because we’re still living out the first or second part of the parable.

Now, ask yourself this question: Did the foolish virgins think they were foolish when they took their lamps and gathered outside the wedding hall? Of course not. We usually don’t see our own foolishness. But why? Why didn’t it seem foolish to them? Why did they have not even the slightest thought about the need for a vessel of oil? Do you see it?

The sun was shining, and they fully expected the sun to continue shining until the bridegroom arrived. In other words, they expected him to show up before nightfall.

Then why have lamps at all? Because that was part of their role in the wedding party, like wearing a tuxedo or bridesmaid dress today. When the bridegroom arrived, he would see their lamps in their hands, like a chauffeur holding a sign at the airport with the traveler’s name.

Consider your own preparations for something far less important: winter. Does your car have winter tires? Are there chains in your vehicle right now? Do you have in your car an emergency kit including a little food and water, a good flashlight, flares, jumper cables, cellphone charger, first aid kit, extra socks, gloves, and warm clothes? Do you keep your fuel tank more than half full? Have you checked your battery, belts, hoses, brakes, and tire pressure?

What’s wrong with you? Winter is coming! “Ah, but the sun is shining, and there was even a rainbow the other day!” Aren’t you worried that your foolishness will leave you stranded and maybe dead? It could happen! “No, that sort of thing rarely happens any more. Certainly someone else would be there to help me.”

Do you see? The five foolish virgins didn’t seem so foolish in the first part of the parable. That’s where we are. In fact, that could easily be who we are. The lamps, after all, are the token of their job. In the daylight hours, you can hold your lamp before you and everyone can see who and what you are. You don’t need anything else.

If you don’t believe what the Bible says about this world, its beginning and end, and its salvation, then this parable will be of no benefit to you. You won’t get it.

Powerful philosophies in our time of the West teach things you may find familiar. For example, that cultures and belief systems are matters of opinion, and nobody can say what is better or worse. Another says that everything should be judged only by its usefulness for you to do what you want. Another says that only what we can detect with our material senses is real, and these explain all that happens.

There are so many philosophical beliefs that a great number of people lump what the Bible says among them, and treat the whole mess like a personal salad bar. They want to decide what to believe for themselves. Others see that mess of options and choose not to decide at all. Maybe they want Sunday mornings for themselves.

Where do you fit in all of this? Which worldly philosophies have influenced your thinking, your life? You can’t escape it. Turn on the television or radio, or browse your online updates, and you will soon hear someone saying things that contradict what the Bible says. What will you believe, and how then will you live your life?

Right now, you have the benefit of God’s spiritual sunshine richly pouring down from heaven upon you through the pure teaching of His Word and the Sacraments. These things are always here for you. It’s so reliable that many Christians sadly take it for granted. “Oh, I’ve got a late night planned this Saturday and will be tired the next morning. It won’t hurt me to sleep in one more week.” “It’s too bad the soccer games are always scheduled on Sunday morning! Oh well, at least church will still be there when the season ends!” “I have such important things planned today that I can’t get them all done if I actually go to church! I’ll just pop in for a little while on the live stream. I can afford to miss communion this time.”

So far, so good I guess, except for those who develop a habit of not hearing God’s Word — or ignoring it when you do. Such habits form quickly, since your sinful flesh always avoids God’s Word. That’s a dangerous kind of spiritual sleep. Sometimes we forget what was written to the Hebrews in chapter 10(:25), “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

But here we are now at church! And what a blessing it is. Yet the night is still coming, and more and more of us are already nodding our heads. The sun shines so warmly, and there’s nothing to worry about. Then the virgins all fall asleep. So must we.

The cry goes up at midnight. What has happened? Well, we were asleep. The body dies and is buried; the spirit returns to God until the day of resurrection. Then the cry goes up, and we are all awakened. The bridegroom is on the doorstep, but now it’s dark, and only some of us have oil. Only some of us have lamps that the bridegroom will see. The others have invisible lamps, useless bits of pottery without oil. The oil cannot be shared, as Jesus makes clear by saying that each virgin has her own lamps and her own oil. We must suddenly go forth to meet our doom, and it’s too late to change it.

That moment is in our future. Now, the sun still shines and we are hearing the Gospel. You hear that your sins are forgiven. You hear the Scriptures. Now is the time to commit them to memory. Now is the time to meditate on your Baptism and make it such an essential part of you. Now is the time to receive the body and blood of Jesus. In this way, you can catch some of that Gospel sunlight and pour it into your vessel to fuel your faith against the coming darkness.

You must keep watch, at least long enough to fill your own pot with the heavenly oil that your faith requires. Fill it every chance you get. Don’t believe the scoffers. You don’t know how much time is left, but one day we must all sleep. Let your vessel be filled before then.

Have you been foolish? Have you been enticed by the empty philosophies of this world to neglect what is most important? Then open your ears to receive this ray of sunshine: Even those sins are forgiven. Jesus has already suffered for them all, and has clothed you with the pure garment of His own righteousness. In Holy Baptism, He claims you as His own and calls you out of this world to live with Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

So fill your vessels and live as children of light and of the day. As Paul admonishes us, But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For Jesus died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. And as we await His coming, comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria