[Matthew 25:1-13] “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
We live with almost no absolute deadlines. You can always buy more time. A late fee, sure, but no debtors prison. Even the IRS lets you file an extension. We get away with putting off our health one more year at a time – and then, once the arteries are clogged, modern medicine still buys us more time.
We live a life in which procrastination is possible. And, in truth, second chances are often a mercy from God. That consequences aren’t always absolute is a mercy we often need – a mercy we ought to extend to others, since God so often gives us a second, third, or hundredth chance. If God dealt out an immediate, permanent consequence for every sin, you wouldn’t stand for a day.
However, because we live with so few permanent consequences, the idea of a day in which consequences do become permanent – a hard deadline after which there is not another chance – our mind doesn’t easily accept this.
Our Lord promises, “To the one who knocks, the door will be opened” [Matthew 7:7-8]. Yet our Lord also warns, there is a day when that door is locked. On that day, upon knocking, the Lord will answer, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Because the day of that deadline is unknown – even to the angels of heaven – even to the Son Himself [Matthew 24:36] – Christ tells us to live assuming the deadline is immediate. It is always close. I ought to always be knocking on Christ’s door in this moment because I am not guaranteed the next.
In today’s parable, five virgins – five young women – enter the doors of the wedding feast and five are locked outside the doors permanently – “I do not know you”, the Groom replied. Five wise, five foolish – yet all ten were all given the same gifts. All ten were given the same lamp and light as they were told to wait for that Day.
This parable of the Ten Virgins seems odd. Who were they? In the Bible, the Church is called the Bride of Christ. Jesus, the Christ, God’s Son, is the Groom. Heaven is the wedding reception God throws for eternity celebrating this union of His Son and the Church.
In the time of Christ’s earthly ministry there were certain marriage customs. A bride, like today, would have bride’s maids – but truly of young marriageable maidens. The groom would prepare his home to receive his betrothed bride. On the day of the wedding ceremony, the groom would come gather up his bride and all her young maidens and take them to the grand celebration at the bride-and-groom’s new home for the wedding banquet.
We are not all young maidens – it’s a parable – but we are all waiting for Jesus to come and gather up His Church and us with it. These ten maidens are all of us. The five wise vs. the five foolish is not about the Church vs. the world – us in here vs. them out there. This parable takes place within the Church, within the congregation. All ten maidens are those who are equipped with the same gifts – that lamp and light and the availability of oil.
It’s not five with a lamp and light and five others who never had them. It’s ten who are given the same gifts for waiting and preparation. Five make use of the oil given. Five neglect it. Five endure to the end in faith in Christ. Five do not. The ten have the same beginning, but five don’t have the same ending.
You have all had the same beginning – you have all been baptized in the same Baptism – you were all instructed in the same faith – Yet our Lord warns that you might not all have the same ending. Having once received faith in Christ, you can still fall away from it.
Therefore, be wise and awake. “Watch therefore.” What the Savior has given you, the devil, the world, and your own sin-fallen nature is always trying to take away. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion” [1 Peter 5:8]. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” [Matthew 26:41].
What happened to these five who are called foolish? This isn’t the first time Jesus speaks of ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’ in Matthew’s Gospel: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” [Matthew 7:24-27].
Also, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” [James 1:22]. And, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” [Luke 11:28; Luke 8:21].
What did the ten virgins all need? The continuance of their flame was dependent upon something received. Their flame staying lit or not depended upon receiving the oil supplied or not. Five of them, their faith burned out. The other five received the supply given and needed for the flame of their faith in Christ to keep burning through the long night.
Who has overcome and conquered the devil, the unbelieving world, and my sin-fallen nature? Jesus has. Only Jesus has conquered. There are many battles. Jesus has won the war. The call to be awake and wise – the call to ‘watch’ – is a call to be receiving what Jesus the Savior is giving – because only He can sustain you unto that Day when He will then gather you. And He does. So be receiving the oil He supplies.
The supply Jesus gives is the continued preaching of His Word of Law and Gospel.
God’s Word has power. It does what it says. His Word, “Let there be light” caused the light to be. In the same way, His Word spoken to you accomplishes in you what the Word says. His Word of forgiveness to you forgives your sin. God’s Word speaking to you all that Christ has done for you accomplishes all Christ has done for you in you. The continual supply of His preached Word is the oil that sustains the flame of faith in Christ.
His Word gives the Holy Spirit. His Word creates and sustains your faith in Jesus [Romans 10:17]. His Word convicts you of your sin for repentance. His Word forgives the penitent. His Word creates and sustains the new heart. The Word creates a doer of the Word inside the Hearer of the Word. It all depends on His Word, which is living and acting.
Therefore, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” [Colossians 3:16]. “Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls” [James 1:21].
Brothers and sisters, you have once received all that you need for your salvation. It is yours. But don’t become emptied of it by neglecting that supply continually given. Don’t burn out. Instead, be continually filled up. Receive the work that God’s Word is always working through your Baptism, through Confession & Absolution, through the Sermon, and through the Supper. Hear the Word of God, and be hearing to listen.
The Day comes when the consequences of being with or without the Word of God become permanent. Don’t rely on an extension. Let His Word dwell in you richly now, and on that Day all the good work of His Word will be made permanent in you. Amen.