Amy and I were both raised by our parents to be punctual. We were taught that you need to be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there. This is the way our families functioned growing up, and we do our best to make sure that we now do the same. Naturally, unexpected circumstances can arise that throw plans off, but generally speaking you can count on the Surburg family to be there when we are supposed to be there.
Most likely, you are the same too. It’s a matter of good manners and common courtesy to be on time for events. We recognize that we shouldn’t make people wait for us, and that it doesn’t look good when you walk into something late.
However … we all know that individual or family that doesn’t work this way. For the sake of illustration, we will call them the “Smith family.” Everyone knows that the Smith family never gets anywhere on time. Given a time to be at a certain place, it is very likely that they will arrive thirty minutes after that. In fact, when making plans, if we really need them there on time, we know it is probably necessary to tell the Smith family to be there thirty minutes earlier than the actual start time. We know that there is time as everyone else uses it when something starts, and then there is “Smith time.”
In the parable that Jesus tells this morning, the bridegroom is not on time either. In fact, he is greatly delayed and ten virgins are forced to wait for him. But in the waiting, five are wise and five are foolish. Five are prepared and five are not. Our Lord teaches us that while from our perspective his return seems to be delayed, we need to be wise by being prepared.
Our text takes place during Holy Week as Jesus was approaching his Passion. His disciples had been pointing out to Jesus the buildings of the temple. They were indeed a sight to see. When the Judahites returned from exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. they were allowed to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed. They didn’t have the resources to build anything that matched the grandeur of the first temple that King Solomon had built.
However during his reign, King Herod the Great had undertaken a massive rebuilding project. This had transformed the temple into one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was stunning. However, in response to the disciples Jesus said, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Needless to say, this is not what the disciples expected. And talk about the destruction of the temple called to mind God’ end time action. So when he had passed through the valley and was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
When it came to the latter subject, our Lord Jesus was absolutely clear that no one knows the day of his return. He said, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” And then he used the example of a thief to illustrate this as he added: But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Jesus begins our text by saying, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”
The virgins were to await the arrival of the bridegroom and then accompany him into the wedding banquet. However, we learn that the bridegroom’s arrival was delayed late into the night, and all of the virgins fell asleep.
From our perspective, it certainly seems like Jesus’ return is long overdue. In fact it seems to be so delayed that we cease to expect it – or at least it ceases to have any real role in the way we think and act as Christians. But this is very error that our Lord warns us against this morning.
Jesus begins the parable in our text by saying, “the kingdom of heaven will be like.” He is describing the consummation of the reign of God, for this reign has already arrived in Jesus and is still present with us now.
Jesus himself was the presence of the reign of God. As spoke during Holy Week, he was about to carry out his work to defeat Satan, sin and death. On Good Friday he offered himself on the cross, as he fulfilled the Father’s will and received God’s judgment against our sin. The cost of this atonement was his suffering and death.
But on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated Jesus as the true Messiah who brings God’s reign that frees us from sin and death. Forty days later he ascended into heaven as he was exalted at the right hand of God.
Though we no longer see him as the first disciples did, this does not mean that his reign is absent. Instead, through the Means of Grace the Lord continues to give us forgiveness and sustain us in faith. In the proclamation of his word; in baptism; in absolution, and in the Sacrament of the Altar the reign of God is present in our midst now. As Jesus promised, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
But while God’s reign is present with us now in this way, it has also not yet fully arrived. We await the consummation when our Lord returns in glory. Certanly, it’s not here yet. Whether we are awaiting and expecting it - whether we are ready and prepared is the question that confronts us this morning.
The virgins had fallen asleep. However we learn: “But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” All of the virgins trimmed their lamps, however the foolish ones who had not brought extra oil realized that they did not have enough. They asked the wise virgins to share, but the wise ones pointed out that there wouldn’t be enough for all of them. Instead, the foolish virgins needed to go to the dealers and by more for themselves.
While they were gone buying more, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Later, the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But the bridegroom answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” And Jesus concluded by saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The contrast in our text this morning is between the wise and the foolish. The wise were prepared. They had the extra oil they needed. The foolish were not prepared. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had contrasted the wise and the foolish. He said, “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.”
To be wise, to be prepared is to be putting Jesus word’s into practice. It is to be living the faith as one who has received the reign of God in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Just before our text Jesus says, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” The faithful and wise servant – the one who is ready for Jesus’ return – is the one who is doing what our Lord had told us to do.
This same emphasis on faithfully doing what our Lord has given us to do is found in the parable of the talents that follows our text. There the servants given five and two talents, who have used it to gain more are told, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”
We learn from our text this morning that to be ready for Jesus return is to be doing the things Jesus has told us to do. It is to live the life of faith which receives and cling to the gifts Christ has given us such as Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. It is a life that is fed by the Means of Grace through which Jesus forgives sins and strengthens faith.
It is also to be living our Lord’s words – putting them into action. As Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” It is to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. It is to resist lust and all the temptations that incite it. It is to engage in a life of prayer. It is to trust in God to provide for us, and to serve God not money. It is to forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us.
This life is ready for our Lord’s return. And the fact that we know our Lord will return – even if we don’t know when – prompts us to live in these ways. Our text warns us against the attitude that we can just go along doing things as we want and everything will be fine. We don’t get to live the Christian life on our terms. To live in such a way is to be like the foolish virgins who were unprepared. We should not forget the words of our text: “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
Instead, we listen to our Lord as he says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” To watch and be ready is not to stand out on some hill looking toward the east. Instead it is to live the life of faith as our Lord has defined it. It is to receive his Means of Gracie by which he gives us forgiveness and strengthens us in faith. It is to be striving daily to put his teaching into practice as we live our lives. We do so, because we know what our Lord Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection. We do so, because we know that our Lord will return in glory and we want him to find us wise and ready, living as his disciples.