The Parables of Jesus, Lesson 8: Matthew 25:1-13: The Parable of the Ten Virgins

With burning lamps, ten virgins await their Groom’s arrival.  The waiting virgins are all dressed in white—but everything is not as the picture portrays.  Some are wise; some, foolish.  So, how can we tell which is which?  For they are all wearing the proper garments.  Each one uses the same hymnal and liturgy.  Every maiden is where she needs to be, waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive.

These ten represent the Church on earth, all baptized and gathered around the Word.  Still, regardless of their white gowns, provided by the Groom, they all fail.  For didn’t each of them, both the wise and the foolish, fall asleep?  Yes!  So, not a single one is perfect, since each fails in her calling.  Oh, their spirits may want to remain awake, yet none are as robust as they should be.

To a faltering Peter, our Lord spoke His words.  “Stay awake and pray so you will not undergo the test.  For the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  Like Peter, these virgins do not keep vigil, succumbing to the weakness of their fallen flesh.  The midnight cry rings out and startles them.  Though all failed in their tasking, five are allowed in, but five aren’t.  Why?  For if they all drifted off into sleep, none of them deserve to be let in.  No one among them is worthy.

No doubt, our Lord is gracious and forgiving.  For He let five in!  Still, five remain outside the door.  Based on this story, we may think God is impulsive and unpredictable.  Does Our Lord’s mercy reach a limit?

Tell me, what does this parable describe?  “The kingdom of heaven will be like,” the Storyteller begins.  So, this is not about the world but the pattern of Christ’s Church.  The ten virgins with burning lamps symbolize everyone whom the Holy Spirit brought into the Lord’s Church.  Of those, some are in heaven; some are not.

Let’s consider why.  All ten doze off, deficient in endurance.  Those bereft of oil understand salvation as a one-time deal.  A person’s salvation becomes a vital part of his past, but not a recurring event.  So they lived off an old fuel supply, not getting their lamps refreshed with needed oil to keep their flames alight.

The five, with the burnt-out lamps, never bothered to learn the fullness of the faith.  So, they didn’t view the Word as the power of God to those “who are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18), as Scripture teaches.  So also did they not recognize redemption as a future event, as well.  Not only did Jesus reveal this in today’s reading, but so did the Apostle Paul.  To Christians, believers, he said if they confessed and believed in Jesus, they “will be saved” (Romans 10:9).  “Will be saved” is in the future.

So, all the brides slumbered and slept, but half are allowed in, the other half not.  Those not belonging to the Father’s kingdom followed the false gods of their choosing, not God and His ways.  For this isn’t only a matter of works-righteousness but also apathy.  How strange for such differing ideas to control one’s heart.

These virgins without oil thought, “I was baptized, so I’m in with God,” understanding baptism as something they did for God.  With such assumptions, they also became apathetic.  “Why should I go to Church since I’m already saved.”  Ah, their sinful nature took a sliver of saving grace and turned the gift into something they did.  So, they bowed down to the idols of their making, not the God of all creation.

Well, what do the Scriptures call this?  The term is “unbelief.”  How sad.  For they thought they did the needed deed to be saved, only to be surprised at the end, on the Last Day.  No matter the white robes of baptism and attending Church once in a while, their lamps are empty.  For they trusted in what they did (baptism, or something else), and concluded heaven awaited them.

Oh, how we can turn what Jesus does for us into what we do for Him!  Yes, they were fools, imagining the reign of God operated by their rules!

Do you believe the worship service is what you do for God?  Repent!  Here, we gather, not to do something for our God, but to rest in what He gives us.  “Remember the Sabbath Day,” remembering “Sabbath” means “rest.”  The Lord is doing the doing, not you.

Now, let’s think about the wise virgins.  Like the others, they, too, failed to stay awake.  What’s different?  Though they suffered from the failings of weakness, as we all do, they carried oil in reserve.  This represents the grace-filled gifts of Jesus, which they didn’t turn into something they did.  Also, they often came to receive what their Groom gave them, so they never ran short.

Frail in their flesh and found asleep, they still relied on what they received.  So the Bridegroom welcomed them because their ticket into eternity came from Him.  All is Gospel, so all is accepted—this is the distinction between the foolish and wise.

Contrary to the evidence, despite their experience, they believe Jesus is their Lord by His doing, which brought them to return, again and again, to His life-giving graces.  On the Final Day, their entire faith-life trained them to greet Him once more.

The path of faith is full of doubt.  So many arguments assail our minds and senses.  The devil is the master of rhetoric.  “Come now, if Jesus hasn’t returned by now, he never will.  Move on with your life.  Focus on yourself.  Do something.  Don’t sit around and think Jesus changed anything or helped anyone.  Don’t waste your time with His Word or His empty rituals.”

Those are the thoughts, which will swirl in the minds of the faithful.  For if you are not relying on your efforts, but Jesus, Satan needs to turn your Savior into a ridiculous idea, into something stupid.  For our wayward inclinations and self-interest confuse and conflict us.  Most of our life revolves around the matters at hand.  So, the demonic ruse is to cause you to live according to the kingdom of this world, not God.

The end is coming, and we are all dying.  From ages past, the signs Jesus foretold about the last days are here.  The predicted nonbelief began when the Lord’s disciples abandoned Him during His crucifixion.  The earthquake and the heavenly signs took place when He died.  Now, since those days, we can tell they are increasing.

Perhaps, those old curmudgeons in the nursing home aren’t so far off.  “The world is going to Hell,” mutterings and murmurs from their aging minds.  Around us, storms are turning vicious, earthquakes crackle the ground, and extremes in weather are now routine.  Some disbelieve this, but unbelief is on the rise.  How many of your children or grandchildren, not say, but follow Jesus as Lord, receiving His gifts in faith?  The statistics show the number of Christians, in America, is smaller every day.

Still, this is nothing new.  The Apostles faced horrific challenges in the early Church, bringing them to write epistles, which we read every week.  The creeds we confess are the outcome of battles against false teachings about Jesus.

A thousand years after the prophesied Messiah came, His Church tore in two, East from West.  The Bishop of Rome insisted he held supreme authority in the Savior’s Church on earth.  Later, Rome’s works-righteousness paved the way for the Reformation, as Luther strove to return an erring Church to faithfulness.

The result, however, might be as bad the cause.  Now, Protestant churches make stuff up as they go along, unrooted from historical knowledge or how the Church, from the first, understood Scripture’s words.  Worst of all is each Christian believing himself to be the pope, deciding what suits him about God.  The life-bestowing Church, which Jesus instituted, now becomes optional, and so also the gifts He gives.

The battle-weary Church is becoming more divided, which is also a sign of the end.  To the young Pastor Timothy, Paul wrote words of counsel.  “The time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their desires, will surround themselves with teachers to take in something new” (2 Timothy 4:3).

Though all this be true, we need not grieve as those without hope.  In Christ, we can still rejoice.  For Jesus also tells us, “When these signs begin to take place, arise and lift your heads because your redemption is near!” (Luke 21:28).  Let the Lord come, all according to God’s design, for our eternal deliverance.

Did you not die to sin in the water and Word, believing baptism to be God’s work, not yours?  This gift joined you to the death and resurrection of Christ, whom the Father judged guilty in your place.  So, this day, you are delivered to heaven on earth, in Holy Communion, with the angels, archangels, and saints around the throne above.

Like you and me, those wise virgins drifted in their dreaming, as did the foolish ones.  The fulfillment of our salvation will not be because we happened to be better than others.  No, like the wise, our life with God is through the belief and trust His Spirit grants to us in Jesus.  The foolhardy virgins relied on something else, causing their lamps to lack the needed fuel.

The Bridegroom is benevolent.  For the virgins with wisdom went into the bridal chamber like they never fell asleep.  Though they sinned, they believed, even more, dancing in joy and forgiveness.  So, the returning Groom welcomed them.

Cast away any reliance on yourself.  Breathe in the Spirit’s breath of faith.  The trust in Christ He creates in you, saves you, which delights and savors in His divine pardon, the wisdom of God unto salvation.

Come, you who are blessed by the Father.  Receive the food for the long night, to refill your lamp, which strengthens the body and the soul.  The Groom, who loves you, is giving you Himself, who is coming back.  With what He provides, He will bring you home into His presence forever.  Amen.

 

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