Sermon for Trinity 27 - Matthew 25.1-13 - November 23, 2014
1) The point of the parable could not be any clearer. Jesus interprets it for us. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Many have tried to predict the day of the Lord’s return and failed. Why they try to predict the Last Day beats me. The Lord says it cannot be done. Perhaps they want to move their followers out of spiritual complacency and smugness. Perhaps they imagine that if the day of Christ’s return were put on a calendar, the unbelieving would see this as a final chance to come to faith, as if they could come to faith by their own will apart from the Gospel. Or perhaps, being more charitable, they want to see a clear end to the misery of this sinful, wretched world, and they date set out of eager anticipation of the joys of eternal bliss in the halls of the heavenly Jerusalem. All reasons for any sort of date setting are futile and sinful, even dates set with the best intentions for Christians and unbelievers alike. Though these motivations are not reasons to try to decipher the day and hour of Christ’s return, we see that everything the false preachers could hope to accomplish by their date-setting is already accomplished in the teaching of Christ. In today’s parable we see the Lord’s remedy for sleepy complacency of Christians. Christ also, with the same parable, would teach the heathen that time is short to hear the Gospel and believe. Finally, Christ teaches His Christians in this parable to hope for His return because of the joys and recompense that He brings with Him.
2) Jesus conceals the day and hour of His return from humanity as a remedy against sinful complacency. Imagine if we did know the day and hour in which Jesus would return. The sinful, slothful, lazy flesh would use that knowledge to deter men from coming to the Lord. The flesh would reason that since we know when the last minute will be, we could and ought to wait until the last minute to repent and believe the Gospel. The sinful flesh would be excited at how many sins it could revel in, knowing full well the schedule that would allow for a last minute repentance. It is this complacency which tempts all Christians in every age of the world. St. Paul addresses the temptation to complacency towards sin in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” The Christian already finds himself in a position of “what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) Knowing in advance the day and the hour of Christ’s return would not inspire faith and good works in men. It would inspire the opposite, for we see that our flesh is always inclined to sin in all we do. Christ tells us instead, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Do not give in to your sinful desires. Do not let them rule over your members. Do battle against your heart’s desires, for they battle against your soul. Do not become complacent in sin because that day and hour is unknown and could be at any moment.
3) Jesus also conceals the day and hour of His return to inspire true faith in us. It has been almost 2000 years since Jesus spoke these words to His disciples. Generations of Christians have believed that Christ could return in their lifetime. That hope, the hope that Jesus will return, strengthens our faith that Christ will return to destroy the antichristian powers, the antichristian false church, and all the agents of Satan. Every generation sees their generation as the worst age of the world. Luther thought the End times were at hand in His day because of the utter spiritual decay that filled the churches. The false doctrine of the papacy saturated the churches. We look at that same decay today and think that it is far worse! It is not only the false teachings of the papacy but the fanatics, enthusiasts, others who deny Christ’s doctrine while using His name to spread their lies. We imagine that our persecutions are worse because they are more subtle. We imagine that the false church in our day has grown to the size the church of Cain did before the Flood. We look at the world full of unbelivers, full of antichristian power and propaganda, and full of the vilest and wicked of sins and pray “Come Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) We know that if the Lord does not return in our lifetime it is not because He is slow. St. Peter reminds us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The Lord tarries in returning so that His Gospel may reach every corner of the earth and every ear therein. As we see the world get worse in our own estimation, we take comfort in the fact we “know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” He could arrive at any moment. Then this world will pass away and the new world will begin. If He seems slow in coming it is only because of His mercy toward those who have not yet heard and believed.
4) Christ could return at any moment and Christ refuses to let that moment be discovered. How ought we to live with this in mind? Jesus says, “Watch.” How are we to watch? Jesus gives us today’s parable as our lesson in watchfulness. “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.” (Matthew 25:1-5) Jesus teaches us the right way and the wrong way to wait for His return, the way of wisdom and the way of folly. The foolish virgins think they do not have to be prepared for the Bridegroom’s arrival. This is evident from their stock of oil. They assume the Bridegroom will return quickly and so do not stock up on oil. The wise virgins, knowing that the Bridegroom arrives when He desires, and not according to any other timetable, prepare accordingly and stock up on oil. They, as bridesmaids, were to be prepared and they take that vocation very seriously, whereas the foolish virgins do not take their vocation as bridesmaids very seriously.
5) When the Bridegroom does come, in the middle of the night, the foolish virgins find that their stores of oil were not enough. They also find out that they cannot fill their lamps with the oil of others. The finally learn that when the Bridegroom does return, there is no more time to get more oil. When the Bridegroom comes there is no more time for buying and obtaining oil. What you have at that moment is what you have. Period. So these foolish virgins are left in the cold darkness of night. The door is shut and the Bridegroom does not know them. He does not know them because they didn’t take their vocations as bridesmaids seriously. “I do not know you,” He says, “because I only know bridesmaids that have oil. You may have on the bridesmaid garment. But if you have no oil at my return, you were not a bridesmaid to begin with.” So it will be on the Last Day for all who claim to be Christians in this life but have not true faith in Christ. Faith in Christ is the oil which fills our lamps. Faith in Christ’s merits, His promises in Word and Sacrament, that is what makes one prepared for the return of Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” And what is the will of the Father in heaven? Jesus says in John 6:40, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The foolish virgins are the hypocrites, those who claim faith in Christ but inwardly are trusting in themselves or a false version of Christ which they have constructed out of their own imagination. To those in “the church” who have not true faith, the door will be shut when Christ returns. They will be the goats on the left side of Christ.
6) The wise virgins are those who take their vocation as bridesmaids seriously and seriously wait for the return of the Bridegroom. Knowing that it could be at any moment, they stock up on oil, that is true faith in Christ and His promises. The wise virgins are those who are true Christians, who prepare themselves for Christ’s coming by hearing the Word of the Lord preached. The Christian is one who attends to the Word of God, hearing and reading it in faith, and in that faith, clings to the promises of Christ so that they are his own. One cannot be numbered among the wise virgins are despise the Word of the Lord and think lightly of His preaching and teaching. One cannot be numbered among the wise virgins and think that merely showing up at church makes one truly prepared for the end. The Christian will take whatever opportunity he is given to hear the Word purely preached, no matter the cost to him. Hearing the Word in faith, meditating upon the Word of God on the pages of Holy Scripture, receiving His body and blood, these means of Grace prepare the Christian for the day because they exercise our faith and strengthen it.
7) We are also to be zealous for good works. Faith begets good works and often times spontaneously produces good works. In short, we are to live like Christians, loving our neighbor as we love our selves, taking our God-given vocations seriously as stations and posts assigned to us by God for the benefit of our neighbor. As we heard from Christ last week in the parable of the sheep and goats, the works that faith brings forth in us are not grand and glorious in the eyes of the world, but the simple works that help any neighbor in even the smallest need. This is how we are to prepare and keep our lamps filled, through faith which gives birth to love. Thus St. Paul teaches us in today’s Epistle, “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.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8) Through the Word and Sacrament Christ works faith in us and that faith then in turn does good works in our life. This is the oil with which we are to be possessing every day of our life, for Christ could return on any day of our life. The unknown day and hour should not inspire fear, dread, or complacency in our hearts. Instead, knowing that Christ could return on any day at any hour, let us live as His Christians, as those whom He has baptized in water with the Word, as those whom He feeds with His own flesh, as those whom He absolves with His own forgiving Word. Let us be spurred on to greater faith in Christ and all His promises, and greater love for all men as we have opportunity. This is how we watch, for we “know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Amen.